Can XP be as Rigid as the Waterfall Model?

Published at 11:39 on 28 September 2011

I think that, ironically enough, it can.

I interviewed at some anonymous company that was big on XP (aka “Extreme Programming”): pair programming, test-driven development, etc. One thing I will say is that they did a very good job if interviewing, giving candidates an actual opportunity to try the techniques they use out.

And one thing that struck me about test-driven development was that it makes it very difficult to write code in a bottom-up fashion. The basic response was something along the lines of “you just don’t do that.” Lovely. A powerful and productive technique that you “just don’t do” because the methodology you have required people to adhere to does not allow for it.

And what if programmers sometimes come up with better ideas on their own? Sorry, no can do, either. Pair programming doesn’t allow for alone time.

“Sorry, we’d like to incorporate that feature change, but we’ve frozen the feature set because the software is now in alpha test. We just can’t do that.” Funny how the supposed diametric opposite of the traditional waterfall model ends up sounding so much like it.

The problem here is one of taking rules too seriously. Any set of rules — it fundamentally does not matter which ones. You cannot fix such a problem merely by choosing the right set of fixed rules, no matter how enlightened the motivation behind the choice of them might happen to be.

If you can’t make exceptions for exceptional cases, you’re going to end up sometimes forcing people to act like stupid robots, doing something suboptimally because that’s the only way The Rules allow for it to be done.

Why the Bolivian Revolution is the Real Thing

Published at 11:29 on 27 September 2011

Basically, unlike in Venezuela, the revolution in Bolivia is a bottom-up affair, backed by a diversity of groups, as opposed to being something orchestrated from above by a single charismatic figure. That becomes clear when you read stories like this one about a highway project being opposed by the indigenous people whose land it would compromise.

Of course Morales has become a new oppressor. How could he not, given the nature of the job he sought? By becoming the chief executive of a hierarchical system of authority, he chose to participate in a rotten system.

That’s not to say its a useless achievement and that Morales administration is no better than those it replaced, only that it’s a very limited achievement. Past administrations would not have stepped back, embarrassed, and called a moratorium. However, unless the pressure from below continues and intensifies, the outcome will be the typical “compromise” of industrial civilization: less wild nature and more development.

No Compromise
No Compromise. Courtesy of "Super Happy Anarcho Fun Pages."

True change must always come from below.

Revisiting the Ghost Brickyard

Published at 22:38 on 26 September 2011

No, I didn’t visit the ghost brickyard in Gresham, Oregon again on my recent trip to Portland. I’m revisiting it in this blog, now. I found a gallery of what it looked like in 2005 here. There’s a few pictures showing some of the increasingly decrepit piles of bricks in past styles; this one is particularly good.

I haven’t been back there since 2008, and something tells me that it’s probably completely gone by now, seeing as how much “progress” had been made in erasing it by 2008.

Establishment Media Shills for the Establishment (Again)

Published at 09:51 on 25 September 2011

It’s hardly a new thing for them to do, but an item on the NPR news this morning shows them doing so yet again. To paraphrase what they said, they reported the following:

President Obama will be speaking at two engagements in Seattle. One is a $35,000 per head fund raiser, the other is larger and cheaper.

Cheaper? Than $35K/head? That’s meaningless. Virtually every event is cheaper than that. $1,000/head is a full 35 times cheaper and it’s still unaffordable to Americans of normal means. $100/head is 350 times cheaper (enough to qualify as “much cheaper” by most definitions), yet is still out of reach to most.

It’s quite transparent what NPR is trying to do: spin the story to make the Democrats seem as something other than a bourgeois party. And sure enough, a little research on Google comes up with this story, which reveals that neither event is geared towards the sort of average Americans that liberals profess to be so concerned about:

Then Obama will head to a larger fundraiser at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, with tickets starting at $100 for balcony seats and up to $7,500 for VIP seating and a receiving-line photo with the president, according to event invitations. Up to 400 people are expected at that event, which will include a lunch catered by chef Tom Douglas and a performance by the Robert Cray Band. [emphasis added]

And really, how could it be otherwise? It’s a bourgeois society; if you participate in its formal means of exercising power, you will be compelled to act according to bourgeois values. You can’t fundamentally change rottenness simply by participating in it.

Of Futurism and Fairy Tales

Published at 13:07 on 24 September 2011

One of the books I read while traveling on my recent trip south was Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. It sort of happened by chance: I was browsing the shelves at Left Bank Books, looking for a couple of good, inexpensive used books to read on my upcoming trip, and a copy of that title which satisfied those criteria caught my mind. Having never read it, and it being something of a highly-regarded science fiction classic, I naturally purchased it.

What makes it not merely futurist but a completely unrealistic fairy tale is the plot element of the robots being manufactured by an ethical corporation that insists all its products obey the Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. It is of course highly unlikely that any capitalist corporation would so voluntarily adhere to such a set of safeguards, particularly any corporation that made robots for the military. (And remember, the military has been the funding vehicle behind much of the research into high technology.)

Moreover, even in Asimov’s story, things eventually take sinister turns, as the main manufacturer of robots eventually does bow to pressure to weaken the laws of robotics which some of its models are programmed to obey. Eventually, things reach the point of the robots deciding to manipulate and rule humanity because they believe it is for our own good for them to do so.

So far from being an endorsement of futurism, I, Robot looks to me to be a vindication of my basically Luddite views of advanced technology.

Unproductive Social Parasitism

Published at 10:50 on 23 September 2011

Really, can there be any other succinct summary of the highly dubious practice of cybersquatting (or “domain investing” if you’re a fan of the Newspeak of the pro-cybersquatter crowd)?

If you don’t need an Internet domain name yourself, simply don’t buy it and it will be available for purchase by someone who does. Buying a domain just because you think someone else might want to buy it later and be willing to pay an inflated price contributes absolutely nothing to society. In fact, it harms others, by complicating the process of obtaining a domain and compelling them to pay more than they otherwise would have.

Sure, it’s legal, but it’s neither ethical or socially useful.

Unfortunately, I Told You So

Published at 15:32 on 21 September 2011

When I said the Fukushima disaster was another Chernobyl.

It’s been rated by none other than the Japanese government itself at the same level of severity as Chernobyl; Fukushima and Chernobyl stand by themselves as the only INES Level 7 incidents in history. Fukushima has a 20 km permanent evacuation zone around it (and Japan has been roundly criticized for not making that larger). Chernobyl has a 30 km zone around it.

By all measures, the two are indeed comparable in severity, even though the types of reactors involved and the specifics of the two catastrophes are very different.

And it’s not over yet. The situation is still far from resolved, and there’s a typhoon headed straight for the damaged reactors.

Note to Recruiters: Emeryville is NOT in Mendocino County

Published at 10:25 on 21 September 2011

It’s not even near Mendocino County. It’s several hours drive, minimum. Over freeways that have a well-deserved reputation for horrendous traffic. Likewise, Bothell is not on the Olympic Peninsula.

Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to the two or three functioning neurons in your skull, recruiters, but people interested in Emeryville jobs are much more likely to be looking in the SF Bay Craigslist site than the Mendocino County one. That’s true even if they currently happen to be living in Mendocino County. Likewise, people interested in Bothell jobs are much more likely to be looking in the Seattle Craigslist site than the Olympic Peninsula one. If someone’s looking on a particular Craigslist site for job listings, most likely it is because (brace yourselves, this is going to come as a shock) they are interested in jobs which are actually in that region.

(Now, if it’s a job in Olympia being posted to the Olympic Peninsula site, that I can understand. Olympia, despite being within the purview of the Seattle area Craigslist site, is right where the Olympic Peninsula begins, and the peninsula town of Shelton is within reasonable commuting distance of Olympia. But Bothell or Redmond? Please.)

Recruiters, you do realize this sort of thing makes you and your ilk look like precisely the sort of clueless sleazeballs you have a bad reputation for being, do you not?

Well, So Much for That

Published at 19:57 on 19 September 2011

The purpose of this trip was to interview for a job at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA. Humboldt County is one of those places I’ve fallen in love with on my travels, and it would be something of a dream to live there.

A dream because high-tech jobs are practically nonexistent there (and in pretty much any of the other rural areas of the Northwest I dream of moving to). So it was hard not to fantasize during the time between being informed they wanted to fly me down for an interview and the interview itself.

Alas, it seems pretty obvious from the course of questioning during the interview that they want someone with significantly more Oracle database experience than I have. And since Oracle experience is easy to find, odds are very high they’ll find it in one of the other finalists.

Well, at least I get a couple free days in redwood country out of it, and the icing on the cake is not having to move yet again (which I’d still do in a heartbeat if I got an offer, of course, but it’s something that definitely made the job opening a mixed blessing and not an unadulterated one).