Tag Archives: Writing

Rolled over

So, I just put in a little effort to roll all my blog posts from prior blogs over to this one. You’ll notice a hole in 2003-2004 where I just didn’t post anything. Also, I omitted any post whose only topic was about how little I blog or that I’m not blogging. Didn’t seem that useful…

What I might do next is post some entries that link to some other writing I’ve put up on timbomb.net and maybe to other sites that I run. That should keep me busy for a little…

“reading and then writing”

In “Blogs in Postgrad Studies (DMT)“, Grant Matthews writes:

I’ve been using Social Software (Blogs) in my own teaching practice for a year now with mixed success. You can’t force students to be “sociable” and even the best student bloggers’ posts seem forced. Many of them don’t blog weekly and even more are unsure of what to write about. Using blogs as an assessment task (and reporting function) would appear to be counter productive.

I want to try again (Sem 2, 2005) with a class blog (participation voluntary, but as an alternative to a reflective essay), topics based around the students own research interests. The emphasis also shifts to reading and then writing.

… which makes a metric tonne of sense to me. That’s how open source development works. You read quite a lot of code before you start writing. Maybe you fix a few bugs, add a little feature. In teaching programming to late high school kids, this worked well too. It’s also how we usually teach postgrads. If we buy the idea that blogging is a new form, it makes sense that we ask them to read a first and then write when they “get it”.

Bernstein on notes

“things don’t start out organised and they don’t stay organised because we’re moving all the time. If you know what order your notes should be when you start, you’re not doing research any more and you should sit down and start writing!” – Mark Bernstein at Blogtalk Downunder today.

Trial run of “embodied scheduling”

… as I’ve dubbed my new scheduling technique (which by the way is unstoppable).

So we had an all-hands group meeting last week during which The Schedule needed to be discussed. I’d let people know that I wanted to try working with the schedule in a new way.

Cards are great for tasks (done in the style of Story Cards from Extreme Programming), but for a good planning discussion, we needed a calendar reference. I just printed out a stack of week calendars from iCal and laid them out on the conference table in a long strip.

Then I grabbed the task cards for each person in the team and got them to talk about each card in turn, what the dependencies were, how long they might take to do and finally got them to put the card on the big calendar within the week it might get done.

We focussed on better accuracy for the coming week or two and let things get a little less formal further out. We’ll come back to this exercise every couple of weeks to maintain a sense of where things are and what people need to keep moving forward.

Some Preliminary Results

  • People seemed to enjoy walking around and handling the schedule better than working with a printed Gantt
  • When a task is wrong (too fine, too coarse, just wrong) on The Beautiful Gantt Chart (TBGC) it’s annoying, necessitating a negotiation with the project manager, scribbling on TBGC, later updates to the project file, regenerate TBGC, etc… By contrast, when a task card is wrong you get the satisfaction of tearing in two yourself and then rewriting the canonical card yourself. Much more satisfying.
  • Once the whole thing was done I needed to capture the layout… quickly accomplished by spending five minutes writing the week’s date on each card so I know where to put them next time.

Now, I need to work out how to send things to people. Might just type out a list, might put stuff in Basecamp… Optimal solution is really just to photocopy the cards and hand the photocopies out.

Have to do this sometime today, so I’ll let folk know what I do. I should have snapped a picture of the big calendar. Next time.

Breaking down the Gantt

I’m involved in a project at the moment in a project management role. The project coordinates about 12 people towards the creation of a piece of interactive art.

Up until recently, we have managed the team (who are mostly contracted designers and programmers) via regular meetings, but in the last couple of months it’s been a bit nerve-wracking to stay on top of everything that’s going on just using face-to-face reports.

Enter The Gantt

The other producer has championed the development of a big Gantt chart schedule which lists all the known tasks, dependencies, rough schedules, resource allocations… the whole nine yards.

This makes us feel comfortable, but I have enough experience with XP to spot illusory comfort when I see it. The whole thing has flaws – in data capture, in accuracy, in usability – enough to make me want to replace it with something better as fast as possible.

So, today, I’m turning the Gantt schedule into a stack of index cards, a la Extreme Programming’s planning game and I’m going to take these along to the next meeting and see if I can bend the process a little and do a little action research.

I’m writing a little article on issues with Gantt charts for this project and how cards might solve them while maintaining the benefits. I’ll link it somewhere here when it’s done.

Things my dad taught me

I had a vexed relationship with my Dad. I mean, I liked him a lot – he was a really nice guy, but I never really respected him.

I would always have denied that – in fact, I did. I recall visiting the counselling service at University to see if I could get into an assertiveness training course. I got into a conversation with this counsellor about my career aspirations and I said that I didn’t want to end up stuck in a dead-end job like my dad.
“I think you actually despise your father”, she said.

I was outraged… this person I’d met five minutes earlier had the gall to allege that I had such strong feelings that I couldn’t even acknowledge myself? Crazy.

The thing was, over the next few years, I started to realise she was right. Dad kept this job as a clerk for nearly 30 years which he pretty much hated. It made him depressed, the boss drove him nuts. As far as I could tell, he never left because he was scared. For someone of my generation, betraying your own needs like my dad did was an act of staggering cowardice.

Then, after ten years of struggling with Parkinson’s disease, Dad died. I took the job of writing his eulogy. What that really meant was that I took on the even bigger job of trying to understand the whole picture of Dad’s life. Unless I could find a way to understand and respect the decisions he made, I couldn’t stand up in front of a church full of people (and it was full) and speak about his life…

So, I called my uncles who’d known dad since they were all teenagers living in the old neighbourhood. I talked to Mum and my sister. I spoke to his sisters.

After all that I realised, I’d failed to understand the world Dad lived in. For a man of Dad’s generation, the most important thing was to look after your family – he could never bring himself to risk that just to be happy.

Suddenly, after all that, Dad’s life seemed… brave, not cowardly. His decisions resonated with the principles and compassion that seemed so evident when he spoke about life.

Finally, I didn’t just like my Dad, I respected him…