Day 137 – Baking and Building

Clearly, I don’t have enough projects going at the same time yet (I really should make a list so I don’t lose track (Done!)). So, let me add one more!

I’ve never made a gingerbread house for Christmas before. I usually make ice cream instead. Mixed results, but more on that another time. I’ve been thinking it’s time I tried. The gingerbread that is, but not at the expense of the ice cream.

I like a challenge.

So, I need to pick some architecture to break down and recreate.
I have no idea what I’m doing.

But challenge me!
Send me a link to a building to try.
Share this post with anyone that might have a good challenge.

I need to pick a building by next weekend to have enough time to learn how to do this… something beyond a mere “house”, but within the realm of possibility.

Okay, maybe there’s not enough time to learn how to do this, but in that case I’ll just fail spectacularly. On video.

I’m going to use this as a way to do a recording trial unrelated to my other YouTube-inkling-of-an-idea.

So far, my Google search for architecture has returned a lot of very impractical buildings.

I’d really like a few more straight angles to work with.

Or I could just go with the obvious choice.

So, what do you reckon I should build?

Why are software development estimates regularly off by a factor of 2-3 times?

This is really a very good and readily accessible explanation why estimating a project you do not routinely execute is so tremendously hard.

This may be a story structure worth memorising. to explain why what might look like a 10 day project at face value can turn out to be a 60 day marathon.

Two posts that may be worth looking at on the theme of resourcing:

Day 136 – Special Take Two

Re-watching the Special

I had to watch the Doctor Who special a second time. I felt I needed to look at it from a different perspective. Knowing it was going to break the fourth wall a lot and include lots of nods and winks to the past re-calibrated the experience somewhat.

Also, note, spoilers… if you haven’t watched yet, you really shouldn’t be reading The Internets in the first place 😉

It’s still not what I’d consider the usual Moffatt-level fare. The plot wasn’t quite intricate and inventive enough, although there were a few moments it tried to.

The Fall of Arcadia
The Fall of Arcadia

On first viewing, in the first moment, I didn’t quite understand what made the credentials the queen had left so special. Clara making such a big deal of the impossible picture.

Sure, it’s unusual to get an oil painting with lasers from the 16th century, but with what you’ve been through with the Doctor, surely that doesn’t rank very high on the unusual-scale.

I wish I’d seen it in 3D in the cinema, because I’m sure that scene would have made instant sense and have been quite amazing. Watching straight into the depths of those oil paintings.

The flashback that follows has a lot of references to Omega in it. I wonder if this is some form of foreshadowing of what we might expect in Season 8. How much Gallifreyan history can we expect?

I hope a lot.

I found The Interface a bit annoying the first time through. But it was actually okay on second viewing. I guess I thought a weapon of that scale should somehow be more serious than she was. Maybe I still feel like that a little. But it does bother me less the second time through.

Most of the plot was actually fairly linear, but with lots of call-outs to earlier seasons and doctors. I cannot even begin to think how many I may have missed.

Showing how he married Queen Elizabeth was a nice touch.

The negotiation scene between the humans and the Zygons is very reminiscent of the scene with the Silurians in “The Hungry Earth” / “Cold Blood”. And the mirroring of the stand-off over the nuclear device under London (would you sacrifice millions? for the whole earth, yes) and the Doctor’s time-war dilemma (sacrificing Gallifrey for the whole universe) was a little too obvious and heavy-handed for my taste. A lighter touch here, I would have enjoyed more.

I did enjoy the solution to the Gallifrey problem though. Having it disappear in a way so that it isn’t destroyed but without being inconsistent with the apparent past works very well.

And Tennant ending on a repeat of his closing line “… because I don’t wanna go” was a very nice touch, and less sad this time around.

Favourite Lines

“Anything could happen!”
“For instance… a Fez…”

“We’re confusing the polarity”

Har Har
Har Har

“Why are you pointing your screwdrivers like that?”
“They’re scientific instruments, not pistols!”

“What are you going to do? Assemble a cabinet at them!?”

“Are you capable of speaking without flapping your hands about?”

Lots of quipery fun.

More Doctors!

What I am hoping for now though… is that they will do something with two unexpected viable Doctors that we have gained in the course of this special.

The Eighth, still Looking Good
The Eighth, still Looking Good

Paul McGann only was the doctor for the tele-movie back in 1996, but 17 years on he could still very easily play the part. It’s a shame he was only in the 6 minute pre-special showing the genesis of John Hurt’s Warrior.

“Where are we going?”
“To the back of the ship!”
“Because the front crashes first…”

But my thinking is… there’s no reason they couldn’t do him a season as well. Why should there only be one doctor on air at a time?

He’d make a great action doctor.
And those bridges to the spire in Arcadia look made for running across.
Maybe another job for J.J. Abrams?

And then John Hurt… another opportunity. He doesn’t really look his 73 years in this special.

The War Doctor
The War Doctor

Why not expand upon the Time War some more?
A television special. Maybe 5-6 parts?
And something darker and grittier.
After all, Neil Gaiman has written for Who before.
He’d be perfect for the job.

And I’m quietly hopeful for Capaldi as well. All we’ve seen is eyes, but the intensity in them is intriguing. Are we getting something sharper this time?

Luckily Christmas is only a month away.

Day 135 – X-Ray Vision

I was really tired all day today. It’s entirely my fault; not getting to sleep before 2am is really not conducive to a productive day. I think I faked my way through most of it well enough though.

There’s one thing I don’t do well though.

Have you ever read a sentence three times in a row?
Have you ever discovered you still did not know what it said?

I was reviewing a two-page document today to give feedback and comments on the substance. First time through it took 10 minutes to read, and when I opened an email to give feedback I realised I didn’t know a word that was in the document.

When I recognise my eyes focusing through the page, I know that it’s happening. It also occurs when I’m trying to finish one-more-chapter-of-reading on the Kindle before falling asleep, when my brain has already switched off.

It took immense willpower to absorb the surface layers of the document.
I think I managed to leave the impression I might have absorbed it all.

But I still feel bad.

So, I’m writing this post early. I’m going to sit down with a sandwich and some Newsroom. And then I’m going to sleep early tonight, because I really don’t like this super-power.

Day 134 – Isn’t It Ironic?

It is looking ever more likely that there will at some point be a YouTube show featuring myself, a kitchen and some seriously outlandish cookery.

Tonight’s Wednesday didn’t involve a lot of board games. Instead Sin, Abbey and Ken got really into brain-storming with me. As a matter of fact, I’m going to have to be careful that my show doesn’t get co-opted by Sin and Abbey altogether.

I briefly stepped away to go to the toilet, and by the time I came back apparently I had gained a ring-master moustache; presumably for the purposes of opening credits only. And not that much later Sin and Abbey were standing in the kitchen gesturing directions for where ceiling-mounted rails will have to go to serve as camera fixtures.

I’m kinda hoping that I can manage a private trial and if that works maybe some episodes without making any serious alterations to my kitchen, tools or wardrobe.

The idea is a lot of fun though.

So far, I know:

  • “The Ironic Chef” is sadly taken… but I have other suggestions
  • There will be an over-the-top opening-credit sequence of some sort
  • There will be a secret ingredient
  • I’m ready for a challenge
  • Friends will come to eat/critique the results
  • We will needlessly dub the critique for comedic effect

Day 133 – Surprising Jobs and Dice

No Dice

What could be simpler than dice?

If everyone has a fair un-weighted die, all have the same chance to win or lose.
P(A wins over B) = P(B wins over C) = P(C wins over A) = 0.5

You win half the time, you lose half the time.

We can change the dice to make the battle less equal. We can give some multiple sides marked 6, and others multiple sides marked 1. We can shift the balance to give A an edge over B, B an edge over C… and then overall C is the big loser.

Mathematically we call this the transitive property.
If A > B and B > C, then A > C.

Obviously and intuitively this must be true, right?
You’d be wrong in thinking so.

It is possible to design a set of dice where A on average beats B, B on average beats C and C on average beats A. We call these non-transitive dice.

An example of such dice could have sides marked (if you don’t want to click the link):

  1. Sides: 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 6
  2. Sides: 2, 2, 2, 5, 5, 5
  3. Sides: 1, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4

Die 1 beats die 2 in 21 out of the 36 possible combinations.
Die 2 beats die 3 in 21 out of the 36 possible combinations.
Die 3 beats die 1 in 25 out of the 36 possible combinations.

Obviously, intuitively, this isn’t possible, yet there it is.

Best Man for the Job

Which is where a recent management dilemma comes into the picture.

I somewhat flippantly summarised my problem as related to explaining a potential budgeting issue due to non-transitive aspects to skill-to-project mappings. That was really a slightly hand-wavy allusion to the dice above.

Let’s make it a little more concrete.

Let’s say we have 3 IT projects:

  • Web project; no complicated coding, but it does need to look good
  • Banking system; routine processing, but it does need to be fail-proof
  • Page-rank; a very mathy problem, but once understood easy to code

Let’s say we have 3 Developers (all parallels to real people is coincidental):

  • One genius: Steve Yegge
    Great at almost everything, except graphical design
  • One average developer: Jeff Atwood
    A flair for design, and knows enough transaction-safety, but no maths-whizz
  • One manager who shouldn’t be coding: Bill Gates
    Passable design-sense, passed maths, but don’t trust him with your money

Let’s say we have to estimate how long it will take to complete the 3 IT Projects with the Developers we have available. We could specifically allocate names to the projects, but the projects are due to start at different points in the future that we do not know yet.

Well… how about we just estimate everything for a general average developer and then work out the names later? Intuition says that some will be over and some will be under, but on average we’ll get our estimates right… right?

Web Banking Page-rank
Yegge 50 days 10 days 10 days
Atwood 10 days 30 days 50 days
Gates 30 days 50 days 30 days

On average, each of the projects will take 30 days.
On average, Yegge is faster than anyone else.
On average, Atwood is average.
On average, Gates is slower than anyone else.

But let’s just step away from the averages and have a look at what could happen once reality unfolds in three different ways:

  • Yegge does Banking, Atwood does Page-rank, Gates does Web
    Result: 90 days total, 30 average per project
    A truly average result
  • Yegge does Banking, Atwood does Web, Gates does Page-rank
    Result: 50 days total, 16.7 average per project
    The best possible outcome
  • Yegge does Web, Atwood does Page-rank, Gates does Banking
    Result: 150 days total, 50 average per project
    A learning experience for everyone; also: OH GOD, WHY? IT BURNS!

So, depending on who is available when the projects kick off, either through chance or because we planned it to be that way, it could take as little as 50 days or as many as 150 days.

It could be 40 days under (almost 50%), or 60 days over (more than 60%).

And note that this is with a relatively mild skills gap.
Some developers are order-of-magnitude faster than others.

Also note that in this example I’ve glossed over the other project work that would make it impossible to assign Yegge to both Banking and Page-rank, which would leave Bill no coding to do (arguably an even better outcome for everyone).

Again, our intuition is wrong.
And for very similar reasons to the dice.

What this means is that it’s almost always a mistake to try to estimate project work based on an “average” developer. It is better to always have a specific developer in mind, and if that changes, adjust the effort estimate accordingly. You will end up with far fewer counter-intuitive results to explain after the fact.

Try Science!

And that brings me back to an earlier point.

If possible, always try science first. Even on problems that you cannot completely “solve” mathematically. An approximation will at least warn you if There Be Dragons before you get et.

Day 132 – The Sorkin

When he is at his best, it’s like looking into an alternate universe where things are as they should be, rather than how they are.

I’ve seen enough of his shows to be aware that he brings out a lot of the same hobby horses, again and again. But funnily enough, that’s exactly when he is the strongest. When his characters make the points he seems to most passionately believe in.

The voodoo is that he makes the arguments not by rubbing your nose in them, but by making them the backdrop to the inter-personal relationships and development of his characters. We all watch his shows for the characters, not because we care about the rules of the Filibuster.

I Wish it Never Would Have Ended
I Wish it Never Would Have Ended

There is a lesson in there about teaching and convincing and influencing.

First, know what your argument is.
Second, learn to structure it well.
Third, make it the backdrop to a story your audience wants to hear.

That’s the best possible version of the argument.

The West Wing is still the best drama ever written, and exactly because it manages to transform what should be the driest material imaginable into an inspiring vision of what-could-be through the magic of a cast of very relate-able characters. And then when the passions of the characters feed back into the central thesis of the show, it becomes almost impossible not to start caring about it yourself.

And the stories do not need to be particularly original. Girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy is a great plot regardless of how many times it might have been attempted. We all know there are only 7 plots, or 20, or 9, depending on how you count.

In any case, there aren’t that many.

It’s what you do with them that counts.
And what better purpose than supporting a strong argument?

Day 131 – My Doctors

I’ll come straight out and say it. My favourite bit of The Day Of The Doctor was right near the end. Seeing 4 and 11 face-to-face makes me happy and sad at the same time.

I am sure Steven Moffat knows what he’s doing, and I’m sure Peter Capaldi will be fine. But Matt most reminded me of Tom Baker of all that had come in between. A similar sense of wonder and other-worldliness that I had missed in 9 and 10.

It was a very enjoyable episode. It distinctly felt like a celebration in some of its execution. But it was a celebration, so that can be forgiven.

And I cannot wait to see what the Christmas episode will bring. Maybe they’ll bring back what I expected they might bring back for the finale of the season just past. So many possibilities.

And then…

…what we all know must happen.

I’m trying not to think about it.

Day 130 – My Many Talents

Today I was a soldier. A rally driver. A Jedi. A military commander.

It’s been a while since I’ve played LAN games with friends. I was glad for James’ invitation, and I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity. But it is a little daunting, as rusty as I am.

In most games I managed not to come last. And in some I came very close to the top. And regardless, it was a lot of fun, win or lose. But a few of the games did make me feel insufficiently familiar with the controls.

My Jedi at times looked more like a raver waving glow-sticks around than a fearsome warrior bent on destruction. I had a bit more luck wielding the various guns and cannons, but they mostly seemed to get deflected by the light sabres of my opponents. I had a bit more luck with the explosives, until I inevitable got force-choked and tossed off the edge of a cliff.

Most of my Flat Out muscle-memory was still intact. I didn’t really remember much about the vehicles, so I think a few of my choices were less than ideal.

However, when it comes to Command and Conquer I really don’t know what I am doing. I started building quickly, but I don’t think they were the right buildings at all. I gained a lot of ground early on, but my first encounter with the enemy resulted in a steady counter-offensive that quickly wiped me off the map. I either need to practice for next time, or just admit that it’s going to be my Achilles heel.

Time Flies
Time Flies

You know you’re having fun when the clock just seems to leap by hours rather than minutes. In no time 6 hours had passed.

I would have stayed later, but I have a few more things to do tonight and then an early morning tomorrow. Next time I need to plan a little better ahead.

And I should bring Callan along.

I think Counter Strike with him in the mix would be an interesting experience for everyone I met today. Probably not an experience they’ll want to repeat a second time, but it’s just one of those things you have to go through once to realise how close to the foot of the mountain you still are.


Time for Other Important Things!

PP Cardio

How bad could it possibly be?

I mean, it’s only a 30 minute class.

And I do quite a bit of cardio already; it’s never easy, but it’s no longer actually hard either. I’m sure I can do this.

As a matter of fact, I’ll do two 30 minute classes back-to-back to fill the usual hour I spend at the gym.

Oh, how wrong I was.

The instructor was very nice about it, but what it comes down to is, this is definitely a solid step up from Attack or Cycle in the cardio-department. And today I was glad to be sitting most of the day.

Even so…

The stubborn voice in the back of my head is saying I just need to keep going to this class till I make it all the way through. And I think I agree. Let’s see how next week goes.