Coffee: Grounds for Change

Is it really that hard to make a cup of coffee?
(An article I posted on Medium)



Food for Thought

This important project was sponsored, in part, by the organizers of the Devoxx developer conferences. It represents years of research and days of indigestion.


Training Day

This important documentary gives a glimpse into the difficult training regimen of competitive presenting.


Husband and Father is Leaving Senior Family Position to Spend More Time at the Office

Keith Sturbender is leaving his job as caretaker of his family to spend more time as an accountant at a small local company.

“Mr. Sturbender has office situations that need his attention,” a co-worker said. “There are many important meetings that he could be attending, and bureaucratic office politics that would benefit from his pedantic point of view. He is putting the needs of the corporation and of his colleagues first.”

“My family has been very supportive of this change,” said Mr. Sturbender in a prepared statement. “If it weren’t for the love and strength that they have offered to me in this stressful time, I don’t think I could have found it in me to leave them behind.”

Mr. Sturbender started his tenure with his family two and a half years ago, when his wife gave birth to their first child. “My place,” he said at that time, “is at home with the children. They need a nurturing environment in which to grow and learn.” The family has since had twins; all three children are still in diapers.

In his prepared statement, Mr. Sturbender said, “I just can’t take it any more. The incessant need for attention and the godawful crying All the Damn Time. And the idiotic sing-alongs? Don’t get me started! I look forward to getting back to what I do best: sitting at my desk organizing calendar appointments and revising meeting minutes.”

“When Mr. Sturbender told us that he wanted to move on, we respected his decision. Family life isn’t for everyone, and the family understands how important his agenda meetings and internal Fiscal Statement memos are to him. Sometimes, you just have to understand life’s priorities and put the company first.”

The family is currently searching for a new husband for the position recently vacated, according the family’s divorce lawyer.


Round & Holy: The FAQ

As a prospective buyer of Round and Holy: An Homage to Donuts, I am sure that you have important questions about the book that you'd like answers to before spending the entire $4.95 that it would take to own a copy.

I can't answer those questions, but here are some other, completely different questions, along with adequate answers. Maybe they'll help.

Q: Why did you write a poetry book? What about another programming book? Or humor book?

A: Please constrain yourself to one question at a time. This format completely breaks down if everyone's shouting multi-part questions at me at the same time. This is an FAQ, not a presidential press conference. Nevertheless, I will, just this once, answer this question with a multi-part answer:

A1: Why poetry? Because I want to do the best I can at every endeavor. When it's was clear that I was being successful at writing humor books that don't sell many copies, I realized that I had to go further, and be better than I had before. If I'm going to publish books that don't sell well, I should publish a thin volume of poetry, because that kind of book doesn't sell better than every other kind of book. I fully expect to not sell many copies of this book and, in so doing, it will be my most successful humor book yet.

A2: Because programming books take a lot of effort. Seriously. You lose like six months of weekends and evenings, and editing the book is slightly less pleasurable than gouging out your eyes with a salty oyster fork. Poetry, on the other hand, is fun to write.

A3: This is a humor book. It's just a lot shorter. And it rhymes.

Q: Why donuts?

A: Er, uh, um, ... because donuts. Obviously.

Q: What's your favorite kind of donut?

A: The one that's in front of me.

Q: Why is the book so short?

A: Great question, thanks for asking! There are a couple of answers to this one:

a) Because it's a poetry book. Have you heard the term "slim volume of poetry"? Of course you have, especially if you read my answers above. But have you ever heard the term "monstrously long volume of poetry"? Of course not. Nobody wants a huge volume of poetry; it will just sit there on your end-table, weighing it down and making you feel guilty for never picking it up and actually reading it. What we really want from a poetry book is something like that we can pick up, enjoy, and put down again easily. And it can double as a drink coaster. This is another book in this classic tradition; it has just the right amount of poems in it for a poetry book.

b) Because donuts. Whenever you have donuts, you think you're going to want a lot of them. You plow through the first one without even noticing it. Then you take on a second and really enjoy it. Then somewhere in the middle of the third donut, you realize you've probably had enough. You might, in some critical situations (like, for example, you wanted to) go for four donuts. But you'll feel and probably regret that decision for the rest of the day.
This book, about donuts, realizes that fundamental truth about its subject and offers just enough poems to satisfy, but not so many that you'll feel stuffed, obese, and nauseous.

Q: Why is there no electronic version of this book?

A: Can you consume donuts on your Kindle? Obviously not. Likewise, you'll need the physical form of this book to really enjoy it.
Honestly, I could have published the electronic version of the book, just like I did for my When I am King... books, but I don't think that electronic books do justice to illustrated books. And the illustrations are such an important part of this book that I didn't want to lose that dynamic in turning to digital. Sometimes, old-fashioned is best.

Q: The art in this book looks different than the drawings on your two When I am King... books. Did you take classes? Or practice?

A: Again with the multiple questions. But I'll overlook this and rephrase your questions as a simple "What gives?"
When I realized that I would need to provide illustrations for every poem in the book, sometimes more than one per poem, I soon saw that: (a) it would take me a long time to draw illustrations I was happy with and (b) I was incapable of drawing anything but my own self portrait. So I sought the aid of an old friend of mine, Jim Bias, who was able to work through the material with me, figure out a style that we both liked, and quickly deliver all kinds of options for the book.
I hope this marks an important change in the direction of my books; whenever there's an illustration that's not my self-portrait, maybe it will be done by Jim.

Q: Could you give us just one poem here?

A: Can't rhyme. No time.


Round and Holy: An Homage to Donuts (The Book)

Q: What's better than a donut in the morning?
A: A donut book in the morning. And a donut.

Once in a generation, a book comes along that will change your life.
This is not that book.

These richly illustrated poems celebrate humanity's greatest achievement: the donut.

Round & Holy: An Homage to Donuts: Now available from Amazon:


The Fine Print

I've never read the label of my scotches before; drinking whiskey and reading fine print aren't really activities that go well together. But I I finally managed to decipher this one.


Christmas Delivery

It was Christmas Eve and the workshop was, of course, utter chaos. It was the same every year.

Sometime in February, a new Program Manager would propose a brand new process that would surely fix it last year's problems. “This time,” they’d say, “We’ll do it earlier. And we’ll do it better!”

It would always start with schedule adjustments:
  • The Naughty & Nice List must be frozen by June
  • Present orders due August first
  • Present manufacturing August-September
  • Present delivery to Shipping in October
  • Outstanding issues and errors processed in October
  • Final order adjustments in November
This, they said, would leave all of December to pack the sled, double-check everything, and take a big breath before Delivery.

The schedule would start slipping early on. First, the Naughty & Nice List wouldn’t be ready on time. The PMs would ask for it, but Evaluation would push back, saying, “The year hasn’t even happened yet! We don’t know whether they’re naughty or nice!” They’d offer some token names for the List (with some kids you always know how its going to end up), but it didn’t even account for 5% of the total List. The PMs would argue for incremental improvement and names would trickle in over the year, but the bulk of the evaluations really didn’t happen until late Fall.

Presents couldn’t be ordered in July, of course, because it wasn’t clear who would get what until the List was complete. Manufacturing stalled waiting on Ordering. And the entire Shipping department just went on a six month offsite to Aruba, knowing that there wouldn’t be anything for them to deal with until the last minute.

Finally it all always comes together in December, with everything happening in parallel, gumming up the works as elves are hand-carrying names, orders, and presents in a flurry of activity more like Black Friday at Walmart than Santa’s Happy Workshop.

This year, some PM (a new one, of course, as the previous year’s PM quit in a huff and took on a job in Returns (“At least Returns knows something about adhering to process!, ” she quipped in her obligatory departmental goodbye email)) had the bright idea of trying out some Agile methodology. They apparently ran across a huge stack of some book in Returns on the subject and thought that it would solve all of our problems.

The year started out with this discouraging email:

Hey Team!

As your new scrum master, I’m here to welcome you to 2014, or what I’m calling The Year of Process! This year, we won’t suffer any of the previous problems because we will iterate on deliverables in short sprints, delivering incremental product improvements based on specific customer requirements. Daily stand-up meetings will cover status as well as project overlap and bottlenecks, which will be adjusted through cross-team collaboration.

Through careful adherence to process discipline, we will all have a productive year and December will be a joyous holiday time instead of a slog.

So welcome to the Year of Process: It’s my gift to you!

Scrum Master Elf

Nobody understood or cared about this. Another year, another PM. Another PM, another attempt at fixing an unfixable problem.

We all showed up for the first stand-up meeting; we’d heard there would be donuts. Everyone but the PM was seated comfortably, despite his best efforts to get us to rise. We spent a few painful minutes in a round-table status discussion, then ambled off to get some more coffee.

The next day there was another stand-up meeting, but I don’t think anyone other than the PM showed up.

We’d get a flurry of emails on how things were going on an almost continual basis. I think the PM was just having a conversation with himself; I know that we weren’t listening. Emails with titles like, “February Sprint Deliverables!” and “March Deadline Approaching!” and “[URGENT!] April Requirements Due!” all got auto-filtered into our junk folders.

Around July, the emails stopped cold. The official story was that the PM had taken a vacation, from which he apparently never returned. The word on the street was that he had flipped out in the break room and started flinging sugar packets everywhere, shouting, “And you get process! And you get process! And you get process!” Security escorted him out and he’s supposedly recovering in his mother’s basement.

The rest of the year went the same as they always do, with everyone just hanging out playing poker until December and then kicking into overdrive to get it all done on time.

So here we were again: December 24th. The List had barely come in in time to have any of the presents ordered. But we pushed through a Code Red and got all the right forms submitted. The assembly line kicked into high gear, temporary elves were brought on, overtime was signed off on, and all of the presents were made to spec (though without, perhaps, the care and attention that they all deserved. But how is a five year old supposed to notice too much glue in a joint? Or whether their bear is cross-eyed? Or whether their toy trains wheels are trued?). We all formed a packing line to get the presents from Manufacturing into the sleigh, and it was all finally done with at least a minute to spare. Maybe even a minute and a half.

“Okay, Santa,” I said to my boss as he settled into his seat, putting his fresh quint-espresso into the cup holder (a recent addition to the sleigh, something we managed in the summer downtime). “Everything is here: all present and accounted for. It’s a wrap!”

He looked at me sternly. “You really need some new jokes,” he said.

“And I thought I had a gift!,” I said with a smile.

“Ugh. All right, let’s hook up the reindeer and get these delivered.”

“Yes sir!”

I turned to make it happen when he called me back.

“Oh, and one more thing.”

“Yes, Santa?”

“I have an idea for a present for me for next year.”

“Really? We’ve… we’ve… we’ve never had such a request, sir. I’m not sure we’re equipped. But we’ll see what we can do. Do you need a new sleigh? Dry-cleaning for your outfit? A new set of reindeer? A beard trimmer? World peace? What can we get you, sir?”

“I want a year without process.”

“Yes, sir!”