Bear Scouts

I was reading my son the Berenstain Bears, The Bear Scouts the other night and at one point in the book, the father bear decides to take the short way to the scout camp, where as the bear scouts decide to follow their scout guide and take the long way. The father bear very quickly runs into alligators and almost gets bitten. It got me thinking that with Agile, DevOps, basically every modern methodology that I have come across, we always try to do it the short way. We try to find the shortcut. We try to do things without fully understanding, just enough to get us into trouble. Sometimes we get somewhere, but usually in the long run taking the short way comes and bites us.

I feel that if it matters, that only by doing the hard work, can you get the full benefit. Shortcuts get you incremental benefits at best, but without understanding.

Burnt Toast

William Edwards Deming, the father of quality had a theory about the handling of defects. He wasn’t the originator of the theory, but he did put it in a fun way.

He defined the terms Common Cause and Special Cause.

Common Cause, also known as Natural Patterns, are historical, quantifiable variations to a system.

Special Cause or UnNatural Patterns are unpredictable occurrences in both frequency and severity.

So what does this mean? Common Cause, at least in Operations terms are those issues that occur regularly. For example, that error that comes up in the log all the time. The system that goes down every week. 

Special Cause on the other hand could be that power spike that caused the systems to go haywire. The computer that crashed due to hard drive failure etc.

So, how should you identify them? Is is where the Burnt Toast analogy comes in.

Say you have a job of making toast. The toast gets burnt and you scrape the burnt bits off with a knife. This keeps occurring, every slice of toast comes out burnt. So you scrape more and more.

You may decide to use a fork, at least that way you may not break the toast. Or, decide to cover up the burnt bits by slathering on butter. This is how Deming saw western manufacturing and how I see IT systems managed.

So, as a sane person, who had this job of producing toast, what would you do? Keep scraping? Build an auto scraper? I don’t know about you, but I would try to fix the toaster. This could be as simple as turning the heat setting down for a common cause. If your toast was working fine initially, and all of a sudden it started producing burnt toast, then it could be that your toaster is broken and you need a new toaster. This is a special cause. A variation that was unpredictable (e toaster breaking).

The system is consistently producing issues. Instead on focusing on fixing the end product, we should be focusing on the cause of the problem.  The toaster, yet in many it systems, we tend to focus on fixing issues in the aftermath, rather than in the root of the problem.

So how do we fix software issues are the root of the problem? This is where techniques such as Test Driven Development, Behaviour Driven Development etc come in. You fix defects before they become problems and start burning your toast.

If you decide to incorporate techniques such as Continuous Integration or Continuous Deployment before addressing the quality of the development before hand, what you are effectively doing is automatically burning your toast.

7 Wastes of I.T. (And a few Bonus wastes)

Today I’m going to quickly go through the 7 wastes of IT and my take on them,

At some point in the future, I may go through them in more detail.

    • Partially done work
      Have you ever been on a project or been doing a task and then asked to drop it?
      That wasted effort for developing that piece of work is one interpretation. 
    • Extra features
      Writing something that isn’t what the customer wants – or worse yet something the customer will not use.
    • Re-learning
      Have you ever learned something, never documented it and then had to come back some time later and had to re-learn that thing again?
    • Hand offs
      Anything that involves passing how the system works from one person to another. Not everything is given over, and usually the handoff is too short to be of any use, or months before the recipient needs the information. Where we go back to re-learning and they have to go through it all over again.
    • Delays
      Delays can cause a loss of knowledge of the system. Ever completed a piece of work, had to wait days or weeks before you can migrate into production? by then you have moved onto something else?
      How difficult has it been to fix any issues that occur? Would it have been quicker if you deployed sooner?
    • Task Switching
      This I have recently been through. 3 projects. All done simultaneously, all requiring 100% of my time. I spend so much time changing context from one task to the next that I don’t focus on anything and it ends up being a mess.
      Also, every time you change context, you have a ramp up time to focus. Change too often and that ramp up time eats into the productive time.
    • Defects
      Anything that takes you away from planned work is bad. Defects tend to do that. They cause unplanned work in the issues they cause and also in having to fix them and the aftermath.
    • Bonus Round
      • Unused Creativity
        Your people may have ways of doing things, but giving them a chance to try new things and new ways to do something may gain efficiencies and new perspectives. Giving your people a creative out, also gives them more job satisfaction.
        Not using creativity, you are prone to repeat the same mistakes and have morale problems. Also, creativity is where your innovations occur.
      • Technical Debt
        These are effectively defects, quick fixes etc that will bite you at some point in the near or distant future. It could be messy code that when you need to do a change will take weeks or months instead of hours or days if done properly in the first place.
        It can also be lack of documentation, or poor documentation etc.
      • Heroics
        This is working long hours or extra hours. Any time that is taken away from rest time causes productivity to suffer, either short term or long term. People get tired.
        I have a colleague that will work in his own time on a project for work to try to get ahead. He is not paid for this time, and most of the time he accomplishes little. He would be better off learning in that time if he needs to rather than slog it out. He actually reminds me of this Dilbert cartoon.

Sometimes waste is unavoidable, but every effort should be made to reduce it. This in essence is one of the foundations of Lean and DevOps in my opinion.

Safety Conversations

I work for an electricity utility and one of the things that the company is passionate about is safety. Its dangerous work out in the field. Dealing with electricity, there is always the chance of electrocution. So everyone, even though who work in an office learn about safety.

Once of the concepts we were introduced to was the safety pyramid. We found out that if you focus on reducing unsafe acts, you actually make a difference and reduce fatal injuries. Its a trickle up effect. Being aware of the situation from a safety perspective, you make the workplace safer overall. That’s not to say that you eliminate fatal injuries, you just reduce the chance of them happening.

This got me thinking, what if the same process was applied to software development. Would being aware and trying to fix minor bugs, those both during the development process but more importantly those already in production. Would you be making your system more stable overall, thus reducing the chance of a severe outage? If so, how would the pyramid look. So I put the following together.

I know the concepts of Test Driven Development, Acceptance Test Driven Development and the whole, shift left theory deals with this, but does putting it in this perspective help?

I’m interested in your opinion, please let me know in the comments below.

Complexity and Evolution

The modern world is made of lots of moving parts. Nothing is orchestrated, there is no grand plan, but they come together to make the world we live in.

It is this ‘complexity’ that makes predicting anything impossible. It also makes predicting solutions to the worlds problems, be it economic, crime, world hunger or even how our business will run in 10 years time impossible. We turn to our leaders and experts for guidance, to steer us in the right direction, but it turns out that for long term goals, they have as much influence as the rest of us. Where the leaders and the experts go excel at is leading in the short an medium term. The reason for this is that their expertise can only go so far before entropy kicks in and it just makes it impossible to be right. So how should you solve problems, in incremental steps.

Surprisingly, this method of solving problems has been around for billions of years. In Nature, its called Evolution.

In evolution, each incremental step starts off with a mutation (variation). If the mutation gives the organism an advantage, the organism lives and procreates spreading that mutation. If the mutation causes a disadvantage, it is more likely that the organism dies, and the mutation is no longer spread.

Karl Sims a computer graphics artist tried simulating evolution in a virtual world. From his videos, you can see that his virtual creatures started having traits that living creatures have. This just shows how well nature has used evolution to solve problems.

Types Of Complex Solutions

There are 3 types of solutions to complex problems.

Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji

photo credit:Reaching Out via photopin (license)

There is one, and only one perfect solution to the problem. As you improve, you get to the ultimate solution, any more effort and you are just going down hill.

Very few problems fall in this category, but when we solve a problem, we seem to think we have found the best way.

Rugged Landscape

Mountain Range

photo credit:Sunny Mont Blanc via photopin (license)

Here, when you solve a problem, you have one solution of many possible solutions. Some better than others. It is very hard to find the perfect solution, but you need to keep trying to see if there is a more efficient, or better solution.

Dancing Mountain

Here, you find a solution to your problem, but the ground shifts from under you. Circumstances change, where you were on top of the solution, you now are at the bottom and you have to start again. You need to keep shifting to stay ahead.
This is more closer to reality.
So just like in nature, evolving and adapting is the way to go.
So, how does this relate to DevOps, well, given DevOps has its basis in Lean and the Toyota Production System, there is a concept of improvement through trial and error. Make changes in small steps to continuously adapt to a solution to a problem that is constantly changing. This concept is Kaizen, Continuous Improvement.
So how do you implement Kaizen? Its quite simple really, think of something that will improve a process. This could be as simple changing the order of how tasks are done, automating/semi automating, documenting steps better, make something more understandable etc. The second step is to try it out in small scale. Finally evaluate the process to determine if there is an improvement or not. If there is an improvement, great. Change your process. If there isn’t an improvement, see where the issue is, and re-evaluate to determine if a modified version will work, or if the new process should be dropped altogether.  These steps may look familiar, its Peter Palchinsky’s Principles.
The thing is, with evolutionary change, a small change on its own may not give you a significant cost or time saving. In fact, it is less likely to give you a significant cost or time saving, but if you have  a culture where this is the norm, where you continuously try to change and improve, then all those small changes add up.

Small Changes

So what constitutes a small change? Let me give you a real life example that I had. As part of the daily health check that I do for the company I work for. The health check steps are documented in a wiki page with checkboxes so you know which steps are executed as you go along.

Once of these steps was check if a file was transferred successfully to its destination. To do this, we would FTP to the remote host and see if the file was present every morning. This process didn’t take long. About 5 min each day. This was one task out of many as part of our health check that would take about an hour to accomplish if there was no issues. Over a day at times if there was. To save time with this check I wrote a python script that would show a web page (Using SimpleHTTPServer) of the remote directory to be viewed. The script took about 15 min to write. Now we have a visual indicator that is embedded in the wiki page (through iframes) to see if the file is present. This change alone saved 5 min. Yes, the script could be made better, a better solution would be to send an alert email or SMS etc if the file isn’t present or other countless improvements, but that is not the point.

This small change which saved 5 min was a first step. Other small improvements followed. Provided there are no issues, the health check is now down to 5-10 min. With issues, its is now rare that they would take a day or more. Most of the time its an hour or two to resolve the issues. We still have a long way to go, but we are on the journey.

The point is, that you start with something and build upon it and keep trying to improve it. Some things work, some don’t, but you won’t know until you try.

Galls Law

John Gall, an American paediatrician wrote a book “General systemantics : an essay on how systems work, and especially how they fail.”

In this book (Which I admit I haven’t read) there is one statement his is known for

A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system

Here John Gall advocates building complex systems through evolution by starting with a simple system and building upon it. Pretty much how an Agile project should work.

 W. Edwards Deming

Now we come to the tail end of this post. Back in World War 2, while the men were fighting, the women would be the ones working in the factories. Building every day products and the machinery of war. With limited resources, the factories had to work smarter and harder to get reasonable productivity. Deming, through all this worked out a system to achieve this.

At the end of the war, all the men came back and the women were out and everything went back to the way it was. At least in America and the allied nations.

In Japan, they were just trying to re-build from after the War. Deming was brought over  the techniques that he developed during the war. The Japanese embraced this. None more than Toyota. Which is where we get the Toyota Production system and the start of Lean.

One of these techniques that Deming brought over was the PDCA cycle. Also known as the Deming Cycle.


  • Plan your change and determine its success criteria
  • Do your change
  • Check that it meets the success criteria
  • Act accordingly
    • If the success criteria is met, Yay complete.
    • If the success criteria is not met, the re-evaluate and plan the next step and repeat the cycle.


So as you can see, through independent means, many people have found that the evolutionary way to trial and error seems to be the best means to achieve the best solution to a problem. Be it nature, manufacturing or computer science.

Learning Resources

I’d like to list my learning resources. Where I learn the most about software development, Devops and Testing.

I work during the day and my wife works at night. We have a 4yo son that I take care of in the evenings, so sometimes its hard to learn new things, especially when you need to dedicate a large block of time. To help counter act that, I like to learn by taking information in by various means. This includes video, audio and written content. I find that taking the same information in various means helps me understand and link the pieces together to a coherent thought. Usually I try to read, watch or listen to content on the train in the morning and evenings.

So, here are my sources.

Firstly, video.

Skills Matter This site is a British site for a company that hosts a number of talks and courses a week. They put up these talks for free. Its a good resource for finding the latest trends and perspectives.

SoftDevTube is the software development you tube, although not updated as often. It has varying topics, but isn’t updated often. Previous videos are very interesting though. is mainly ruby based, but a majority of the topics are still relevant for any language. Again, this site isn’t updated that often.

DevOps Enterprise Summit puts up their videos of the conference. These are put up a few months after the conference, but there is quite a lot to keep you occupied for a while.

Youtube is also a great resource. Just search for topics, speakers, events etc and you can find content.


Test Talks Jo Colantonio hosts a podcast dedicated to testing and test automation. This podcast is mainly for web development, but I do find the concepts interesting.  I rarely miss an episode.

Software Engineering Radio I have been listening to this podcast for a very long time. Probably almost 10 years (The podcast is 10 years old, and I started listening quite early). The topics are timeless. I highly recommend listening from the beginning.

DevOps Cafe I have only recently started listening to this podcast, but it has been around since 2010. I’m trying to catch up from the first episode (currently at ep 11) but I have so far found it to be a great resource for DevOps theory from a high level.

Coder Radio Not as technical as you would expect, but I do find the topics interesting at times. I haven’t been listening for a while as I’ve been catching up on DevOps Cafe.

Meta-Cast I have only been listening to this podcast for about a  months to a year. The topics are interesting, but I tend to skip if I don’t find the title interesting.

Coding Blocks Another podcast where if I find the topic interesting, I will listen to.

Thats pretty much it for podcasts. There are a number of others, but these are my current regulars.

Web Sites

I tend not to read as much from Web Sites anymore. I flick through, but I tend to not read as much as I should. I use to read them quite a bit, but its getting harder to find the time.


This includes

I find DZone to be a good resource for blog posts of varying topic.

Reddit Programming Channel This is another resource that I find interesting at times. It is less policed than DZone, but still has great content.


Instead of reading web sites, I’ve started reading more books. If a book is mentioned on a video or podcast, I’ll try to read it and learn. I tend to get my books through Amazon, through the kindle. Also Manning have Deals of the day where you can get up to 50% off. I tend to go for the ebooks as the dead tree versions cost quite a bit to ship to Australia. LeanPub is also another good source. Gojko Adzic, the Specification By Example guru has a number of books self published at LeanPub.

I also buy dead tree versions from the book depository and Abe Books. Abe Books is good to try first to see if there is a used version of the book available.

I have also found some books in op shops (Lean Thinking).

Other Learning Resource

Udemy – Lots of free courses (Found on OzBargain regularly) but like most Ozbargainers, I have yet to complete may courses.

The same with kindle books, they pop up every now and then on OzBargain.

There are many places to find learning materials. Most are free. What I tend to find is that a video might reference a book as a source of inspiration, which sometimes I will try to read, or a podcast will have a guest speaker which I will look to see if there are any videos available.  Sometimes you go down rabbit holes and learn the origins of where a theory came from. For example, with DevOps, it lead me to Lean, which lead me to the Toyota Production System – something completely unrelated to IT, its manufacturing but the content is still highly relevant. This then lead me to NUMMI which then lead me to changing culture etc. I find it fun going down and holes and learning along the way.  So have fun and let me know how you go.

Traffic Light

 Where I work, we are starting to look into doing continuous integration. One thing that my manager wanted was a build traffic light, so I built one.It ended up being quite simple to build really. So here is how I built it.

Parts List

  • IC Station Micro USB controlled 5v 4-Channel Relay Module
  • 1 micro USB cable (to power and control the relay)
  • 1 USB cable you are willing to cut the end off. This will supply power to the LED’s
  • 1 Red LED
  • 1 Amber led
  • 1 green led
  • Optionally, another colour LED as the relay module has 4 channels. For my implementation, I chose blue.
  • Resistors. Check the specs of the LED’s but 100-150 ohm should do the trick. I used 150 Ohm.
  • Wire – at least 2 different colours (red and black)
  • Heat shrink
  • A plastic case to house it in.
  • A Windows PC. You could probably use Mac or Linux, but the software that comes wi the device is Windows only and it’s better to start with when playing around.
  • Solder
  • Electrical tape
  • Multimeter

Tools required

  • Soldering iron
  • Needle nose pliers and a wire cutter if your pliers doesn’t have one.

First things first, connect up the relay to a PC. Install the software and try to get the relay module to turn on and off. You will need to make sure that the relay module connects up to a com port lower than 5, if your port is recognized as higher, then try changing sub ports.
Also, you will need to install the driver. This should automatically install if your windows pic is connected to the Internet.

Using the software, you should be able to turn individual relays on and off.
Once you have the relay module working, the next step is to build the circuit.
Traffic Light Circuit
The reason for the resistors is so that the full current does not short out the circuit and blow the power or the diodes.

A little bit of background. An LED will only light up when you when the current flows in a certain direction. So if you have the positive and negative e wrong way around, the LED will not light up.

Usually, the anode is the side where the wire is a little longer, but the best method is to hook up the led to a battery and see which direction causes the LED to light up.

Start off by soldering one of the resistors to the Anode of the LED.  You may want to clip the anode wire a little so it doesn’t look too long.. Repeat this for all the remaining LEDs.

Next, solder the wires to the Resistors and the LED cathode. I prefer to use a different color wire for each anode. For example, to match the colours of the LED. For the cathode (negative) side I used the traditional black.

Put heat shrink around each join
Each switch is one of the relay switches.

Below you can see one of the LED’s. It has the heat shrink around the joint. I have also used electrical tape to beaten up the wireing.  

Once you have the LEDs wired up, the next step is to wire up the power supply to light up the LEDs. I’ve chosen to power my LEDs through another USB port. The USB port provides 5V DC power which is enough to light them up.

First thing you have to do is cut off the end of a USB cable, You want to keep the Standard A side, that is the rectangular side,this will plug into the computer obviously.

There are 4 pins to the USB port, the outer pins are the power, the inner pins are the data.
To find out which pin is which to the wires, I used a multimeter. I just checked for resistance between the wire and the pin, if the resistance is zero, then you have a short and the wire matches the pin.

Cut away the data wires, you do not need them. Finally, wire up the USB port to the LEDs using the above circuit diagram as a guide

Test your traffic light with the software found on the USB Relays web site above and place into a plastic container to keep the circuit isolated.


You should now have a basic working traffic light.

You will just need to create traffic light stand, in my case I kept the lights raw and just taped them to a post at the office.

The traffic light should only draw 33mA with a 150 ohm resistor.

Find an old PC and hook up your traffic light. 

The next step is to write software that will control the traffic light. To get the basics under python, there is an example already supplied on the USB Relay site as well, but I chose Java.

Java natively does not provide access to the serial ports, so I had to choose a library. I chose Java Simple Serial Connector. It provided a simpl interface that allowed me to communicate with the relay easily.  To send each bit, I sent the HEX value for the byte i.e. 01 for bit 1, 02 for bit 2, 04 for bit 3 and 08 for bit 4. 

If you want to do a combination of lights, for example bit 1 and 2, just send 03.  It’s fairly simple once you play around with a basic program. 

Changing lights is sub second speed, so you can I effects like rotating the lights before a change. The relay will also make a nice audible like a wheel of fortune wheel.

Unfortunately, due to my company owning the code to the traffic light even though I wrote it, I cannot include it here, but if you are using this for a build traffic light, you should be able to figure it out fairly easily.

If you end up building your own traffic light or have any issues, let me know in the comments or send me an email. My email is found in the About page. 

Peter Palchinsky

I have recently finished reading Tim Harford’s “Adapt: Why Success Always Begins With Failure”.

I found the book very interesting. So good in fact that I have bought a physical copy to compliment my electronic version and be able to loan out to my mangers.

In the beginning, Tim talks about the disruptors and how although ostracised by their leaders, how they overcame and accomplished their goals, even though they were against all odds. Their reward, punishment. In Peter Palchinsky’s case he was executed.

Peter was a mining engineer during the early soviet era.  He spoke out against large soviet projects, saying that they were not correct. Such as in the case of the Magnitogorsk steel city, Dnieper Hydroelectric Power Station.

For this, he was executed, but he was a brilliant engineer and he came up with 3 principles which tie in to Innovation and DevOps culture in my opinion.

  Peter Palchinsky’s Principles
  • first : seek out new ideas and try new thing.
  • second : when trying something new, do it at a scale that is survivable
  • third : seek feedback and learn from your mistakes.

Learning to play

I’ve started re-learning how to play a guitar again after a more than 10 year hiatus. It’s a little difficult. I’m not starting with something simple, I’m going for complex. I’m re-learning to play ‘Classical Gas’ by Mason Williams. 

I started by learning the first bar. Just 4 notes. Repeated that a few times then went to the next bar. Then I put the 2 bars together and played then a few times. I repeated this for the 3rd and 4th bars. Iteratively learning and reinforcing what I previously learned. 

I feel the same should be done with development. Build the first bit of functionality. Iterate over and refactor till you are happy. Build the second bit of functionality.  Iterate over that. Review any lessons learned from the previous bit and then move on. Keep continuously improving and when you are finished you should have an app very well built. I know. I know. Easier said than done, but the simple fact that you are trying to improve means you are improving. Eventually you should get to the point where the review you do after writing new functionality should be a cursory glance every now and then and can should take the form of automated tests (but not too early)

You should be confident your code runs well, reads well and be proud. 

Well… That is the dream at least.  

Thoughts, Tutorials and Learnings specifically with regards to Agile, DevOps and SOA/EAI