Make one thing better, starting with your bed.

U.S. Navy Admiral Bill McRaven:

It was a simple task — mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs — but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over. If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com.au/bill-mcraven-commencement-speech-at-ut-2014-5

Trialling Vame.me

Readify is a very culturally diverse organisation: a quick scan of my inbox right now shows names like Korczynski, Mutandwa, Shah, Saikovski and The. “Tatham” isn’t exactly simple either. We’re also distributed across many different client sites spread around the country, which means a lot of our conversation is via email.

I recently came across an Aussie startup called Vame.me, via a Shoestring article. I’m a sucker for well implemented simple ideas, so I gave it a go.

This is what my email signature now looks like, with an extra “Listen” link:


Tatham Oddie (Listen) | Readify Chief Information Officer | m +61 123 456 789 | tatham.oddie@readify.net | w readify.net

I like it, not because I’m precious about my own name (I’m really not), but because I like knowing how to pronounce other peoples’. There’s been a bit of adoption across Readify already, and I look forward to seeing it grow.

It’s hard to really tell how useful it is, as it’s not the type of thing people really call out a lot. I have been tracking click-throughs though, and it’s getting a few.

PS. If you’re wondering, here’s how you pronounce “The”: http://vame.me/ericthe

Nerd Corner: Convert a Mercurial (Hg) repo to Git, with full fidelity, on any OS

Fortunately or unfortunately, Git won over Mercurial. I placed a few bets on Mercurial at the time, so I have a bit of a tail of repositories left to convert.

Converting on Windows with full fidelity isn’t really possible. None of the scripts work well, and the case insensitive file system can cause issues. Luckily, Windows Azure makes it super easy to borrow a small Linux instance quickly.

I’ve documented what I do in this post. Anybody with a web browser can follow these steps, on any platform. There looks like a lot of steps, but that’s just because I’m spelling out every last detail for clarity.

Create a Linux VM in Windows Azure

  1. Sign in to https://manage.windowsazure.com
  2. Create a new VM from the gallery:
    Create VM from Gallery
  3. Choose an Ubuntu release. As of this post, I chose Ubuntu Server 13.10.
  4. Name the VM anything you want
  5. Untick “Upload compatible SSH key for authentication”, unless you know what you’re doing there
  6. Tick “Provide a password”
  7. Leave all the rest of the defaults, and just keep clicking Next
  8. Wait a moment for the VM to get provisioned

Connect to the VM

For this, we’ll just be connecting to a command line via SSH: no GUIs will be harmed.

Because SSH is so prevalent, there are tool chains available for every platform. I’m actually writing this post on my Surface RT (not Pro), using an app called SSH-RT from the Windows Store.

  1. Connect to the DNS name for your new VM (mine was git-convert.cloudapp.net)
  2. Use the username and password you established during the wizard
  3. You should now be at a command line like azureuser@git-convert:~$

Install Git and Hg on the VM

Ubuntu doesn’t ship with Git or Mercurial installed by default, but it does have an awesome package manager called apt-get.

  1. Run sudo apt-get install git
  2. Run sudo apt-get install mercurial

The sudo prefix is a command to elevate your permissions, kind of like a UAC prompt on Windows.

Clone hg-fast-export on to the VM

We’ll be using a tool called hg-fast-export to convert the Mercurial repository to Git, without having to replay each individual changeset like some tools do. This tool is in a Git repo, so we’ll just clone that repository down in order to get it onto the VM.

  1. Run git clone https://github.com/frej/fast-export.git

Clone your Mercurial repository on to the VM

For the sake of simplicity, we’re just going to use HTTPS instead of SSH.

  1. Run hg clone https://your/hg/repo/address

Export your Mercurial repository to a new Git one

  1. Create a new folder for your Git repository: mkdir your-repo-git
  2. Change to that folder: cd your-repo-git
  3. Initialize an empty Git repository there: git init
  4. Do the fast export: ../fast-export/hg-fast-export.sh -r ../your-repo/

Upload your Git repository to your Git hosting

  1. Add the remote: git remote add origin https://your/git/repo/address
  2. Push up all branches and tags: git push -u origin --all

Convert Hg-specifc config to Git

Take the opportunity now to convert your .hgignore file to an equivalent .gitignore one. You can go and do this back on your own machine.

Delete the VM

Back in the Azure Management Console, delete the VM. When you do this, choose to “delete the attached disks”. (It will ask you.)

All done!

You’re all done. Wasn’t that just a perfect, easy use of the cloud?

Being an open recipient

Lately, I’ve been reading One Strategy: Organization, Planning, and Decision Making. It’s a collection of Steven Sinofsky’s internal blog posts while he ran the Windows division, with some light analysis by Marco Iansiti. (The blog posts are so far more interesting than the analysis.)

This quote stuck with me (page 30, Kindle location 746):

We are still not sending around (locally) enough meeting notes and not sharing information more freely. And part of that is asking people to be more receptive to “raw data” and less demanding of “tell me what is important” because with empowerment comes the need to process more data and manage the flow of information. For our process to work smoothly we do need more communication.

Within Readify, we’re seeing a fast growth of shared OneNote notebooks. They’re like wikis on steroids: near real-time multi user editing, ink, images, audio, no save button, multi-device, offline support, web app, deep linking right down to a specific paragraph, and more. They’re an insanely useful part of our information flow, and deserving of their own post another time.

The ease of access that comes with these pervasive notebooks has lowered the bar for content capture. And it’s great.

Instead of some formal documentation requirement that gets missed, we’re now able to capture the as-it-happens notes. After 10 years of consulting, we’re finally seeing a really rich knowledge base about our engagements get synchronized back into SharePoint instead of living in the heads of individual consultants. Call notes, meeting notes, architecture diagrams, sprint reviews, pre-sales meetings, org charts and whiteboard photos all end up in the notebook now. When I go to a presales meeting, the account manager and I are both recording our different notes straight into the same page of a notebook in real-time, then one of us can snap a pic of the whiteboard as we leave. (SharePoint + 4G enabled devices are the back-end plumbing here.)

These notes don’t provide the full context of a project, but they capture a series of events that cumulatively provide much of that context. They aren’t an analysis of the events either; they’re a summary, closer to a transcript. But that’s all ok, because they create visibility across our teams and open conversations we weren’t having before. Seeing this transition sweep across our business, I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with Steven’s views.

Shaving a Yak, Beside the Bike Shed

Because this is being posted to the Big Bad Internet™, I feel the need to disclaim up front that these terms are not my own, nor are my definitions necessarily the canonically ‘correct’ ones. If you get to the end of the post though, you’ll see that that doesn’t matter. This post is one of hopefully a few, where I capture some known ideas but with my own style and analysis. This is primarily being driven by a desire to give some common concepts that I discuss a home that I can link to, where existing descriptions around the internet may not capture my exact personal views.


A mark of maturity that I’ve noticed in effective teams is an evolved language: they have their own catch phrases, and shortcuts that make communication so fast and efficient within the team. Intention is clear, ambiguity is reduced, and people spend less time analysing subtext that isn’t there.

This culture of communication is heavily rooted in strong interpersonal relationships, which do take some time. However, I’d like to argue that we can actively develop some of this communication culture.

Last month, I spent a week with a software engineering team in New Zealand. Their organisation is in the early stages of trying some big, bold, new ideas, and this team needs to support these somehow. The roadmap is still a little fuzzy, but everyone appreciates that they have a lot of work ahead of them. Success will be heavily influenced by spending the just the right amount of time on the right things, but this is a perilously thin path to success with cliffs and chasms everywhere they look.

To stay in check, everyone on the team needs to feel comfortable to question the validity or extent of a task. Equally, they need to still feel comfortable when on the receiving end of such a question. In many teams, this question might come across with phrases like “Isn’t that enough already?”, or “Is this gold plating?” These often come across as confrontational though, seeming to cut away at the value of the work that somebody has been doing. There are nuances open to interpretation, because as obvious as they may seem, the intent of the phrases is not necessarily clear.

I introduced the team to two new phrases:

Yak Shaving

Your home office chair is making an annoying creaking sound because of a loose bolt. You could tighten it easily, except it uses a hex head and you lent your bit set to your neighbour. You can’t ask for them back, because you first need to return something to him: a special anti-allergy pillow that you borrowed for a friend who was staying last week. But you can’t just return the pillow either, because the dog got into it and ripped half the stuffing out. You don’t want to tell him, because it’s filled with a special yak fur that’s hard to come by, which he needs for his son when he visits: you want to fix it yourself first.

The next thing you know, you’re down at the local zoo, shaving a yak, all to stop a squeaky chair.

All of the decisions to get there were individually justified, but at some point you drift too far away from the original goal for them to still make sense as a whole chain. Just buy a new bit set, or give him some money for a new pillow. Or both. But don’t go and shave a yak.

As Seth extrapolates in his description:

This yak shaving phenomenon tends to hit some people more than others, but what makes it particularly perverse is when groups of people get involved. It’s bad enough when one person gets all up in arms yak shaving, but when you try to get a group of people together, you’re just as likely to end up giving the yak a manicure.

Bike Shedding

This one is from Parkinson’s Law of Triviality, and Wikipedia’s summary is best:

Parkinson observed that a committee whose job is to approve plans for a nuclear power plant may spend the majority of its time on relatively unimportant but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bikeshed, while neglecting the design of the power plant itself, which is far more important but also far more difficult to criticize constructively.

Back with the Team

These two phrases each provided distinctly nuanced versions of the original question.

In the way I try to introduce these phrases, “Are we yak shaving here?” says “I can see all the decisions you’re following, and they all seem legitimate. Standing back here though, with a fresher set of eyes, do you think we are drifting a bit too far from the original goal?” Slightly differently, “Are we bike shedding?” is an explicit call of triviality, but recognizing that it’s an easy trap.

Your team’s definitions can vary; what’s more important is that we had a conversation about how we’d communicate. We took a funny story about yaks, and used that to define some phrases that were relevant to the team. Now, when the team hit these scenarios, they can use one of these phrases knowing that the nuances have been pre-discussed and agreed on.

In truth, in this scenario I actually only told these stories to two members of the team. Within a few hours though I heard them describing their own variants of the story to others. That’s another thing that’s great about these types of communication devices: humans communicate better with stories than dry, independent facts. (You might notice, that for this entire blog post, I just told you a story. J)


Related reading (manually curated by me):