Saturday, October 30, 2010

Strategy Pattern: A First-Class Request

The best way to learn is quite possibly from those around you.

I was lucky enough to be in the volunteering-to-give-up-your-seat line just behind a more seasoned traveler on last week's redeye, when I overheard an interesting strategy.

Passenger "Sure, I'll take the 6:00 tomorrow. Is it a 57?"
Agent "Yes, it's a 57."
Passenger "Beautiful. Let's get me confirmed for First Class right now as well."
Agent "Done. Okay, you're all set sir."

An exciting discovery to say the least.

I was able to achieve the same result simply by asking. Complimentary upgrades are a part of the deal with flying often on United, but they go in order of miles flown. For the ever-curious, I'm generally 30th or so on the wait list to be upgraded on the Chicago-Los Angeles route.

Fun Fact "Is it a 57?" is asking if the plane is a Boeing 757.

Fun Stats 3 bumps in the previous four weeks.

  • 3 that resulted in better seats
  • 2 overnight, with hotel stays and meal
  • 1 for a plane that left 45 minutes later

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Recycled Air: Episode 2 [The Sprint]

Friend of the blog and half-marathon-runner Molly asked me several weeks ago if I have had the pleasure of running through an airport yet. I'm a veteran at sprinting through Chicago to Union Station to catch (or miss) a train. Airports are a different story though, with an average arrival time of 1.5 hours early...until Friday.

My plans were to take the redeye again on Thursday night. When I arrived with plenty of time to spare, an announcement was made.

"We're looking for volunteers to give up their seats and fly out to Chicago tomorrow morning."
Naturally I jumped at the opportunity and soon thereafter found myself on a shuttle to another night in a hotel. My reservation was now for business class Friday morning at 6:50.

Not long ago I happily marched through the Premier security line for the first time at O'Hare. With a separate screening lane and an exceptionally joyful TSA employee, I made it through in just six minutes; nearly 20 minutes shorter than my typical experience with regular security lines. This flying 4,000 miles a week thing certainly has it's advantages.

Sadly, the airport in Los Angeles is not nearly as accommodating with premier security lines. It's the same line here, but you can effectively cut at the time you show your boarding pass. Arriving at 6:10, I thought I would be OK.

6:38 rolled around and with it came an announcement.

"Attention passenger Hill. This is your final boarding call for United flight 944, non-stop service to Chicago."

Panic came over me instantly I was still in the security line, only now preparing to put my shoes on the conveyor. As luck would have it, I was also randomly selected for my first body scan.

funky full-body airport scanner at #yyj - Think I'd opt for a physical search

6:41 marked the point where I retied my oxford shoes. Shortly thereafter I regretted a decision I'd made earlier this morning.

Cole Haan Cordovan Cap Toe Oxford
Running shoes are considerably easier, and quieter, to run through an airport in than the above style.

At exactly 6:45 I arrived completely out-of-breath to an empty terminal 74. One attendant was at the podium near the gate, looking ready to move on to something else. I waved my ticket and inquired about the possibility of boarding. He made a phone call and soon I was running again...this time through the gate.

Made it.

Fun Fact after 10 weeks and 30,000 miles in the air I have now sprinted through an airport.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Famous Pizza: BJ's of Los Angeles Edition

"So let me get this guys all came from Chicago to get LA deep dish pizza?

We're pretty fortunate to have an adjacent team from the Chicago office working just 10 miles from us in California. Occasionally we get together for cross-team dinners. Monday was such an event. We chose BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse, known for their deep dish pizza.

BJ's Nutritional Guide

"Really? You got that? It's a brewhouse for crying out loud!"

Monday also saw the addition of another member to our team. Five weeks in and we welcomed our first person in the QA role, Kurman. It wasn't long until a drinking competition broke out between he and I.

In addition to the locally-famous pizza, BJ's is also known for its micro-brewed beer. My interest was piqued by a sold-out micro-brew root beer initially, but I ended up following Kurman's lead with a series of lemonades. Strawberry Lemonades, of course.

After just four, I was declared the winner.

Strawberry Lemonade at BJ's

LA Lesson #1 Never hesitate on freshly-squeezed strawberry lemonade.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Suite Life with Neither Zack Nor Cody

"Mr. Hill, I didn't know you were still staying with us."
"I left for the weekend, but I'm back Justin!"

One of those small things in life I really enjoy is when someone remembers my name. I try to do the same whenever possible. The response to being acknowledged as more than whatever job title they hold is generally pretty positive, but sometimes it's overwhelmingly positive.

Shortly after this cheerful welcome I found myself hearing murmurs of an upgrade. Sure enough I was awarded the King Spa Suite, a room not much smaller than my apartment in Chicago.

One bonus of the upgraded room was that it came with a Vista View. While nothing like looking at the Chicago Skyline, it was considerably nicer than last week's view of the road.

Vista View

Perhaps the main attraction of the King Spa Suite is in the name itself. This awesome shower/tub combination helped all week to slowly ease the pain of an ultra-stiff neck that comes from sleeping on a plane.

Spa Tub

Spa Shower

As if we weren't already bordering on excessive, the room included a living room with a second 42" HDTV.

Note The Suite Life of Zack & Cody is a Disney show that debuted the year I graduated High School. I've never actually seen the show, but its name has stuck with me for unknown reasons.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Recycled Air: Episode 1

"I'll just set my things down here...I've got to go powder my nose"

In just over 20,000 miles in the air I've discovered an amazing variety in neighbor passengers. More often than not I'm seated next to a silent traveler, completely interested and involved in his or her own things. Occasionally I'll get someone just the right amount of talkative to make the flight feel considerably shorter. Other times I'm in for an impromptu autobiography.

Sunday was my first flight to or from Los Angeles with any conversation at all. It would have been fine, except for a few basic crossings of the etiquette line and diving into a level far too deep for having just met someone.

I simply don't have the dexterity to recap four hours of conversation with someone in text, so instead we'll hit the highlights and lowlights of passenger Sam's monologue.

  • I understand it as universal etiquette to not disturb someone with earbuds in unless sharing some life-altering news. This is most certainly not universal.

  • "You computer people have some real goofy terms. GUI (pronounced 'gooey')? You kidding me with that? You'd never hear 'GUI' from a physicist. You know where you would hear that? From a five year old eating lunch."

  • "My wife and I used to go riding all the time on my Harley, now all of a sudden she's all hung up and don't want to go with me if I've been drinking. Can you believe that? I'll tell you what else, that's why she says she's leaving me, of course the papers haven't been filed yet...and she's been leaving me since June of last year. 15 years down the drain. I'll tell you what I'll miss the most though, the free concert tickets she got from work."

  • [said to flight attendant]: "Yeah, give me two cold ones"
    [said to me]: "You may not believe this, but there was a time where I didn't know who was in or the bottle. So I'll tell you what I did, I picked a month to see if I could go through it without drinking. I thought to myself I'll take February because you know thats a nice, short one. Felt like cheating though, so I went with birthday is in July, and there are barbeques all over town. Made it too.
    (cracks open can)
    Hey, bottoms up!"

  • "Haven't been working in two years. Finally got this job as a building inspector. I'm also becoming a physicist, because I have to in my old age."

  • "One day I'll get on a new plane. I'll know it's new too, because I won't see an ashtray in the bathroom. Can you believe they used to have a smoking and non-smoking section on these things? It's a frickin' tube for crying out loud!"

  • "About 25 years ago I took my son to Disney World. He was four it couldn't have been 25 years ago, it must have been 23. Yeah, 23 years ago. Anyway he starts crying in the middle of Epcot because Mickey Mouse didn't wave at him...and you know what a kid of four sounds like crying? It's loud, it's like (proceeds to demonstrate lung capacity on crowded airplane). So I told him not to worry, Mickey Mouse waves at everyone, and sure enough he later waved at my son."

  • Sam "So what part of LA do you live in?"
    Me "I live in Chicago."
    Sam "Oh no kidding! What part? Naperville or Schaumburg?" (suburbs, outside city limits)
    Me "No, right in the city."
    Sam "Oh wow, I thought you said you lived right in Chicago, you know, like Naperville or Schaumburg"
    Me "Those are both different cities..."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Strategy Pattern: Voluntarily Bumped

I was scheduled to fly out of LAX last Thursday night when a rather intriguing message flashed across the status update screens. The airline was looking for volunteers to take the next flight instead.

I headed up to the customer service counter with several thoughts running through my mind, mostly revolving around the following equations.

  1. 11:15pm takeoff + 4 hour flight + 2 hour time change = 5:15am landing
  2. landing at 5 and sleeping until 2 = sleeping until 5 and landing at 2

To my great delight, the customer service agent joyfully placed me on the next flight with a couple of bonus compensation items.

  • $15 meal voucher
  • free hotel voucher
  • $400 airline voucher

For the meal voucher I indulged in my favorite ultra-expensive juices

Bumped: Free Meal

Needless to say I've now adopted a new strategy for my frequent travels: Voluntary Bumping

Note From what I hear, compensation is negotiable and bumps can be chained. Let the fun begin!

Note Odwalla juices are simply delicious. If you've never tried one, I'd recommend the SuperFood

Saturday, October 9, 2010

What Does My Agile Project Look Like?

When catching up with people many questions tend to revolve around my working situation. Curiosities including

  • Do you have an office?
  • Do you have a cubicle?
  • How many people do you work with?

Ideal Workspaces

Pioneers of Agile software development tend to not believe in partitioning people off into different sections of a workspace. The big change from traditional techniques is that development needs to be more of a social, collaborative effort throughout the entire development lifecycle.

When we put people into different rooms, or even put up walls between them, they're less likely to talk to each other and know what is going on between them. This leads to a pain point much later on when we need to integrate the code of several developers. The solution is to have people in an open area and constantly talking as questions and ideas emerge. We all sit at a table with our computers, where it's very easy to yell out a massive design change or ask a question.

"We've just implemented flashscope, so no one should be attaching error messages to models anymore. Take a look at the HomeController for how to use it."

Realistic Workspaces

Part of the project in Los Angeles is Agile Coaching. This of course implies that the workspaces aren't currently set up ideally. We have a team room that fits about half the developers and the other half utilize cubicles in the adjacent room. It unsurprisingly presents some challenges, most problematic of which is easily the higher barriers to conversation.

We combat this in various ways, such as having a second 5-minute meeting (or stand-up meeting) midway through the day. Fortunately for us, we have just another week until we move into a team room large enough for us all.

Team Size

The development team I'm on is comrpised of four TWers and four client developers. Team sizes vary based on the scope of the project and finding that sweetspot isn't always an easy task. This probably goes without saying for every field, but there isn't a direct, linear relationship between people on a project and the amount of work that gets done. With software development, a team that is too large will have people stepping all over each others toes and will subsequently spend more time merging code than writing code.

The grads of my TWU class in Chicago are all on, or headed to, projects with two members to 54 members.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

From Bollywood to Hollywood

"The grass sure isn't growing under your feet."

Perhaps one of my favorite remarks so far by a fellow ThoughtWorker upon meeting me. I was lucky in that just two days after being hired I was off to India. By the time I got back I was already staffed on a project. Now that my first week on a billable project is wrapping up, it feels relevant to announce that this developer has had the great fortune of spending just four days on the beach.

I'd love nothing more than to report the amazing weather my first week in Los Angeles has been. I seem to have brought the rain with me in my well-packed Space Bags®, though. Can you believe a week's worth of clothes fit into these?

Week's Worth of Clothes

I can dutifully report the view from our office. On the days when it wasn't raining, I was able to snap a few pics from indoors. I wouldn't say LA feels anything like Chicago. It's much more like a giant suburb than a city, with relatively few towering buildings.

LA Sprawl

Still, there is a skyline of sorts. Hopefully we'll make it out of the office in the next few weeks to enjoy some of it!

LA Skyline [of Sorts]

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

SG Hill Goes Public

While not exactly an IPO, I've recently heard of a rather neat service aimed at travelers. You've possibly noticed the new box on the right from TripIt alerting fellow blogfans that I'm currently in Los Angeles.

There are a handful of post-worthy features of TripIt --

  1. data-tracking
  2. contact-alerting
  3. keeping everyone in the loop
After registering, you forward itineraries to a magical email address at TripIt. The service then adds a trip to your profile and begins to tally miles and locations visited.

As can be expected of almost every app these days, there is a friending and social networking portion. If you'd like to connect and compete with miles, then certainly head over to my profile. At the time of writing, I'm the leader of my six connections by over 10,000 miles (Thanks, Bangalore!)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Welcome, TWU XIX!

Less than two months after the start of my Indian adventures we're set to welcome a new batch to Bangalore. TWU XIX had it's first day today with four Chicagoans. The good news is at least two of them will keep the proud Chicago-blogger tradition alive.

If you'll recall the start of my adventure, I headed out on a flight halfway around the world on my second day. Fellow Metro-Detroiter Damon has topped me, I believe; he moved to Chicago just three days before hopping a plane to India. You can follow Damon at his blog Training in Bengaluru.

Nan was also scheduled to leave with Damon. There was a visa issue that delayed things a bit, which ended up being quite a lot of fun.

Welcome, Nan!

As we waited for the visa to arrive, we covered some awesome subjects like Java and Test-Driven Development. It probably goes without saying, but we also covered the ever-evolving topics of fashion and styling. There's great news here as well -- Nan made it to ThoughtWorks University XIX and her adventures can be followed at her blog.

All the best to the new undergrads. I simply can't wait to hear about their experiences.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Developer Showdown: DePaul Career Fair

Thursday afternoon in the windy city I boarded the 'L' like normal and headed to work. I was set for a day on the beach*. Little did I know the recruiting team was headed to DePaul University the very next day and would enjoy some company. Needless to say I jumped at the opportunity.

DePaul Student Center

The career fair started at 11:00am. Perhaps unsurprising as a career fair hosted in a university, but many people were very early in their academic careers and looking for internships. We aren't big on internships here for a number of reasons, but advice-seekers seemed to find the following helpful:

  • Join user groups and programming groups
  • Start side projects

I think most companies like to see people passionate about their work. Joining Meetup groups is a great way to express some of that passion. Other benefits include networking with people who share your interests and seeing first-hand which companies care enough to sponsor groups (we do!). Finally, at just about every meetup there are recruiters present.

Side projects are a good way to gauge a person's interest in this field. Since I started on this path I've had little projects going on with the goals of learning new languages and solving some of the smaller, more annoying problems in my life. Currently in my spare time I'm learning C# (C-Sharp) on the .NET platform by porting a school project over that deals with receipts and taxes.

The Staredown

Our expected attendance for the career fair was around 800 students. We probably had at least that many walking through the booths, but DePaul's most popular major isn't Computer Science. Our booth wasn't as crowded as some of the other management-focused booths, nor was the booth across from ours who wanted to hire Java and Ruby developers.

At one point we read through our company's description in the fair's booklet as well as the company across the aisle from us. They listed two very similar-sounding positions:

  1. Quality Analyst Engineer
  2. Software Tester
Instantly I called out to the crew.
Me What's the difference between a QA Engineer and a Software Tester?
Evan Is this a riddle?
Me list both in your description
Nate Oh, Software Testers do manual testing
Evan I'm disappointed man-- I wanted a joke

The Plan

I was working the booth with two other colleagues. One was also a recent hire and developer by the name of Molly. Andy was hired at the same time as me into the recruiting department. We knew we needed to come up with a joke.

Fortunately Google wasn't lacking results with a search for 'ruby jokes'. A post from RasterWeb yielded the following programmer humor:

Q: What do you call a future Ruby programmer?
A: A Java programmer!

The Delivery

We knew this was probably the one, but we'd need to do things in more of an Agile way. First we had to refactor the wording. We definitely had to pair when delivering it. Finally, we needed to follow it up with a fist pound.

Me Hey, Evan
Evan Yeah...?
Me What's another name for a Java developer?
Evan I don't know...what?
Molly A Java developer!
*Victorious fist bump*

Note The Beach is where consultants sit before heading out to a project. It's known as the beach because of a delightfully small fake palm tree that sits near the middle of the area.

Note A Meetup I always attend when in town is Chicago Ruby. The Ruby community is easily one of the most passionate, and the Chicago group doesn't disappoint.

Note We did get a rebuttal joke from Evan and Nate about Ruby's over-eager versioning just before leaving

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Highly Anticipated Blogger Blog Stats Exposé: September Edition

It's becoming more and more fun to write these posts for three reasons:

  1. My [famous] week one Pecha Kucha set the bar for 100 visits
  2. The questions continue to roll in: "How many hits?"
  3. Who doesn't love a little transparency?
September August 13 thru
September 30
Unique Visitors 223 277
Visits 649 962
Page Views 2,152 3,283
Average Time 6:10 6:54

September Visitor Location Leaders

13 countries on five continents make up the September visitors. August's vistors were from 6 countries on four continents.

  1. Bangalore, Karnataka, India - 262
  2. [Metro] Detroit, Michigan, US - 114
  3. Chicago, Illinois, US - 54
  4. Galesburg, Illinois, US - 52
  5. Denver, Colorado, US - 39

September's Most Popular Posts

  1. Dance Night at the Orphanage
  2. Bangalore's #1 Socialite
  3. Free as in Freedom: Funniest Pecha Kucha Talk Ever
  4. A "Comfortable" Round Three of Pecha Kucha
  5. But What About The Actual University?

Fun Fact If you Google earliest hot shower, I'm now surprisingly in the top five results.