Feb 26 2012
Feb 26

Examiner.com is a very proud sponsor of Drupalcon Denver. Part of the sponsorship includes ads on the Drupalcon site. The team at Examiner.com decided to have some fun with them. Five members of the team were chosen to be "subjects" of each ad. After they were done, it seemed it would be fun to include a back story for each.

Disclaimer: THIS IS FICTION. Nothing here bears any kind of truth.
It is complete and utter nonsense.

Rok Zlender makes an audacious claim. He tells us he has been attending Drupalcons since 2006. To debunk this claim, we have to travel back to rural United States in 1898. We need to travel to Damascus Virginia.

Part I - Chipmunks and River Otters
Rok's ancestors aren't from Slovenia as he claims. In fact, his grandfather, Roger Slender, attended the first school in Damascus. It was built just south of the railroad trestle across Beaver Creek. Roger loved "The Little Red School House" with its three rooms. Mr. Jones Baker was his teacher and he learned spelling, geography, and grammar. For three years he revelled in his studies and learned quickly. Roger was a bright student with a bright future ahead of him.

Then disaster struck.

The Little Red School House burned down in 1901. School resumed in the Lutheran Church and Roger's fate changed - and in a strange way would intertwine with Garrison Keillor's - the man that has made Lutherans funny. But that is another story that won't begin until 1942 and has little to do with the man we now know as Rok. Roger came to despise the tiny town - even today it has fewer than 1000 people - that stole his beloved Red School House. He refused to speak and was desperate to get away. Much to his parents dismay, he ran away from home and joined a travelling band of Appalachian Trail hikers who earned a living by selling woven coverlets that were made from the wool of river otters and chipmunks.

This art form was adopted by the young Roger who became highly adept at complicated patterns with his small but nimble fingers. Unlike his fellow artisans, Roger - who worshipped LIFE - refused to slaughter the little animals that provided the materials for his lively-hood. He would shear them, like sheep, with tiny blade shears he designed himself.

Shearing a chipmunk is no mean task but even more difficult is holding onto an angry, wet, half naked river otter. These skills were handed down from father to son. Even today, Rok's secret passion and guarded talent has won him many blue ribbons for beautiful tapestries created from the fur of small animals like mice, marmots, and the rare sphynx cat.

In 1933, Roger became famous for his craft. He settled in Sherman, Connecticut where he became friends with Ned Anderson, a farmer. Ned was responsible for mapping and blazing the trail in Connecticut. Roger built a small house on the Naromiyocknowhusunkatankshunk Brook, near a ready supply of otters, a place Ned suggested.

Roger fell in love with Ginny Claptrap - and they had a child together in 1934. He was named Rob Slender and was the 395th resident of the town.

In 1941, Roger joined the Army and travelled to Europe because of World War II. He was lost in battle, but not before he had passed the skills of chipmunk and otter shearing to a 7 year old Robert. A tearful Robert joined the consolidated school that had opened in the center of town a few years earlier.

Part II - Robert and the Golden Crossroads
From an early age, Robert showed a great predilection for numbers. His chotter weavings (as he called them) began showing intricate designs based on the Golden Triangle with logarithmic spirals. (The Golden Triangle was a portent for where his own son would end up settling - another shocking coincidence in this shaggy dog tale.) His teachers in school couldn't make out this strange boy who not only was good with his hands, but could work out long equations in his mind without paper or pencil. He was truly a marvel. As he grew older and continued through the grades leading up to university, his ability with weaving and with numbers increased significantly. He found himself at a crossroads - should he study Art or should he study Math? At 16, he packed his bags and moved to Cambridge, MA where he had been accepted in the Math Department at MIT. Oh, but little did he know he was about to become central to the world of computing.

Jay Forrester discovered young Robert soon after he arrived at MIT. Jay had been perusing a local craft store where Robert had put up some tapestries for consignment. Robert had put them up for sale in hopes it would help support him in his time at the Institute. The designs in otter and chipmunk fur fascinated Forrester and convinced him he must be seeing the work of some kind of mathematical genius. In this, he was correct.

Forrester sought out Robert and offered him a job helping work on the Navy Computer, Whirlwind. Robert gratefully accepted and become responsible for finding the vast number of vacuum tubes needed to run the machine. Robert's mind quickly moved from pure Math to computer science. How could machines like the Whirlwind do more than just help the Navy train pilots? Could the computer eventually be used to share information? Could it be used to manage content, like libraries of books? His head spun as he thought about these things. In 1951, Whirlwind was complete and Robert was still a mere 17 years old with several years left at MIT. By 1954, Robert had proven himself as a powerhouse in the emerging computer world. He would prove to be critical in conceptualizing the concepts of packet switching. He would be present when Arpanet carried its first packets and would whisper the secrets of the emerging Internet to Al Gore who would later invent the Internet as we know it today.

While Robert put all his energies into his work - he never forgot his roots of complex weavings using the shorn hair from small creatures. He began a vole farm so he would have a ready supply of fur to spin into long strands of yarn to create his beautiful throws and hangings. He also began to build computers in his home which required more electricity than he could possibly expect in a residential area. Marrying his two loves, he constructed treadmills in his back yard which the voles were required to walk on but he found that too many voles would produce too much electricity while too few wouldn't produce enough power. He created a device that would measure the electrical potential difference and eventually these would be marketed in Radio Shack's around North America as Vole(t) Meters. This provided him with a ready source of electricity to work on his inventions.

In a shocking move by the Massachusetts government, Robert's voles were confiscated. His home was not zoned for farming, production of electricity, nor was he allowed to house wild animals. In a fit of rage, Robert swore to never trust the system in America ever again. He looked at where he might move with less regulation and on his activities and discovered that Slovenia was actually well known for both computing and small animal husbandry. He vowed he would make it to Slovenia to make a new life for himself. In 1980, Robert stowed away on a cargo vessel, with a sampling of his weavings and schematics for new computers, bound for Izola.

Part III - the Great Tapestry Re-Vole(t) of Slovenia

When Robert arrived in Izola, he threw himself at the mercy of the Immigration authorities and swore he wanted to renounce citizenship in the United States. He showed them his tapestries and schematics. He told them how he had been so mistreated by the Massachusetts government. He told a story of sacrifice of his grandfather and how he had learned his craft. In the end, the authorities relented and granted Robert citizenship. He Slovenicized his name to Bojan Zlender and made a life for himself in a small country cottage near a creek that had a large population of European Water Voles. These little creatures proved more difficult than any before to shear, but in time his deft hands became adept and removing the fur but retaining the creature's life. His brilliance continued has he created astonishing works of art which he sold in town at Gallery Alga.

One day, while wandering down Kristanov trg his eye caught a rare beauty looking at one his tapestries hanging the the Gallery window. He slid up beside her, and asked her name. She was Vladka - and they were meant to be married.

In 1984, a baby was born. A boy they named Rok. Rok truly seemed to take after his father's skill with vole keeping and computers and eventually registered at Fakulteta za računalništvo in informatiko in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He never knew that his roots were from The United States. Nobody told him.

In Ljublijana, Rok would take computer classes by day - but his other calling - weaving kept dragging at his soul. He began to take night classes in animal husbandry and weaving. He kept a small colony of friendly rodents in his apartment and made tiny coverlets that he kept secret. He wanted no one to know of this personal activity. Rok took on an alter-ego "Dušan Peterc" assumed the personae of one of the founder's of Arahne who had secretly gone missing. He merged his love of computers and weaving into a single space. But by day, he continued his classes and by night pursued his art.

This is where the story becomes interesting. A strangely young Dušan was seen in February and September 2006 at Studio Azzero in Italy and at the Office of the Development Commisioner for Handlooms in India *right when Drupalcon was occurring*. Rok CLAIMS he was working with Drupal at the time but I suggest that next time you see Rok, check his fingernails for tell-tale signs of vole fur. Then and only then, should you make up your own mind.

We all know that Rok began his rise in Drupal at NowPublic. We also know that between the time he began his work in Drupal and 2009 he found a letter from his father that shared with him his heritage from the Southern United States. Rok began a plan so cunning it would bring him to America where he could explore those roots. Through a series of masterful moves, he helped direct the purchase of Now Public by Examiner.com. That led to a succession of events that has now brought him to the United States on a work Visa in the City with Golden Triangle.

His plans are, allegedly, now to find a way to Damascus where he'll see the places that started this family journey. In Denver, ask him how the chipmunks are doing.

Rok Advertisement courtesy of Examiner.com
Blade Shears photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Whirlwind Tubes photo courtesy of Wikpedia
European Water Vole courtesy of Wikipedia */ /*-->*/
Dec 20 2011
Dec 20

We Were Busy
Today was an extraordinarily busy day in the timebox. We're in the midst of attending to revealing defects in our current release, some fairly significant configuration work to support America Inspired, reviewing tons of user stories, writing user stories, and continued work on setting up JIRA with Greenhopper to replace our ticketing system.

The Scrums
The day started out, as usual, with three scrums that cover the work our three distinct teams are working through. The scrums at this point are less about the developers telling us what they've worked on, what they are working on, and what blockers they have and more about the QA team reporting on results that have come through testing. We do look at our story board spreadsheet to confirm that stories are either green or nearly green. We also make hard decisions on features that might not be ready for release in the time box. Those are noted and we socialise that news with stakeholders as appropriate. We're also looking at any stories that might be at risk and identify alternate plans for those stories. That might comprise a) deferring the story for completion in the next timebox or b) completing the work during the QA week or c) releasing the new feature partially. Finally, the project management team got together for a scrum of scrums where we identify any problem areas that might have emerged.

Stories, Stories, and More Stories
This day quickly moved into several hours of team leads reviewing user stories with a great deal of detail. On or around the Backlog Mambo, the project team is giving a rough pointed estimate to the stories as they are completed. This is to have a general sense of the needed burn rate to compete the next timebox's work. It gives the Executive team a little more information to be able to prioritise the work. During the QA week, the development team is challenging these assumptions and either confirming or disputing the time frames. We're generally pretty good about our estimates. It is common for priorities to shuffle a bit during this period of time as well. Scope on one of our initiatives increased while we read through the stories and realised there were a fair number of cases that hadn't be identified and drawn up. There was, also, new functionality being discussed. All of this is fine as long as we have our stories nailed down along with the accompanying artifacts by the time we lock the timebox down. This sprint, it will happen on day 15 although during our normal sprint it occurs on day 19. We reviewed about half of the current user stories and pointed all of them. Looking at the needed burn rate, the list needs to go back to our Executive team for prioritization. User story review will continue on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Ideation, Performance, and Configuration! OH MY!
The day also had us looking at solutions to improve overall performance on the site. These conversations have ranged from reducing the amount of third party Java Script on the site to more agressive caching to creating a Boost-like flat HTML methodology. Stacey and I started the next timebox's planning for who will do what - the general breakdown of what our teams will look like this time round. One each, of our product managers, designers, QA member, developers, and I started new configurations in our staging environment to script out a process on the live site for support of the America Inspired initiative. There are many blocks to be configured, placed, and visibility settings to be tweaked. Articles will need to be grouped into the five areas and labeled correctly. In short, we're drawing up a plan for the next two phases of that program.

The Tickets
Finally, we are engaged in defining how our instance of JIRA will behave once we have finishing configuring it. This is requiring our reviewing each and every kind of task we engage in and defining workflows for each. It is a significant effort.

That rounds out Day 11 of our Agile timebox on this very large Drupal site.

Photo Credit on "User Story Template": jbeau on Flickr

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Dec 17 2011
Dec 17

A few days ago Drupalcamp Austin posted the video from my talk. I see things I like in my presentation. I see things that I can improve.

That all said, I think the message is pretty good. You get a little history lesson on Project Management. I focus on Cowboy, Waterfall, and Agile. I talk about communication and expectations. The presentation then discusses, with quite a bit of detail, how our development process has evolved and where we are at this point in time. I'm really proud of the work we've done at Examiner.com - and I'm so very impressed by our team. Everybody has been involved in moving this football.

There are cats, manholes, fighter jets, pyramids, castles, waterfalls, ravens, monsters, wine, books, and just a little H.P. Lovecraft.

Thank you to Examiner.com and to Drupalcamp Austin for facilitating my sharing. You all rock. If you're interested in seeing my remarks - here they are.

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Dec 09 2011
Dec 09

Day 4 of a Drupal Timebox
Yesterday was the first day that the Examiner.com development team was really coding. That became conversations in IRC and the beginning of features being sent to code and theme reviewers. The spreadsheet that we keep our user stories in is starting to move yellow stories to green and the salmon stories are being turned yellow (white is uncommitted stories, grey is deferred, yellow are committed to being developed, salmon need more information, and green are ready for manual QA). This is the time when the developers really get their heads down and are working hard to complete the stories they have allotted in the time period available and work on the bug backlog.

The morning began with our regular scrums - three teams, three scrums, three sets of projects. This post doesn't need to rehash our morning scrums.

The day was peppered with meetings including a review of current Infrastructure needs and ideation of new Ad targeting techniques with a Product manager. It included working through planning a business trip to work with another company on an Examiner project. We're also still working through retrospective improvements from the previous timebox.

The Backlog Mambo
We embrace the idea that the current work we're developing should be predictable. The current timebox development should be pretty much set in stone. There are times with opportunities or threats are so great that we need to suffer the challenges of context switching. This should be rare. Anything after current development should be negotiable. That is what a large chunk of today was all about.

Yesterday, the Product team brought to the Project Managers a prioritized backlog for the next timebox. This list was a first pass based on Executive Committee directives. The Executive Committee convened today with the Product Team, and representatives from Business Intelligence and Development. The top items in the list were discussed and adjusted. Scope was shifted and priorities were moved. There were requests to fatten out some additional initiatives. The next two weeks will have the Product team focused on developing user stories in conjunction with development and Creative working with themers on wireframes and comps.

The dance continues.

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Dec 08 2011
Dec 08

In the first two posts in this series I wrote about the planning days at Examiner.com and how those planning days set up the beginning of the code sprint. I also discussing the ancillary activities that set us up for the next timebox - locking down the priorities for the next time box.

Today, Day 3, the coding portion of the sprint begins.

The scrums started out by reviewing the salmon stories (salmon are stories that still need more information to be actionable) in the Google spreadsheet. Each story, as clarified was turned yellow - indicating the team in committing to completing the effort to complete that work. After these stories have been reviewed and clarified, the different groups are tasked with different tasks.

The morning began with three scrums. Each scrum represents a practicing unit that includes:

  • A Project Manager
  • A QA Person
  • A Product Manager
  • Developer(s)
  • Themer(s)
  • Code Reviewer
  • Theme Reviewer
  • Release Manager

There is some overlap between the scrum teams - but we try and keep the units as separated as possible.

Developers and Themers
coding coding coding

QA Folks
The QA team works on building test cases to support the next period of the timebox. They take part in meetings, as needed, in the development of use cases and review of artifacts for the next timebox.

The reviewers start to be fed features to engage in code review on. If code passes - it moves to the next development step. This could be theming or it could be Manual QA. If it is ready for QA it is pushed to staging for functional testing.

Release Manager
pushing pushing pushing

Product Managers
Product managers are responsible for delivering the prioritized list for the next timebox today (Day 3) and begin to work through writing user stories for the next timebox. They are also responsible for answering questions about user stories in the current timebox. Any discovery for two timeboxes out and beyond is happening as well.

Project Managers
Project Managers act as defense during this period of time. They are responsible for clearing blockers and preventing the development team from being distracted by tasks outside of directly programming new features, enhancements, and attacking the defect backlog. During this time the Project Managers are also working with the Product Team to develop user stories for the next timebox. The Project Managers are also socializing updates, considering requests, and trouble shooting problems during this period in the spirit of keeping the development team from being distracted.

What Else?
The day also included reviewing processes that were identified as needing adjustment during the previous retrospective. I, personally, worked on setting up meetings with various parties to support future development tasks including a potential upgrade to Open Atrium. We use Open Atrium as our Intranet for Examiners (our writers). We reviewed our defect backlog to start scheduling the highest priority bugs into the current timebox. People in the company make use of this time to discuss potential approaches for new features. Discussions with the Project Management team direct new features towards contributed modules as much as possible. Plans may start for code reviews on contributed modules that might be used in the next time box.

The take away is this - the developers, themers, testers, and reviewers are all focused on what we are developing now. The focus of the product team is starting to move strongly to the next time box. Project management is straddling these two different sets of activities while herding the collective cats.

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Dec 07 2011
Dec 07

Day 2 - More Planning

Day 2 of this shortened timebox was the second of our Technical Planning days. As I mentioned in my previous post, we have two half days of Technical Architecture/Planning at the beginning of the time box. We continued to review details on the user stories for this box and also tightened our estimates a little bit for remaining stories. We look at whether we need to write code from scratch, we can make use of community code, or enhance community code from the Drupal project.

We colour code our stories - white for not scheduled, yellow for scheduled and committed to, greeen for QA ready, salmon when we need more information, and grey for stories that we defer for future timeboxes. We re-reviewed stories from yesterday for which we needed clarifications. These visual queues make it really easy to scan the Google spreadsheet(s) and see the status of a given story.

Our story spreadsheet header describes the information we're looking to capture for hand off to the development team.

We capture a story ID - and will do point increments when we have sub-stories related to a given feature. Each story must be associated with a ticket and includes the description of the story, questions from various team members, and points to illustrate the level of effort. One point is a half day in our world.

After The Technical Planning

The three project managers then finished breaking up the projects between them. We try to all take part in the planning days so we're in the loop on all the projects. Projects are typically broken up into development groups with an attempt to have as distinct a team as possible with little overlap. This is sometimes difficult as all code is reviewed by another developer and another themer before it even has a chance of making it out for QA.

We also ended up having our retrospective from the previous timebox today. Typically that would be scheduled for day 20 in the timebox, but constraints delayed this meeting. We tweaked our process in a few places. For example, much of our discussion is done in IRC - we decided that for our releases we would add voice to the mix for the end of this timebox. We use logged IRC to keep our decisions and conversations logged, but sometimes you need a more rapid way of getting another person's attention.

We're Starting the Next Timebox?

Finally, Day 3 of the timebox is the point when priorities for the next timebox are shared by the Executive Committee. Today was a day where a representative from the product team, from the project management team, and from the release team met to put final "t-shirt" LOEs on the prioritized feature backlog. The list of desired priorities will be delivered tomorrow and user stories, wireframes, and comps for the next timebox will begin to be generated. In a very real way Day 2 represents the first day of the next timebox.

What's Next?

Tomorrow will be the first day of our code sprint which will last for 7 work days. The team will also start on user stories based on the priorities set by the executive committee.

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About Drupal Sun

Drupal Sun is an Evolving Web project. It allows you to:

  • Do full-text search on all the articles in Drupal Planet (thanks to Apache Solr)
  • Facet based on tags, author, or feed
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See the blog post at Evolving Web

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