Geek Smithology

November 19, 2006

Review: Casino Royale

Filed under: Sight by Nathan @ 11:20 pm

Perhaps it is time to leave the closet. (Skeletons do not make the best company.) I am not what you would call a James Bond “fanatic.”

I have delighted to the godlike Connery breathe fire and throw thunderbolts in Goldfinger. I have endured a geriatric Roger Moore paw at the cradle in For Your Eyes Only. I have laughed heartily at the sheer bombastic ridiculousness of Remington Steele and his invisible car. But I know nothing of Timothy Dalton outside of his memorable work in Flash Gordon. Oh, and this alleged “Lazenby” ponce sounds like nothing more than some hymenopteran slacker kicked from the hive. With that off my chest, let us to the review proper:

As Batman Begins before it, Casino Royale is a reinvention of an old friend, and just as welcome. We begin in Prague where our intrepid hero achieves 007 status (sorry folks, apparently one requires two confirmed kills; it has nothing to do with your Xbox Live Gamer Score.) Predictably there are whirlwind adventures as we follow a bomber who ends up being linked to an investment banker using dirty money to float stock scams, taking us from Uganda to Venice. There are a couple of lovely ladies who provide distraction, of whom Eva Green is particularly…attractive. The plot is both more and less complicated than that, but that’s not why anybody was there. We want cars and set pieces, and we get to see some most heinously buckled swash for our money. Some folks also want gadgets, but I’ve always hated that: Casino is gritty, dirty, and blessedly free of Q…

I suppose I should address the “issue” of Daniel Craig. The question on everyone’s mind: is right? The answer: they are so wrong that they make Jar Jar look right. Not since Connery have we seen a 007 who looks to have any business throwing a punch. During an appetite-whetting early chase scene through a construction site, Bond’s lithe quarry jumps, Jackie Chan-like, through a small hole at the top of a freshly built wall. Craig, Incredible Hulk-like, opts to walk through the wall. When asked if he wants his vodka martini shaken or stirred, he sneers “do I look like I give a damn?”

I can’t say this delicious meal of spying hijinks is without flaws – the ending does drag a little and could easily have been handled as a pre-credit vignette in the next film (and there will be a next film, the credits were naturally emblazoned with the classic words “James Bond Will Return”.) Even so, it is seven courses of ass-kicking and I can’t wait to watch it again. Maybe I was just high on the palpable love the audience had for the film (I cannot remember the last time I heard actual applause not only at the end of a movie, but during as well), but this is not just the best Bond movie I’ve ever seen. It might be my favorite movie so far this year.

five star

November 14, 2006

Estimating is Bunk

Filed under: Craft of Dev by Nathan @ 10:38 pm

But I thought you beat the inevitability of death to death just a little bit – The Tragically Hip

I started a fairly recent talk on estimation poker with the following line:

Objective Software Estimation is Impossible

A slide emblazoned with a provocative statement, but not one without merit. As the shock wore off and the crowd grew restless I reached into the gaping maw of palpable disagreement for some input. Turns out I’m crazy – these Project Managers and Business Analysts had successfully shepherded several projects where the estimates turned out to be bang on. Even with big up front design. Seemingly debunked, I cast a line for what these projects had in common. A few of the answers:

“We had an excellent team with a lot of domain knowledge.”
“We had an excellent team with experience writing this type of application.”
“We had an excellent team and it was an expansion to an existing system.”

Touché. Or…not so fast. I’ll give you a moment to ponder the common thread woven through these finely honed ripostes. (No points for saying that good software depends on an excellent team – that’s obvious.)

Time’s up.

Did you get it? Each one of these statements is inherently and intensely subjective. I would be surprised if a team with a lot of domain knowledge building an extension to a system they originally implemented couldn’t estimate to within a single unit of work. But what happens when your crack Java Web Ecommerce SWAT team has to implement a .NET Accounting Application for Windows?

To predict the behavior of ordinary people in advance, you only have to assume that they will always try to escape a disagreeable situation with the smallest possible expenditure of intelligence. – Friedrich Nietzsche

The sad reality for too many of my developer brethren is that someone in a far flung Ivory Tower™[1] will create a giant specification, then giddily double click a Microsoft Project desktop shortcut to assign tasks and times. When the schedule slides (likely the next day, if not that day), some poor peon will get the near full-time task of updating the precious Gantt chart on a daily basis. By the power of Xenu, I wish this was a joke. In time the updates can’t outrun the inevitable domino cascade and Bad Things Happen. The autopsy will likely find the cause of death to be “insufficient analysis.”

I hear you, I hear you…”So Mr. Big Man, what’s your solution?” Since I’m not in the energizing, moisturizing, tantalizing, romanticizing, surprising, her-prizing, revitalizing tonic biz, the truth is I don’t have one. I don’t think that’s a failure, but a realization – I’m not the lone ranger, and the estimation problem may be a bugbear, but it’s not a werewolf. We need to base zero (or low) information initial estimates on the following, written in stone facts:

  • We cannot think of everything before we start.
  • You don’t know what you want until you see it.
  • User satisfaction comes from handling change, not mitigating risk.

Hell, there are no rules here– we’re trying to accomplish something. – Thomas A. Edison

This doesn’t suggest that our Big-Up-Front-Design needs to become Gargantuan-Up-Front-Design, but that we should take an iterative approach.

I refuse to believe that the resemblance between Gantt charts and waterfalls is purely coincidental.

[1] Why do we call these places “ivory” towers when they are employed in the practice of such dark arts?

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