Dovetail blog posts by Trevor Jobling

Dovetail's noble quest

I just came across this quote attributed to Alfred North Whitehead (Mathematician and philosopher. 1861 - 1947)

Alfred North Whitehead

"It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle — they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments."

I really like this. The emphasis is mine by the way.

Firstly, it graphically establishes the basis on which Larry Wall (a famous programmer) thinks laziness is a virtue in developers.

Secondly, Dovetail automates important business processes for its clients. Based on this, can we claim to be advancing human civilization no less, every single day? I like the sound of that! :)


Dovetail at the IoT World Conference

Last week Dovetail exhibited at the IoT World Conference held in the Dublin Convention Centre.

It was a really interesting event with over 200 speakers and 150 exhibitors. The startup area was particularly interesting with a wide variety of new businesses showing their wares. With my background in mechanical engineering I was particularly taken with this strain gauge built with nanoparticles

 

nano strain gauge

 

At the Dovetail stand we demonstrated the system we developed of Novaerus, which drew a lot of attention.

Despite how this picture looks, we didn't actually have a Martin Wallace mannequin. This was the real article, I think he just froze up for a second :)


Here's what's in a name

Project names

 

At the start of every project I place a brief but concerted focus on what to call the system under development.

Why is a good name important?

  1. It promotes clear communication between stakeholders, and clarity is a Dovetail core value. I worry when a generic term like “the system” is used in a meeting - inevitably somebody is left wondering “Which system exactly?”
  2. It gives the nascent software system its own identity. This helps stakeholders to engage with the project even though it may still be abstract to them. They can visualise the solution better when it has a name, leading to more creativity and thorough analysis.

So what makes a good name? Here are my suggestions:

  • It should be unique rather than generic. If it stands out a little it helps give the new system its own personality.
  • It should be a single word, so short that it never occurs to anyone to abbreviate it in speech or writing. This promotes consistent use by being the easiest way to refer to the new system.
  • Its pronunciation should be unambiguous. This removes the fear of saying it "wrong", another barrier to universal adoption.
  • Don't try to describe the project in its name. You will probably end up with something cumbersome. The name will also be prone to irrelevance as the project grows and evolves.
  • The meaning of the word really doesn't matter, so don’t sweat about it too much. Of course it can be a nifty acronym or something related to the project, but it can also just be a word that sounds good. Like a child, the project will grow into its name, everyone will get used to it, and eventually you won't be able to imagine any other name sounding right.
  • Don't worry about the permanence of the name. You’re just choosing something for internal use by stakeholders. If the system is launched to a wider audience you can give it a public-facing name at that time, and it will probably be better than anything you think up at this stage.
  • Do get buy-in from key stakeholders. Your goal is universal adoption: people find this surprisingly easy when their boss loves the name!

Here are some good examples of actual Dovetail projects:

  • HARPS
  • Hermes
  • Athena
  • Seagull
  • Osprey

HARPS was a neat acronym we laboured over when the project started years ago, but nobody remembers what it means now. Hermes is a project for a sports body, so we named it after the Greek god associated with sport. Athena was a seemingly random suggestion by a client after I shared my guidelines above.

As for the last two: when we’re stuck we just pick a bird’s name. It works every time, showing how unimportant the actual word is!

 


How to squeeze eighty-seven thousand words into 74 pages

Sorry for the click bait title - I just wanted to share this interesting screenshot.

Below is a screen shot overview of a Dovetail tender document. I was interested to see how many images we use: 70 in this case. This is pretty typical of a Dovetail proposal. The pictures include such things as examples of previous work, suggested approaches for the project under discussion, UML diagrams and some of our corporate bonafides.

Birdseye of tender document

The images aid clear communication (one of our corporate values) and they also break the text up to make the document more approachable. And the proof is in the pudding - we won this particular tender :)

So if a picture really is worth a thousand words then this tender document contains 70,000 due to the images alone, and 17,523 that we wrote, giving a whopping total of 87,523!


Dovetail on the telly... sort of!

Last night's episode of Claire Byrne Live on RTÉ covered two topics close to our hearts.

Claire Byrne Live

The first half of the show covered Standards in Public Office, so of course the Register of Lobbying was covered.

Lobbying.ie logo

Then in the second half, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar discussed the introduction of mandatory calorie labelling on menus - so MenuCal got a mention too.

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undefined(In case this is your first time here, Dovetail developed both the above systems!)


Changeover day in the fishtank

We've had a lot of fun with Pinchy the crayfish over the years. He amazed us with his prehistoric anatomy and we were fascinated by his molt. We laughed at his antics as he clambered around the tank. And he really challenged us when he laid eggs (though even that event failed to correct our casual use of masculine pronouns).

Look how big he got:

Pinchy in his travelling clothes

Unfortunately Pinchy's leading attributes were his appetite and his hunting. He ate all our fish bar two insomniac zebra danios. Since the loss of our pleco the tank became a quiet, overgrown, sad looking place - one into which we were unwilling to condemn any more fish.

Well that all changed this week. Goodbye Pinchy, hello bala sharks!

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Thanks to Shauna's Pet Shop for helping find a home for him.

p.s. I see he's on Shauna's Facebook page currently and somebody is talking about gumbo...Pinchy about to leave


Rube Goldberg on the keyboard

Occasional Dovetailer Garrett Heaver recently asked what the lights are for on my monitor stand. This post is to answer him.

I annoy myself by accidentally hitting the caps lock key so I normally remove that key from my keyboards. (I think I may have actually learned that trick from Garrett). Recently I happened to have an Arduino Trinket lying around and some switches so I came up with a rather ridiculous replacement :)

Keyboard

There is a little video here on Youtube.

 


Attack of the Tutum Clones

2015 is starting off how 2014 ended - with t-shirts!

Hot on the heels of this freebie from Oracle we've just landed some free swag from Tutum. Tutum makes it really, really easy to deploy Docker containers in the cloud.

Docker is a fantastic tool that promotes application portability. It comes from a Linux background, but it's getting good support from Microsoft these days. We do most of our custom software development on the Microsoft platform, and Tutum support Azure too, so we'll probably be seeing more of it in the future.

I pointed out a minor issue in Tutum's beta and they rewarded me with this lot - definitely easier than than the MySQL issue last month. Thanks Borja!

So left to right here are Ger, Mossy and me modelling today's uniform:

  • Beard? check
  • Glasses? check
  • Aeron? check
  • Tutum tee? check

OK lets work!

 Dovetail Tutum clones


Open-source for fun and profit. And a t-shirt.

We recently did some performance optimisation work for SUSI. It was a fascinating problem which had apparently stumped several companies over the years. Well we got very into it and eventually found a bug in the .Net drivers for MySQL.

We patched the bug and massively improved the stability and performance of the system. We submitted the fix back to MySQL to help the project.

SUSI were delighted with the results, and apparently Oracle were too because they sent us this t-shirt to say thanks! Thanks Larry!

MySQL freebie tshirt