One User, Many Computers

I've tried a few solutions for using multiple computers (mostly one MacBook plus one or two Windows machines) simultaneously and I've currently landed on http://synergy-project.org/ as the One for Me.

It's very good. It's pretty seamless (last year less so, this years seems perfect) : put 3 machines next to each other, move your mouse across the 3 screens, and control and type into whichever computer has mouse focus. It's particularly a good solution when some of your machine are laptops and you want to use the laptop screens.

Alternatives I've tried:

  • VNC and remote desktop style solutions have worked best for me when I have multiple monitors on a single machine. The irritation is when your local monitor isn't as big as you want for the remote machine and you end up with a scrolling window. The itch that remote desktop solutions don't scratch though is when some of your machines are laptops, and then you want to use the laptop screen. Of the various options, TeamViewer and MS Remote Desktop seem the fastest; I haven't yet seen a fast solution for Mac.
  • When I don't need a gui, I find ssh or similar is really good. Even a modest monitor easily has room for multiple console windows. A reminder perhaps that guis are not always the bee's knees.

The Known Unknowns Matrix

I.T. is not the only industry to have happily latched onto the the former Secretary of State's famous phrase, "the unknown unknowns". It's a good phrase if you must plan or estimate anything because planning & estimating always involve risk.

But we should really consider the full matrix. There are pitfalls in at least two of the quadrants:

  Known Not Known
Knowns Things we know, and we know we know them Things we know but don't realise we know them. Tacit knowledge that we take for granted. Becomes a problem if we are responsible, and fail, to communicate them to people who don't know. Also a problem when we start work in a new context and do not realise that what we ‘know’ is no longer valid here, so they become unknown unknowns.
Unknowns Things we know that we don't know. We can record the risk, and estimate a cost for investigation & discovery Things we don't know that we don't know. This is the quadrant most likely to shipwreck plans.

Concerning the unknown unknowns, my experience with doing novel software is that when budgeting for development you should estimate for development, plus learning time, plus developing the things you learned about, plus solving problems you didn't know you'd have. A rule of thumb for novel systems might be, multiply your estimate by ten to cope with the unknowns. And/Or, have clear “abandon the project” criteria, even months into the project. Don't be a dupe for the sunk-cost fallacy.

Less dramatically, my takeaway from this is to use this quadrant when listing risks and assumptions. Just having a space for the possibility of unknown knowns & unknowns can be an impetus to discuss, “risk-storm” & consult, to help your team discover the as-yet-unknowns.

P.S.

I've just read the brief and brilliant mcfunley.com/choose-boring-technology which points out that you can't afford too much novelty. He suggests that for any new project you should grant yourself a limit of 3 novelty chips. When you've spent them, you get no more.

Well, not unless you really can overshoot your budget and timescales by over 1,000%.

Kudos

A slideshare by Danni Mannes on Agile Architecture pointed out to me all quadrants are worth some of our time.

Estimates and NoEstimates

We had a debate&discussion at XP-Man on NoEstimates for which I did some notes. Reading the NoEstimates stuff, I was most attracted to the sense of "Let's not be satisfied with second rate" and of a thirst for continuous improvement.
I was left with the sense (possibly because I already believed it) that there are contexts in which NoEstimates works, and contexts in which it doesn't. But I was very glad to be provoked to ask in each case, "What value if any is our estimate/planning effort adding?" and "Isn't there a better way to deliver that value?"

What is an Estimate?

An estimate for a Project is (1) a list of things to work on; (2) a cost-range for those things; and (3) a list of risks, that is (3a) of Dependencies that 1&2 rely on, and (3b) of things that might cause significant change.

An estimate or plan for a sprint is (1) a list of things to work on, (2) a "cost" (eg story points) for those things and (3) a list of things we are uncertain about, or (4) need to get help with.

The value of a project estimate is to feed-in to (1) A go/no-go decision and (2) seeing things we want to see sooner rather than later (e.g. should we hire more people, do we need help from specific 3rd parties, is releasing in time for Christmas possible)

The value of a sprint estimate is, to see things we need to ask for in advance (ie external help or resources); to give everyone a sense of confidence about what we're doing; to fail-faster, that is to see sooner what we can't achieve.

Money doesn’t make the world go round

"Who are we kidding? Apps are built to earn money. They are a product created to generate profit, and there are a number of ways we can get them to do just that. The simplest, and therefore most common method is ..."

So says a typical email in my inbox. But. It ain't true. Apps are also built because people love to build things. Many, many apps – and websites; and Real Stuff; — are built because people love to built things, and if they didn't have to earn a living they'd still be building things. For some people, earning money is the pesky thing getting in the way of building the apps they'd love to build.