Cheap and functional tea steeper

A nice perk of working in ‘Downtown’ Winter Park is the variety of little shops close by. Nice for walking. I recently visited Spice and Tea a few blocks from Caxiam. I didn’t know we had a tea shop (and more) so close… neat.

Anyways, figured I would mention, I found a very nice tea steeper for the office.

I had never seen one of these before and I am pleased to mention that it works great… definitely better than a tea ball! It is very easy to wash and collapses neatly for storing. It would be nice if it had its own little tray or something but, hey, its cheap and does plenty. 🙂 Green is the best color.

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Upgrading your Mac?

… oh so brief a message. One sentence only!

If you’re thinking about upgrading to a newer Mac and go the refurbished route (I do); buying new from Amazon saves you tax making retail that much more attractive so you may be able to move to a newer lappy with long lasting battery, etc. for the same money (after adding tax) as you would have spent at Apple.

Mingle Lessons Week Two

A week and a half into our current project… here’s are my lessons and miss-steps so far. I am certain there are more to come.

  • Originally scheduling 8 hours per developer per day. I should have known better but this one slipped big time. Perhaps I was too enthusiastic about estimating how many tasks we could do. I’ve been re-examining this for the past four days and believe 6 hours (top) per developer per day is realistic.
  • Assuming developers would be allowed to work on project full time. Ha! Sometimes we put up to half our time into project and half into various side tasks that need to be done as well. For other developers, this is much worse; they may have no more than a few hours a day to work on this project. This one is tricky since we cannot choose not to do tasks that need to be done.
  • Ramping up our project has been a bit slower than I expected. I blame myself for this one 100%. This is the first time I work in a project with this established team and this has forced everyone to adjust to each other (yeah because of me 😦 ). I am fortunate that everyone is very open minded and, at least, entertains my thoughts even if they are way off the current pace.

    Still, this is the most exiting lesson so far. We can sense increasing speed going thru tasks and handling those things we hadn’t thought of. It feels great to be developing a rhythm with my teammates.

  • Clearly, all these lessons are not related to Mingle but to web projects and the management of these… This makes them that much more important to me. I am certain that, taking these into consideration, will greatly improve our development workflow and pace.

    Mingle Project Overviews

    A week has passed since our first project using Mingle started at Caxiam. Even thou this was a short week, we have been able to ‘eyeball’ a roadmap out of a mountain of things to do on this project. Provided the team can work seamlessly and each member focuses on his tasks, Mingle will be a great guide as work gets more complicated.

    So far, my favorite feature in Mingle is the ability to set any particular report or ‘view’ as a standard page. This is a bit more than a fancy aggregated report. Any user is able to view current workload broken by resources, priority, iteration, really, any metric shared among all existing tasks.
    It is invaluable to be able to reassign a particular task to a different iteration or assign it to a different developer. All the metrics for a view are then recalculated to provide a quick overview of your actions. Shuffling tasks between iterations recalculates the sum of the hours of work per iteration or reassigning tasks to a different developer recalculates each developer’s workload accordingly. It sure beats weekly re-prioritization meetings.

    A picture would be invaluable to illustrate this point but content of these things is sensitive to both our company and our clients so the best I can do is point to whatever information Thoughtworks has available…

    Project overview

    The illustration above depicts a typical project under Mingle broken down per status (let’s imagine). Imagine a series of aggregates on these different statuses for time allocated, time elapsed, etc. Moving (heavy use of AJAX) cards (boxes) from one status to another automatically recalculates relevant affected metrics.

    This is but one of many features on Mingle. I would say that early in a project, this is one of the most useful ones. The ability to quickly task a team, and reshuffle quickly as things happen is priceless.

    It is worth mentioning that shuffling 20, 30 cards at a time puts these requests in a long queue where one can only sit back and wait until all one’s actions are realize. I think this could be a deal breaker in a big project with a thousand tasks perhaps… My experience here is very limited, perhaps our Mingle server needs more memory.

    Lastly, a lot of the benefits provided by Mingle are greatly diminished if not everyone on the team uses it or runs a parallel number of tasks outside of Mingle. This effectively puts a dent on everyone else’s work. It is most important that each developer updates his tasks and sticks to their queue… it is rather easy for any developer to ‘grab’ more tasks unassigned and stay busy so this should not happen.

    One thing I have barely touched here is how a project is broken into little bits in Mingle. The basic idea is to break down everything into a series of ‘card’. Perhaps that will be my next post.

    Web Project Management

    ….a black art? an oxymoronic statement?

    Looking at Caxiam’s Portfolio, it is evident that it is a very successful webshop in the Central Florida Area. With a team I think a bit small for such a client list (to serve), we seem to properly manage. It could be that we specialize in business to business solutions. It could also be that our clientele is similar so our projects can be similarly managed which, either way, is a credit to my teammates.

    As we grow, however, we spend a considerable amount of time reflecting on what would be the proper way to tackle new and increasingly challenging clients and whether our current workflow would be successful in different upcoming scenarios.

    We have been evaluating software packages to aid in managing web projects with multiple descision makers, designers and programers… Nothing new, I know, but newish to us I guess. Out of all the applications we have evaluated, Mingle (by Thoughtworks) stands out as one of the most flexible, easy to use and the least disruptive to I have ever seen.

    I’ve had the pleasure of working in teams where there is no plan, teams that stick to a spreadsheet or to a Microsoft Project Project and teams that work out of each member’s initiative with varying degrees of success.

    Often times, it is not the tool that sucks but the implementation of it that dooms a project. With this in mind, I’ll take the motivational manager instead of the ‘office space’ representation of one.

    Whatever. For the past week, I’ve been fiddling with Mingle and love it. Specifically, I’ve been trying to move from what I feels works best (fancy but simple spreadsheet with small todos) to a more dynamic representation of this very concept but in a more modern and easy to share way. Some people could make the case than Mingle is Mint (I use it) for project management, fluffy and satisfying without adding any hard value to task at hand. Perhaps I will know once I experience a whole project with the aid of Mingle.

    Best of all, Mingle has a free 6 month evaluation and very reasonable (if it delivers) licencing afterwards. I sincerely hope my next project is less than six months long and that I will be able to put Mingle thru its paces and see how it helps or hinders my team’s success.

    Is ‘Web Project Management’ a black art? an oxymoronic statement? I will surely revisit this topic in the near future.

    As a footnote; these are interesting times at Caxiam Group. Since joining, we’ve implemented Subversion (used concurrently with SourceSafe). We’re giving Coldbox a shot. We have deployed a fantastic integration server (Hudson) and this very week we started using Bugzilla. Indeed, I find myself very lucky and grateful to have dropped into this Team.

    God knows, pretty soon we might be sponsoring or hosting an upcoming Adogo Meeting 😉

    Mac power adapter cables….

    get brittle and break! I’ve just found out that, if you _carry_ your mac and work anywhere, camping out and in continuously, the thin cable (one with magsafe adapter) gets mighty hot while computer _shugs_ along. It gets hot to the point of getting brittle as time goes by and cracking when you wind it for storage… Priceless, er, $80 bucks at the apple store. To all my windows friends, here’s your chance to call me on the apple tax 😉

    Anyways, let your cable cool down before coiling… sounds general enough advice to give.

    No Fluff Just Stuff – Orlando

    Has just posted their schedule for their Orlando stop.

    I was fortunate enough to have gone to this conference a few years ago. Always the skeptic, I was surprised by the sessions I attended and the wonderful speakers they had lined up for the event. Some, like Bruce Tate, made a big difference in my view of our craft.

    Anyways, the conference seems to have grown quite a bit and prices seem reasonable. Maybe this is the one conference I go to this year…