The Dopefly Tech Blog

Join Nathan Strutz as he shoots the breeze on techie geeky web dev stuff.

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An Agile year

posted under category: Software Quality on December 21, 2012 at 4:36 pm by MrNate

This year (2012, for posterity sake) my project at work took on an Agile methodology. Why? 2011 was a productive year, we made a lot of people happy with our software, but we had about three giant software releases for the whole year. These changes being so far between meant I could never know if what I was doing was going to work for everyone, and it also meant that, while the software was better tested, when there were bugs, they would have to work around them for months until we had the fix out.

Accelerating our release cycle to every two weeks meant that even if something was broken, it wouldn't stay broken for long. It also meant we had to be on top of our tasks a lot more, with a stronger focus on what we are doing today and what we will be doing tomorrow.

How did we do it? We initially decided on twice-weekly scrum meetings, just to say what we did and what we were doing next. This wasn't enough for the project manager, so we bumped it up to 4 times per week (the 5th day we had a regularly scheduled customer meeting). We began the year by listing all of our customers and all of their existing and upcoming tasks, including our own nit-list (like upgrade the database version, wash the dishes, support the new manufacturing system, etc). This is our backlog. We worked with our customers to set a priority on each item, then planned a sprint strategy, taking tasks with the highest priority and mixing them with the most pressing deadlines. Throughout the year we tracked new business and requests into an issues log, promoted items from our backlog into workable sprint items, and we got a lot of things done that way.

We did learn some lessons though. First, daily scrum meetings are great, but when our customer gets involved (and he loves to be involved), he tends to ask questions mid-update, slowing the scrum to a crawl, turning what should be a 5 minute meeting into a 45 minute meeting. We should really cut that out. Also we have the need for a system that will take a customer feedback and track it through an official change request to a prioritized backlog item, to an in-work task, to a bullet point on our release notes. There are things that almost do this, but usually require something custom for the customer feedback part at the very least, and so few of them have been 'blessed' for use within my company. Also we have some release systems that do not play well with Agile. One system that notifies the help desk about outages and work in the area takes an hour to fill out each time we do a production release. Another system we may be forced to use requires a gated software version validation process that will take a day's worth of paperwork for each release.

The worst downside though is that it sucks my energy. I have to be on task a lot more, which has meant less blogging and less tweeting. That's sad for me.

In summary, twenty-five software releases on our two-week sprint cycle, less stress on the development, more pressure on the project manager, and happier customers. All-in-all, it has been a successful experiment that I think we will continue with.

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Happy 10th Birthday CFMX

posted under category: ColdFusion on May 29, 2012 at 11:07 pm by MrNate

Ten years ago today, ColdFusion 6 was released.

Affectionately named CFMX, this sixth major release was a full rewrite out of a C++ core and into a Java EE core. ColdFusion would now be deployed on JRun for the next decade, the formerly current J2EE server, also from Allaire. Other major features were CFCs (ColdFusion Components), enabling an object-oriented programming style that has largely taken over in the CFML-writing community, also web services, native XML abilities, a new charting engine to replace the outdated C-based graphing engine, a new security system, and full support for internationalization and localization. This was a giant fundamental shift for the hundreds of thousands of ColdFusion applications in the wild, and was largely backward compatible.

Cheers to you, Macromedia employees, who pulled off an incredible technological jump, one decade ago, today. Thanks for indirectly employing me, all these years.

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Good news, Dopefly is back up (mostly)

posted under category: General on April 8, 2012 at 4:52 am by MrNate

Here's a note to say that Dopefly is back up. It's been about 3 weeks. Yeesh, awful, I know. Now I'm back up on MySQL, so please drop me a note if you see anything broken around here. A rewrite and redesign is in the works, and may be out sooner than you expect.

Sorry to everyone who missed the content, and especially to Mike Henke who linked my post about actually understanding closures in ColdFusion 10 from The ColdFusion Show.

Update: Looks like auto-incrementing PK columns didn't make the migration to MySQL from SQL Server, so I'm going to guess that comments won't work. This post took a lot more work to get published than it should have.

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A couple days of downtime

posted under category: Life Events on March 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm by MrNate

We're having a hosting change, so expect Dopefly to be down for a couple days while we get it sorted out. Also the azcfug.org site will be down and a few other sites we have hosted here. Thanks to my friend Steven Benjamin for finding us a new home!

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Socially Deprecated Features

posted under category: Software Quality on March 13, 2012 at 1:03 pm by MrNate

A discussion erupted recently, on one of the various discussion groups i subscribe to, about deprecated features that are not really deprecated but more like, not encouraged when thinking about future applications moving forward in development time.

It's hard to explain in a definition, so a case in point is needed.

The Application.cfm file is a ColdFusion construct as old as I can remember. It's not going away, but it is essentially feature complete.

More recently, ColdFusion has given us Application.cfc. The capabilities that gives us are far above and beyond what a had previously, and developers are encouraged to upgrade their applications or at least use Application.cfc in their next projects.

In this case, Application.cfm has been socially deprecated.

Here's another one: Fusebox. It's not a language feature so much as a framework, but if your application uses Fusebox, your program is socially deprecated. Now my friend John is bringing it back, but for the past 5 years, if you have started a new app with Fusebox, you used a socially deprecated framework and your "cool kids" card has been revoked.

using socially deprecated features and frameworks puts your application at risk for falling into technical debt. It's a slow roll down a long hill that will show in bugs that are never fixed, areas of the application that everyone avoids because they are afraid of causing errors, and eventually, lack of knowledgeable developers which will leave you stranded.

The way to avoid social deprecation is to keep engaged with the developer community. Read the blogs, engage in the discussion groups and visit the user groups.

Can you think of anything else that's socially deprecated? I can think of a bunch of things. CFUpdate. Prototype.js. Old stylized code like capitalizing tag and attribute names. Php. Internet Explorer. CFPod. The list goes on and on.

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Actually understanding closures in ColdFusion 10

posted under category: ColdFusion on March 11, 2012 at 10:25 pm by MrNate

There has been a lot of confusion about closures in ColdFusion 10, and I don't think anyone has done a good enough job explaining it. I'm going to try to make it easy.

First, understand that what we call the closures feature is actually a handful of related ideas: anonymous functions, named function expressions, functions as first-class citizens, nested functions, and yes, true closures.

An anonymous function is simply a function without a name. You define it inline, usually as an argument to a function call or as a function's return value. Eventually it may have a name, but at the time and scope of its creation it does not.

A named function expression is another way to define a function. Instead of the classic function operator syntax, function name() {}, you define it a lot like any other variable. Name equals value. var name = function() {};.

Functions as first-class citizens finally reinforces something we have had unofficially since ColdFusion 6.1, passing a function as an argument. The difference now is there is a function data type. This helps us formalize a functional programming paradigm in a previously object-oriented CFML.

Having nested functions means that you can define a function within another. At its most basic, you can categorize you methods, hiding them in another function, and make little helpers that you only call from that defining parent function. You can define them in the classic function operator syntax function name() {} or in the expressed var name = function() {};.

Here is where it gets fun.

That inner function has access to the var scope of the function it was defined from. This is what a closure is. It knows about its origin and it doesn't forget. It will always be tied to that same parent var scope.

Combining those ideas, you can define a function within another and pass it out (with or without assigning a variable name to it), then that outbound function can use its closure abilities to reference data in the method it came from. This is where much of the power of Javascript comes from, and provides a good start to doing functional programming.

The similarities between what CFML will do in CF10 and what Javascript does are incredible. I love the direction we have seen so far, and I am excited for the future of ColdFusion!

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Let's talk about ColdFusion 10 - AZCFUG Feb 22

posted under category: AZCFUG on February 21, 2012 at 5:59 pm by MrNate

Hey, here's a quick note to say we are going to talk about the newly released ColdFusion 10 Beta on Wednesday, February 22nd for this month's AZCFUG meeting. If you're in the Phoenix area, come hang out with us and learn about the new features.

We should take a vote to see what your favorite feature is. For me? There is so much stuff in this release, it's all over the map, I don't know that I can say any one single thing is my favorite. There are new language features, new tags, new functions, new technologies, a new platform, new capabilities - too much for me to pick just one.

Anyways, we'll be talking about it at the usual time and place, UAT's main auditorium at 6:30 PM. See you there!

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Negligence Season 2011/2012

posted under category: General on February 10, 2012 at 8:09 pm by MrNate

So I was doing really great late last year preparing my LESS CSS talk for Adobe MAX, then MAX hit, I finished my presentation on LESS, and I just collapsed. It felt pretty nice, I won't lie. Soon thereafter the holidays started, family activities picked up (did I mention I have 4 kids?). Worse and/or better yet, my fantastic company takes the Christmas through New Year week off and right at the end of that, I got sick with "the Skyrim". It was bad. I still have it, a cough here and there, a sleepless night when I forget my reality pills. I feel bad for all of you who have caught it along with me. It hurts sometimes, but it feels so good when I give in...

Let me recap a few things I should have already by now.

Adobe MAX 2011. This was a great conference. Adobe pulls in amazing speakers, authors and technologists. Ray and the unconference crew also had a fantastic lineup, and it was really, really great. The MAX bash this year was over the top and by far the best party I had been to in my entire life.

Then my boy, Jude, turned seven and we had a Mario party (pun intended), so then I had a new best party ever. Sorry Weezer. Sorry fancy candy pavillion.

Alanda, my wife, scored a Kindle Fire for Christmas. She loves it. While I know it's Android under the covers, she never would based on any evidence. It's Kindle through-and-through, and a great all-around device IMO.

I visited the new Boeing South Carolina 787 factory in late January. It's a beautiful place, and I would move my whole family into that building if I could. About the jet - I am sold on it for sure, and I will buy the first available one as soon as I find the $170m or so that it takes. I am still asking around about the employee discount.

Finally we come to today. I'm reading The Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering. I count this as studying for one of my CF.Objective(). talks. Speaking of...

This May Is CF.Objective()! I have two sessions to call my own - "Making Software Better" and "LESS CSS, Meet ColdFusion." I'll talk more about these later, but for now this has gone on long enough. Here's to a successful blogging career in 2012!

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Nathan is a co-manager for the Phoenix CFUG (AZCFUG) and a ColdFusion application developer for an aerospace company in the Phoenix East valley (Mesa). Aside from doing ColdFusion applications, Nathan enjoys playing with servers, hacking with a variety of other programming languages and managing his home theater PC. Nathan got his programming start writing batch files in DOS.
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