A Trace in the Sand
Ruth Malan's Journal
on Architects Architecting Architecture

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Trace in the Sand
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Um... and these
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Green Thinking

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December 2009

12/1/09 Your Co-ordinates

This journal contains notes I take as I explore what it takes to be a great software, systems and enterprise architect. This is a journal of the journey through the wondrous landscape of our field, stopping to point out the features of the landscape produced by others, and sometimes crafting a new feature myself.  

12/1/09 Lighting the Path (or Thank You Michael!)

Michael Zyda begins his article in the latest Communications of the ACM thus:

"In technology, the conceptual age is defined by cognitive or creative assets, including design, storytelling, artistry, empathy, play, and emotion. Good engineering or good computer science is no longer enough; design must be just as good." 

-- Michael Zyda, Computer Science in the Conceptual Age, Communications of the ACM, Vol. 52 No. 12, Pages 66-72

A number of thoughts--one being: get this message out there! The image of our software world--from the outside--has largely been shaped by alpha-tech-types who are extremely talented and contribute heroically to software success. But a new world is emerging, and while I have been characterizing it the innovation age, Zyda and others are calling it the conceptual age. No matter. What is important is that innovation is being democratized. Which is to say, it is being pushed into every nook and cranny of the world. It will not be dominated by the US, nor by alpha-geeks, nor by large companies, nor by small. Hobbyists and users, researchers in industrial R&D labs and post-doc students at premier research universities all have access to what it takes--human ingenuity paired with enough tech savvy to be dangerous... dangerous to the entrenched establishment, that is. Human ingenuity and a propensity for design, storytelling, artistry, empathy, play, and emotion factor more than we may like to credit, in the creation of systems that push our business capabilities and products ever forward.  

Human ingenuity crosses gender, nations, economic strata and more. Education is key, but it is education and an inquiring mind and indefatigable willingness to try and try again. And more. Imagination--the ability to explore what is not yet, but what could be--is crucial to innovation in product and in process. Innovation in complex contexts also necessitates drawing contributions from multiple specialty disciplines and this could be a limiting factor in many organizational cultures--perhaps endangered as specialists vie for slices of the power and resource pie. Worse in this hard-as-nails climate, for these soft-skills are being thrust under the rug like some embarrassing messiness held over from a more primitive or free-wheeling age. I've seen top talent--architects who combine technical skills and experience with a sense of possibility and ability to foster dialog and lead--being thrust aside by edgy alpha types in fear-prone environments where stripping back is being treated as the route to survival. But innovation thrives in creative minds, and creative minds need a mission worth pursuing, not a barren emotional context. An all-business stance, that edges out the social in socio-technical, is turning the work-world on its head--it is making humans the servants of technology, rather than the other way around. This sounds extreme, but it is becoming palpably real in many architecture groups where stories and influence are out, and command and control is in. The sad thing is, command and control is not how we want to live! When jobs are on the line, fearful employees don't want to take risks and there is less questioning and more docile following. But it is not true following of impassioned, creative minds. Instead, people in IT are working longer hours, but these are less rewarding hours as retrenchment increases the workload while decreasing empowerment. And I read today that employees are likely spending 50% of their time looking for other jobs!

Code is necessary, but not sufficient: "Good engineering or good computer science is no longer enough; design must be just as good." Good design--from the perspective of the user, and from the perspective of the structural integrity and adaptability of the system to ever-changing context(s)--is not simply a technical matter. Oh yes, it absolutely is a technical matter! But not only a technical matter. Even when it comes to structural integrity in complex systems, it is not all engineering and applied science. We're getting better at the science, but not only is there irreducible complexity to deal with, the ground under our feet keeps shifting because the technology substrate changes as fast as the world of business capabilities and product built upon it. In complex systems design there is a lot of inspired guesswork, trial and error, and just trial! And there is harvesting lessons from the failures--often intuitively rather than self-consciously. So we move our systems forward through interactions among networks of people. And quickly, even in the most technical aspects of our designs, we're talking about people-intensive, communication-intensive facets that are integral with the technical facets. Moreover, good design isn't simply a matter of cleaving the guts of the system in smart ways, and designing the mechanisms that co-ordinate and choreograph and facilitate the collaboration of the cloven parts so that the thing works as a system that is more than an assemblage of parts. Good design is about design of the system--from the perspective of the user too. It is about designing the user experience taking into account that tradeoffs are being made in terms of users with impacts on their process with tangible and intangible costs, and tradeoffs are being made in terms of the system building blocks and their interactions with tangible and intangible costs.

So I was very heartened to read what Zyda is doing educating for game programming, but much of what he is talking about applies just as well to IT and product development. It would be great if every developer had to spend time creating cardboard mockups! They should go through that and learn they love design or hate it, and realize it doesn't make them good or bad. It just means that diversity is needed in software development, and they can better appreciate the stylistic predilections of various people that needs-must make up a software team in this age of ongoing innovation and adaptation to a world where innovation is pervasive. Yes, yes, much of the innovation is small incremental improvements, but these add up, across the environment, to needing to stay nimble and adaptive. And to be so, we need good designers and we need good engineers and computer scientists. We need specialists in specific technical areas, we need developers, and we need specialists in system design, and specialists in user experience design. And on a small team, each person may be called upon to be all of these specialists, but in large teams, we need the system design specialists who draw on all of the other specialists, make decisions that need to be made at the system level to meet system objectives, and push all other decisions to the point in time and the team or person who is closest to the information needed to make the decision.

And, as we learn what it takes, hopefully we'll draw into our field more of the great designers who want to be immersed in technology but who also have a bent for visual expression and storytelling because we have to be able to envision and draw in pictures and words a changing world so that we can build this changing world. Yes, sometimes we're just designing a better "resource manager" with more control buttons (figuratively), and even that is not a simple internal IT efficiency matter because it impacts the status quo of the business. And on it goes. Very little that we do is purely self-contained within the technology space. And wherever it impacts people and process, there is a contextual design issue we either force by fiat (and fiat is a failure prone approach) or by dealing with the socio-technical design implications.

"Technical skill is mastery of complexity while creativity is mastery of simplicity."

-- Christopher Zeeman, (1925 - ) Catastrophe Theory, 1977

12/3/09 Books, Books, Books 

Leadership

Systems engineering

Innovation and creativity

Legacy Systems

12/3/09 Thoreau Teaching

I followed a trail of crumbs that led, to my surprise, to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy page on Henry David Thoreau. It wasn't even on the fringe of my radar!  This struck me:

"...the greatest compliment we can pay to another person is to say that he or she enhances our life by inciting us to realize our highest aspirations." --  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy page on Henry David Thoreau

Many of the jokes that ride around on the back of gender differences, hold that women try to change men. But in simpler times, Thoreau viewed

it as deplorable that “we may love and not elevate one another”; the “love that takes us as it finds us, degrades us”

So, not to mold in the image we hold, but to invite, inspire, incite others to aspire and reach. Years ago, I captured this orientation thus. I'd have taken myself more seriously, if I'd known I was putting images to Thoreau's philosophy. Grin.

12/5/09 The Nutcracker

Ballet is unique in our experience, for the art form that visually stuns us, is composed and expressed in terms of the human body. IU's The Nutcracker was awesome! Ben Delony was superb. Last night in the Arabian dance he transported us--sensual, strong, vibrant and such synergy in his partnership with Danielle! Ben danced different parts across the 4 performances, so we got to see just how versatile and talented he is! (I saw two performances; long story.)

Tonight, Caitlin Kirschenbaum as the sugar plum fairy made me cry. Oh, don't think it was just me being soppy; Dana said she had the same effect on him! It is so moving that a flesh and blood person can be so utterly, utterly exquisite! She took our breathe away and made us feel astonished and tingly with awed delight!

I'm so heartened and thankful that people do this! I remember Kent Beck saying in a talk that his daughter had chosen to study dance and he'd had qualms about her choice but came around to supporting her pursuit of her passion. All I can say is, I am just so glad that there are people who give their lives into ballet. It is a magical experience to be so lifted out of our everyday experience by sheer beauty, grace and power. It is such a privilege to see definitive moments in the careers of these so talented dancers. You probably think I've used too many words on this subject already, but I just can't find the words to express the delight.

And I don't think it is irrelevant! Whatever we do, whether it is dance or architect, when we nail what we do, the experience for the appreciator is that the sublime has been achieved by mortals--awesomely talented one's to be sure! But mortals, nonetheless. Subject to gravity just like the rest of us, though they sure don't look like it!

So we aspire to greatness in our chosen field, and the aspiration focuses the work we do. And if we work at it, it pays off. We transcend what others who don't strive so hard manage to achieve. Being great takes talent and work. Lots of work. Great choreographers and teachers help too. ;-)

12/12/09 Just...

I do appreciate your stopping by--I'm heartened that you're not as tired of my thoughts as I am! :-) 

I wrote an entry on information overload, had mercy on you and zapped it. Grin.  

Analytics, Benjamin. The future's in analytics. Let us be better informed, not just swamped [via Grady Booch] and tuned out.

12/13/09 Duly Noted

"good, right and successful" architecture and "right system built right"

12/13/09 A Style Preference?

the closet architect slipping definitive models and elegant solutions out to the team...

That's a teaser. :-)

[If you didn't get it--John, this one's for you. ;-) It's time to "out" the architect.]

12/13/09 System Facets

Just imagine that I put "context" in the top facet. Ok-- please.

When I was writing the post on VAP iterations last month, I toyed with the notion of fractals, but compromised on sketching facets... I need to add CONTEXT to the top surface... but... I think I need...

Perspective... is worth 80 IQ points. Think I can convince the IRS???

perspective...

Remember, “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points” (Alan Kay). Then again, xkcd is acute (scroll over to put this in perspective). Grin.

I took the kids to see 3-D Christmas Carol. It's great; the animation and 3D magic worked well in this interpretation of Dicken's Christmas classic! I love what imagination and technology can do together! It excites and delights me!

And the amount of alienation of spirit from work in our technology field daunts and depresses me.

11/14/09 Stories and Change 

Scrooge is a miser, but there are other ways that we don't give of ourselves; other ways we become locked into small-minded obsessions that shield us from the pain--and the joys--of other peoples' lives. 3-D Christmas Carol compellingly makes the point about the power of imagination and story to change attitudes, minds, lives. And it is about the way that a positive, optimistic outlook reshapes a person's experience of hardship and happiness. And the power of projection into the future, so that we make best use of the present. In short, if you take your team to see this movie, you can tell your boss* I said it is perfectly valid to write this off as a business expense!  :-)

I don't often recommend movies, because there is such a wide slate of tastes, and mine tend towards the more "literary" or artistic--where art leads formal disciplines like philosophy in exposing the past, the present and future, transporting us into other experience and feeling, and helping us develop empathy and create meaning.

Anyway, I do recommend this one. It reminds us that we are all on a very short passage between birth and death, and making it a happier passage for our fellow travelers doesn't only ennoble and enrich our spirit, it connects us to the currents of goodness which shape a better experience not just for others, but for ourselves. This isn't just about our "personal lives." This is about bringing our whole self into everything we do--the aesthetic self, the demanding analytical self, the meaning-making storytelling self, the pragmatic make-stuff self and the dreamer that sees how to create something new in the world self. It is about using all of our experience as an opportunity to enrich ourselves and those we encounter--in the spiritual sense, though I'm just as susceptible as the next person to the acquisition of enough resources to avail myself of slices of earth's bounty. Right now, a week or two of sunshine and beauty would ease my restlessness; either that, or something like the winter music festival in Glasgow next month!

Sometimes I get so discouraged by my little role in this software field. Then I read a paragraph like this one (from September 1, 2009):

In the meantime, here's a description of my role in writing this journal, and here is a Whack-a-mole sketch, Dilbert style. And this Dilbert is a nice complement to any discussion of the Agile Manifesto. Tomatoes? Why tomatoes? I think the Agile Manifesto is a set of liner notes, dude. Still, "bias to x" sounds much like "we value x over y"... which, when x=action and action=code, simplistically becomes  "Just do everything soon and perfectly"... and it's not just PHBs that make this simplifying leap of faith or... Grin.

And don't write tomatoes off as irrelevant to architecture either! Tomatoes actually come up in another great system story--a story about the importance of understanding context.

Yes, ultimately both this journal and tomatoes have their small relevance. Ok, very small. :-)

And then, there's mushrooms.

* I may have no influence with you, but mention my name to your boss and he will assume that, even though he doesn't know it, he should, and that will be influence enough with him. That's PHB 101. ;-)

12/13/09 Abstraction

"To a certain extent, all maps rely on some form of abstraction. Sometimes that means omitting details; at other times it involves simplifying or distorting salient features to improve legibility. One of the most ingenious examples of abstraction is the map of the London Underground. Designed originally by Harry Beck in 1933, the map pioneered the use of straight lines in place of actual winding routes and abandoned scale for simplicity. For three-quarters of a century, the map has remained a model of all that is easy to grasp at a glance."

-- "Turn by turn," Dec 12th 2009

Also from the same article:

"A more recent example of ingenious abstraction is the LineDrive methodology for route mapping developed at Stanford University in California. The technology is based on the cognitive psychology of how route maps are actually used, as well as the rough but highly effective directions people draw for one another on the backs of paper napkins. Surveys reveal that LineDrive maps—which, uncluttered by extraneous detail, show just a single trace from the origin to the destination, annotated only by helpful navigational aids such as route numbers and names of important cross streets—are preferred every time over standard computer-generated route maps.

...the researchers found that drivers needed less time to understand navigational instructions presented semantically (in words and numbers) rather than symbolically (as street signs and corporate logos)."

This is worth bearing in mind when modeling architectures, don't you think? Sketching plays a role--and I don't just mean hand rendering. I mean being sketchy. Leaving out extraneous detail. Being approximate, when that is good enough to convey the design intent--and especially when we are sketching to explore.

Note: The creator of LineDrive is Maneesh Agrawala, and he is now on the faculty at UC Berkeley. He has applied a similar approach to creating easier to follow assembly instructions for consumer products.  

12/14/09 More Visualization Links

Transportation

Math

Biology and Medicine

Other Applications of Martin Krzywinski's Circos

Visualization Applications

More links here.

12/14/09 Architect Competencies

Competencies of IT Architects, 2nd edition, 2009 is published as a Google ebook, and looks like it will be quite useful (thanks to Don Hirst for the pointer). But... it does make some claims that I consider ill-advised:

from Chapter 6, Competencies of IT Architects, 2nd edition, 2009

Perhaps, a little more of that "opposable mind"??? A little less either-or and a little more and? This typology may meet with approval in the "boys don't cry" school, but humanity is complex, and people have different shades of propensity--what is more, what characteristics a person punches up (in the sense of emphasis or drawing out more strongly in themselves), is often situational. Context factors. We need to try to get a handle on complexity, but shoving it into either-or buckets doesn't serve architects very well!

Ok, I know plenty of architects who'd be hugely relieved by this typology. Many of them would be perfectly happy to accept that they are masculine-analytics. But then they'd have to partner with a feminine-visionary who can handle the fuzzy front end, get people on board, and hand over a tightly defined problem for them to carefully solve. And given that women are in short supply in our field, make that a male feminine-visionary. Did we just lose you? Couldn't we instead accept that enough people can flex across this space that we should not neutralize their talents and contributions with a polar taxonomy?

Tom Peters refers to some work that suggests that men are more dominance-hierarchical and women more network-collaborative. There, too, I objected. Plenty of men work in collaborative-networked ways, and many women work in dominance-hierarchical ways. And some move between these styles. So don't stereotype and don't, please don't, assign supposed gender qualities to an architect typology!

By the way, I thought this piece of research was interesting. We're in a business climate where savage brutish dominance behaviors are having their day in the sun. But it is not the ultimate survival strategy.     

"The non-cooperator tries to get a bigger piece of the pie, but the cooperator helps the pie be bigger," Pepper said.

"The naive view of Darwinian evolution is that it always favors the most savage, brutal and selfish behaviors. It doesn't – and this is one example of that. In nature, groups of cooperative individuals are more successful than groups of selfish individuals."

-- Why Nice Guys Usually Get the Girls, UA News, November 6, 2009

12/15/09 What are Models Good For?

No, not that kind of model! The kind the guys putting together the Agile Manifesto swept under the table! ;-)

[I'm still gathering thoughts and notes... this is just scratching the surface...]

A model is a representation or abstraction of something that we are trying to understand.

Here we are focusing in particular on visual models in system design and evolution. Models help

  • reason about and solve problems
  • evaluate various outcomes, to make decisions
  • sharpen our understanding
  • compare alternatives
  • surface and make assumptions explicit
  • guide risk assessment
  • discover new questions
  • allow thought experiments (for example, exploring "how does/will this work" or "what if")
  • enable simulations to be constructed
  • predict future trends
  • communicate clearly and compellingly
  • provide a basis for explanation and training

If we think of the model as the visualization (as in the case of a model expressed in UML, for example) we need to remember that "pictures are worth 1,000 words"--but only 1,000. The rest of the words still need to be written down, if we want to accomplish goals like communication and preservation of design and intent.

When to model?

To support reasoning:

  • limitations of the human mind/complexity of the subject of inquiry
  • difficult to keep track of all dimensions/variables at the same time
  • make relationships among factors/variables explicit
  • reveal the structure
  • explore and illuminate dynamics
  • draw on analogies and models or theories from other domains

To support collaboration:

  • facilitate understanding
  • lead more structured discussions
  • discuss specifics in the context of the "big picture"

To support experimentation:

  • modeling effort is small, in comparison with the magnitude of the outcome
  • perform sensitivity analysis
  • test assumptions/beliefs

To support persuasion and influence (visual rhetoric):

  • improves confidence (team: "we can do it"; stakeholders: "they demonstrate they know what they're up against/need to do")
  • interesting
  • the power has influenced our idiom: "I see what you mean," "it draws people in,"

(When) Is a diagram a model?

In software design contexts, I've seen some people distinguish "diagrams," or informal sketches of the architecture, system topology, use context, etc. from "models," and the distinction seems to be between more formal use of notation like UML and informal, ad hoc pictures. When these informal sketches are abstractions or representations of the system, these kinds of diagrams (from my perspective) are still models; they are just informally sketched. So perhaps this means that a model might have a lifecycle? Grin.

Improving visualizations

  • interactive visualizations are more effective  (Pat Hanrahan, Tableau's CTO)
  • Visualizations should be used collaboratively – We intuitively know working in groups is powerful. They diversify knowledge and provide checks and balances. Pat’s example this time was a study done that watched groups problem solve an emergency escape route both with and without visual aids. It was much more difficult to do with discussion only. To make collaboration more successful, Pat recommends adding context with the use of comments and annotations -- Pat Hanrahan, Tableau's CTO

Epstein's essay titled simply "Why Model?" is targeted at (social) scientists, but makes a number of pertinent points--and he references one of my favorite Feynman essays. This paragraph echoes points Grady Booch makes (though Grady makes them in the software context):

Simple models can be invaluable without being "right," in an engineering sense. Indeed, by such lights, all the best models are wrong. But they are fruitfully wrong. They are illuminating abstractions. I think it was Picasso who said, "Art is a lie that helps us see the truth." So it is with many simple beautiful models: the Lotka-Volterra ecosystem model, Hooke's Law, or the Kermack-McKendrick epidemic equations. They continue to form the conceptual foundations of their respective fields. They are universally taught: mature practitioners, knowing full-well the models' approximate nature, nonetheless entrust to them the formation of the student's most basic intuitions (see Epstein 1997). And this because they capture qualitative behaviors of overarching interest, such as predator-prey cycles, or the nonlinear threshold nature of epidemics and the notion of herd immunity. Again, the issue isn't idealization—all models are idealizations. The issue is whether the model offers a fertile idealization. As George Box famously put it, "All models are wrong, but some are useful."

Here's an alternative to the George Box quote:

"A theory has only the alternative of being right or wrong. A model has a third possibility: it may be right, but irrelevant." -- Manfred Eigen, (1927 -), The Physicist's Conception of Nature, 1973.

This slideshare presentation is neat: Creative Thinking: What we learned from Peter Pan and Willy Wonka.

12/16/09 Analogies

Epstein, in "Why Model?", also points out that models may help surface useful analogies. He makes great use of broad general knowledge, story and analogy himself, and has a vibrant, memorable turn of phrase:

"I am suggesting that analogies are more than beautiful testaments to the unifying power of models: they are headlights in dark unexplored territory. For instance, there is a powerful theory of infectious diseases. Do revolutions, or religions, or the adoption of innovations unfold like epidemics? Is it useful to think of these processes as formal analogues? If so, then a powerful pre-existing theory can be brought to bear on the unexplored field, perhaps leading to rapid advance."

Starting in Meta-Architecture, we recommend that architects look for analogies and metaphors. And yes, our doing so predates XP, and yes, we still do so. If a suitable analogy is found, it can help think about how to design the system. The point I've been making (these--groan*--past fifteen years) is that analogies can help us find the structures, relationships and qualities that unify and help explain our system. Epstein makes a different point--modeling can help us find analogies. I think these are complementary points. It is not a dictate, as per early XP. Only a suggestion; an aide to discovery.

We try to find the natural fit to business, use context and purpose, and the natural interstices within a system designed for such a fit. But some of what we do is pure invention, and working without a priori knowledge of the invention, we are bringing knowledge, insight, intuition from other systems to bear--that is, we use analogy. Moreover, notions like fit and interstices leverage analogical thinking. Being analogically impaired must, I suppose, adversely impact creativity, problem creation (asking new questions and inventing) and novel problem solution.  

* the groan is at the speed with which time runs its course through us; not the slowness of the field to get my points. ;-)

12/16/09 Visualizing Software Visualization

I'm trying to feel my way towards a structure for the software visualization space. Naturally I'm in the habit of seeing things through a VAP lens, so that influences what I see and that is good (VAP is, afterall, righteous profound; wink) and bad (I'm fallible; less so than many, but more so than you; wink). 

So right now what I see is smoke and mirrors. Like this: envisioning and intentional design (smoke); and reflection of the design as built in the system (mirrors).   [An archman cartoon sketch ghosts across my mind at this thought; I need to catch hold of it and pen pin it down.]

12/17/09 Learning How to See

12/17/09 Change and Adaptation

  • Constance E. Helfat, Sidney G. Winter, Sydney Finkelstein, David Teece, and Harbir Singh, Dynamic Capabilities: Understanding Strategic Change in Organizations, 2006

12/17/09 Technology Leading Change

"Canton argues that the pace of change is quickening and leading to new challenges—and opportunities—for business. And, according to Canton, it's the CIO who should be at the forefront of these changes, fusing technology innovation with business strategy and leading the rest of the company into tomorrow."

-- John McCormick quoting James Canton (from   The Change-Agent CIO, CIO Insights, 12/19/2007

The Change Agent CIO positions where CIO's need to be, which in turn is highly suggestive of the role of architects in IT. Here are some snippets:

"The next phase of this is CIOs being the ones who propose new products, new services and new strategies. ...

I have many big clients who have a culture that says, "We can't predict anything, so, therefore, we're just going to be reactive." So the first step is a mindset shift to where you believe that it's possible to make accurate predictions. ...

There is a new generation of CIOs emerging. The more they understand where the business is going and can help shape it, the better they're going to be in their careers, the better they're going to be able to serve their organizations and the better they're going to be able to deliver shareholder value."

-- James Canton, interviewed by John McCormick, "The Change-Agent CIO," CIO Insights, 12/19/2007

And for a different, and characteristically provocative, perspective:

"But the information management and information strategy elements will become, if anything, more important. The ways companies take advantage of digitized information will become more important, not less.

The big question in the long run is, do those types of skills—information management and thinking—remain in a separate IT department or do they naturally flow into business units and other traditional parts of the business? My guess is that over time, they'll begin to flow into the business itself and that will be accelerated as individual workers and business units get more control over the way they are able to organize and manipulate their own information. I would be surprised if maybe 20 years from now there are still IT departments in corporations."

-- Nicholas Carr interviewed by Edward Cone, "Nicholas Carr: Why IT Will Change,"  CIO Insights, 1/9/2008

Businesses will increasingly rely on business intelligence to understand threat and opportunity, and innovation will be driven by a creative understanding of existing and emerging technology capabilities, customer aspirations, desires, goals, activities, concerns and frustrations, and market trends and forces.

This 2002 case study on enterprises in real time raises some of the social concerns of "outsourcing to silicon" (a term I coined; I don't I don't see anyone else is using it... but it seems a good fit for moving jobs from people to computer-based systems...), increased monitoring, process streamlining. The answer is not to set the clock back, but rather to create jobs in innovating more environmentally friendly production-distribution-consumption-retirement into new use cycles.

12/17/09 Lincoln Speaks to UN Climate Change Conference!

"The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country." [and world]

— Abraham Lincoln, Message to Congress, December 1, 1862

12/17/09 Immersive Visualization

One of my first reactions to Second Life was that a "Past Lives" virtual world would be an awesome way to recreate and experience history. Naturally it should be much easier to get birthed into a decent avatar look-alike to oneself or historical personage, and go to the costume hall to be fitted out in period costume, and go to the places and events in history you wanted to experience through your avatar's adventures and encounters with other historical figures. Grin.  (If you peeked in on my avatar's birthing travails, you'll understand the wry grin.) Schools could put on Roman tournaments, wage battles, kids could give famous speeches in their historical context, put on a Shakespeare play with the dude himself directing,... whatever... I suppose an entry fee or donation could make the thing viable, much like wikipedia...

Anyway, today I was excited to see a different take on an immersive  experience of history has been integrated into Second Life. Naturally it's much better, in key ways, than what I imagined! :-)  A little more scouting, reveals some neat stuff happening in this area right in Second Life: a collection of historical maps, Paris 1900... Of course, Second Life has some experience problems... like finding this stuff (I found out about Paris 1900 outside SL)... and economic-stratification (designer avatars, buildings and decor are costly in SL--just like plastic surgery and a personal trainer can advantage the wealthy in RL)... I'm not against economic stratification per se, but it would be nice if an immersive history world didn't qualify the educational opportunities and experience, based on RL discretionary spending allowances...

12/18/09 Etsy Rocks!

A show of talentOk, this is twitterish long form, so skip if you don't want to celebrate the cottage revolution etsy style with me:

Christmas around the corner, and a niece in London... no problem with etsy's "shop local" feature. (Well, I could find UK artists using the "shop local" feature, but it wouldn't let me enter a UK address in the "ship to" area once I got to payment... Fortunately I could override the address with an email to the artist--who has already replied to me saying she's packaged up the gift and will post it tomorrow!) I have mentioned it before, but if you weren't following along then (around Valentine's Day) let me say this--I love having access to a world of artists from my base station. Grin. It makes beautiful handmade gifts easy and I love to honor the work of talented people by gifting some of their fine creations.

Larry Spears is our local favorite potter, and we're excited that he has a presence on etsy too. Larry is always innovating and creating. His lovely wife, Jan, teaches ballet and puts on productions in Brown County. His sons are both artists (Kyle's photography is also featured in the Spears Gallery), and they treat Larry with such tender solicitous respect that one knows that the goodness of the man runs deep.  

12/18/09 Aren't those sketches great... (or... not)

Looking for my post back in February where I first raved about etsy, I saw my "giving voice to the earth's pain" sketch.  I scroll over that month's sketches and photos and have to say I'm sure glad I have a Ruth around to say nice things to me! ;-) 

Kludge is anti-agility: tied by its shoelaces to the pastWell, ok, often it takes someone else pointing out the good in a piece of work, before others see it. So one might just see a child-like sketch of Archman running with a bunch of tightly coupled trash accumulating on his shoelaces and not realize that it is a remarkable visualization of the profound paradox that agile is vulnerable to--speed can slow the project down; moving fast and loose and not paying attention to clean-up (refactoring and simplification) can create a growing debt of kludgy code, so apparent early speed gives way to growing impedance.

So there we have it: architecture, personified as Archman, all set to be agile, but stymied by growing technical debt. And what do the words say (like xkcd, you need to scroll over to get the extras)? "Tied by its shoelaces to the past." Agile is all about today--tomorrow will take care of itself. Right? But if we don't take care today, indiscretion builds a debt that ties the system to yesterday and last month and last year. So that increasingly we have less confidence that tomorrow will take care of itself, and we find ourselves needing to rebuild the system to be competitive tomorrow. All that in one little sketch with a few scroll-over words! So, you surely agree, it's a little ruffian genius, really. ;-)

Anyone need me to explain the coupling and bad smells one? Or Archman addressing The Kludge. It's funny, but where I've seen my sketches "borrowed" it's been by non-software people, and they've been some of my worst executions but the idea has been conveyed nonetheless... like archman carrying the weight of the world, or archman walking a tightrope holding a balance bar...

I'm teasing--mostly myself!

[But, yes, pretty soon I'll be sending out those chocolate frogs to remind you that the 4th birthday of this journal would be a good time to say something encouraging. Or not. After all, it doesn't serve anyone to encourage me! :-)] 

12/19/09 Leading Change

I'm collecting material on leadership and change. If you come across anything interesting, do please send me the link.

12/19/09 Goodness Me!

I see that the CouchDB presentation that raised a ruckus after the Ruby Conference back in April is ploughing its way up the view rankings on Slideshare. It says a lot for "sex sells" and machismo doesn't it?  Well, at least Martin Fowler took a stand. I did, but I pulled my post, because, well, I'm a Q<= and not very drawn to wars, really. ;-)

There is much that is quite broken in our field around machismo behaviors that in part actively and quite intentionally repel women, and machismo behaviors that subtly and erosively create a field that is inhospitable to women--and gentle men who have managed to avoid the strong socializing forces that prioritize arrogance and dominance behaviors over facilitative networked behaviors. But Daniel Pink, Tom Peters, and others are looking at the world ahead, and seeing holistic thinking, empathy, collaboration and so forth being prominent attributes. I look at the world of now, and see those as attributes that play well in architects.

And no, having women in project and middle management doesn't mean we don't have a problem recruiting women into, and retaining women in technical roles.

12/19/09: Lessons for Architects from Scoobie Doo

Sara came chuckling into the office and repeated this snippet from a Scoobie Doo movie they'd just watched:

Reporter: "What's the secret to solving all those mysteries?"

Fred: "Teamwork. I do a lot of teamwork."

... Sara: "Get it? I do a lot of teamwork."

I can't tell you how many architects "do" teamwork in the first person singular... Not you, of course. No, you've never written the team vision, or the architecture document, to give the team "something to react to" rather than allowing them to participate in setting direction and creating the strawman that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy... and the prophecy goes like this: because the team isn't engaged in the creation they don't feel ownership so they don't invest in creating a better vision or architecture. No. But where they are empowered, that is when they are building the system, they figure out what they must do to make the system and hence themselves successful. The architecture is sidestepped and subverted. So the self-fulfilling prophecy is that ostensibly the architecture that is proposed is accepted... but as soon as the rubber hits the road it breaks up--just like everyone knew it would, because architectures are always wrong... Right? I mean look at our experience--the architecture of the built system never corresponds to what the architect wrote down. Indeed, why bother?

Ok, I put that a little strongly... but it happens. I can't tell you how many times I've had to intervene and say architecting by document review is not collaborative and is not going to serve the best interests of the project because good ideas will not be surfaced and the people involved will not be fully vested in the outcome. Even if they think they are--even if they are diligently reacting to the document! Collaboration actually involves working together! Not all the time, but some of the time--enough of the time. Working together. Not presenting at people. Not doing a stand-up. Not looping through cycles of edits and critical feedback, constructive or otherwise. Working. Together. Getting ideas and issues and approaches and alternatives into the shared mental workspace of the team, through models and words--and doing that mental messing around and probing and experimenting in the shared mental workspace, and then, as judgment directs, in code. Because something different happens when people work together. They bounce off each other. If the chemistry is bad, the bouncing is unproductive. If the chemistry--the goodwill--is right, the interaction surfaces new questions, new possibilities and new alternatives, and reveals otherwise hidden challenges and risks. Etc. All the good stuff of applying a multiplier not just because more brains are energetically engaged, but because the interaction sparks new discoveries. We're each on our own trajectories, have our own set of predilections and blind spots. And talents, insights and intuitions. Yeah, yeah, we know this. And still we think we can insert creativity and weed out the problems from an architecture by review!

Oh, I'm not arguing against the improvement/validation steps in VAP! Remember "and." Model out loud and "in pairs" or threes and fours. And have dynamic group reviews. Yes, as the architecture matures, we get to the formal review and high ceremony bit--if the complexity of the system or organization demands it. But early on, it is better to start with a small team working intensively together than a document created by one person working alone. Yes, one person may own and do most of the work of documenting the architecture to ensure integrity. But just as there is huge value in pair programming, there is huge value in architecting in a small team.

The architecture of the built system will differ from the first conception of the architecture. But if we do more of the architectural learning cheaply with collaborative, exploratory modeling, the second, third and n-th conceptions of the system and its architecture will differ from the first conception too! It may be hard to know when to switch the design medium from models (including sketches, diagrams and, where they serve deeper exploration or documentation, more formal models) to code, but it is harder, generally, to get people to seek out different alternatives and truly explore opportunity. We have such a strong need to make progress, we tend to go with the first ideas that seem workable and elaborate those. And this is why we have so many of those "failures of imagination" (Booch).

John mentioned a choice criteria for UML modeling tools that makes so much sense, now that it is voiced: "does the tool allow quick and dirty modeling or severely constrain one to work with (all) the formalisms of UML." It might seem like having the tool drive correct use of UML is a good thing, but during the rough sketching stage one wants to be able to work more... well, sketchily. "Chaordic" applies not just to systems, but to modeling them too, it seems.

12/20/09 Amazing Grace

Last night we watched Amazing Grace again (the first=last time was back in March 2007--I know when, because I wrote about it in this journal. :-)  It's a good time to be challenged--a good time to watch the story of a great leader and the team that chose him, and survey the epoch-defining ills of our day.

And isn't that interesting. Something I'd never noticed until the moment I wrote that! The team chose him to lead--the team came to William Wilberforce and opened his eyes and helped him see. Yes, he was a great leader, rightly attributed with leading change, but it is so interesting that his friend saw what he could and should accomplish for humanity, and brought a team to help him shape the vision and the course of action. Wilberforce led. He clearly led. But he had great follows who led him, too. Perhaps that is a mark of a great leader--being open to being led, though not by any means being an irresolute chameleon type...

It is so amazing what we don't see! Until we see it!

... well there is so much more in the movie that I could debrief... attributes of a leader, action, a diverse team, passion, strategy, the role of an astute "manager," ... uncertainty in the face of repeated setback and the role of love... but... I'm not entirely ready for Christmas...

Let me just say that Amazing Grace is an amazing Grace! It is so full of lessons for architects and other leaders! This world needs changes in the large, but changes in the large come about through a myriad changes in the small. It is pitched as a movie to show at church meetings, but I hope that doesn't put off someone who doesn't share the same beliefs as those that motivated William Wilberforce.

“Words are innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, defining that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos . . . They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you are dead.”  -- Tom Stoppard

12/20/09 Kids Rewrite the Parent!

Having kids has been a constant process of letting go of my notions about how I like to live! And forming new ones. It might be argued that children are born babies because it would be mighty painful to give birth to anything bigger, but it also works out well socially because the parents have to be reworked and that doesn't happen over night. First, they start messing up your nights, and then they start messing up your house, and your priorities... and before you know it you know what it means to endlessly give of yourself and you're flexible and ... chaordic is a notion you understand from the inside out!

12/21/09 XKCD Scoops Again!

Well, some time ago I read an article proposing that people's carbon footprint should be a matter of public knowledge. XKCD scoops me on commenting on judgmental self-righteousness, and I think it is only going to get worse as foreboding about climate change deepens. It does create a lot of conflict for me... Someone is still going to drive my SUV if I sell it, and even if I could afford to write it off, I'd incur the environmental cost of manufacturing and transporting a replacement car to me. So I figure it is better to cut back driving... but it is Winter and my family and I are just too spoiled to cycle to the store and so forth when it is frigid... and so... tricky, tricky, tricky... the only solution is to duck the whole issue and decide all those scientists are unethical hype hounds building their reputation at the expense of my conscience... But oh, right, there are actually some scientists I'd trust my future and my children's future to.  Hmmm. Back to tricky, tricky!

The only way out is to do what Paul MacCready insisted: we have to do more with less. At every turn, we have to figure out how to do more with less. This will drive round after round of innovation and opportunity, at the same time that we regroove the planet for sustainability and peace. Because if we don't turn this thing around, a world of impacted people will be judging us for our leadership in consumptive habits that destroyed the delicate balance of Nature and created devastation... 

Yes, and we have to make do with less, drive less, and watch how and what we consume to tune our lives to lower and lower impact. But at every turn, we need to figure out innovations that allow lifestyles to be maintained with less environmental impact so we can live without getting into righteous recrimination.

12/23/09 What Imagination Makes Possible!

We saw Avatar in 3D last night, and I have to say, it is stunning! It is simply amazing what can be created by the human mind, a mind-boggling budget, great talent and technology!!

12/24/09 The Gift of Encouragement

This comment on the Bredemeyer Consulting website is heartwarming--on the eve of Christmas:

"Your web site is my gift of encouragement this Christmas!  Working in the ... contracting world, the Amazon product description from just one of the recommended reading books really struck home "The venerable cities of the past, such as Venice or Amsterdam, convey a feeling of wholeness, an organic unity that surfaces in every detail, large and small, in restaurants, shops, public gardens, even in balconies and ornaments. But this sense of wholeness is lacking in modern urban design, with architects absorbed in problems of individual structures, and city planners preoccupied with local ordinances, it is almost impossible to achieve."  ... 

Thank you, very much."

-- Jane, 12/24/09, comment on Bredemeyer Consulting mailing list sign-up

The "gift of encouragement"--what a wonderful thought, because we all need that encouragement every now and then. It is a good right thing to work towards system integrity and balance.

The book is one by Christopher Alexander, of course.

Merry Christmas (thanks for the pointer Paul) to all of you who celebrate Christmas. And happiness to all!

12/26/09: It can be discouraging when organizational complexity is is managed along divide and conquer lines, so that local optimizing maps to the organizational power tree, and architects have to work through "persuasion and influence" to achieve holistic system goals--then, it can feel like we're Sisyphus. We can take a proactive approach, and see our role in part as culture changers, but it can be a hard path and we have to have some magical internal fountain of eternal enthusiasm to keep going back, day after day, to pushing that rock of cultural change! It can be more appreciated than people affected express, so it is nice when someone like Jane takes those all-important, significant minutes from her day before Christmas to thank us.

 

Feedback: If you want to rave about my journal, I can be reached using the obvious traceinthesand.com handle. If you want to rant, its ruth@traceinthesand.ru.cz. Just kidding, I welcome input, discussion and feedback on any of the topics in this Trace in The Sand Journal, my blog, and the Resources for Architects website, or, for that matter, anything relevant to architects, architecting and architecture! I commit to using what you teach me, to convey it as best I can, help your lessons reach as far as I can spread them. I try to do this ethically, giving you credit whenever I can, but protecting confidentiality as a first priority.  
 

Topics from the current month are listed down the sidebar (after the archives and before the blogroll). For those who decry my lack of permalinks because you are desperate to share a quote on your blog or to point colleagues to a particular section—just copy the shortcut from the topic link in the sidebar. It's clunky, but it works. I did say the necessary condition was "desperate."

 Archman as The Thinker... sitting on a termite mound?
 

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