A Trace in the Sand
Ruth Malan's Architecture Journal

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Trace in the Sand
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September 2009

9/1/09 Your Co-ordinates
This journal contains notes I take as I explore what it takes to be a great software, systems and enterprise architect.

Until September entries accumulate, there are FORTY THREE months of entries to pick from (left sidebar), and beneath those, I've linked to many enterprise architecture and software architecture bloggers. (Please let me know if I missed your architecture-focused blog, and I'll add you to my blogroll and the blog list I maintain on Bredemeyer Consulting' Resources for Architects website.) putting the squeeze on architecture...

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.

9/2/09 Mental Cogs

I love the clever visual metaphor for dependencies (and tight coupling) used in this software rot post. I was reading about JPL's trouble hiring engineers who are good system problem solvers. They were hiring top engineering graduates from MIT and Stanford and so forth, but finding that academic performance wasn't a good predictor of system problem solving skill. They discovered that childhood hobbies like tearing down a clock or engine to see how it works was (along with intellectual horsepower) a better predictor of job performance in complex engineering design jobs. When my son saw the gears in the picture, he immediately, without a blink, saw the problem.

It is a great metaphor--some coupling (through minimalist, well-crafted interfaces) is very productive and necessary to the design. Too much coupling, and circular dependencies, and you freeze the system.

Metaphors are great learning and communicating tools. I'm not sure if you could make out the categories on The Grove visual I collected for you, but they are: animals, living systems, physical/mechanical. I'm not sure where rivers fall in that scheme... a living system? At any rate, I suppose it is meant more to be suggestive (to help us come up with visual metaphors) than complete.

9/2/09 Architecture Documentation as "System of Record" and Views

You know the IEEE 1471 mantra: design architecture documentation in terms of stakeholder-concerns-views-models. I think that is better turned around. It is not a matter of documentation; not first. It is a matter of design; first.

Make decisions, and make them good!

If we could design the whole system all at once, that would be one thing. But complex systems are, well, duh, complex--meaning it is hard to contain all that complexity in our mind's eye, and manipulate it effectively. So we have to work a balancing act between separation of concerns and system thinking covering multiple facets and concerns. Switching between views, using abstraction, using patterns, etc. So, we are thinking about the aspect of the system under design, and what decisions we need to make, and what thinking tools to use to get ideas on the table, and to express and "stress-test" those designs and decisions. Yes, we're addressing stakeholders' concerns, and using models as a critical individual and team thinking tool. And that is how we are picking the models--to make, and then improve, the design decisions we need to make. As we iterate, we're thinking about how best to involve stakeholders and get their input so we can improve and then begin to validate our architectural approach. So we're thinking about communication style and communication vehicles, but we're also thinking about what are these designs and inherent decisions we're trying to make? What is the nature of the system (facet) under design? What thinking tools give us a "lever" so we can do the conceptual heavy lifting required when designing complex systems? How best do we expose alternative approaches to "test"--to find flaws and discover improvements. The same models that we use to help us think alone, and in pairs and in larger groups, may well become the foundation for the communication we do later to express, champion and defend the architecture within the larger community. We almost certainly won't need to show all models to all stakeholders. We will provide views on the specification, and we will craft storylines for different stakeholders, depending on their interests, concerns, and information needs. A la 1471. And we will tell our story carefully, paying attention to how it builds and flows, informs and speaks to the stakeholders concerned.

We need to see architecture models and their adequate description as vehicles for creating sound architectural designs (and associated decisions), and for recording them. Communicating these designs and decisions is obviously essential, and communication isn't dictation. So we do need to take into account how best to reach the community who will be impacted by the architectural choices, and who need to create the designs and apply the decisions. Yes, we need to target our communication to the concerns of a stakeholder group. Not just in terms of what information and decisions we reveal but also the style of the communication. The project's architecture wiki is probably not the best way to get the average business sponsor excited... And so forth.

But the overall system design, architectural mechanism design, and architectural decisions are the base we need to focus on. Of course, communicating these designs and architectural choices are critical--if we don't do that well, we may as well not make any decisions! But making the decisions is what this is about--first. Making sound decisions, just in time--no sooner than they need to be made. And no later. A tough call. A big decision in of itself.

On the question of software architecture documentation, though, I think we need to reflect on what we, as architects, are trying to do. What decisions are we trying to make? What techniques and tools are most useful to us in making those decisions? This is what we need to document!!! Our decisions. As we weigh the goals or concerns of various stakeholders, and balance that conjoint set of demands on the system, we will assess what decisions are architecturally significant. And for those that are, we need to document them, to aid our thinking, and to record it for future reference. Our reasoning, including the rationale but also experience and judgment, our assertions and assumptions, and alternatives weighed. Yes we need to leave a trail -- the architecture specification. This may be pretty ad hoc and rough sketchy--for a small and quick project. And it may be more elaborate for a complex project that needs more careful engineering. At any rate, if this architecture specification is the decision trail left only for the architects, that is already important! But it isn't all, is it? It is the touchstone from which we draw the views we share with other stakeholders. We don't expect every developer to read every piece of the blueprint. Not necessarily. We may pull out the overall context-setting views, the principles and other expressions of technical strategy, and then more detail for the subsystem or service(s) the developer or team in question will be responsible for. Etc. Tailored views, and additional help, conversation, examples, for the specific stakeholder group.

Communicate in terms that communicate!

If we've done a week's worth of thinking about architecture before we begin development, we should have a week's worth of models (diagrams or informal sketches, in some cases, and more fleshed out, formalized models in others) that have been exposed to scrutiny and contrasted with alternatives and improved (some tossed out), and explanations, discussion of context and assumptions, and defense of the decisions against alternatives considered. Or two week's worth. Or three.

Well, ... I just wanted to say that the architecture helps us create better systems, and do a better job of evolving these systems. So lets focus on that--on how we get ideas that arrive in rough form in our mind's eye expressed and "stress tested" by exposing them to other eyes and experience of others and conducting "thought experiments" like simulating the system behavior through interaction diagrams or activity diagrams and so on. And as these models mature, keeping track of the thinking so that we remember it, so that we are forced through the intellectual exercise of expressing and challenging the decisions as we write them down and go through the due diligence of writing an explanation and defense of the design (fragment) and the decisions it encompasses. Just writing our assumptions down is a good exercise because it makes us think explicitly about what they are, then we become more self-aware and we discover new ones we've been implicitly making, and become alert to uncovering assumptions as we go over the design fragments with others, ferreting out the weaknesses and improving the design. NOT necessarily all before coding begins. But more than many Agilists recommend. And less than BDUF.

If some aspect of the design is architecturally significant, it is so because it has systemic (diffuse) and strategic impact. Hence, by its nature, an architectural flaw discovered early is generally cheaper to fix earlier than later. Alternately put, architectural decisions are those that bear a high cost of change (Booch). But the cost is lowest, when the change is to models and thinking, rather than cemented in a big investment in code. Cemented, for the most part, in our unwillingness to bear the high cost of change and in the mutability we think code has, for it is apparently easy to make changes, but easy changes have a creeping tendency to breed brittleness and rigidity. So we live with the high cost of increasingly debilitating technical debt.

Which gets back again to using cheaper ways to expose the architecture, as much as is reasonable, to tests: to models and thought experiments, modeling in pairs and out loud, repeated and frequent discipline of finding alternatives and ferreting out flaws, prototypes (from sketches and rough-mockups to working prototypes of critical aspects of the system), to iteratively developing code. These are the disciplines of architecture and engineering. Many of our systems are as, or more, complex than (and put people, systems, and businesses at risk) other rigorously engineered systems, and it is just as well to remain intentional in our process, as we embrace evolutionary design. Not one or the other, but both. Intentional. And evolutionary. And intentional in our evolution! Once we have the models, we should use the models to think about design evolution. That way we continue to have intellectual control over the design. Rather than letting it rot in a reactionary trial-and-error approach with more and more weight of code clouding the design, promoting more error with each trial.

Champion evolutionary design!

Yes, we need an evolutionary design approach, not just an evolutionary coding approach. We can argue that we can do all this design using our programming language, but it is worth considering a broader slate of thinking tools. And if code is still our preference, then we must maintain a view of the code that expresses the design intent--the system view, the design decisions and the rationale for them; the explanations, the justifications and the alternatives considered but ruled out and why. This helps others understand the architecture, to adhere to it, to build it out, to improve upon and evolve it.

Architecture documentation should support the architect, and support the architect in accomplishing the architect's goals: designing, building and evolving a system that has great fit to context and to purpose, and structural integrity. To achieve fit to context and to purpose, the architect needs to serve business and operational stakeholders, and customers and end users; this service begs a dialog, a two-way set of conversations between the architect and these stakeholders (and their proxies in marketing and business/requirements analysis). Informal conversations, and also, as demanded by the context, more formal communications via documents that put rigor into the expression, and also preserve it for future communication. To achieve structural integrity, as well as fit to other stakeholder's goals (subsumed in fit to purpose and to context), the architect needs to help build not just understanding of the architecture, but also commitment, enthusiasm and passion for the system goals and architectural intent.

This is not so much a radical departure from the stakeholder-concerns-views-models mantra, as it is recognition that the architect is a first order citizen among architecture stakeholders. And it is a recognition that "the" architecture document needs to serve as the living record of the technical strategy and architecturally significant design decisions. Other views, composed out of selections from this record, potentially adding stories and "spice" (humor, colorful illustrations, etc.), will be tailored to a stakeholder group to draw their interest, and explain how the system addresses their concerns.

If architecture documentation supports the architect in accomplishing the architect's goals: designing, building and evolving a system that meets the prioritized, balanced conjoint set of stakeholder needs, then the architect (at least the role, if not the individual in it) needs to be around for the long haul to keep the architecture alive--to intentionally evolve the design, and also to draw learnings and design changes made in the medium of code back into the architecture.

In short, let's acknowledge that architecture is first for architects! It is for the architects to get the right design right--yes, to do this the architect needs to involve others, and do so in terms they can and will mesh with. Yes, yes, yes, architecture can fail in all sorts of ways. Failure to get and maintain sponsorship. It could fail due to resistance or misunderstanding in the development community. Etc. But it also fails if it is simply not a good, right architecture. So the cornerstone architecture document needs to be whatever it needs to be, to help the architect make sure that it is a good right architecture. And to make sure that it stays that way. Enabling adaptive evolution, not being sunk by it.

Then, the architect needs to remember that just because she did a good, right job creating the architecture document (of record, or the blueprint), others are not going to read it--all. It doesn't do to have the attitude that "I earned my paycheck creating this beauty, now you earn yours by reading it," does it? No, the architect has to take a very pragmatic stance, and help the various communities along with just what they need of the architecture to make them successful, and to make the architecture successful. Dialog/conversations. Presentations, dog and pony shows, workshops, wikis, whatnot.

Remembering all the while, that a key principle architects (try to) live by is the minimalist architecture principle. Keeping the architecture decision set as small as it possibly can be, while meeting the key system objectives. We also need to be pragmatic about the degree of detail we include in the architecture documentation. During early iterations of VAP, we're moving fast and sketchy, covering a lot of ground to find the big opportunities, uncertainties, challenges and risks, so we can direct our attention and do targeted "deep dives" and then pull back up to the higher levels of abstraction and decision making (Dana Bredemeyer calls this "forth and back"). So we are not adding precision to our models unless we have to. I have seen these sketchy models called diagrams as opposed to models, but I think that is just getting into terminology wars. The discipline is to model the system as loosely as will pay off! Be willing to accept that later will be good enough, when later will be good enough. And allow the deep dives when later will not be good enough!

Which is not to say there's no guidance! There's the 4+1 view model (Krutchen) or the VAP Decision Model, and the Visual Architecting Process (VAP) that suggests views and models and guides decision making. There's architecture document templates that architects put together for their organizations, and there's TOGAF (now in its 9th version).  So there is plenty of guidance. But ultimately it comes down to the decisions that are relevant to the specific project. What is architecturally significant? The architect decides. Yes, yes, the architect decides taking stakeholder concerns into account, but it is not a simple stakeholder-concern pairing, but a balancing act across stakeholders. Various stakeholders care about security, in various ways. Or scalability. etc. The architect is balancing across these stakeholders and their related and unrelated concerns to figure out what really matters, and how to address what matters. At least, whoever makes these calls (it may be management intentionally or by the way, or it may be that during development these decisions are made in a spotty ad hoc manner, etc.) is making architectural judgment calls whenever these decisions have to do with what is strategic and what is cross-cutting and requires balancing or tradeoffs or systemic approaches...

7/15/11: It is worth bearing in mind that creating the architecture is a participative and evolutionary process and the purpose of architecture is to enable the engagement of many minds to create a system with integrity of identity and purpose (taking various and many stakeholder concerns into account and determining what the system will be) and structural integrity (including consistency). That is, our "system of record" is (or should be) a "system of engagement."

9/2/09 Who Understands What We Do?

Now, if we could explain architecture the way Benjamin Zander explains classical music, we'd have mom, and everyone else, on board, wouldn't we? It's not about thinking about every note (the parts), it's about the long line of notes (the system; the vision). And the optimism of leaders. Listen, too, to what he says about the conductor, and think about the architect!

No analogy is perfect (architect is something like a composer and not; something like a conductor, and not; etc.). But does it help shed some light, inspire a good, right behavior or illuminate an important concept? Etc.

Russ Ackoff does a great job explaining systems in "The Nature of Systems," which is chapter 1 of Re-creating the Corporation. Architecture is about the design of systems, but most definitions focus on the parts and the relationships, and Russ Ackoff, and Bucky Fuller before him, insist that system design is first about the system in its context. Whether we like it or not, the system interacts with its context and will change its context. This is not just a matter of dependency and constraint, unless we don't take the context into account! Unless we think of the design problem as one that has fuzzy edges--fuzzy and somewhat permeable, somewhat elastic edges. Which is to say, if we think in ecosystem terms, we can partner with others in the ecosystem to change the context, rather than warping the system to the context and warping the context to the system. 

9/3/09 Optimism

I was struck by a billboard advertizing the Toyota Prius in Chicago today:

"Seats 5 optimists"

I love that! Self-deprecating humor in a commercial. (Reminds me of commercials in South Africa!) But it is more too--right? Prius is being identified with optimism. Optimism for the planet, optimism for the role of technology in turning around the sorry trajectory we are on.

Anyway, I was thinking about Zander's statement about leaders being optimists, and I have said something similar, although I said enthusiastic, but it amounts to the same sentiment--being positive about the vision and the community's ability to achieve the vision. Of course, leaders aren't optimistic or enthusiastic about everything under the sun, or even optimistic and enthusiastic about the vision or the community's ability to achieve it 100% of the time... But they recognize that if they have a dive in energy and enthusiasm, they set the tone of the community and it will be harder to pull a community out of a dive...

Another way to put it would be: architects are either generally speaking optimists and enthusiastic, or they can fake it when it matters. If they are constant downers, depressing everyone's energy by constantly seeing the downside, it is unlikely they will be picked to lead, or allowed to lead. This is not the same as saying "cheerlead an empty, vacuous strategy," or something equally unethical and unlikely to be swallowed in a pragmatic software engineering group!

9/4/09 Pictures and Stories

Well, as you know, I'm very into stories and pictures, especially pictures that tell a good part of a story. Software is a human experience--a personal human experience and a communal (tribal) experience. We need pictures and stories so that the software design, the intent behind the code, will take on a "life"--become technical memes (temes--Susan Blackmore coined this tem in a TED talk) which self-replicate themselves in codified expressions in the systems we build.

9/6/09 Charlie Alfred is Back!

Wahoo! Charlie is back and he has written a great article reflecting on experiences integrating explicit, intentional (EDUF) architecture and SCRUM. Thank you, Charlie! It takes work and commitment to our field to gather up and share the lessons from project experience, and it is a great (and entertaining) read. Charlie is an artist-exemplar of (often humorous, always insightful) analogy!

9/6/09 We Must Not Equivocate on Our Boldest Moral Initiatives

Back when I first came across Bono's U-Penn commencement address, I only found a transcript--which I've read several times since. Today I stumbled across an audio download of the address and listened to it. It is a great speech; it is also great timing because it reminds us that there are defining moments in history. Moments that are defined when a moral blindspot of an era is seen for what it is and action is taken. Bono placed "Africa" in the top five of our age. We urgently need to think about global warming and healthcare in the US, and ask whether these belong in the top five too.

When I think about the innovation and the jobs we would create if we focus our "yes we can" energy on global warming, essential universal healthcare and the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, I am dumbfounded that we don't! We have to re-engineer our planet, fundamentally reshape how we produce, consume and retire-into-new-use everything. Not all at once, but fast and soon! And if we put our collective energy and passion into this, we address the economic doldrums because we give people a reason to be excited about being people on this planet at this point in history--and we create wave upon wave of regrooving and retooling our lives, our homes, our schools, our businesses, our value chains.

I don't want to live my life and die knowing that our generation wrecked this planet and turned a blind eye out of indifference, self-interest and/or a feeling of helplessness. We are the "yes we can" generation; yes we can face big moral imperatives and together make a difference. We are not slaves except to ideas that confine us.

This is the time for optimistic, energetic focus on setting things right!

For instance, what if instead of focusing all our energy on more fuel efficient cars, we focused a good deal of it on weaning ourselves off our over-dependence on cars? If we assumed less cars on the roads, we could devote some of those roads to bicycles, to create safe cycling arteries that enable children and adults to get around our towns and cities safely by bicycle. "Share the road" billboards don't exactly cut it when it comes to making roads safe for children. We need alternatives to sharing roads (not safe; Bloomington keeps track of deaths and we've had two, but I haven't seen stats on injuries) and slowing down chains of motorists (turns a green intention upon itself). Make the assumption that people would cycle to school and work if it was safe. Any "we tried that" thinking has to be overturned, because we have a new sense of urgency born of necessity and moral imperative. So make a self-fulfilling assumption. And get Michelle Obama to promote it!

This environmental debt is building so quickly that it won't just be our children who reap the consequences--we will too.

9/7/09 Production for Markets of One

  • Neil Gershenfeld on Fab Labs (TED talk)

9/10/09 TED Talks: Inventing Possibility

9/11/09 More TED: Visualization of Things Unseen

My circuits were too overloaded to cap the day writing here, so I caught up on some blogs and let myself be inspired by:

9/14/09 BASF: Vision, Values, Principles

The BASF identity statement is a nice example where the mission, values, principles are expressed thematically and color is used to highlight the thematic elements. They have a useful statement/explanation of these elements of identity and their inter-relationship :

BASF’s Vision describes the path that the Company will take in the coming years. It clearly defines the goals that we set out to achieve. All strategic decisions are based on this Vision.

BASF’s Values describe the approach and the manner in which we want to work to achieve our goals.

Together, our Vision and Values form the framework for all of our decisions and activities. They serve as both an orientation and a guideline for leadership, and also define our corporate culture.

BASF’s Principles formally state how we want to conduct ourselves in day-to-day business.

You'll find our description of the role of identity in strategy in our EA as Strategic Differentiator executive report. Remember, architecture is the translation of business strategy into technical strategy. The values of the technical team need to be consistent with those of the business. And team values and architectural principles are a key mechanism to align and focus the team. So the discussion in the report, though most relevant to business leaders and enterprise architects, is also quite relevant, just at a different scope, to product architects. The stories we tell, underscoring the values we want to promulgate in the team, help to create group identity. The name of the team. Images associated with it. All these things help create a team that is a social unit. If the project manager is leading in this area, work with her. If not, you're missing something, and as the technical leader you have a role to play in building a group culture that will adhere around values supporting structural integrity as well as commitment to short term value delivery, for example.  

9/14/09 Tribes and Identity

PICTURE IT: The Art of Drawing People InSeth Godin pitches concepts and framing for tribal leadership. There's a book, slideset and TED talk. And there's Seth Godin's blog.  All of which ...um... seem to inspire strong antipathy or strong tribal followership... It might be tempting to dismiss the purple cow guy... but... insights come in all kinds of guises. And there are some useful insights bundled up in the various packaging of Godin's messages about "tribes" and, more to the point, tribal leadership.

9/15/09 "The Defenestration of Superfluous Architectural Accoutrements"

That is the title of Grady Booch's latest on architecture column (IEEE Software). Defenestration? Accoutrements? Superfluous? Yep, the title itself carries a payload of insight! Very artful! The simplicity message is powerful.

9/15/09 PICTURE IT: The Art of Drawing People In

For those of you who read what I intended to say at the CAEAP inaugural event (back on June 20th) in my "lightening round" topic on visualization in EA--if you were worried that I'd be really, really horrible... you can verify your misgivings...

CAEAP Summit 2009 - Ruth Malan - Visualization and EA from CAEAP on Vimeo.  [Just refresh the page if it gives you a "page not available" error.]

Goodness, Vimeo had to default to the (surely?) worst momentary image on the video for the cover still! I guess that's a freeze-frame from the "I can't draw" bit... what an unflattering moment! (What can I say, Q<= s are sensitive about unflattering moments!)

I watched the video and Sara came over and after just moments said: "you shouldn't move so much." Nervous energy dear child. While ywlaw would, in many contexts, be taken to be a compliment, ytlaw would be rather damning; in my case, it would be, um, polite understatement! Indeed, I was horrid... I was SO nervous, because, while I am accustomed to talking to people in the room, it was the first time that I was also talking to a camera... to people in the future on the internet who might be (some probably will be) ...um... somewhat unedited in their reaction to me... To make matters worse, someone mentioned she was tweeting out, and that James McGovern was following the tweets...  OK, given how nervous I was, I was lucky I could string any words together!!! Oh well, aside from the annoying pauses, the random vocal volume setting, the self-corrections, the flickering movement, you'd never guess my first incarnation was a shy farm girl in Africa who... still does better in the company of a book than real live people.... would you? Ha! Well, at least I smile... oh yeah, add that to my list of annoying qualities! (I'm susceptible to South African sunshine, like on the faces of the kids in this video clip. But...) Every cloud has a silver lining, and the silver lining to this one is--now Dana understands why I tell him he has to do the conference circuit thing! He couldn't even watch past the beginning of the video! He says he didn't have time. Yeah, right! Grin.

One thing you don't see in the video is the audience. They were very kind and attentive, even though this slot was around 4:30pm give or take 15 minutes and we started at 8am, with big things during the day like the signing of the EA Doctrine and award ceremony when John Zachman was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award, and Don Hirst with the Enterprise Architect Professional of the Year Award.

Well, if you want to see how real ladies do it, Kathie Sowell, Nancy Wolff and Pretty Newman's talks are also on the CAEAP vimeo set. As for the gentlemen, I enjoyed Beryl Bellman's talk, among others. I need to go back to Beryl's talk (he made observations/asked good questions during my talk, but the first one came before I had my nerves under control and I wasn't especially graceful under fire...). Anyway, his talk came at the end of a long and very thought-provoking and exciting day, so I do want to watch/listen to it again--after my immediate deliverables are shipped. I liked Jaap Teeuwen's presentation (the 80/20 reference in my presentation is harking back to Jaap's point from earlier in the day) and Ervin's metaphors are a great add to our metaphorical toolkit. He gave me his Matrix cut, so he did double-duty filling my toolbox with lessons-through-entertainment.

Mark Lane and Mark Goetsch have made a huge contribution to the field, founding the advocacy body for EA (CAEAP) and the June 20th Summit was a unique landmark event. I got to shake John Zachman's hand. Generally that would so not be a big deal to me (being an organizational flatlander), but John is affable and smart and insightful. For these qualities and his contribution, not his status, I was honored to shake his hand. Mark Lane did a highly commendable job all round, but I especially appreciated his inclusion of women. Mark Lane sparkles with passion for the EA field and he has just poured himself into CAEAP.    

Dana rented a Prius on a recent trip. I asked him if he fitted 5 optimists in it, and he said "I didn't fit any optimists in it. I was by myself." Ha! You know he's got to be an optimist if you've met me, or seen that video! Grin. I guess I am too, or I'd never show up to do a presentation again!

Why point you to it? Well, gosh, given what you think of me, it's probably better than you expected!! Grin. I've said this before (but probably only I remember that) -- I serve mankind by setting a low bar that bolsters everyone's self-confidence. And that serves me too, because you have low expectations of me that I can exceed... and still keep the bar low. It's really awfully generous and public spirited of me. Of course there's no other message of merit in the presentation...  just... a lot of redundancy with this journal, but perhaps somewhat novel for those who haven't been keeping me company these past months.

9/16/09 Graph Visualization Tools

Manuel Lima has a collection of graphing tools in a post on his visualcomplexity blog.

9/16/09 Information Visualization Manifesto

Manuel Lima posted his Information Visualization Manifesto. Some of the other influencers in the field have also chimed in on the comments to the Manifesto post and Manuel's follow-up post. It is thought-provoking and useful.

I had to "get over myself" because I couldn't help but notice that Manuel was telling rather than inviting... but, oh well, not everyone would agree that creating a "manifesto" for a field should be a collaborative endeavor... I think he's done a great job. Heroic. Grin. Actually, Manuel has single-handedly pulled off some amazing stuff, so he gets to be a hero. In my estimation too.  

9/16/09 More Decalogues

A comment on Garr Reynolds 10 Tips on how to think like a designer post introduced me to both the word decalogue and Dieter Ram's "Good design in ten commandments."

9/16/09 National Science Foundation: Visualization in Science and Engineering

"Science and engineering's most powerful statements are not made by words alone." NSF

The 2009 NSF Visualization Challenge just closed, but while we wait for results, the winners from previous years are very inspiring and instructional.

PS. (please) take a look at the "discoveries" area on the NSF site to get a renewed sense of urgency (panic would be appropriate) about climate change!One of the architect's serving men: why

9/16/09 That 'satiable Curtiosity

Diego Rodriguez has a great list of innovation principles (right column alongside his metacool blog posts). His second principle (See and hear with the mind of a child) recalls to mind Kipling's Elephant's Child. I love the way 'satiable mimics the process--the child asks "why?" thinking that the thirst for the cause or the knowledge will be sated, but the answer only begs a new question. So the seeming-satiable insatiable curiosity is bound only by the adult's patience!  And in that light, "curtiosity" is genius too!

Now, lots of people say we should have child-like curiosity and wonder, but feel disquieted when that is put to the test... like when I read from or tell the story from The Wheel. Many architects I've worked with are very comfortable with the story. But there was one group who positively squirmed--not to a man, but almost... like I'd put on my "Mom" hat in the wrong context, gone crackers, something...

I get asked about (screening) assessments for architects. I push back strongly because I believe that the most essential ingredient is attitude rather than some cookbook list of attributes (so I don't want to close people out of the field for some cooked up reason that matters less than their passion for architecting). I said this in a phone conversation with a group of three architects who were assessing whether to come to us for training. They said thank you and goodbye. I think they will call back in a few years, when they've had a chance to learn that the most essential ingredient is attitude! A facet of that attitude is curiosity and a capacity for wonder (at least I think it is wonder, but whatever it is that draws us to seek and explore).

But... Seth Godin put attitude at the top of his list. I'm either going to have to revisit my list or redress my attitude! Grin. Just teasing. There is a lot of intellectual/technical snobbery in our field, and while I try to root it out when I find it in myself, I have to joke because flaunting purple cows is kind of like flaunting child-like hand-drawn sketches and lessons about innovation from children's stories. I needle at the same kind of blinders in system development as Seth needles at in marketing--and at our point of overlap, which is innovation and design. I think Seth has key insights and an entertaining vibrant style.

Now, I was thinking about Sir Ken Robinson's presentation style, and realizing that he is on to something. Take the 4 points you want to make. (Generally, there's about 4; maybe 5 if you're an over-achiever.) And then just wrap them in entertainment. Everyone wins. You light a fire under your 4 points. And your audience gets a healthy dose of laughter that is good for their heart and opens their mind to be lighted by the 4 points you were trying to fire up. I'll have to try that...  Just collect 15 minutes worth of jokes (they don't even have to be relevant so long as you can weave them into the story!) and 3 to 5 minutes of making and remaking the 4 points, and ...success! I say that with absolute admiration and only a hint of a smile. I was sorely tempted in that CAEAP presentation, to just play back (I mean act out, not show the video) the first several minutes of Sir Ken's TED talk--changing words here and there--like from "education" to "software."  I mean, just listen to it in that light--it'd work, wouldn't it? And that really appeals to my (wicked) sense of humor. But I stopped at "It's been great hasn't it?" (with a pause to consider "should I do it, should I do it? Nah, I'm too @$# nervous") but followed up a bit later with one of his jokes. Grin.

9/17/09 Gulp! Now LEAD!

"FedEx Corp. reported the following consolidated results for the first quarter:

  • Revenue of $8.01 billion, down 20% from $9.97 billion a year ago

  • Operating income of $315 million, down 50% from $630 million last year

  • Operating margin of 3.9%, down from 6.3% the previous year

  • Net income of $181 million, down 53% from last year's $384 million"

Fedex Q1 Earnings Report, September 17, 2009

Revenue drops by 20% and the margin halves. That says something about economies at volume. I think that shipping is a good indicator of where things are at in the economy, with discretionary spending slashed in most households. It'd be great, though, if we used the down-turn to turn-around how we do things. End-to-end. Cradle to cradle.

We look around. Trees still have leaves. Late season flowers are still flowering. It was even a cool Summer. All the ills that threaten our world seem to be nibbling at the edges... leaving us still complacent and inert... until it is too late and we're facing a world thrown into spiraling climate change and economic fall-out so far beyond anything we've seen that we can't even hold it in our minds???  

The only thing to do, is adapt. Now.

Montessori children around the world will be singing a peace song on September 21st--scheduled so that the song will be sung continuously for 24 hours!

Peace is something we deeply want for the world. Yet peace will not be possible in a world devastated by all the untellable unfolding of climate change impacts. Carpe diem has to be our motto--not in the wanton sense but rather in the sense of making each day a big day for changing the way we conduct our lives and our businesses. For the most dismissive skeptic: even if the scientists are wrong about the magnitude and speed of the escalating problem, even if they are seriously wrong--it is a good thing to move quickly to lowering our environmental footprint. There are so many of us on this planet, and the thing we do know is that we are becoming more all the time, and each new human that enters life on this planet should have a life of learning and sufficiency--food, shelter, healthcare and education to create opportunity and fulfill our human need for intellectual growth. That's a lot to support. We must do it while we reduce the burden we place on all the other life that shares this unique, or at least rare, planet with us! And we can do it if we put our minds to it:

The site I referenced for its population clock is worth highlighting: this may be one of the most powerful visualizations of the state of our mess and it's just the numbers. Man, those are some knock you off your feet numbers!

Look at the price of waging the war of "peace and security"! And the investment we are actually making in peace!

Look at the number of species that went extinct (under environment) this year! Oh all right, the number is 98,939!

I feel sick!

But then there is this beautifully put together slideshow (music background): ♫Imagine Leadership! Lead, leader lead!

9/17/09 Something to Aspire To

Can Do is an awesome piece of work! If Sir Ken gives me something to aspire to in terms of presentation effectiveness, Maria Kalman gives me something to aspire to in terms of making innovation and architecture points with great artistry! On both fronts, I have a lot of room to grow. "That's a good thing." Grin.

9/17/09 The Message in the Numbers?

My "postcards from Lasqueti" vacation scrapblog has been viewed 895 times. My archman sketchblog 821 times. Yesterday's stats reveal that this journal site has already had more unique visitors in September than any month except August (and it is within a day or so of surpassing August). But Google image searches send more than 3 times as many new people to my site as phrase/word searches. In fact, Google image searches have already sent as many people to my site this month as in all of August.

All this is good and bad news. The good news is that visuals--even those that are, like mine, rather sub-par--attract. The bad news is that they attract one-stop hoppers and sometimes mis-users of my images...Going with the flow (and a moment of possibility)...

But it also means that this stays a quiet backwaters place--with but a handful of loyal optimists, as demonstrated in the number of views of the ☼CAEAP video. As for that presentation, before I do something like that I hope I'll be great... for once!! There is nothing quite like before. And then reality hits me in the face and hope dies a sputtering death. Not like zap-all-at-once. No, there are moments of possibility, before it's over and hope's expired. Still, in those moments of possibility, the seeds of hope for the next time are consummated. And so it goes. Now, this surely doesn't happen only to me. Oh goodness, maybe it does! Ok, that's all I had to say then. No need for you to say anything. Really. I get it--you don't understand. You have no way to relate to this.


Yes, I have a lot of experience facilitating workshops. And where the workshop comes off looking good, my presentation skills always lag the rest of my eval scores. Personally, I would rather facilitate a great workshop experience and come off not looking so good myself, than the other way round. Better still, though, would be getting to great on both. ... I suppose... Goodness I hope not! That kind of thing takes practice! Couldn't a fairy-godmother just transform me? Ok... a genie perhaps?

9/18/09 A Companion Piece!

Here's a nice companion piece to my "PICTURE IT" presentation: Sketches and your brain. And, if you're resisting my ...um... unusual presentation style, that's ok; Markman's article stands on its own well enough without my help. :)

As for the misconception, this is what I wrote back in June:

I should say, for those who are less susceptible to metaphor, that I did not intend for the right brain/left brain allusions to be taken as unquestioned and unquestionable fact; it is a research frontier that is interesting and the intended take-away is that we need to allow that we use our detail-oriented, pragmatic, logical "left brain" functions much of the time. And while that "left brain" self is a bit suspicious of the "right brain" self (like it is wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt and feels like a vestige of the 60's), there are times when we need to be creative, think big-picture and holistically, and be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. Anyway, this picture helps us remind us that our understanding of the brain has come a long way, and has a long way to go. And that does nothing to undermine the point--our education system and our reward system helps to shape our experience, strengths and self concept, and we have to take courage and invest some of our cycles in the set of "functions" that have been associated (correctly, or not) with the "right brain." Walt Disney recognized this, and purportedly created separate physical spaces to play out the "dreamer," the "realist" and the "critic"--separating in space and time the "right" brain functions from the "left," to ensure that the right brain was not dominated into too early submission to practicality and logic. but But BUT; Getting Past But; Moving the Elephant; Extending the Elephant; The elephant before carvingAnd, Disney, as Randy Pausch taught us, is a software engineer's hero!   

Markman's article led me to Google Barbara Tversky, which led to the visualization work she is involved in.

9/18/09 The Elephant

I apparently have quite a thing about elephants. I suppose it is my South African heritage. Back in 2005, I wrote this:

"Choreographing the dance of change is one thing, and it is hard enough. Teaching elephants to dance [9] is quite another."

That is a reference to Rosabeth Moss Kanter*, who, by the way, has a new book out.

*  her work, not her person! Goodness, the things you think! Grin.

(Well, at least I'm consistent. You have to give me that. Consistent? All the "grins" I pepper my journal with. Oh right, you didn't watch the video, did you? Grin. See, I'm as annoying when caught (I wouldn't have done it if Mark told me upfront!) on camera as I am in this journal. You really have to ask yourself why you're reading here!)

9/18/09 Architectural Requirements

I generally follow Nick Malik's blog, but alas didn't for a spell and missed his "architectural requirements" post... Well, I like Nick's blog and he has developed a style of "calling" the industry on controversial points. I just like it more when I'm not the one in the spotlight! Grin. I responded to Nick thus:

First, "architecturally significant" is defined (with my lame, I know, humor) here: http://www.bredemeyer.com/whatis.htm

and more seriously here: http://www.bredemeyer.com/ArchitectingProcess/ArchitecturalRequirements.htm#Architecturally_Significant_Requirements_

I hope that helps!

I didn't, in that context, explain VAP... the iteration... the role of the architect in right systems built right... and all the other dimensions that relate to why we coax and cajole architects to play a role in (just enough upfront) requirements (or, for those who do this, we reinforce and laud their insight and courage) -- but not all requirements in their detail, but rather the architecturally significant ones... the strategic, high impact ones. So the appellation has to do with the focus of the architect; the decision of the architect as to where to place his or her attention--during (just) enough design upfront, and throughout the system evolution. In that light, perhaps Nick could be persuaded to dislike the term a little less... Oh goodness I do hope so! Put a lid on it?

Otherwise... the lid!

whack-a-mole... with architects... Oh, come now, I'm kidding! I can take criticism. Sadly, I get a lot of it (mostly from myself). That whack-a-mole sketch is not just about you and anyone else who stands up/out and leads (can you imagine how President Obama feels?), but about me! And I too generally pop back up... smiling enthusiastically...  after about... a month. ;-)

Not that I'd want to discourage a healthy discourse about VAP, nor even the names we chose for the facets we iterate through during the architecting process. I'd be the first to criticize "architecture specification" -- it's not all about blueprints, but also about strategy and it's hard for me to squish "strategy" under a "specification"  label. There's also our sketchy beginnings, that we mature into specifications (sometimes, as in the case of agile, while we're writing code); the appellation doesn't indicate those sketchy beginnings which I not only embrace but emphasize.

And then there's "architecture validation" which I also am uncomfortable with since the intent of that facet is to find gaps and weaknesses and alternatives to improve the architecture, and only as it matures does that facet focus on validating the decisions. So certainly there's lots of room for improvement, and we have lots of willingness to enter into dialog about it. With or without the hammer. Preferably without. Though I'm going to be doubly cautious around Darth-Don. I know what he's packing these days.

I mean cautious in the blog-world death star sense... No, I don't work with, and have never worked with, Darth Don. I fully expect I never will. I mean, he already knows the gun lesson. What could I do for him? Yes, I can say who I haven't worked with (but I don't like to because it generally reflects badly on those who haven't worked with us, now doesn't it? Wide grin!). And I can't and don't say who we have worked with!

9/18/09 Something to Think About...

The latest Ardmore newsgram, directed my attention to:

Leading up to the United Nation's International Day of Peace (9/21), I think that piece of art and its message are worth some contemplation. Petros Gumbi has used his art as a medium for increasing awareness. Hopefully you'll grant me some forbearance in bringing his work to your attention. African mothers are not the only ones whose hearts are ripped to shreds by the dogs of war and violence. Other mothers. Fathers. Husbands. Wives. Brothers. Sisters. Friends. Anyone with a heart wide open!

I also found out that the studio in the Drakensberg has been closed--that is disappointing news! Referencing my excellence post reminds me--I've begun dipping into Steve's Brain. The book, that is. You no doubt remember the last time I took Steve Jobs to bed--my husband asked "How was that?" and I had to confess I slept through it...

9/18/09 Inherit the Wind

Tonight we went to a performance of Inherit the Wind by our local theatre company. It is an awesomely good play--a good, right play for these times we live in! A reminder of the fragility of man and the traps our ego lays for us, and the greatness. The greatness of those who defend what it is to be (the best of being) human. In essence, it is about "defending the right to be wrong." Defending the right to ideas. The right to question.

If one is going to take intellectual risks--like, say, writing this journal--one feels pretty strongly about the right to be wrong! Hypothetically speaking, of course. Grin.

DRUMMOND. (Honestly.) I’m sorry if I offend you. But I don’t swear just for the hell of it. You see, I figure that language is a poor enough means of communication as it is. So we ought to use all the words we’ve got. Besides, there are damned few words that everybody understands. — From Inherit the Wind, by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.

Of course, Drummond was the lawyer in the landmark case, so he wasn't in the pictures (sketches/diagrams/models) business. 

We inherit the wind. And [the] UML. And we're at a great point in our field, where we're learning the "and" lesson. Models and Agile make a handsome couple. And they may give birth to some weak ideas, but we retain (or must defend) the right to fail and learn. And that's the big idea isn't it? Making failure fast and cheap, so that success is more resounding. Weeding out the weak ideas that don't fit the context or purpose so well. Being free and able to hold Darwinian ideas, to apply and adapt them to business and product ecosystems.    

9/19/09 Supercorp

I've been reading around in Supercorp, Rosabeth Moss Kanter's latest book. It makes a strong case for explicit, lived values and principles that form a "strategic guidance system." Here's an excerpt from the excerpt:

Common vocabulary and guidance for consistent decisions. The need for fast decisions and actions in far-flung or differentiated operations makes principles an essential decision-making guide. Clear articulation of values and principles helps employees choose among alternatives in a consistent manner.


Talent magnets and motivation machines. Talented people with many options are increasingly attracted to companies and stay there because of compatible values.


“Human” control systems—peer review and a self-control system. In vanguard companies, belief in the purpose and embrace of the values generate self-guidance, self-policing, and peer responsibility for keeping one another aligned with the core set of principles. 

-- Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Supercorp excerpt, 2009

Leading teams is about creating not just the vision and sense of purpose, but also the team culture (consistent with, but still unique within, the corporate culture). Values and principles are just as important to technical strategic guidance systems, as they are to the business's strategic guidance systems. The architect has to work primarily through culture and influence rather than dominance-hierarchy-bestowed formal authority. Values and principles are not fluff. They are tough core stuff that we use to build the resilient technical compass of the team.

That makes "supercorp" (super-core) a nice play on words, doesn't it? I haven't read enough to see if Moss Kanter intended that, but I'm sure she, like I, would take the serendipity.

When I was an undergrad, I heard Athol Fugard (the South African playwright who wrote Tsotsi) interviewed. He was asked if the meanings critics construe from his works are intended, and he said many were "happy serendipity." Funny the things that stick in the mind! But it's like that in software too; some of the most elegant elements of design fall out as if either by dumb luck or some genius in our subconscious that we'd like to be better acquainted with! Which is why architecting--the part of the process that reflects the actual design choices into the architecture decision set--needs to be an explicit and appropriately resourced activity throughout the evolution of the system. Yeah, yeah, some of these we may not recognize as architecturally significant at the time, but the point is that when we do, we need to be explicit about updating the architecture document--the system of record that must be just as alive and actively nurtured as the code that implements it. Double duty? Unnecessary? Well, just ask the folk who are "maintaining" (the under-appreciated art of evolving the system in the context of technical debt) all the systems that have no record like this!

9/22/09: Which raises the question--should we not explicitly make the case that out-of-date architecture documentation is a type of technical debt? Just like refactoring is an architectural and a local design tool, there are different levels of technical debt. Systemic technical debt is much more dire than isolated local technical debt (generally). And a debt-loving culture is a very vulnerable culture over the long haul. In business, the long haul is about 5 years, but problems start to manifest earlier, of course.

9/19/09 Prefrontal Cortex

  • TED: Harvard psychologist, Dan Gilbert, on the prefrontal cortex (the first few minutes; the rest relates to how we synthesize happiness)
  • TED: Artist and computer scientist Jonathan Harris collects stories (the last 10 or so minutes relates to ?measuring? happiness)

Dan Roam: http://digitalroam.typepad.com/digital_roam/2009/09/my-speech-to-congress-anticipating-obama.htmlSource of image right: Dan Roam, DigitalRoam, 9/4/09

9/19/09 Leaders Leading Leaders

Dan Roam (The Back of the Napkin) has taken a proactive lead-the-leader stance, posting the talking points he'd like to prime President Obama to use (via his chief speech-writer, Jon Favreau) on healthcare. He winds up putting the onus on the individual to "take better care of ourselves and our families."

It really is a mess of a problem. Dan Roam has laid out salient issues in a crisp (and visual) way. The individual, the provider, and the insurance companies all have a hand in the spiraling costs. And we do have to do something! At all three points, we have to do something.

9/19/09 Rich Pictures

Walt Scacchi's classes look very synergist with ours. He even uses rich pictures (fortunately, our process dates to the 90's, so we have precedence; grin). He has a great rich pictures reference that I hadn't come across before, so thanks Walt!

Dana recently taught a class where the participants would not draw rich pictures--unless they could just draw boxes. By contrast, in Brazil, one of the architects revealed his amazing artist alter ego, but all were creative and had fun exploring a systemic "system within the ecosystem" view.

9/19/09 Great Architects!

I have been reading the architectural process blueprint created by one of our clients (published as a company confidential book), and it is so rewarding to see what they are doing with [the] VAP but more importantly what else they have included and where they have adapted [the] VAP. In making it their own, they maintained the simplicity that is so key. These are smart people I get to work with, and it delights me to be challenged and stretched in so positive a way!

I do also want to say that the 15 men and 1 woman that I worked with in Brazil were among the best architects I have worked with world-wide. They have deep technical experience and are very smart, and they are fun, funny and they laughed at my jokes! That gives you a good idea of their breadth of talent and depth of character, and that combination along with technical smarts and experience ranks them with a very select set of best of the best in my experience! I have to tell you that usually a workshop has a handful of these top-notch people, but this one was full of them. I told them I was utterly put out, because I used to be smart and then I became wise (well, ok, somewhat wise), but they are smart and wise! (Mark Zuckerberg and Tony Hsieh are among those I look to as exemplars in the "smart and wise" department; the real world teaches real fast when you're open to it!) No fair, I say.

(In case you're wondering, I can say this, because enough time has passed that they have already submitted their evaluations. But... if you were wondering, you're a skeptic and I welcome you. While your company surprises me, I'm sure I will benefit from the challenges you put to me. Right, I'm an optimist. Generally. At least I am when I get up in the morning... Grin.)

9/19/09 Yes! More Leaders Leading!

"Marriott’s Carbon Footprint

To calculate Marriott's carbon footprint of 3 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually — or .031 metric tons (69.5 pounds) per available room — the company measured its electricity and gas consumption in guest rooms and public spaces at nearly 1,000 managed hotels worldwide, as well as at its headquarters building and regional offices. The calculation followed the World Resources Institute's Greenhouse Gas Protocol and has been independently certified by ICF International, a leader in climate change consulting services.

Based on these calculations, a $1 contribution will offset the average carbon generated per occupied guest room per night. Your $10 minimum contribution will help offset up to 10 roomnights."


9/21/09 PEACE!

9/22/09 Curiously... Thanks to Sanford!

One thing I've noticed since the Mark Sanford scandal broke (and emails he exchanged with his mistress were published), is that architects have been much more careful about (not) emailing me their company confidential documents! 

9/22/09 InfoQ

I was watching Peter Nygard's great presentation on "Stability Antipatterns" on InfoQ, and it occurred to me, I ought to mention InfoQ every once in a while--I generally assume anyone who stumbles here already knows about InfoQ (videos from tech conferences, articles and blogs). But then every workshop I teach, I have taken to saying "Know about InfoQ? It is a stand-out great resource for architects..." (or something enthusiastic like that)... Still today I find that quite a few people don't know about it.

9/23/09 Hugh MacLeod and Pleading!

Ok, the pleading part is Hugh's own characterization ("I'm not a loser. I just happen to like pleading..." Hugh McLeod). I was torn about buying Ignore Everybody. It definitely has more f-words than any other book I've bought on the business expense account! "I figure that language is a poor enough means of communication as it is. So we ought to use all the words we’ve got."

I bought it because MacLeod is a genius at applying that hatchet not just to others, but also himself--irony, and self-deprecating wit, rank high in my estimation. And I bought it for this cartoon which is at the end of the book. The mind that created that, must surely have more to offer than irony and a hunger not just for sex but for appeal... I guess I'll have to read more than the cartoons in it! As for the cartoons, most of them are Hugh-huge, clever, fun, remarkable.

Besides, I owe Hugh one... 

On the back cover, Guy Kawasaki is quoted as saying: "Hugh's book will kick your a$$ and push you out of your zone of mediocrity and stagnation." Is it just me, or does that seem just a tad pompous? You speaking to me, Guy? Huh? Huh?

Oh! ... Sorry... I need to go dig out of my zone of mediocrity and stagnation now...  The book will have to wait!

(I do love this Scott McCloud piece. It demonstrates such sensibility.)

9/24/09: Oh the Humanity

My link on "dig out" is perhaps subtle enough it needs a little help...  Jay Palat (a software architect blogging on a peer challenge) explores (not intentionally, but while he has been trying to find his theme, it found him) the tension between our yearning to do great things that transcend us, and the tug of our delightful immersion in relationships and their responsibilities, beset by the very tar pit of chaotic disorder of our fast lives that accumulate too much muchness with too little time (taken) to strip off the accumulation of muchness from years past! The specific post I linked to, has all those elements. (It is my sensitivity to those forces and choices that make me rail against Guy's words as arrogance and lack of sensibility.) Jay's "hats" post is delightful, and given that much of his theme has to do with finding and clarifying identity and aligning action, I think it is perfect!

I love this line from Yeats:

"In dreams begins responsibility." -- WB Yeats (attributed to Old Play)

[There's a variant in U2's Acrobat on Achtung Baby: "In dreams begin/responsibilities."]

Quoting Yeats of course segues right to:

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." -- WB Yeats

I like to do a goodly amount of filling, but my overshadowing priority is the lighting! Daniel kindly noted, with respect to my workshop facilitation style, that. 

'you can trick their expectations by surprising them with a "satori"' -- Daniel Stroe, personal email, 9/23/09

That is a nice image; something (more) to aspire to! I've tended to think of our workshops as crucibles where everyone pitches in their talent and experience to create a rich and stasis-breaking outcome for themselves and everyone else. I'm going to refer you back to this post I did on Feynman.

I've said I'm only still doing this (15 years in one line-of-sight gig sets me quaking!) because I'm still learning. One architect didn't miss a beat, asking me what I learned from working with them. I wanted to say I learned never to change meeting rooms during a workshop, because we didn't just lose time with multiple room changes but we lost the deep context we create on the walls around the team. Context is important, and physical manifestations of it have an effect you aren't fully aware of until it is taken away from you. But I didn't want to embarrass the architect who'd set up the logistics (that is a thankless and time-sucking task as it is). I forget what I did say; the lesson about context is so overshadowing. When we understand context, we understand:

"How can we know the dancer from the dance?" -- WB Yeats

This is a huge "ah ha" for technical people... who tend to think it is just the steps. The steps. The patterns. I'll refer you back to my tongue-in-cheek definition of architecture. Think on it indeed!

Returning to Daniel:

"Think where mans glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends." -- WB Yeats

We all traverse a unique path through life, each different in where we explore, what we encounter and what we synthesize, and what makes me special is a factor of the gifts of discoveries others bring to me. Some directly, and some by what they write.

Dana made a point today that I want to share. He said (I'm paraphrasing):

Einstein's thought experiments were contextual, and he took care to take a variety of different perspectives on any problem, integrating the perceptions gained from those different vantage points.

This came up in Bucky Fuller's tales about Einstein and his encounter with him. Dana is still making his way through the 40 hours of Bucky Fuller's core dump. What an amazing man! Dana yes, but I meant Bucky Fuller. Einstein too. Apparently the word "operational" was invented to describe Einstein's thinking process, and in particular the way he actively repositioned his mind to shade new angles and perspectives on the problem he was solving.

Yes, those last words are an allusion both to Dana's recounting and to Daniel's post that I exchanged echoes with last month.

Out at lunch (it's been a long time since Dana and I were both "in the office" together, and he's only just back from Virginia), Dana was telling me about a wonderful architect he worked with this week and said "he empties his cup before he enters the room" and I latched onto that (as I'm want to do) as a compelling, vivid image of the person who readies him or herself to take more in. So Dana told me this Zen story:

 from: Zen Flesh Zen Bones (compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki)

I like that cup image. I told Dana about my crucible image, and in the telling said, "and on occasion we create a mix that bombs"--the chemistry just is wrong. Or the firing temperature is out of kilter and our mix is volatile. Teaching by the crucible method has its risks, but when it works, it is transformative. Fortunately, mostly the crucible works and I have to say it's not me, except in so far as I create a place for the diverse experience and insight of a talented group to mix and be warmed. I have worked with so many great men, and a few great women (most workshops have no women, the rare workshop might have up to 3)!

Now, don't go telling anyone who is interested in taking the workshop (Chicago, December 7-10, if you must know) that it is a crucible for transforming the field of view from local technical concerns to cross-cutting, future-operations-sensitive technical concerns that are embedded in business contextual concerns! They'll run screaming from that notion, like that left brain from my CAEAP presentation! Just kidding! It's a workshop, and the harder everyone works the more everyone gets out: including during the briefing sessions when we set up techniques and practices, during the practice sessions when work is done and a lot of grounding happens, and during the debriefs when the ah has have a chance to percolate. 

9/24/09 Enabling Women

Which leads me to another point that has been waiting in the wings of my mind. We have so few women in leadership positions in technology fields that the pre-eminent role models are men, and expectations for success are set and shaped by men. I always feel bad when I encounter women who are being more macho than the most machismo of our men (our field has many gentlemen, but we also have our aggressors--I saw a game developer carrying a magazine with violent images and wearing a t-shirt that said "I'm sorry I hurt your feelings; let me call an ambulance"). It's a big world and there are many personalities and I think diversity is wonderful (mostly). I also think it would be great if we truly lived that belief, and let women succeed even when they don't smell and sound and act like men!

That is not quite the whole story, because I also think men have some advantages in their typical childhoods that place girls at a disadvantage. Take Legos. When Sara was younger, I made sure to buy her (girl-oriented) Lego (Belville) sets. Now, I have a story in my past that made me do that. A professor at the University of Natal (where I did my undergrad degree) told us that after apartheid was abolished and universities were opened up, they found that the black engineering students were at a disadvantage because they hadn't built things as kids. Simple wire-frame toys, perhaps, but they hadn't worked a lot with manipulatives and simple to complex machines. So they created a 1 week pre-university camp and had the freshman play with Legos! Did you realize what an advantage your childhood gave you? Other boys, without that childhood, also needed that tactile, hands-on build-stuff experience!

So what about girls? My son has returned to a Lego phase of late, and is building all kinds of interesting space transport vehicles (triggered by their recent introduction to the Star Wars trilogies)--some from the sets but mostly of his own invention. I asked Sara why she didn't join in, and told her that she would be at a disadvantage relative to boys. She brushed me off, but lo and behold, over the last several days she has been building with Lego blocks too. Interestingly, she is building social environments--starting with a playground and building out from there. Lego Belville goes after some of this, though it is targeted at about 5 year olds, and you don't find Belville at mass outlets like Target. Besides, Sara is, of course, well past the "princess and fairy and babies" stage. (Co-ed themes like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson would be more inclusive and age-appropriate.)

Houston, we have a problem. Girls need to build stuff that works but we need to take girls' interests into account. Not every parent is going to realize this, but Lego could reach out to parents of girls, and educators, through social nets. We want more women in technology. We need to treat girls like they are technologists--but with a different set of interests. Like, they're just, generally speaking, not into war-craft! This is market segmentation speak, and there is a market segment we're not speaking to! History may not have been too kind to girl-oriented Lego sets (in market penetration terms), but we need to change the course of history!    

So anyway, where's the Lego set to build a robot kitten or puppy? And worlds of kittens and puppies who encounter and talk to each other... What we're doing a really good job of, is teaching girls to shop! Let's face it, girls are pretty good at that. And marketers are getting clued in to the budget clout of women in families and businesses. But we need to shape destiny a little more pro-actively, don't we?

9/26/09: The "Building Asia Brick by Brick" project is interesting... Notice the girls. And remember the girl in this one: Neil Gershenfeld on Fab Labs (TED talk).

We architect across contexts and across time9/24/09 Dan's Wisdom

I stopped looking in on Dan Pritchett because I just wasn't getting any positive reinforcement from visiting his blog--yes, he'd gone silent. So it was only today that I happened on his June post on Intuition, Performance and Scale. And I have to say, it is a wonderful example of the difference between design versus architectural thinking. Alternately put, it is an example where the architect needs to understand the business context and how it is likely to play out of over time. Love that architectA designer/developer with local "now" responsibility can invoke "YAGNI" and focus on algorithm tuning and tweaking to hit (today's) performance objectives (unconstrained by tomorrow's need to compromise to meet conjoint objectives). The architect, though, must juggle now and then. Grin.

It's a great post (and M.Maksin's comment is keen too). Blogger-Dan, we want you back!

Dan's discussion illuminates why the architect's thinking on critical choices like these must be written down--endeavoring at least to make that intuition more self-conscious helps the architect become more aware of, and hence more able to share, the complex of tradeoffs he or she is juggling. When the architect moves on (simply gets too busy or walks the architecture in his head out the door with him as he leaves) all these complex interacting forces that the architect juggled are obfuscated unless the architect has moved them out of his (or her) head into the heads and the reference base of the team.

The great architect enables the team to do great work. Demands greatness, yes, but also teaches, coaches and inspires greatness.     

9/24/09 Robert Tolmach Up to More Good

Robert Tolmach (CEO of ChangingThePresent) gave me a heads-up on these other places to do good:

9/25/09 Lotus World Music Festival

This is a wonderful weekend to be in Bloomington--it's the Lotus World Music Festival! Sorry, I should have let you know weeks ago!

Our trees are starting to turn; a pretty hint of color to come for those who are coming into town this weekend. Perhaps it will be a drawn out Fall, but this is early! I love the Fall here, but not in September! That would make for a very long brown winter! I feel an itch to get to mountains or sea any time, but during our brown-earthed, grey-skied winter days I really get restless! At least in New Hampshire we had lots of snow to ski and photograph!

9/25/09 Binary versus And Thinking

A developer "heard" me telling that workshop group that architects need to "take over from business analysts and marketing and do the customer visits." This reminds me how communication gets warped and twisted when the receiver is hostile to the message. It also reminds me that some people want simple, very direct guidance laid out in clear binary terms. Yet architecting is the art and engineering that deals with very messy interacting forces and the necessity of making decisions under uncertainty and significant ambiguity!

So I was wondering if The Opposable Mind should be high on the recommended reading list for architects in-transition--at least for those who want to know if they have tolerance for the nature of architectural design thinking. (If they don't have that, forget it, because it only gets worse from there--remember, Rechtin said "If the politics don't fly, the system never will.) Since the people in question have deep technical backgrounds, that is not generally the area of concern. It is the ability to transition from dealing with more discrete realms of responsibility and intellectual traction to broadly scoped, messy, ambiguous challenges.

The Opposable Mind is a generally good treatment of integrative system thinking, though I have quibbles with it myself... (Roger Martin rails against tradeoffs and compromise, but he is a man with a specific agenda.) Being able to handle that intellectual tension itself is a good indicator... for we need to accept that system design is like that--somewhat messy and certainly complex with so many dimensions of uncertainty and tradeoff. Finding the integrative "and" solution is good, though sometimes we accept a less-of-this-to-get-more-of-that solution. The thing is, we have to get beyond the this-or-that binary thinking that would break the system. Yes, system design, like life, has high points and beauty, and we strive to achieve the purity of simplicity and excellence, but we also need to be able to accept compromise and suboptimal decisions (especially when considered locally or from a different vantage point on history) because expediency battles perfection at just too many turns... And we need to be able to understand where we need to pull-push-pull to excellence, and where we can give a little, or even a lot.

Of course there are patterns and practices that the developer transitioning into the architect role needs to add into his or her toolkit. But the mindset is now a system-in-(potentially shifting-)context mindset, and it is the mindset shift that is more make-or-break than whether one is exposed to this pattern or that.

As for customer visits, I do advocate that architects have some direct contact with customers/users. Architects bring a different lens to that experience, but also we make so many decisions based on a gut-feel for the system context and how it will be shaped, that aligning that gut-feel with the actual customer and business context is useful. Strategy setters simply have to understand the customer base. Mark Hurd (HP's CEO) makes time for customer visits. So should we. That doesn't mean Mark Hurd replaces his marketing team, nor does it diminish their role. It only enhances his! Technical strategy setters are strategy setters. They set direction into the future, but the best evidence we have for what the future will bring is grounded in today. Today's customers and their aspirations and frustrations. Today's technology. And today's trends.

9/25/09 And Strategic Thinking

Which brings me to another area of perpetual difficulty for many people. Strategy is not only corporate strategy! Strategy applies at every level, even the personal level. You can be strategic about your life, which means you think from time to time about where you want to go, what value you will build or what high-order contribution you want to make, and plan in broad brush-stroke terms how you will get there. Projects that support business services or deliver products, also need to have a strategy that lays out how the service or product will be differentiated and what capabilities will enable this differentiation. (And, if you're not differentiating, ask seriously whether you should go with open source or buy off-the-shelf...)

When I talk about strategy with many architects, they dismiss what I'm saying as irrelevant because they don't have a hope of talking to the CEO... Um, I'm sorry, but a CEO that is driving product strategy is like the architect who is designing an algorithm--it is done at her discretion, because only she can decide what is strategic. Of course, the CEO that tries to drive the product strategy for every product (in a big company context) is going to let a lot of other important things fall off the table. So, if you're a product architect, you probably won't talk to the CEO (other than about baseball at the company picnic). Still, if you're the product architect and you don't talk to the CEO, what I'm saying about strategy is also relevant to you. Relevant, but at a different scope, and with concerns relevant to your scope. And your interactions will be with the product or portfolio or solution or domain or business unit strategy setter--as relevant to your scope of influence.

Companies have identity. That is strategic at the corporate level. Products have identity. That is strategic at the product level. Is this relevant to the architect? Absolutely! If the identity of a product is it crashes multiple times a day, we have an extreme (counter) example of relevance. If the identity of a product is end-to-end design excellence (albeit with an iconic individual's name attached to driving that identity) that is relevant, because design excellence is not just skin-deep. And so forth. Oh, don't worry, I'm not about to give (more of) a strategy tutorial!

By starting to think in more strategic (how does this impact business competitiveness) terms, your conversations with business leaders will be more connected to their concerns, bringing what you see in technology terms into their field of integrative thinking because you made it relevant to them. The more you do that, the more you will be, and be viewed as, a contributor to strategy and you will be drawn into more and more influential conversations.

Your role and your lens is technology. But technology is irrelevant if it isn't made to be useful. Your role is to make it useful, but also to help people see how it can be useful.

There's a great article in MIT's Technology Review titled How Facebook Copes with 300 Million Users--great because it is an example of deeply technology-oriented issues articulated in terms that bridge business and technology. It speaks to some of the gnarly problems of scale (often rooted in the assumptions we make at the outset) without being condescending. And it speaks to some of the business concerns--without being condescending. I loved that "There was a long debate internally about whether the "Like" feature was going to cannibalize commenting." Why would they be concerned? 

9/25/09 That Was Fun!

Tonight we took in Lotus Festival performances by The Stairwell Sisters (old time American music), Rahim AlHaj (playing the oud, including his own compositions expressing the dreams of Iraqi children to have a life--water, peace, electricity; and the tragedy of the destruction of old Baghdad), and Kinobe and Soul Beat Africa (from Uganda). They were all great, and of course very different. Kinobe and Soul Beat Africa were outstanding and so much fun!  They had a strikingly broad-spectrum audience dancing to a sweat. Kinobe said music is the world's common ground, and he's so right! Kinobe isn't just a consummate artist and performer, but also very inventive, and he plays and has created unique instruments. Kinobe and Soul Beat Africa will be in Maryland and Ohio over the next few weeks.

9/26/09 Lighthearted Antidote to Tech Withdrawal

In case my PICTURE IT talk was too "retro" for you, here's a piece of humor you might enjoy. (I did!)

9/27/09 That Was Great!

We saw the Horse Flies. They're awesome! Very inventive, intelligent, folk-rooted, alternative rock. We had no preconceptions, though if I'd known they wrote Sally Ann I'd have been excited. I'd previously only heard it covered by Natalie Merchant, but now I see that Judy Hyman and Richie Stearns of Horse Flies played when Natalie Merchant sang Sally Ann on the David Letterman Show, and they play on Merchant's The House Carpenter's Daughter. (I just wasn't paying attention; Natalie Merchant's rich contralto is like that though!) Jeff Claus and Richie Stearns are wonderful vocalists too! Horse Flies? Who'd have thought! Certainly you never thought to tell me about them, now did you? No.

It is great seeing these artists using their platform for raising awareness of the big social issues of our time--Richie Stearns in Baghdad Children, and Jeff Claus dedicating their performance of Sally Ann last night to those who help, and those who need help, in domestic violence cases. Kinobe also dedicates much of his time and music to addressing the plight of children, and giving children hope in the world we're bequeathing to them. Well, Richie Stearn's "I believe in love" message, and the way he sings (warning note: the visuals on the video link are disturbing and not appropriate for young children, nor criminal deviants)Baghdad Children, is haunting. Meaningful--awful and awesome beautiful. I believe in love! The song is a great example of holding opposing ideas in tension. You no doubt recall F. Scott Fitzgerald's great line from The Crack Up:

"the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function"  

And does he function! A first rate mind, a talented and innovative musician, and a good man! In a band of good men and one good woman. I wouldn't hesitate to rank Horse Flies' Baghdad Children the top song of the decade! And we're nearing the end of the decade! It might be a recency effect, but it is important and hauntingly chilling yet hopeful. Well, again, don't tell me if you don't like it! I wouldn't want to know that about you! Grin. But if you like it, please do tell people! This is an important song for peace, written in warning/protest as the rhetoric leading to the invasion of Iraq was building and war was imminent. It is a song to hold in our memories always.

We also saw Cara Dillon and she's amazing too! She sings wonderful traditional Celtic songs (lovely without being floaty-breathy). Her husband is a superb musician (backing her on piano and guitar). With her husband accompanying her, and their twin little boys in the dressing room, she sings mainly of unrequited love... Well, the messy hubbub of family life may be what most makes us, but she has such a voice for tragic melodies! So, better in her songs than in her life!

The only difficult thing about the Lotus World Music Festival is that there are so many great bands playing in parallel! I don't regret seeing any we went to; I only regret not being able to get to some of the others! (Some people duck in and out, sampling the bands. We preferred to get the full immersion.)  

9/27/09 This Month's Bumper Sticker

Ah, bumper sticker wisdom.

9/28/09 In Defense of Being Different

"There's a right way of doing things and a wrong way. If you've made up your mind to be different from everybody else, I don't suppose I can stop you, but I really don't think it's very considerate." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

“Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world.  Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves.  All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.”  -- George Bernard Shaw

So, I identify with xkcd's Dreams; only I prefer to make my statement with FITZGERALD and SHAW. :-)

Oh I'm good. You've got to give me that. I'm good! Ok, I'll stop dancing on the table now.

Uh, ...you did get that didn't you? No?! Oh, this is so embarrassing!

Hint: F-words and S-words... So, apparently you didn't read my MacLeod rant before I ...edited it down ... not because I was in any way scared of Hugh MacLeod (fans) coming after me for being prissy ... but because I was thinking "wag more; wag more; wag more"  ;-) ...

It would be interesting to explore what F. Scott Fitzgerald would see in our culture now! It is a different age of elitism, to be sure. It doesn't seem right to use as the emblem of unfettered creative and intellectual freedom, words rooted in sexual aggression and domination. But that's just my ...prissy point of view... I prefer to think of it as gentle and caring, but again, that's just my ...point of view... I wouldn't want to stand up too boldly against the mean in the tide that is flowing in... ;-) 

I had to look up the letters top right to understand this Indexed! I'm rather backward in the "in" department... In our so-"sophisticated" modern lives, it is fun to have our little band of boys watching and imitating Roy Acuff's band doing Wabash Cannonball (video from the 70's), learning the mandolin rather than the electric guitar, and so forth. That lies ahead, no doubt, but it is nice that they can grow up in stages, rather than having the tsunami of modern life blast over and through them...

9/28/09 Vote Project 10100, Transportation and Change

Well, gosh, none of you told me about Google's Project 10^100, characterized as "a call for ideas to change the world by helping as many people as possible." Did you also not know about it, or did you not think HelpMatch fit the bill nicely?? 

Well, the ideas are all good, but innovation in public transportation gets my vote. Of the list, number 4 has me most interested--me and David Byrne! I love the company I keep! ;-) We have to regroove this world!

It is interesting to read about Curitiba and the transportation systems pioneered by Jaime Lerner (and where they are at now, with social class divisions driving more people back to cars for prestige and personal security).  It is a great case study because it is a unique case of a city that had an "architect with an architecture team," who had considerable powers of architectural governance (though by no means absolute power), but with political changes and democracy the mayor doesn't have that kind of authority any more.

I was realizing that the time to read Charles Dickens Little Dorrit has come around again! It is an exquisite novel, really delicate but also socially important. Socially important then, and now, I think. It's not just in the context of banks crashing, but Dickens point about the need to ensure that people have a social safety net is timely. It is a long book, but it is available free on audio if you have a commute or flight coming up. It is also on Google books and Project Gutenberg, though I like the book version especially when it comes to something that becomes a part of me the way a book I really read does. My margin scrawl, like my scrawl here, is my extended brain--a place to put thoughts so I can think more of them!

9/28/09 Another Software Viz Cartoon

Beginning with a system overview...

Oh my, that's why I got into this! OOAD didn't have an explicit notion of architecture, so we set about rectifying that in Team Fusion. But then the UML started to happen, and again architecture was missing, so we focused on architecture... and .history... here we are.

A lot of software visualization is about folding in detail to view the abstractions or context, or traversing from abstraction to detail. Along those lines, look what happens when we do this, factoring the complexity of life. Puts us in context, doesn't it? Grin.

As for this one, it might not remind you of anyone, but I think my son gets it!

Scott McCloud is into the "infinite canvas" concept, and Microsoft Live Labs has a neat tool in beta. Of course, for ages cartoonists have played with parallel visualizations and flows. Here are some still doing it the old way:

And this one's for me. And this one's for... a whole bunch of unnamed folk who don't read my journal... Grin.

Everybody's doing the Indexed thing, but why is it that I look for where there is no intersection (but should be), and they all look for intersections (xkcd and McLeod)? I mean, I can think of a good number of parenting Venn diagrams with no intersection and if they didn't hurt so much they'd be pretty funny. Oooooh! 

9/28/09 Wikipedia 'toon

I love this one! It's just so... like any meeting these days!

9/29/09 Software Architecture Workshop

Consumers are struggling to regain hope, but floundering, and businesses are following their lead. Remember --dropping bombs and trying to take himself out. Well, that was Flight Simulator. Here we have businesses doing that in real life! Now you can do something to reverse the trend. Yes, recommend our workshop. Well, only if it is worthy of your recommendation, that is. Just remember, we have an economy to stir up here. It will take all your energetic enthusiasm, and mine. At least. Grin.

9/29/09 Getting GridWise

This is interesting:

and this

So your bosses boss will have it on his radar. This is the interesting part:

"Smart grid proponents call it the biggest new technology since the Internet. They say that it will create huge wealth."

Relevant to IT? And product groups outside the grid space?

9/30/09: So, how did you do on that grad-level question? I'm sure you came up with lots of creative answers. But you want mine? Ok, if nothing else, it is a great case of architecting in larger ecosystem terms. Getting out of the box, and working the bigger picture creates opportunity. There's a cost in organizational complexity (working across organizations is even more fraught with time sinking politics than working across business unit divides), but it is worth doing when the opportunity it creates is huge!

10/6/09: I see that Daniel Stroe took the challenge. Well, maybe not. :-) But his post is interesting and relevant here--the ecosystem thread that stimulated "ah has" in the business strategy community is being parlayed into technology terms. Two decades ago, Garth Saloner at Stanford GSB was doing interesting work on network effects in product or technology adoption terms. Thinking about the networking effects in social systems is interesting too, especially in systems that an outsider may not see as being especially social!

9/30/09 Regret Minimization

I write here to keep track of where I explore--what I stumble upon, what I read, and where I try to knead a thought, let it rise, punch it down and knead it again, let it rise, and become fully baked. But I also hope someone will find the thought feast so leavened, heartening. Or something like that. Some metaphors are just more perishable than others!

Of course, that's daft! I do know that! What I do for my own personal cognitive growth isn't going to serve others nearly so well as something focused on their cognitive growth.

The other thing is... that Bezos regret minimization framework... Doing this is easy, natural. It informs me, and that's good. But it's not a big thing. It's not a make a difference in this world thing. Don't get me wrong, I do think system and software architecture is a "make a difference in this world" thing. I just question the value of this journal. So, well, that's just a hint that other quests beckon. It would be awful if it's no more than habit that keeps me here. Habit and a ghosting whisper of hope that I serve more than myself.

But, while that little drama in the wings of my mind plays out, architecture is still center-stage.

No, I'm not trying to pan-handle positive feedback out of you! It's more that I should put my shoulder to a wheel that will change more lives for the better. Amplify such talent as I do have. And I do have some. Maybe. At least, ... compared to a rock.

You see, writing crazed comedy would really be much more my style. And just think how many people I could help with that!

You know, I have a question for you: What the FITZGERALD are you doing reading this?

Oh come now, I would never had said that if I wasn't teasing myself for my prissy post. Like, I never dropped a brick on my toe? Ha! But that's life isn't it? Principles wouldn't be worth holding if they were easy and a done deal! This whole living thing is messy and hard and in my case more messy and more hard because I have so many principles it's hard to serve all of them. (Oh, I should add the minimalist principle to my list of principles, should I? Thanks for following so closely!)

Humor in the afternoon... it must be because I have some real work I need to do. The harder my left brain has to work, the more my right brain fights for a release now and then. Well, back to the grind!

10/1/09: We went to see Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs with the kids. We did not share Scott McCloud's experience. My kids valiantly drew parallels to Star Wars and thought it was ok... Maybe they're already too old for it. Thinking back to what would target the same demographic, we remembered we all liked Horton Hears a Who, and all it's clever references. There's funny, and there's just weird. I need to edit down my Regret Minimization post further in that light! 

9/30/09 Fridge Magnet Wisdom

Look, I'm about to bust through 2,000 unique visitors this month, so I have to do something to sink this good ship enterprise again, don't I? Yes, most of those are one-stop-hoppers. Good. But the return visitors are trickling up too. Scary! I mean, yes it's a scary thought given what it implies for humanity, but it's also scary to me. Remember--shy farm girl. Actually, I wasn't even much of a farm girl. I was given some ducks, but I didn't know to clip their wings and they flew away. I guess that was the start of my career in comedy. And the end. In truth, I never saw myself having a career in comedy. Tragedy was more my thing. But I recently read (in Gentle Action) that comedy is a far better medium for social change than tragedy, so I'm trying that on. Sorry, I know it's an awkward fit. But with a little practice...? Oh. Sigh...

How does architecture relate to social change?

Ahhh. Another grad-level question to leave you with!

Read this journal for a while, and we'll have to award you with a masters degree in ... persistence. But--do remember, that's a hallmark of an architect! See, you can read here to test and build your resilience. Or not... :-)

9/30/09 The Article Debate

My internal heckler is on overdrive today! How about this:

Some common types of nouns that don't take an article are:

  • Names of languages and nationalities: Chinese, English, Spanish, Russian

  • Names of sports: volleyball, hockey, baseball

so says Purdue!

Either way, UML should not have an article. ;-) So, it's not just that I've given myself over to the convenience culture in the US. :-) 

Oh, I know, I know, if you resurrect what it stands for, you have to use the article: the Unified Modeling Language. But where's the sport in that?

Actually, when it comes to convenience, South Africa has one over us in Bloomington, at any rate. Woolworths (so not the US version) delivers really high quality groceries and fresh prepared foods to homes in a number of SA cities! I wish!

And it is so much more convenient to say "VAP uses UML" than "the VAP uses the UML." Why, it's like saving trip to the grocery store! [Oh, did you trip on the missing article? Sorry!]

When I'm coaching people who are getting started with (some aspect of) modeling, I don't correct them on notation. I noticed that when I did, it distracted their attention from the reasoning that modeling supports. First, to model, then to get it right. Iteratively. Ultimately it may be important to be pedantic about using the right notation--for all the reasons that it is important that we have a standard modeling language (understanding what we did today, tomorrow; others understanding what we did, without needing us to be in the room to tell them; and enabling tool support for model translation, tracing and code generation; etc.). The first thing though, is to get people modeling, so they experience the benefits of that support for reasoning and collaborating.

And ultimately, in formal settings, I might even go with the article.

But don't listen to me! I start paragraphs (not just sentences) with conjunctives! I break the rules. Sometimes. It's colorful. I give editors headaches. You not doubt remember my battle over the beasties, but in case you joined this party late and didn't go back to the good stuff in the archives:

... I had this paragraph in the Cutter report:

"We need to think in terms of multifunctional teams who are innovation and design centers. Instead, we typically have user interface folk who drive “user experience,” we have requirements or business analysts who drive “requirements capture” (as if they’re running around and we just have to corral them), and we have software architects who wear beepers and are the second line of defense when the ops people can’t put out on-the-line fires. Like these are all separable concerns. Different beasts. For beasts we make them."

The Cutter copy-editor didn't like "For beasts we make them." so that line is zapped. I'm grief-stricken at the loss. One of the greatest insights in software, killed. Dead. Gone.

I didn't give up though, and got the beasties back in--right under the wire, as it was about to go to print.

You have to decide which beasties to fight for, I suppose. My battle?

"For beasts we make them." That is giving people power back. First, to see them as beasts. Then to see them as beasts we created. Then to not do that

9/30/09 Where's the Press?

This is interesting: Google Trends: software architecture, enterprise architecture

10/14/09 System Architecture

System architecture is about the design not just of the parts but of the relationship among the parts, for it is in the collaboration of the parts that value is created. Or eroded. Alternately put, new value emerges from the collaboration of the parts, that is not inherent in any of the parts alone or even in uncoordinated conjunction. This is why "we must architect across the interfaces," across the "seams" in the system.

But that's not all, is it? Value is also created or encumbered, even eroded, in the relation of the system to it's context, or its various contexts. And the architect must architect across the boundaries of the system--to the extent that the degrees of freedom allow that. (More, usually, than architects are given to think, because we have been shut out from that negotiation of the boundaries by our waterfall processes and division of labor/role specialization.)  And regardless, there's architecting the relationship of the system to it's context, even if the context is ostensibly immutable.

So architecture encompasses decisions about the (architecturally significant) parts and their relationships, and the relation of the system to its context. Its technology environment as context. Its various use contexts. Its business context.

And when you turn that into a process, you have to reverse the order--first. But then you play it "forth and back.'

At the other extreme from an (intentionally) architected system, is a fully accidental architecture--emergent to the extent that pieces are agglomerated over time. And even in such an accidental and emergent architecture, the value that is created by the system (and all its collaborations among the parts) is greater than the sum of the value of the parts. That is, some new, additional value has been synthesized. Potential new costs and challenges too, but on balance, greater value. At least, for a while. The thing is, the system becomes embedded in its context. There is inertia and dependency in that embedding.

Whether intentionally designed by the human mind, or designed by the chances of fate and the playing out of the web of interactions between the context and the parts, architecture has to do with the parts (well-formed or eroded) and the relationships between the parts (clean and simple, or messy, conflicting and prone to error and surprise) and the relationships with the context (again, clean and simple or promiscuous and sloppy).

Which is why we architect.

Oh yes, a note may be in order: when I say structural design I absolutely mean structural and behavioral design for we must not, should not, cannot design the structure without designing the behavior! And we would not--not unless we have our heads in dug down deep in primordial ooze (or some such allusion to being stuck in a prehistoric era of our field's evolution...)!

But here's a thought: might we say that architecting is about designing how value will be created and delivered by the system? While keeping a strategic eye on the horizon of other use contexts and the future.

In sum:

  • Value lies not just in the parts, but in the relationships of the parts to each other and to the context.

  • Architects design to create (and shore up) value. In its first incarnation, and through the evolution of the system

Of course, the insight about the relationships among the parts and to context is not new. Bucky Fuller was saying this way back when. Except not quite in these terms. My terms, at least, are for the most part unique.


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.  

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 talking about pictures

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