Forcing Client Involvement Through Production Releases

What I take away from agile is the idea of putting something in front of a client as quickly and as often as possible. Of course things are going to have flaws, and things may be unfinished, but having the client see what you’re doing gets a sort of course correction done that doesn’t happen in a vaccuum. People tend to understand this, but they don’t often abide by it.

The problems I’ve seen lately have been in the instance when there is no client directly involved in the process. In that case, a product manager is assigned to take on the role of client, someone who mostly understands what the client wants and basically be their advocate. But the product manager, being an employee and not a client, doesn’t want to risk releasing an incomplete project for fear of how that will look or how the client will react to that. Therefore purposely not involving the client in the only part of the process where the client could give direct feedback — in production.

As long as it’s explained to the client that they are dealing with an alpha, and we welcome feedback on things they feel are necessary, it seems they could be used at that part of the cycle to offer feedback and keep features that will never be used from being added to the project and keep the project from straying too far from something they don’t want.

Agile Context Switching

I had the pleasure of trying to work on 3 separate agile projects last sprint. I typically get 40-50 story points done in a sprint. I like to take on more than I think I can do to keep myself from letting work expand to fill time. I also had the issue of having to take on another developer’s work. Total, we promised ~80 story points.

Now, when my kid was new and I wasn’t allowed to sleep nights, I was able to cram 70-80 sps into a sprint. But sleep has made that level of productivity very hard.

I was also tasked with working offsite, organizing a community of practice, and trying to learn a very large project through “osmosis”. Which is to say, learn as much as you can without reporting time spent on it.

I have to admit, all of the work is interesting and the clients are all people I personally don’t want to let down. So it’s hard to say “forget project X”. (Which is hard to say generally when there actually is a project X.)

So with many things pulling me in many directions, my completed story points for the sprint was 33. A significant decrease in general productivity.

Context switching needs to be allocated for in sprint planning. Duh?

The trick is how much? Some people say it takes 15-30 min to effectively context switch. That’s part of it. I think the larger part is when you’re focused on one-two items, you can finish things effectively. The more items, the more you end up with partial work. Partial work is the worst time killer. You get 50% into a feature and if you have to stop and start again it magically turns into 30-40% done.

Solution? Don’t switch contexts.

Har har. Work on something to completion before switching contexts. Be strict about it.

Avoiding Page Reloads

My applications are part of a framework (LMS) that load a billion extra items on each page load.

To get around it I wanted to do that silly “twitter thing”. They’re the ones who get credited with it because for years normals were baffled by their url changing.…

Additionally, if you’re interested in why the bang(!) is necessary, it’s not. It’s just to tell google to index the page. Otherwise they assume it’s just an anchor link.…

So I spent the last few hours changing all links in one of my current applications to do a “hashbang” sort of call instead of loading new pages. This significantly increased speed when using our clunky LMS.

This was especially annoying because our LMS forces changes with <a> tags.

What made this especially easy to implement was that I had already made all links go through a smarty plugin so altering all links in the application was just in one file and I could make those links specific to whatever authentication scheme / LMS the application is living in. So I just had to alter that plugin and the LMS specific layout and bam. The only thing that’s not covering is form submissions. But there are only a couple of those, so I’m not going to stress about that.

In continuing research obviously I had to investigate why twitter moved away from hashbangs.…

The highlight of that being that with hashbangs, you have to go to the client and then back out, which reduces speed on the initial pageload. So twitter went a little fancier 6 months ago and used the history api’s PushState.

Implementing the hashbang urls was a very small amount of code, so I’m going to move forward with that for now, maybe next time I get a chance to do some research I’ll focus on converting that to PushStates.

Github zip doesn’t include Submodules

Seriously, what were they thinking. This completely invalidates the use of submodules. We want our code to be available without having to know git. That’s the whole reason they have the download a zip link. But not including all of the code means you have to unzip the code and then use git to get the submodules.

Submodules are great for code reuse. But if I can’t intend my project to be downloaded by people that just want to install it and not code anything while using submodules. This is horrible.

Yii forward with params

Yii’s forward doesn’t work with passing params to actions. I.e. This doesn’t work: $this->forward(“/mycontroller/myaction/1/2”);

Because of the way urlmanager works I made the decision early on to have all action parameters take on the var names $id and $id2. So in the main config:

			// uncomment the following to enable URLs in path-format

So I used Controller.php in the components directory to override the forward method like so:

	 * Overloading CController::forward
	 * added the routeArr lines so the ids are passed
	public function forward($route,$exit=true){
		$routeArr = explode("/", $route);
			$_GET['id'] = $routeArr[3];
			$_GET['id2'] = $routeArr[4];

		parent::forward($route, $exit);


And that’s it.

Posted in ATG, Quizmo, Yii. Tags: , . No Comments »

Giving up on Yii Oracle Clobs

Started off yesterday with the intention of trying to implement functional Oracle Clobs in Yii similar to how I implemented it in CakePHP a couple years ago. As yesterday went on I kept busting through boundaries and was feeling great about my progress. But Then I hit the roadblock and I wasn’t able to continue. It’s not worth spending another couple days on when I have a deadline for a pilot by Fall. 4000 characters is enough for the pilot.

The result has been to alter the Yii COciSchema. Just changing the declaration of text to a varchar2(4000).

   public $columnTypes=array(
        'pk' => 'NUMBER(10) NOT NULL PRIMARY KEY',
        'string' => 'VARCHAR2(255)',
        //'text' => 'CLOB',
        'text' => 'VARCHAR2(4000)',
        'integer' => 'NUMBER(10)',
        'float' => 'NUMBER',
        'decimal' => 'NUMBER',
        'datetime' => 'TIMESTAMP',
        'timestamp' => 'TIMESTAMP',
        'time' => 'TIMESTAMP',
        'date' => 'DATE',
        'binary' => 'BLOB',
        'boolean' => 'NUMBER(1)',
		'money' => 'NUMBER(19,4)',

The issue is Yii (PDO) doesn’t support LOBs well at all, so that declaration didn’t make any sense to begin with.

Yii default ORDER BY

I ran into an issue with a minor difference between Oracle and MySQL. Apparently MySQL is better about returning rows in the order they were inserted than Oracle. Now if you want to let me know it’s wrong to assume results are returned in any specific order, I know! Neither gives any guarantee on the order of results without an ORDER BY, but Oracle is semi-random.

It took me a little while to find the right way to add default items to queries. Yii uses CActiveRecords for model queries. I already had an overridden CActiveRecord class from Yii handling “getLastInsertId” with Oracle. So I knew I would be able to use that somehow.

I finally discovered scopes. It allows me to define a scope:

public function scopes()
    return array(
            'order'=>'SORT_ORDER ASC',
            'order'=>'ID ASC',

and then use it as such:


But still I didn’t find anything on default scopes. On a whim I did a grep -i “defaultscope” on the code and discovered it exists in the Yii framework. So I was able to piece together the following:

public function defaultScope()
    return array(
 	'order'=>'ID ASC'

and bam. Add that to my QActiveRecord, and it’s golden.

Working with Submodules

I’m using submodules in my current application. All over the place. And I’ve hit some issues with using them properly. Regardless of the warnings I’ve read about, I still did things in the wrong order.

cd ./subm
git checkout master
git commit -a -m "commit to submodule"
git push
cd ..
git add subm
git commit -m "committing submodule's commit to main project"

The thing I’ve done wrong twice now is committing the change to the main project first. That creates a link to a nonexistant commit on the submodule as that is what a submodule is, a link to a specific commit on a different project. The commit has to be done within the submodule first.

Edit: found this after the fact, edited my code to match the code there as it’s more succinct. Stackoverflow has everything…

Github Pull Request for Just One Commit

I have a forked Yii which I use as a submodule in a couple of my applications. I haven’t made many changes, but most would probably not be useful most people. i.e. I put a conditional in that checks the version of PHPUnit and if it’s older than 3.5 it uses a different include file. Thereby letting me get around the limitation I have in one of my development environments.

My last commit, however, directly relates to an issue Yii had identified. So I wanted to push only that last commit upstream.

First make sure you have the upstream remote.
Then fetch from upstream — this creates upstream/master.
Then we create a new branch calling it upstream — not to be confused with the local remote we just created with the same name.

cd yii
git remote add upstream git://
git fetch upstream
git checkout -b upstream upstream/master
git cherry-pick
git push origin upstream

Then use something that was new to me, cherry-pick and give it the hash of the specific commit. That will merge over only that commit to the new branch you made. Then just push it.

From github, you can then make a Pull Request from that specific branch and contribute. Since that’s what it’s all about.

Helpful links:……

Agile: doing UI first

I was going nuts about BDD recently. One of the most exciting things about it was the idea of doing all of the UI first. The idea is to deliver something to the client before too much of the back end is developed, so they can say if you’re on the right track — apparently this is a major agile tenet.

I’ve thought this way for a long time. For my current job’s interview, when asked how to start a project I replied to do all the UI first. I don’t think that’s what any job actually wanted to hear, I know I’d given that answer 100 times before, and I know no one ever liked it. I got lucky that the group I interviewed with was in such disarray they didn’t realize it probably wasn’t the answer they were supposed to be looking for. But that was years ago, so maybe that answer makes more sense in these agile driven days.

Oddly, this wasn’t covered in the 3 day agile training I recently finished. Maybe it’s covered in the recommended 5 day version.

My issue has been trying to write user stories that only cover the UI without basically duplicating all user stories and adding “UI” to them. I originally went with one user story that just had (basically) “do all UI”. Artie rightly pointed out that is an epic, and needs to be broken down for user stories.

The best I got was to break it down by themes. Take Quizmo as a simple example.

  • All Quiz Management UI
  • All Question Management UI
  • All Quiz Taking UI
  • All User Management UI
  • All Student Viewable Reporting
  • All Admin viewable Reporting

I don’t actually think this is right, because this relies on implicitly knowing all user stories from the get-go. Perhaps the right way would be to have 2 sets of story points for each story, one for the UI and one for the complete execution. This would mean running the same story card twice.

I’m sticking with the “UI by theme” approach for now.

Posted in ATG, Quizmo. Tags: , , . 2 Comments »