CSS: Taking control of the cascade

CSS: Taking control of the cascade – by Jason Z. at the always excellent Signal to Noise blog by 37signals – contains the single best articulation I’ve seen on how to implement HTML5 in this example:

We began to see a relationship between our mark-up and the underlying data structure in our app’s models. HTML5’s section came to represent the model, article the individual records. For example:

        <section class="todolists">
            <article class="todolist">
                <header>Launch list</header>
                    <li>Get final sign-off</li>
                    <li>Deploy to production</li>
                    <li>Publish launch post</li>

And, when combined with compiled CSS frameworks like LESS or SASS, your CSS can have the same structure, like this:

article.todolist {
    > header { 
        > h1 {color: red; font-weight: bold;} 
        > a {color: blue;} 
    > ul { 
        margin: 10px 0; 
        padding: 0; 

        > li {font-size: 13px;} 

Note the use of the CSS child selector (>). This selector prevents the cascading of the styles beyond the specific nodes specified. But, I’ve said enough. Go read the article already.


Technical Debt is Something to be Managed

Paul Dyson in Technical Debt and the Lean Startup (via @KentBeck):

In a startup, technical debt is something to be managed, not minimised. We make sure we understand how much debt we have and which bits of the system it affects. We make sure we have the ability to pay down that debt as and when we need to. And, we make sure we work the time and money required to pay down the debt into any timescales or budgets we agree.

The whole piece is great. Worth a read. If I would change anything, I might apply the same thinking more broadly: “Technical debt is something to be managed, not minimised.”


Roles on Agile Teams

Elisabeth Hendrickson, in Testing is a Whole Team Activity:

Testing is an activity. Testers happen to be really good at it. We need testers on Agile teams. But, if we want real agility, we need to see that completing testing as part of the sprint is the responsibility of the whole team, not just the testers.

To which my brain immediately responded:

Programming is an activity. Programmers happen to be really good at it. We need programmers on Agile teams. But, if we want real agility, we need to see that completing programming as part of the sprint is the responsibility of the whole team, not just the programmers.

Thing is, you could put any traditional software development role (e.g. “planner”, “builder”, etc.) into that paragraph and it would work. Try it. It really works.

Kent Beck's Ideal Job Description

From Kent Beck’s Idea Job Description (written as a letter of recommendation 3 years from now):

We brought Kent on board with the premise that he would help our existing and new engineers be more effective as a team. He has enhanced our ability to grow and prosper while hiring at a sane pace.

Sounds like future Kent had fun on that assignment! But, he also tweeted this:

just wrote my ideal job description. now i’m terrified I won’t get it.


Internet Tools for Small Business

I met a small businessman seeking advice regarding his website the other day. After discussing his needs for a few minutes, I discovered several potential pain points with his existing infrastructure. In this post, I’ll describe the problems I saw and dole out some free advice.

What issues did I see?

  • The company was unable to obtain it’s desired .COM domain name; so it purchased the same name under the .NET domain. This would be fine ordinarily. But, it turns out that the .COM domain name actually belongs to another company in the same industry. So, anyone who mistakenly types .COM rather that .NET will end up on the other company’s website.
  • Next, in order to put on a more professional face, the company also purchased a .COM domain for email. Both domains were purchased through the same hosting company. But, the .COM domain is used exclusively for email, while the .NET domain is used for hosting their website. So, now, if someone tries to navigate to the website at the email address on the fellow’s business card, they are presented with a generic “Under Construction” page, rather than their existing web site.
  • Maintaining the existing web site requires technical skills that don’t exist at the company. 
  • Finally, the company’s email system is not meeting their needs. Inboxes are limited to 100 MB, or 80 times less space than GMail. And, large file transfers are particularly problematic.

So, what would I do about these issues?

  1. First things first: Move the web site to the .COM domain and redirect the .NET domain to it. Now, it doesn’t matter which address people use, they’ll end up on the more prestigious .COM domain. That solves both 1 and 2, above. This would likely not cost a dime.
  2. Next, I’d move the site to a content management platform, like WordPress or TypePad, that would allow non-technical staff to make changes to the content of the site without requiring the assistance of a programmer. This might cost a few dollars a month. (I’d also highly recommend redesigning the site in the process, which would cost more than simply porting the existing site, but would pay off in improved retention of customers.)
  3. Third, I’d recommend moving the company’s email over to either Google Apps for Business, or Microsoft Office 365 – both of which can be used with a custom domain name. This would cost $5 (Google) or $6 (Microsoft) a month per user. 4 And, for the extra large file transfers, I’d probably recommend something like Dropbox.com.
  4. I might also recommend transferring the domains to a new DNS host like DNSimple.com, allowing them to turn off their now superfluous web host.
  5. Finally, if the company chose to redesign their web site, I would also recommend a business card redesign, using the same motif as the web site to bring some consistency to the brand. I’ve used Moo.com to do exactly this for Code Gardener.

Yes, these changes will likely raise the cost of the company’s web infrastructure, possibly even by as much as an order of magnitude (from $10 to $100 per month.) But, overall, the administration will be simpler, and they won’t need to hire developers to make simple changes to their website. So, in the long run, the company will likely save money.

Full disclosure: Those links are referrals. If you follow them and sign up for an account, I get Moo Money from Moo, more free space from Dropbox or a month of free service from DNSimple. But, there’s something in it for you, too: Both Dropbox and DNSimple will give you the same thing they give me when you sign up.