What the Agile Alliance Australia should be

Posted in agile, General on January 29th, 2010 by mark – 2 Comments

The Agile Alliance Australia (A3[*1]) was formed at the Agile Australia 2009 conference with and an interim board. The goal of the interim board, as I remember it, was to setup the foundations for A3 and quickly hold another election (hence ‘interim’) to transition to a fully functioning body. The A3 did start to talk about what it should look like but it hasn’t progressed which is why I’m writing this entry.

I think the A3 should be:

  • a small group of people – until more are needed.
  • have a primary goal of co-ordinating a yearly, national conference
  • have a secondary goal of supporting local chapters.
  • have a tertiary goal of being a centralised point for resources

Supporting local chapters and acting as a centralised point were discussed at the original meeting.

Small Group

Keeping the A3 board small will keep it easy to co-ordinate and should remove some of the burocracy. The downside of a small board is that they’ll be kept pretty busy. I really don’t want to create a large, beurocratic, unwieldy beast.

A National Conference

This is a lot of effort but also has very big rewards. The benefits of having a national conference are:

  • it gives our community a place to congregate for learning and networking. Without it we are an uncollected group of local communities which would make it harded to achieve larger goals. We have a lot of very talented individuals in Australia and we should be proudly showcasing them. Agile Australia 09 and Agile 09 were two of my favourite events because it humanised my community. Sure, I’ve interacted with them over mailing lists, but meeting someone and having a face-to-face discussion is much more rewarding.
  • gives us a forum to introspect over the past year and set goals for the upcoming year for our community.
  • it is a lot of fun – surely that counts!

Support Local Chapters

The local communities have lots of advantages.

  • They are natural congregation points.
  • They *are* the agile community
  • They should already be talking about what agile is and how it is evolving.

A3 should not look to replace these groups, but should look to augment and encourage them.

Centralised Point for Resources

At the very least I think the A3 should provide a central Australian point for discussing local issues. This can be done very simply with a mailing list/google group (like this one!) and perhaps a wiki. I would see us central point for visiting and local agile enthusiasts to find out what is going on and get in touch with their local chapters. I don’t see a mailing list for this group replacing other, more authoritative lists, such as Ken Schwabers yahoo mailing list (just to pick one off the top of my head).

Money, Money, Money

It depends on how we want to run this thing but I can see money being kinda useful! The two big items are support for local chapters and running a national conference.

Have a pool of cash would allow A3 to support the local chapters so they can put on some food at a local event, hire a venue or buy other sorts of expenses (I’m not in favour of purchasing assets such as equipment, books, video cameras, etc).

The other advantage to having money is that we could properly co-ordinate a national conference. Up front money is needed to hire a venue and get the conference ball rolling and I think it is unreasonable for an individual to be out of pocket for that sort of expense (even if it *theoretically* only temporary).

How do you get money? Sponsorship? Membership? They all have their pros and cons. I’m in favour of charging a corporate membership fee (but not for individuals). This way corporates can show their support of Agile community and we get some money for it. Most likely a corporate would use their support as a way of validating to their customers they are serious about agile in Australia.  This is only slightly different to the original discussion.

If we feel that individual paid memebership is deemed useful, then I’d like it to get members a discount to the national conference.

I’m expecting this to be the most controversial part of my proposal.

What is shouldn’t be

I’d like to note what I do not thing the A3 should be:

  • only a group of large corps – I’d hate the only way to get represenation on the board to be via a large corp that doesn’t speak to individual’s interests
  • a certification body

Relationship to *the* Agile Alliance

I see A3 as an entirely separate entity to the Agile Alliance. It may be useful for both groups to have reciprocal benefits, but in their essence they are separate bodies with no jurisdictional overlap.

Why and what now?

If we don’t act now I’m worried that a non grass root group will claim to be a centralised body. I don’t want an unauthentic body being set up to dilute what “I” think an agile body should be.

Rich Durnall has setup a meeting of the Melbourne Chapter of A3 and some of these topics are coming to the surface. I’m going to be at the meeting on Tuesday to talk through my proposal. At the moment it is all booked out (120 people have signed up).


This is my vision of what I think A3 should be. I’m ready and waiting for you feedback. Let’s co-orinate the feedback over on the A3 mailing list.

*1 – I thought A3 sounded better than AAA

Agile 2009

Posted in General on September 2nd, 2009 by mark – Be the first to comment

About four months ago we realized that Agile Bench was going to be ready at around the same time as Agile 2009 so I booked my tickets and then hunkered down to get a minimum viable product (MVP) in order to collect feedback from the elite of the agile world. I was truely lucky to meet so many amazing people and attend some tremedous talks.

The keynotes from Alistair Cockburn (“I Come to Bury Agile, Not to Praise It“) and Jared Spool (“The Dawning of the Age of Experience”) were fantastic and I hope they’ve been recorded for everyone to see. I spent a lot of time learning how others deal with the entire life cycle of an agile project.

Luke Hohmann’s (Enthiosys) work in the product management space (“Prioritizing for Profit” and “Beyond features: How to listen to your customers and learn what they really need“) and Jim Highsmith’s “Advances in Release Planning” were especially exciting to me. These speakers did an amazing job of reminding the agile community that agile projects are still projects (gasp!).  Planning is often considered a dirty word to agile teams but doesn’t need to be.  When working on a project we are trying to turn assumptions into facts and we use lots of different techniques

are still project that need plans and structure. As the agile community matures it will need to embrase a lighter form of planning and strategy which will allow it to be successful at multiple levels of the organization and not just limited to the delivery groups.

As usual, the people are what makes a conference. Rich Mironov has lots to say about the Scrum Product Owner role and the organization role of a Product Manager. Mario Moreira has lots to say on Software Configuration Management (SCM). I ended up having breakfast with a bunch of people including Gerard Meszaros, author of “xUnit Test Patterns: Refactoring Test Code” who was just a generally nice guy. I was lucky enough to have lunch and hang out with with Ola Ellnestam and Henrik Kniberg (“Scrum and XP from the Trenches“) who were a bunch of fun. There are so many others Cory Foy, Jurgen Appelo, Steve Hayes, Erik Petersen, Gabino Roche, Lisa Crispin, Abby Fichtner (Hacker Chick), Craig Smith, Esther Derby and many, many more.

Yellow Lab in Desktop Magazine

Posted in General on March 19th, 2009 by mark – Be the first to comment

desktop_coverMatthew Magain from Desktop magazine wrote an article about the work we are doing at Sensis in the Yellow Lab project of which I’m the technical lead. The Lab‘s purpose it to explore new business models, user experiences and technologies and the article goes on to talk about the things we’ve done.

We are honored that Desktop Magazine thought highly enough of our work to showcase us. Thanks to Matt and the whole desktop team.

Go on, try out Yellow Lab.

My WordPress install was hacked – oh no!

Posted in General on February 3rd, 2009 by mark – 3 Comments

My WordPress 2.6.1 install was hacked a few weeks ago and it was serving up advertisments for all kinds of dubious products. I noticed this because my friends were telling me that FireFox had marked my site as malware. Great. 50% of the people I polled got the error when checking out my site. I dug into the page source from the browser and found a long list of links to other peoples WordPress blogs like (I’m going to use a link to my blog instead) “<a style=”display: none” href=””>Discount viagra</a>” – oh no, my site is compromised.

What happened

The attack inserts content into your WordPress database as RSS links. When your blog is rendered the RSS links are inserted into the middle of your page with CSS telling the browser to hide the display of the links. This way the malware content can be indexed by search engines but doesn’t show up to normal readers. I’m assuming with many sites compromised and all linking to each other for legitimate sites that the links would rise to the top of your search engines results – a malware networks. I’m not sure if it worked, but it is annoying.

Physical side effects

There were three side effects

  • links to malware appeared in the middle of my pages
  • iframes to malware appeared after the closing html tag on all of my pages (PHP and html)
  • a new wp_options record was created that held the RSS content. The content of this record were json(?)/serialized links to other compromised sites

The fix

I think this vunerability was cleaned up in WordPress 2.6.5, but I’m not sure as I can’t find anyone else talking about this issue.

What I did was:

  • looked at the source of my wordpress page and found the links to other sites. They are pretty obvious as there is a really, really long line with words like viagra, soma, etc… let’s assume it was ‘soma’ (and I’ve got a feeling that doesn’t mean South Of MArket)…
  • log into my database (mysqladmin or mysql client) and look in the wp_options table
> select * from wp_options where option_value like "%soma%" \G;      /* where 'soma' is the malware word I found on the page source */
  • remove the record
> delete from wp_options where option_value like "%soma%";
  • reinstalled WordPress (I just upgraded to 2.7 at DreamHost, who move the directory aside anyway)
  • reinstalled all Plugins/Themes for their original source


The problem seems to have gone away. This is going to make me much more diligent with minor upgrades to my site. This has cause me a lot of pain. I’m going to email everyone who links to my site with this exploit in the hope that we can slowly stamp it out. Please pass on the message.

Note: I didn’t document these activities as I went along, and my memory is a bit vague on this so I’m writing the solution from memory. Please add comments to clarify anything that I’ve got wrong or missed.

Removing non-english characters

Posted in General on December 14th, 2008 by mark – Be the first to comment

Like many workplaces we have lots of info stored in spreadsheets.  In my case we have a spreadsheet that we need to import into a database which, in the simple case, is pretty straight forward.  But in this spreadsheet there are non-English characters.  You know the ones, e acute (é) for café and rockdots for the hardcore Motörhead fans.  For my purposes I need to convert these into their English equivalent as I’m trying to represent user input. It should be no surprise that English speakers do not enter é when they are looking for cafes.  The process of making these changes is called transliteration and I don’t want to do it manually.

Enter iconv

iconv is an awesome piece of software which converts character strings from one character encoding to another.  iconv also has transliteration built in.  This will allow me to convert those fancy foreign “cafés” into bog standard “cafes”.

$ echo 'café numero uno' | LC_ALL=fr_FR.UTF-8 iconv -t ASCII//TRANSLIT
cafe numero uno

In this example I set the locale to be French using a shell environment variable of LC_ALL then let iconv do it’s magic.

Microsoft Excel

My source dataset is in Excel 2003 format and I need to load this spreadsheet into PostgreSql in ASCII format (even though my db is in UTF-8 – remember that I’m trying to emulate user input).  If you export you spreadsheet in CSV format you lose all that nice non-English encoding and iconv will have nothing to work with.  Instead I export as Unicode Text (_File, Save As..,  Save as type: Unicode Text (*.txt)_) and scp it up to my linux development box.  Once there I can check it’s type by issuing a:

$ file test_cases.txt
test_cases.txt: Little-endian UTF-16 Unicode English character data, with CRLF, CR line terminators

The file is now a tab delimited text file and I want a CSV (comma separated) file.

Putting it all together

The final steps are to transliterate the file to ASCII and then convert the text file to a CSV.  I’ll use sed to translate tabs (\t) into commas. This line does the trick:

LC_ALL=fr_FR.UTF-8 iconv -t ASCII//TRANSLIT -f UTF-16 test_cases.txt | sed -e 's/\t/,/g' > test_cases.csv

There are more ways to get this stuff wrong than you can point a stick at, so I’ll put a disclaimer right here to say that this works for me just fine! :)