Month: August 2015

Money, it’s a shame! We love Mint, and so should you.

“Money, so they say

Is the root of all evil today

But if you ask for a raise it’s no surprise

That they’re giving none away.” – Pink Floyd

So I did an article a few weeks back about my personal struggles with money. That posting boiled down a very practical book on personal finance into the five essential ingredients for getting on top of things:

  1. Plan for monthly bills and daily needs.
  2. Keep a running total of daily needs spending.
  3. Have a bill payment plan where bills are paid each month automatically
  4. Have a savings account for what you want and need
  5. Keep a record of all of the above.

You must do all these things to have any control over your money – no matter how much of an income you have.

The issue though came down to implementation. All of these things required time – something I have little of these days. So, were there tools out there that could help me?

First a few words about my personal relationship with finances. Money is a topic I find frightening and I tend to shy away from it – mainly because it’s just so depressing watching it pour out every month. I thought, well, some people seem to have a knack for it. I just don’t – and there’s no changing that. I just got used to being a colander or a sieve – and tried to earn as much as I could to balance things out.

There’s a strong correlation between money and food (or alcohol, or anything else you can abuse or get addicted to). In my case, I would binge spend to feel better – the same way some people drink whiskey or food when things get most hopeless. The feeling of being out of control, of being a victim of circumstances beyond my control – a car bill or the dishwasher breaking setting us back once again – would start the spiral.


This morning we had a breakthrough. I think it’s the first time in twenty years of marriage that we’ve had a discussion about money and what we’ve spent without an argument. Here’s how it worked:

  1. Go to and sign up. It’s FREE and amazing – and yes, they have an app for it on your phone.
  2. Add any accounts you have. We’re talking checking, savings, 401(k)’s, and your credit cards, home/rental and cars. This way you know your financial health in one nice snapshot. (turns out, you may find out you are worth more $-wise than you think!)
  3. Then it’s time to fill out a budget. Do the best you can on the categories – they’re all prefilled out. I pulled my checking account records for the previous month and had a good idea of what I spent each month. I also allowed money each month for fun money – you know, fishing and other trips – and an allowance, small, each month, for things like a vacation, home expenses, car breakdowns, etc.
    1. It’s very important to allow SOME room for fun. There’s no point in being a budget Nazi if you will break down and binge spend because you’re going overboard. For me, I need some time every few weeks to get away. If you select the option to “Start each month with the previous month’s leftover amount” – you can even save up this discretionary money for that trip to the Bahamas you’ve always wanted to take.

Guess what? You are basically done at this point. At this point all your financial transactions – everything coming in and out – will show up on one nice dashboard. You can check it daily or – as my wife and I have committed to doing – once weekly. We look at every item we spend and make sure that it’s falling into the correct line item on the budget:


See that line item below for “Royal”? That’s $40 bucks I spent on fly fishing books at Joel’s fine fly fishing shop locally in Lake Oswego. (Yes, I’m an addict.) Knowing that it would be showing up and that I would have to account for this made me spend a little less at that store this day.

Then we can go through and see if we’re over or under-spending. See below – we definitely spent a little more than we should have last month on eating out and even on groceries. I can fine-tune this then for the next month – or adjust the budget so it’s more reasonable. Like with tracking what you eat every day, a tool like Mint really makes tracking – and being accountable for – what we spend will help us turn our financial ship around.

Hopefully, over time we will become a little less of a colander – and more of a bowl. Going through what we spent and saved took us less than half an hour – well worth it. We’ll keep doing this every week. What a great feeling!


Culture and Agile – GM and its failed attempt to mimic Toyota

I had a good friend of mine – Mark Taylor – recommend some listening material recently on GM. I’ve been fascinated with Toyota since I first started learning about Agile development practices, and this podcast definitely was worth the time to listen. It’s a fascinating story. Why was Toyota so willing to be so open and revealing with one of its biggest competitors – GM – on its higher quality production processes? Turns out there’s a lot more to making cars than just an assembly line.

This isn’t just history. All successful companies hit a moment of complacency. For people who are interested in improving the quality of their working life – whatever the field – there’s some real lessons here. (And, if you’re still not convinced, think of all the billions of your taxpayer dollars that had to go into bailing American car companies after they went bankrupt!)

Some thoughts I had – in outline form – from this:

  • Culture Matters (are your teams top down or horizontal?)
    • “Back home in Fremont, GM supervisors ordered around large groups of workers. At the Takaoka plant, people were divided into teams of just four or five, switched jobs every few hours to relieve the monotony, and a team leader would step in to help whenever anything went wrong.”
  • Stopping The Line With Defects (how do you handle bugs?)
    • I can’t remember any time in my working life where anybody asked for my ideas to solve the problem. And they literally want to know. And when I tell them, they listen, and then suddenly they disappear, and somebody comes back with the tool that I just described. It’s built, and they say try this. Under the Toyota system, everyone’s expected to be looking for ways to improve the production process all the time, to make the workers’ job easier and more efficient, to shave extra steps and extra seconds off each worker’s job. To spot defects in the cars and the causes of those defects. This is the Japanese concept of kaizen, continuous improvement. When a worker makes a suggestion that saves money, he gets a bonus of a few hundred dollars or so…. And if you look around the Toyota plant, you can see the result of all those improvements. Hanging shelves that travel along with the car and the worker, carrying the parts and bolts they need within easy reach. Special cushions they throw into the car frames when they have to kneel inside. Workers’ tasks have been streamlined to the fewest possible steps, each step timed down to the second.
    • In contrast, in GM plants, workers could never stop the line – because they’re lazy, you know? “So now we tell the plant floor, don’t you worry about the production volume. You worry about quality. The last thing we want is to have a lot of defects flowing down the line that we have to repair later.”
  • It Takes Brains – You Can’t Just Mimic
    • (after a failed trainsplant) “For this workforce, there were no trips to Japan, no tearful sushi parties. And from the start, workers were skeptical…. This was one of the biggest differences between Fremont and Van Nuys. Van Nuys hadn’t been shut down. Turns out it’s a lot easier to get workers to change if they’ve lost their jobs, and then you offer them back. Without that, many union members just saw the Toyota system as a threat.”
    • “…much of the Japanese system happened off the factory floor, it answered something that had never quite made sense to {one of the managers}. Why had Toyota been so open with GM in showing its operations? We didn’t understand this bigger picture thing. All of our questions were focused on the floor, you know? The assembly plant. What’s happening on the line. That’s not the real issue. The issue is, how do you support that system with all the other functions that have to take place in the organization?”
    • “I remember one of the GM managers was ordered from a very senior level– it came from a vice president– to make a GM plant look like NUMMI. And he said, I want you to go there with cameras and take a picture of every square inch. And whatever you take a picture of, I want it to look like that in our plant. There should be no excuse for why we’re different than NUMMI, why our quality is lower, why our productivity isn’t as high, because you’re going to copy everything you see. Immediately, this guy knew that was crazy. We can’t copy employee motivation. We can’t copy good relationships between the union and management. That’s not something you can copy, and you can’t even take a photograph of it.”
  • Its Not Just The Assembly Line
    • “The team concept stressed continuous improvement. If a team got a shipment of parts that didn’t fit, they’d alert their bosses, who’d then go to the suppliers to fix the problem. Sometimes they’d realize the problem was in the part’s design, and Toyota engineers would go back to the drawing board and remake the part to address the problem workers were having on the assembly line. All the departments in the company worked together. …. But Ernie’s suppliers had never operated in a system like that. If he asked for fixes, they blew him off. And if he called Detroit and asked them to redesign a part that wasn’t working, they’d ask him, why was he so special? They didn’t have to change it for any other plant. Why should they change it for him?”
  • The High Cost of Complacency
    • “One of the ironies of GM was that in the moment it went bankrupt, it was probably a better company than it had ever been. In the factories, they had really dramatically closed the productivity gap that they had had for many, many years. And on the new products, they have much better quality. So the company that failed was actually doing better than it had ever done. But it was too late, and that’s really sort of hard to forgive– that if you take 30 years to figure it out, chances are you’re going to get run over. And they got run over.”
    • “They sold junk for a while. Just any kind of piece of crap they could roll out there, they did. And they paid a tremendous price for it. And even when they turned the corner in quality, people didn’t trust them. They’d say, well, gee, they’re building a good car now. Why aren’t they buying them?”

Walkthrough – Creating a Linux VM in Azure

I saw this great post recently by Donovan Brown. Thought I would take a waltz thru it really quick and share.

Creating a Linux Based Development Box on Azure

It might be a good idea to first create an availability group – add a Storage and a Cloud Service with a good naming convention you like. This way it won’t arbitrarily assign some wacked out names for you and you can delete them later.

  1. Open up the Azure Management Portal – the Plus sign on the lower left (Add) -> select Compute -> Virtual Machine -> From Gallery.

  2. Look at all these Ubuntu images we can pick from. Select Ubuntu, open up port 3389 for RDP.


  3. Select A2 for the sizing. I unselected the SSH option and picked out a good strong admin password.

  4. Pick a good region and your (previously selected) storage accounts. Very important here – open up a port for RDP for 3389. (If you forget, you can also do this later in the Endpoints section of the Azure dashboard.)

  1. This next portion will take a while. Open up your SSH client of choice – some people like Putty, I like Bitvise. Then enter in the following into command line:
  • sudo apt-get update
  • sudo apt-get install xrdp
  • sudo apt-get install xfce4
  • sudo service xrdp start
  • sudo apt-get install eclipse
  • sudo apt-get install libwebkitgtk-1.0-0
  • sudo apt-get install firefox

OK, that’s done. It takes, well, about forever. Once that’s done though you’re about there.

  1. Use remote desktop to dial onto
  2. R-click on the Panel – Add New Items, select Launcher. R-click, Properties, and add Eclipse. This will drop an icon onto the bottom part of your window.
  3. Click on the Earth to open up fireFox.
  4. Start up Eclipse and select the Help menu. select Install New Software…
    1. Click Add… enter “TFS Plugin for Eclipse” for the name, and location of

  5. Select Team Explorer Everywhere. Click Next > , and then Next>
  6. Accept the Microsoft Software License Terms
    1. Click Finish
  7. Restart Eclipse when prompted
  8. Close the Welcome page
  9. Select Window / Open Perspective / Other…
  10. Select Team Foundation Server Exploring
  11. Click OK
  12. Click Connect to Team Foundation Server and follow the instructions to connect.

And that’s it. You’ve got a fully running developer VM running Ubuntu, Eclipse and plugged into TFS – all on Linux.


Some DevOps Links for Today

The Five Dysfunctions of DevOps

I remember laughing at the American car companies in the 80’s that – panicked by the unmatched quality coming out of Toyota – sent spies and emissaries out to Japan to emulate what was being done in the factories. They were given complete access, took it back to America – and it fell flat on its face. The Japanese product managers implementing Lean in the manufacturing floors snickered that they were copying the image of Buddha without the spirit. How could they ever implement something they didn’t understand? In part, those American car company manufacturers missed the essence of kata, or continuous improvement through repetition. By neglecting culture, any tool or process they tried just ended up in the same dead end.

I just finished reading the Phoenix Project by Gene Kim etc – oddly enough, on a trip out to Phoenix – and found myself wanting to smack myself in the forehead. There are so MANY things about DevOps that I did not understand, even a year ago. It would have made the last five years of my life immeasurably smoother – if I had understood the principles and thoughts behind what I was trying to do. (Insert cargo cult joke here)

We don’t have a DevOps Manifesto yet – and one is badly needed. In the meantime, we have two books that sum things up. If you haven’t read the Old Testament and New Testament of DevOps – that’s the Phoenix Project and Continuous Delivery by Jez Humble – you are missing out. The Phoenix Project is ¾ management-speak – a hero leader who steps in and methodically saves a failing company, you know the old story of the guy pointing majestically at the sunset on a horse? But, here’s the thing – if you want to convince CxO type people of the importance of DevOps, you need to read this book. It speaks the language of management – so it will help you tell a story that your management and the CIO would want to hear. And buried in its pages are some real depth.

Creating Flow – the Three Ways

I used to show a picture of Hillsboro, Oregon on the 26 during rush hour. This is, no one will argue, a fully utilized freeway. But, is it efficient?

The key to the Toyota Lean principles – and Kanban and Agile and everything else – is creating that flow. That means a buffer in every day, in every week, where we have space to think about how work is done – not just the what.



The First Way: Maximizing flow with small batch sizes and intervals of work, never passing defects downstream, global goals

Continuous build, integration and deployment

Creating environments on demand

Limiting Work in Process

Building systems that are safe to change

The Second Way: Establishing quality at the source. Constant feedback from right to left, ensuring we prevent problems from happening again and enabling faster detection/recovery.

Stopping the line when builds/tests fail

Fast automated test suites

Shared goals/pain between Dev / IT

Pervasive production telemetry showing if customer goals are met

The Third Way: Creating a culture that fosters experimentation and risk.

High trust culture versus command and control

Allocation >20% of Dev/Ops cycles towards nonfunctional requirements

Constant reinforcement of DevOps CoE and improvements kata


This is really illuminating. For example, think of the “stopping the line” item above for the Second Way. How many times did I – in previous assignments – take any bugs from the previous release and kick it to last in order, behind the fun stuff that I really wanted to work on? Even in smaller teams of three – where I thought “we’ll never step on each others toes” – how many integration issues did we have, right before important demos? And by neglecting automated testing, how many defects did I end up passing downstream – creating systems that were inherently difficult to change?

Dysfunction and DevOps – The Importance of culture

This has been mentioned before in my posts – but notice (courtesy of Puppet from a study done by Westrum in 2004) the illuminating chart of the three types of organizations:

Now notice the Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni:

  1. Absence of trust (unwilling to be vulnerable within the group)
  2. Fear of conflict (seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate)
  3. Lack of commitment (feigning buy-in for group decisions, creating ambiguity)
  4. Avoidance of accountability (ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behavior, which sets low standards)
  5. Inattention to results (focusing on personal success, status and ego before the team)


Notice anything interesting? Let’s match up the sick organization on the far left – the power-based Pathological one – with that list of five dysfunctions:

So now we get a glimmer of light on why organizations with high-performing IT departments tend to be high-performing organizations – and why the reverse is also true, a sick IT shop, or one enslaved to the business or at the mercy of a cowboy group of developers, is a good indicator of underperformance. Companies that embrace DevOps as a culture tend to be high-trust, risk-friendly. They’re not afraid of differing opinions or radical ideas like Netflix’s Evil Chaos Monkey. People tend to waste less energy taking potshots at other teams/departments – and more attention to the common shared goal.

As the Phoenix Project brings out, the relationship between a CEO and a CIO is like a dysfunctional marriage – both sides feel powerless and held hostage by the other. This is true of Dev and Ops as well – and I’ve been in that sick marriage more than once. The essence of the book is forming a strong bond where the union becomes much closer by sharing goals and work based on company needs.

Other Thoughts from The Book

Common Agile Myths

  1. DevOps is just automation or infrastructure as code (no, that’s the tool – it’s part of it, but not the whole)
  2. DevOps replaces Agile (DevOps is meant to complete Agile – where bits aren’t just going into QA, but out the door to production)
  3. DevOps replaces ITIL/ITSM (It embodies ITIL concepts)
  4. DevOps means NoOps (DevOps means a truly empowered, nonsiloed Ops)
  5. DevOps is only for startups
  6. DevOps is only for open source software


On #5 and #6 above, this comes down to “We can’t do DevOps, because we’re special/unique/a snowflake.” But think of some of the companies today that are leading in the DevOps world and where they were just a few years ago:

  • Amazon until 2001 ran on OBIDOS content delivery service, dangerous and problematic to maintain
  • Twitter struggled to scale frontend monolithic Ruby on Rails system – took multiple years to rewrite
  • LinkedIn in 2011 six months after IPO had to freeze features for massive overhaul
  • Etsy in 2009 was “living in a sea of their own engineering filth”
  • Facebook in 2009 at breaking point, staff continually firefighting, releases painful and dangerous


I must read The Goal by Eli Goldratt. I love the thought – there is always a constraint or bottleneck in any organization (men, material, machines) that dictates the output of the entire system. Until you create a system that manages the flow of work to the constraint, the constraint is constantly wasted – and likely drastically underutilized. Technical debt skyrockets, and you can’t deliver to the business at full capacity. A following step is to exploit the constraint – where its not allowed to waste any time, ever. It should never be waiting on anything, and it should always be working on the highest priority commitment IT made to the rest of the enterprise.

A little something on that dirty word… money.

Just a little riff on personal finances.

Had the pleasure recently of reading “The Debt Free Spending Plan“. It’s very practical and pragmatic in dealing with debt and managing money. For too many of us, we’re never taught personal finance like we are other essential topics like math, reading, etc in school. As a result – and I think this is deliberate – we get stuck in these cycles with large amounts of credit card debt and spending on things we really can’t afford or even enjoy. I know in my case – when I think of my household expenses (and fishing equipment!) – I tend to think of my house as being a type of colander. I dump money into it and it just runs out the bottom!

So, time to put some thinking into managing a budget. The book is fairly long; I’ll boil it down to the essentials, and you can think about picking it up on your own.

  1. Gather up all your credit cards and freeze them. (Some people literally freeze them into a block of ice in their freezer – so before they use them, they have to defrost it!)
  2. Make up a monthly budget. (more on this below) Everything should be categorized, from income – to Bills and lastly Daily Needs (fuel, food, etc).
  3. Total this up. What’s left over – the balance – can go into Short Term Savings (for things like car expenses that are impossible to predict), Long Term Savings (a buffer), and lastly Fun Money (vacation getaways, fishing gear, etc).
  4. The basic principle is you should always be running in the black. ONce you do step #3 above you will know how much you have to live on each month. You should have money set aside even when you say things like “Oh, I never buy clothes.” Stick cash for clothing – even if just $10 – into an envelope. You can stash it or spend it – but don’t forget to save up for that category. Make sure money is left over for fun and vacation $, even if just a few dollars each month.
  5. You will need to go through this budget every month on the 28th and refactor. Add $ where it’s called for to each category, or take it away. The author recommends picking a category each month (like Gym, for example) and seeing if you can reduce it. could you go to a less snazzy gym and save a few bucks for fun money?
  6. Now buy a notebook. (Or use Mint for us tech savvy types!) Each daily need should have its own tab, with the $ you have to spend on it on the title. (Fuel – $275 for example). Once each day, you will take your receipts – or your debit card expenses – and write down what you’ve spent on each category and update the running total. (2/6/2015 Chevron -$46 = $184.84, for example)
  7. Have two savings accounts – a short term savings and a healthy reserves for emergencies.

There’s some other money saving tips there that she explores in more detail – avoiding bulk stores (it encourages overspending), cooking at home, getting a cheaper cell phone etc with three quotes minimum for any major purchase, using a HSA/Medical Savings Plan, etc. But in short it’s a nice and sweet little 5-step program:

  1. Plan for monthly bills and daily needs.
  2. Keep a running total of daily needs spending.
  3. Have a bill payment plan where bills are paid each month automatically
  4. Have a savings account for what you want and need
  5. Keep a record of all of the above.


That’s it! Nice and simple. I’m going to give this a try – and see if it doesn’t improve some things. I really miss the days of being a DINK (double-income no-kids) kind of family. Hopefully with this program we can have the room to do more fun things guilt free- because we’ll be in the black.