Monday, October 24, 2005

Relative Champs

Two last place teams that split apart, formed one team, then won the league...

Top row, left to right:

Cam Stewart, Goon. Goal Scorer. Father.
Mike Smith, Software Engineer, Sun Microsystems
Rob Ford, Architect, Level 3 Communications
Dave Skema, ex-Kent State club team member
Josh Sims, ex-Steamboat Springs club team member
Rick Pease, ex-Connecticut area goaltender
Patrick Gates, DBA, Level 3 Communications
Jason Snider, 18 years old with energy to burn

Bottom row, left to right:
me (Joe), ex-goaltender with a taste for scoring goals
Claire Solohub, Calgary, Alberta native
Jamie Slorf, Goaltender. Father. (holding real gold-colored metal trophy)
Sloane Stricker, DBA, Level 3 Communications
Steve Sangalis, ex-U. of Indiana club team member
Molly Meehan, Marketing, Avalanche/Nuggets/Rapids

Not pictured:
Brian Snider, Edmonton, Alberta native
Brian Yarosh, the enigma
Free pitcher of Molson

Sunday, October 09, 2005

How to Write More Clearly, Think More Clearly, and Learn Complex Material More Easily

This is an excellent presentation by Dr. Michael A. Covington of the Artificial Intelligence Center at The University of Georgia. He makes such interesting points and I think this has so much relevance to some goals I have for this blog and to engineering in general.

Some thoughts...

I've found that it's very hard to translate personal technical knowledge into elegant, interesting writing that engages a reader. I've also found that you really need to know what you're talking about inside and out and exactly what the goal of your writing will be. This really dawned on me when I wanted to write about Apache Axis handling web service calls from a .NET client. I realized that I didn't know how we had deployed Axis, or really how it actually worked, even though I was writing to it every day for months. I think this is common, especially in large companies. One of the ironies of engineering is that well-engineered products shelter developers from having to know their internals, but we generally end up digging in and learning them anyway. To some extent, this is one reason why I've posted very little of what I want to say with my technical voice.

In my book, the King of translating deep technical knowledge into interesting and engaging writing is Rod Johnson. By far.

"You don't understand anything until you learn it more than one way." --Marvin Minsky

Dr. Covington makes this same general point in one of his "Clear Understanding" slides (#92). This is something I've personally witnessed through myself working with different languages and life cycles of projects and in engineering in general. For instance, it's truly remarkable to have an epiphany about the elegance of a design pattern (or hideousness of an anti-pattern), or come back around on a database design decision for a project that supports some totally unforeseen requirement from some unrelated project. Most recently, Threading has been the foremost area of personal learning for me along these lines - probably because, in order to truly know threading, you must be bit in the ass by it hard a few times.

"Better to keep your mouth shut and let people assume you're stupid than open it and remove all doubt." --anonymous

I've read various buzz about managing projects through blogs or wiki's. Blogger's team support is intriguing and I've checked out cool services like Backpack. I've realized that the stumbling block isn't the tools support, it's motivating other engineers to
actually write (sentences). I think this is one subtle underlying reason why the XP tenet of self-documenting code is one of the easier XP practices to actually adopt.

"The more I see, the less I know..." --Matt Johnson, The The

So in the end, Dr. Covington is really giving a nod to all the technologists out in the blogosphere. For me personally, his presentation is an affirmation of my methods to figure out what I know and continue my journey of learning.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

NHL celebrates opening night with historic 15-game slate

The National Hockey League opens its 2005-06 regular season Wednesday with 15 games, 30 clubs in action, dozens of storylines and 600 players in uniform in front of an expected quarter-million fans at sold-out arenas, marking the busiest playing date in the League's 88-year history. NHL teams had combined to play as many as 14 games on nine occasions, the most recent of which was Nov. 1, 2003.

It also marks the first time that all NHL clubs are in action on the schedule's opening night since 1928-29, when 10 clubs were featured. The last time all clubs in a major pro sports league played on the opening date of the schedule was in 1969, when the National Football League kicked off with all 16 NFL clubs and 10 AFL clubs participating.

Here are some fearless predictions for the Avalanche by people "in the know":
  • John Buccigross, ESPN: 9th in the Western Conference
  • Jim Kelley for ESPN: 9th in the Western Conference
  • Adrian Dater, The Denver Post: 7th in the Western Conference
  • Scott Wraight, 13th overall in initial power rankings
  • 20-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup
  • Canadian Press: Joel Quenneville as 1st coach fired, 3 teams headed downward
From what I can tell, these guys are only focusing on the negatives of losing Foote and Forsberg (who, by the way, has been injured for the majority of the last three seasons with the Avalanche, and last season with MoDo).

Here's why I disagree and think the Avalanche will finish no worse than 5th in the Western Conference:
  1. Their head coach has a Stanley Cup ring.
  2. Their goaltender's name is on the Stanley Cup.
  3. Rob Blake, Norris Trophy winner, All-Star.
  4. Joe Sakic, Hart Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy winner, All-Star.
  5. Milan Hejduk, Maurice Richard Trophy winner, All-Star.
  6. Alex Tanguay, career high 79 points last season, #1 star with 2 goals in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the second best goalie of all time.
  7. New addition Andrew Brunette, 49 points last season under Lemaire's defense-first system.
  8. New addition Pierre Turgeon reunited with coach Quenneville under whom he scored 66 points in 55 games of clutch-and-grab hockey, last season notched his 16th consecutive season of 40+ points.
  9. Leadership: one current, and three previous NHL captains: Joe Sakic, Rob Blake, Pierre Turgeon, and Steve Konowalchuk - captain of the Capitals when they went to the Stanley Cup Finals.
  10. Karlis Skrastins, second only to Blake last season in Time-on-Ice minutes - ahead of Foote(3) and Sakic(4).
  11. John Michael-Liles, Team USA defenseman.
  12. No more team/press soap opera that is, "No offense to you guys BUT is Peter ready to play again? Will he be back? Will he? Will he? Please say he's ready..!"
Stay tuned hockey fans! It will be interesting!

Sunday, October 02, 2005


Our neighborhood pool closed a couple weekends ago. We took the kids for the final day to wrap up the summer. While we were there, I couldn't help but observe one mother's interaction with her son, Jacob. Jacob was pretty wild and his mother spent a majority of the time trying to rein Jacob in, specifically with the following sentence repeated over and over:

"Jacob! Stop! That's against the rules Jacob!"

Her choice of words was very interesting to me. Instead of, "Jacob, that makes mommy angry because you're making a mess. Now you'll need to clean it up.", or "Jacob, do you see that he doesn't like getting water splashed in his face?", or "Jacob, I don't like to see you run because you can fall and hurt yourself." or even, "Alright mister, TIME OUT!"

In other words, Jacob's learning to live by the letter and not the intent. He's learning about rules but not really about the reasons why we have them. And he's learning that they shouldn't be broken (or, that they're easily broken with little consequence).

I don't want my children to be afraid of action simply because it's "against the rules." Things get done and innovations created
against the rules. I want my children to have a deep understanding of the rules, which rules are sacred, and which rules are made to be broken. A rule by itself is a hollow shell that's easily broken or blindly followed by the Inconsiderate. I want my children to grow on a solid foundation of consideration.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

And the Oscar for Best Picture goes to...


Written and directed by Paul Haggis, the guy who did the screenplay for "Million Dollar Baby", "Crash" is a much more engrossing film that was emotionally gripping in a way that "Million Dollar Baby" lacked. It's hard to pick one shining performance from this amazing cast of actors; I thought they were all brilliant, especially in the minor roles. I thought Matt Dillon really shined and Brendan Fraser far exceeded expectations (yet again). This was a real acting movie in the vein of "American Beauty". I really hope IMDB is wrong and this movie is eligible for an Oscar next April.

To date, the best movies that I've seen this year are (in order):
  1. Crash
  2. Batman Begins
  3. Oldboy
  4. Sin City
These are the movies that embody the essence of why I spend valuable time watching movies.

One other personal observation about "Crash"... The underlying theme of the movie is racism and the setting is Los Angeles. I've only spent a grand total of about 2 weeks in L.A. My impression of the city and other large areas in California such as San Diego and San Francisco/Oakland is that those cities are indeed racially charged in a way that I haven't really experienced in other parts of the U.S. I'm curious if local movie buffs thought "Crash" was an extreme representation of undercurrents in Los Angeles or if it was really close to the actual vibe of the city.