Archery lessons

The second to last day Kris and I were in Scotland, we visited Stirling Castle. Magnificent!

One of the events of the day was two men dressed as medieval warriors: a foot soldier and an archer. The archer's name was Hugh. He was quite entertaining. More than just talking briefly about archery, he gave lots of history and entertaining sidenotes. Here are the ones Kris and I wrote down to remember.

  • Pick a quarrel

    Crossbow archers would carry their arrows in a quarrel, which is a four-sided leather pouch that hung off their belt. As the archers headed off to the battlefield, they would pick up their allotment of arrows that were made by arrow makers. The allotment was in delivered in the quarrel, so archers would go off to "pick a quarrel."

  • Longbow archer pay

    English longbow archers started training at age 5, and practiced pretty much every day. Good archers were able to keep three in the air. In particular, the timing was such that as one arrow was arriving at its target, another was in the air on its way, while a third was being cocked on the bow. Another quality of a good archer was the ability to watch the air for incoming, return arrows.

    Longbow archers were paid 2 pence a day vs the 1 pence a day regular foot soldiers were paid. The double pay was the source of considerable animosity between archers and foot soldiers, as archers typically stood back 400 yards or so from the hand-to-hand battle - considered a safe distance where one doesn't need to "risk his life" (at least, not as much).

    If an archer was captured in battle, often his pulling fingers were cut off. As most archers could find employment only as a soldier, many would return to the lines as a regular foot soldier. Regular foot soldiers would see the missing fingers and be socially hostile to the new soldier.

  • Two finger salute

    As mentioned above in the previous section, longbow archers' fingers were cut off when the archers were captured in battle. They were then often released. Cutting off the pulling fingers was pretty close to a living death sentence.

    In some battles, when the enemy was defeated, the English longbowmen would hold up two fingers in an aggressive gesture (the two finger salute), so show the enemy they still hand their fingers (and would fight again another day).

  • Kiss it goodbye

    When pulling back an arrow in the bow, with a bow of proper strength, the farthest back an archer should need to pull the arrow is back to the mouth. As the back of the arrow (the feathers) is next to the archer's mouth, where he could kiss it goodbye.

  • Keep it under your hat

    Archers were paid by how efficient they were. One way to see how many arrows were shot, is to count the number of bowstrings that broke. If you broke a large number, obviously you shot a lot of arrows. Often, if an archer noticed the archer next to him had a large number of broken bowstrings, he might cut his bowstring, so that he also gets paid for the extra strings.

    To prevent fellow archers from seeing how many bowstrings an archer had (thus could use), an archer would hide extra strings under his hat, taking them out only when needed. So, each would "keep it under his hat."

  • Cock up

    Typical arrows have three feathers. When they are cocked in the bow and released, one or more of the arrows will graze the bowstring if the arrow isn't aligned correctly. In order to help the archer (who is firing very rapidly and doesn't have much time to think) align the arrow correctly, one feather is different than the other two (say, black with two white ones). The colored arrow indicating direction is called the cock. The proper alignment is the cock feather pointing up, or "cock up".

Entertaining lessons. Thanks, Hugh!

Extractions from "Time for a Redesign: Dr. Jakob Nielsen"

Good interview with Jacob Neilsen, whose website http://www.useit.com/alertbox is a great resource for how to build good websites.

Nielsen's "Alertbox"
www.useit.com/alertbox

Adaptive Path's incisive essays on information design, architecture and usability
www.adaptivepath.com/publications/essays/archives/index.php

Slashdot blurb:

CIO Insight's executive editor Brad Wieners interviews Web site design usability evangelist Jakob Nielsen about design mistakes like poor search, discusses organizational resistance and common barriers to doing usability reviews, concluding with Nielsen's Adobe PDF and pop-up pet peeves, common redesign errors and budget advice when it's time for a redesign, either for your Web site or company intranet. And just to make it more usable and readable (so you don't have to click through multiple pages), you can read the entire Jakob Nielsen interview on one printer-friendly page with fewer graphics and a bandwidth-saving document size for people using dial-up Internet connections.

Notes from this article, originally at http://www.cioinsight.com/print_article/0,1406,a=129234,00.asp

Pet Peeves in General

  • Fail to include a tag line that explicitly summarizes what the site or company does.
  • Neglect to use a liquid layout that lets users adjust the home page size.
  • Don't use color to distinguish visited and unvisited links.
  • Use graphics to decorate, rather than illustrate real content.
  • Give an active link to the home page on the home page.

Source: Dr. Jakob Nielsen's "Alertbox," November 2003

B2B Tips

To make the most of your B2B Web site, nielsen recommends that you "Help your fans help you" win their business. Provide the resources prospective clients' need to sell your products and services internally. Offer these aids:

  • Downloadable product photos, preferably ones that show the product being used.
  • White papers that demonstrate ROI. Make these short, and don't use PDF; standard Web pages make it easier for advocates to cut and paste text and images into their memos and presentations.
  • Links to external press coverage that demonstrates that independent sources have covered you positively.
  • Downloadable tables showing your product's main specifications, benefits and price, along with competitive comparisons.
  • Downloadable slide shows, preferably in PowerPoint format.
  • Ongoing updates through an e-mail newsletter, which can offer advocates hints about tidbits to feed their bosses.

Source: Norman Nielsen Group Inc.

Personality Profiles

I'm usually entertained by things like this. tickle.com has various free IQ tests and personality profiles. I took the IQ test (an entertaining 142), and the personality ink blot tests.

The results were entertaining.

Tickle's Original Inkblot Test

Your subconscious mind is driven most by Curiosity

This means you are full of questions about life, people, and the potential of your future. You spend more time than others envisioning the possibilities of your life — things that others are too afraid to consider.

Your curiosity burns with an almost physical need to know and do more. It's only through new experiences that you feel a greater understanding of yourself or the world — which ultimately is the greatest way for you to feel satisfied.

It is possible that the underlying reason for your drive towards curiosity is a deeply rooted fear of boredom. That means that you are probably more susceptible than others to feel like you're falling into a rut when life slows down into a comfortable routine.

You need to make sure you have stimulation in your life — that makes you feel like you're innovating or being exposed to the ideas and experiences that truly inspire you.

With such a strong orientation towards curiosity, you're also prone to a rebellious quality that shows up when you feel you are just going through the motions, and are unable to really influence the world around you. But interestingly enough, your drive towards novel experiences also indicates an openness others don't have, but wish they did.

Unconsciously, your curiosity presses you to learn more, experience more, and get the most out of life.

Though your unconscious mind is driven most strongly by Curiosity, there is much more to who you are at your core.

Heh. Imagine. Me. Bored. Heh.

The 25 most difficult questions

From http://www.datsi.fi.upm.es/~frosal/docs/25mdq.html
which has "As Reprinted from FOCUS Magazine -- January 5, 1983" at the top.

The 25 most difficult questions you'll be asked on a job interview

Being prepared is half the battle.

If you are one of those executive types unhappy at your
present post and embarking on a New Year's resolution to find a new
one, here's a helping hand. The job interview is considered to be the
most critical aspect of every expedition that brings you face-to- face
with the future boss. One must prepare for it with the same tenacity
and quickness as one does for a fencing tournament or a chess match.

This article has been excerpted from "PARTING COMPANY:
How to Survive the Loss of a Job and Find Another Successfully"
by William J. Morin and James C. Cabrera. Copyright by Drake Beam Morin,
inc. Publised by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Morin is chairman and Cabrera is president of New York-based
Drake Beam Morin, nation's major outplacement firm, which has opened
offices in Philadelphia.

1. Tell me about yourself.

Since this is often the opening question in an interview, be extracareful
that you don't run off at the mouth. Keep your answer to a minute or
two at most. Cover four topics: early years, education, work history,
and recent career experience. Emphasize this last subject. Remember
that this is likely to be a warm-up question. Don't waste your best
points on it.

2. What do you know about our organization?

You should be able to discuss products or services, revenues, reputation,
image, goals, problems, management style, people, history and philosophy.

But don't act as if you know everything about the place. Let your answer
show that you have taken the time to do some research, but don't overwhelm
the interviewer, and make it clear that you wish to learn more.

You might start your answer in this manner: "In my job search,
I've investigated a number of companies.

Yours is one of the few that interests me, for these reasons..."

Give your answer a positive tone. Don't say, "Well, everyone tells
me that you're in all sorts of trouble, and that's why I'm here",
even if that is why you're there.

3. Why do you want to work for us?

The deadliest answer you can give is "Because I like people."
What else would you like-animals?

Here, and throughout the interview, a good answer comes from having
done your homework so that you can speak in terms of the company's needs.
You might say that your research has shown that the company is doing
things you would like to be involved with, and that it's doing them
in ways that greatly interest you. For example, if the organization
is known for strong management, your answer should mention that fact
and show that you would like to be a part of that team. If the company
places a great deal of emphasis on research and development, emphasize
the fact that you want to create new things and that you know this is
a place in which such activity is encouraged. If the organization stresses
financial controls, your answer should mention a reverence for numbers.

If you feel that you have to concoct an answer to this question - if,
for example, the company stresses research, and you feel that you should
mention it even though it really doesn't interest you- then you probably
should not be taking that interview, because you probably shouldn't
be considering a job with that organization.

Your homework should include learning enough about the company to avoid
approaching places where you wouldn't be able -or wouldn't want- to
function. Since most of us are poor liars, it's difficult to con anyone
in an interview. But even if you should succeed at it, your prize is
a job you don't really want.

4. What can you do for us that someone else can't?

Here you have every right, and perhaps an obligation, to toot your
own horn and be a bit egotistical. Talk about your record of getting
things done, and mention specifics from your resume or list of career
accomplishments. Say that your skills and interests, combined with this
history of getting results, make you valuable. Mention your ability
to set priorities, identify problems, and use your experience and energy
to solve them.

5. What do you find most attractive about this position? What seems
least attractive about it?

List three or four attractive factors of the job, and mention a single,
minor, unattractive item.

6. Why should we hire you?

Create your answer by thinking in terms of your ability, your experience,
and your energy. (See question 4.)

7. What do you look for in a job?

Keep your answer oriented to opportunities at this organization. Talk
about your desire to perform and be recognized for your contributions.
Make your answer oriented toward opportunity rather than personal security.

8. Please give me your defintion of [the position for which you are
being interviewed].

Keep your answer brief and taskoriented. Think in in terms of responsibilities
and accountability. Make sure that you really do understand what the
position involves before you attempt an answer. If you are not certain.
ask the interviewer; he or she may answer the question for you.

9. How long would it take you to make a meaningful contribution to
our firm?

Be realistic. Say that, while you would expect to meet pressing demands
and pull your own weight from the first day, it might take six months
to a year before you could expect to know the organization and its needs
well enough to make a major contribution.

10. How long would you stay with us?

Say that you are interested in a career with the organization, but
admit that you would have to continue to feel challenged to remain with
any organization. Think in terms of, "As long as we both feel achievement-oriented."

11. Your resume suggests that you may be over-qualified or too experienced
for this position. What's Your opinion?

Emphasize your interest in establishing a long-term association with
the organization, and say that you assume that if you perform well in
his job, new opportunities will open up for you. Mention that a strong
company needs a strong staff. Observe that experienced executives are
always at a premium. Suggest that since you are so well qualified, the
employer will get a fast return on his investment. Say that a growing,
energetic company can never have too much talent.

12. What is your management style?

You should know enough about the company's style to know that your
management style will complement it. Possible styles include: task oriented
(I'll enjoy problem-solving identifying what's wrong, choosing a solution
and implementing it"), results-oriented ("Every management
decision I make is determined by how it will affect the bottom line"),
or even paternalistic ("I'm committed to taking care of my subordinates
and pointing them in the right direction").

A participative style is currently quite popular: an open-door method
of managing in which you get things done by motivating people and delegating
responsibility.

As you consider this question, think about whether your style will
let you work hatppily and effectively within the organization.

13. Are you a good manager? Can you give me some examples? Do you
feel that you have top managerial potential?

Keep your answer achievementand ask-oriented. Rely on examples from
your career to buttress your argument. Stress your experience and your
energy.

14. What do you look for when You hire people?

Think in terms of skills. initiative, and the adaptability to be able
to work comfortably and effectively with others. Mention that you like
to hire people who appear capable of moving up in the organization.

15. Have you ever had to fire people? What were the reasons, and how
did you handle the situation?

Admit that the situation was not easy, but say that it worked out well,
both for the company and, you think, for the individual. Show that,
like anyone else, you don't enjoy unpleasant tasks but that you can
resolve them efficiently and -in the case of firing someone- humanely.

16. What do you think is the most difficult thing about being a manager
or executive?

Mention planning, execution, and cost-control. The most difficult task
is to motivate and manage employess to get something planned and completed
on time and within the budget.

17. What important trends do you see in our industry?

Be prepared with two or three trends that illustrate how well you understand
your industry. You might consider technological challenges or opportunities,
economic conditions, or even regulatory demands as you collect your
thoughts about the direction in which your business is heading.

18. Why are you leaving (did you leave) your present (last) job?

Be brief, to the point, and as honest as you can without hurting yourself.
Refer back to the planning phase of your job search. where you considered
this topic as you set your reference statements. If you were laid off
in an across-the-board cutback, say so; otherwise, indicate that the
move was your decision, the result of your action. Do not mention personality
conflicts.

The interviewer may spend some time probing you on this issue, particularly
if it is clear that you were terminated. The "We agreed to disagree"
approach may be useful. Remember hat your references are likely to be
checked, so don't concoct a story for an interview.

19. How do you feel about leaving all your benefits to find a new
job?

Mention that you are concerned, naturally, but not panicked. You are
willing to accept some risk to find the right job for yourself. Don't
suggest that security might interest you more than getting the job done
successfully.

20. In your current (last) position, what features do (did) you like
the most? The least?

Be careful and be positive. Describe more features that you liked than
disliked. Don't cite personality problems. If you make your last job
sound terrible, an interviewer may wonder why you remained there until
now.

21. What do you think of your boss?

Be as positive as you can. A potential boss is likely to wonder if
you might talk about him in similar terms at some point in the future.

22. Why aren't you earning more at your age?

Say that this is one reason that you are conducting this job search.
Don't be defensive.

23. What do you feel this position should pay?

Salary is a delicate topic. We suggest that you defer tying yourself
to a precise figure for as long as you can do so politely. You might
say, "I understand that the range for this job is between $______
and $______. That seems appropriate for the job as I understand it."
You might answer the question with a question: "Perhaps you can
help me on this one. Can you tell me if there is a range for similar
jobs in the organization?"

If you are asked the question during an initial screening interview,
you might say that you feel you need to know more about the position's
responsibilities before you could give a meaningful answer to that question.
Here, too, either by asking the interviewer or search executive (if
one is involved), or in research done as part of your homework, you
can try to find out whether there is a salary grade attached to the
job. If there is, and if you can live with it, say that the range seems
right to you.

If the interviewer continues to probe, you might say, "You know
that I'm making $______ now. Like everyone else, I'd like to improve
on that figure, but my major interest is with the job itself."
Remember that the act of taking a new job does not, in and of itself,
make you worth more money.

If a search firm is involved, your contact there may be able to help
with the salary question. He or she may even be able to run interference
for you. If, for instance, he tells you what the position pays, and
you tell him that you are earning that amount now and would Like to
do a bit better, he might go back to the employer and propose that you
be offered an additional 10%.

If no price range is attached to the job, and the interviewer continues
to press the subject, then you will have to restpond with a number.
You cannot leave the impression that it does not really matter, that
you'll accept whatever is offered. If you've been making $80,000 a year,
you can't say that a $35,000 figure would be fine without sounding as
if you've given up on yourself. (If you are making a radical career
change, however, this kind of disparity may be more reasonable and understandable.)

Don't sell yourself short, but continue to stress the fact that the
job itself is the most important thing in your mind. The interviewer
may be trying to determine just how much you want the job. Don't leave
the impression that money is the only thing that is important to you.
Link questions of salary to the work itself.

But whenever possible, say as little as you can about salary until
you reach the "final" stage of the interview process. At that
point, you know that the company is genuinely interested in you and
that it is likely to be flexible in salary negotiations.

24. What are your long-range goals?

Refer back to the planning phase of your job search. Don't answer,
"I want the job you've advertised." Relate your goals to the
company you are interviewing: 'in a firm like yours, I would like to..."

25. How successful do you you've been so far?

Say that, all-in-all, you're happy with the way your career has progressed
so far. Given the normal ups and downs of life, you feel that you've
done quite well and have no complaints.

Present a positive and confident picture of yourself, but don't overstate
your case. An answer like, "Everything's wonderful! I can't think
of a time when things were going better! I'm overjoyed!" is likely
to make an interviewer wonder whether you're trying to fool him . .
. or yourself. The most convincing confidence is usually quiet confidence.

Agile Methods Miss the Point

From artima developer, Agile Methods Miss the Point, by Dale Asberry, April 5, 2004

Summary

Elaboration of the seven principles contributing to my success - the Princples of: Enabling Others, Simplicity, No Complaining, Least Work, Least Surprise, Least Damage, and "It Just Works".

Where'd it come from

I was working on my JCM7 presentation Jini and Web Services: Judy Project Overview when I realized that I was making choices about how I developed the Judy codebase. I'm not really sure why I hadn't consciously recognized what I was doing -- especially since I remember following these principles for years... maybe from the project being "my baby", or, possibly, from the complete lack of time I have to give to it. Mostly, I think it came from me thinking about how to describe Judy to my audience. Since software is for, and about, people, I decided to include it in the presentation.

Dogma

One thing bothers me about the "Agile" movement is the fervor of the religious dogmatism from many of the practitioners. Before I get flamed, hear me out... I personally think many of the agile practices solve several problems that have afflicted the industry for decades -- I use them to solve problems myself. Yet, these practices are still fumbling around the most basic tenet. Software is for, and about, people. Fervor and dogmatism, while good at spreading and enforcing "the word", ultimately squashes critical thought (and the people engaged in it). Principles, on the other hand, are only meant as guides. Dogma are inflexible, hard and fast rules and includes the resulting punishment when a person strays.

Back to the Subject at Hand

Focusing on these principles, coupled with shuffling their priorities to meet the needs of the moment, has resulted in a steady progression and happiness with my chosen career - regardless of the methodologies (Waterfall->RAD->RUP->Agile) and technologies (COBOL->C/C++->Delphi->Java->Jini->Web Services) available to me.

The Principle of Enabling Others

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for life." At the end of the day, this makes me more productive by focusing on what software development is really about -- the people I work with. Paradoxical, I know, but very powerful.

The Principle of Simplicity

If it isn't simple, then it's wrong. In programming terms, simplicity is relative to the level of abstraction. This principle is fallout from having to maintain, review, or otherwise interact with uncounted lines of crappy, overly-complex code from lazy programmers. I particularly despise having to write sub-optimal code myself to work around the limitations of someone else's (fill in the blank) framework/API/application.

The Principle of No Complaining

Don't complain if you're not willing to fix the problem. Nothing is more destructive nor demoralizing than a contentious spirit. Complainers are lazy, petty, and spiteful with no intention of ever being helpful (although they are usually pretty crafty about trying to make it look like they are).

The Principle of Least Work

Do the least it takes to make the software useful, but, prepare for the future. Do whatever it takes to make the work easier (see enabling others). If someone else has already done it, see if you can use it. This principle is not condoning laziness -- there is already to much work that needs to be done and not enough time to do it.

The Principle of Least Surprise

Always do the least surprising thing. In other words, make it work intuitively. And, don't trust your own intuition. I wasn't able to find who discovered this principle, but it is true on many levels, not just GUI design. Unfortunately we are forced to live with products that fail to follow this principle. Why is so much software so baffling?

The Principle of Least Damage

Firstly, don't let the user do something they don't understand. Secondly, if you do, always give them a way to undo it. Finally, operations should only do one thing at a time in incremental baby steps -- except when the user knows what she is doing. Users should feel safe using the software.

The Principle of "It Just Works"

Never expect or require the user to RTFM. Lead the user to her goal. Encourage the user to explore. Expect the user to say, "wow, it's so easy to use!" Frankly, I'm completely fed up with all those software projects that force me to grab the source from HEAD (just to get a usable distribution) and then requires me to read the source code just to figure out how the application works.

Final Thoughts

If you remember and focus on software (use and development) being about people, then whatever principles you follow will equally lead to your success.

Notes on CSS floats

From http://www.simplebits.com/ April 3rd 2003 entry:

Not long after I updated my CSS, a reader pointed out that when resizing text, the content column would “jump” to the right, overlapping the sidebar. Not good.

The problem: I needed to clear the floats that enable the navigation to be horizontal. This didn’t seem to be a problem in my old, positioned layout. But when floats are used to lay out the columns that follow the navigation, not clearing can cause bizarre issues.

The solution: Adding a simple clear: left; to the #content declaration (since this

follows the navigation) solved the text resizing issue.

Something to keep in mind if you’re using a floating layout, along with an unordered navigation list that also uses float.

So… clear, clear, clear.

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