Vita Rara: A Life Uncommon

2007: A Retrospective


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Personal Life

Sylva and I got married on April 28. It's been a real whirl wind since then. We are expecting our first child on April 1, 2008. My time with Sylva is special and precious. I have a great partner, and look forward to raising a family together.

Overall business issues have dominated this year. I doubt that will be that case next year.

Business

It was a hard business year, but prospects for the future look good.

Quadran

Quadran has arrived. About 63,000 lines of Groovy, Java and JSP, with some XML files to wire it all together, and it's up and running. We turned on our first Quadran installation on December 5, 2007. This was the culmination of a process that began with an initial meeting in September of 2004, and the consummation of the development agreement in July of 2006.

The completion of this first phase of Quadran caps a long process for me. In July of 2003 I left my last job at 5points.net and started Vita Rara in January of 2004. Our first Quadran client has been working with me since my time with 5points.net. With the deployment of Quadran I am no longer working with any systems I was involved with from 5points.net. Now all of my clients are running systems that were either installed by Vita Rara, such as Drupal websites, or complete creations of Vita Rara, such as MORI and Quadran. So, with the deployment of Quadran Vita Rara now stands on a foundation of its own making. It's been a long necessary transition.

Quadran overall has been a serious challenge, my estimate of the effort and time required to complete the first version of Quadran were woefully low. I wasn't off by 100%, but I was close. I estimated an initial effort of 12 man months, and the project ended up taking about 20 man months. It never ceases to amaze me how hard software project estimation is. Maybe someday I'll be better at them, but in the mean time I'm not doing any more fixed cost work. I'd rather turn down a project than have the cost overruns I've experienced since starting Vita Rara.

MORI

In 2007 we completed two deliveries of MORI, to the Grand Chapter Order of Eastern Star of New York, and the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin AF&AM. Additionally the Grand Lodges of Freemasons of Massachusetts, North Carolina and Ohio have signed on to get a MORI system. We will be starting the first phases of roll out for these three great jurisdictions in early 2008.

Scrum, Scrum Player and Software as a Service

This past year we have started to adopt Scrum as a project management methodology. As our products move toward maturity we have found the need for a more formal methodology agreeable to ourselves and our clients. Scrum seems to be the fit for us.

Our adoption of Scrum has fit well with another decision, to move in to Software as a Service following the great model of services like Salesforce.com; and particular the guys at 37signals and their great collection of light weight online applications.

Our first software as a service offering will be an online system for managing projects using the Scrum methodology. Stay tuned for more over the next few months.

Masonicapedia

Another personal and business project of mine is a project to create a national research database for the George Washing Masonic Memorial. This research database will allow the member Grand Lodges of The Memorial to present raw data on the records of their deceased members going back to the founding of Freemasonry in North America. Additionally the database will include lodge histories and articles of general interest about Freemasonry.

The working name for this project is Masonicapedia. The first show and tell of the system will take place at the Conference of Grand Masters in North American in Louisville, KY in February 2008.

Struts 2, Groovy, Ruby, and Ruby on Rails

Over the past year I have been immersed in the usage of Struts 2 and Groovy on the Quadran project. I must say the combination works well. In 21 man months myself and one other developer delivered a working system. The system we replaced written in Java using an older web framework took nearly three times as many man months to build and deploy. Although some of the savings can be imputed to faster machines, the lions share of it I believe is directly attributable to the productivity possible with Struts 2 and particularly the freedom of expression and decreased line count possible using Groovy, a powerful dynamic language.

This experience using a dynamic language has greatly changed my view on the subject and lead to my again looking into Ruby and Ruby on Rails, and my decision to adopt Ruby on Rails for our upcoming projects, Masonicapedia, Scrum Player, and other Software as a Service offerings in our pipeline.

Here's to 2008

All in all, a tough, but a good year. I look forward to the challenges both personal, and professional the new year will bring.