Thursday, March 24, 2005

From Maps to Focus Time

Another one of the web sites that was mentioned at ETech was Google Maps. It's still labeled as "Beta" but it's pretty slick. I also found an interesting blog on how it works. Taking inspiration from the conference, I decided to "remix" Google Maps into my companies business application. An hour on the couch with my laptop one evening added a "Map" button to our address widget, so everywhere we have an address you can click on Map and you'll get a Google map of the address (assuming you're connected to the internet). Pretty cool.

I'm a little concerned about releasing this to our customers since Google Maps are still beta and it could break or change at any time. I think what I'll do is also support Yahoo Maps and MapQuest. I still like Google Maps better, especially since it doesn't have any ads yet, but this way they have a choice and if one quits working they'll still be able to use another.

Another site I heard about at ETech was Technorati. It uses tags to track blogs. It also works with Flickr and Delicious. For example, you can look at blogs with the tag

Apart from the conference itself, the trip to San Diego, away from work, gave me a chance to step back and think about how things were going with the programmers in my company. One of the things that was bothering me was that we didn't seem to be making as much progress as I'd like. Everyone is working hard, but there always seem to be a million distractions and interruptions, so many that days go by without actually programming anything! We'd previously tried following the rule that one pair would always be programming. But it never seemed to work very well. One of the books I took to read was Alistair Cockburn's latest Crystal Clear. One of the things he mentions is the idea of "focus" time. This is where you set aside certain hours of the day (e.g. 10 to 12) where you focus on your primary job - in our case programming. During this time, you try not to allow any interruptions - no phone calls, no email, no visitors, no coffee breaks. When I got back I described this idea to the other programmers and they agreed to give it a try. So far it seems to be working pretty well, hopefully it'll stick. I've tried unsuccessfully in the past to introduce daily "standup" meetings. Again, it hasn't worked out. But I snuck them back in at the beginning of the focus time - just five or ten minutes to review what they got done the day before and to decide how they'll pair up and what they'll work on today. So far this also seems to be working. Time will tell.

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