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Scientific American Mind discusses The Science of Team Success

14 Jun 2007

In the June/July 2007 issue of Scientific American Mind, there is an article titled, The Science of Team Success, which discussed some findings from a recent review of research literature on teams.

“We recently reviewed the past 50 years of research literature on teams and identified factors that characterize the best collaborations. It turns out that what team members think, feel and do provide strong predictors of team success—and these factors also suggest ways to design, train and lead teams to help them work even better.”

Our team recently refactored our ways of collectively sharing what we learn with each other. This comes after a brief period, where our individual knowledge of new information was increasing, but shared knowledge amongst the team wasn’t. As a team, we were making wrong assumptions that everyone was spending enough individual time, learning about new techniques for doing the work that we do.

Assumptions are bad.

Once we realized that there wasn’t enough shared understanding of a few steps of our Design and Development process, we had to quickly evaluate how information was being distributed to all team members. Through this discovery, we’re now encouraging all members of our teams to have more open discussions about new ways of solving problems. While it’s up to the individual to ask questions when they don’t understand things, it’s also up to the team to approach individuals when they see something that isn’t consistent.

Everyone is a mentor. Everyone is a student. Everyone is a team member.

“A 1995 experiment by psychologist Diane Wei Liang, then at the University of Minnesota, psychologist Richard L. Moreland of the University of Pittsburgh and Linda Argote, professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University, nicely demonstrated how team members benefit from their collective knowledge when they learn together.”

While our team is far from perfect, we’re finding that our productivity levels have increased as we’ve become better at learning together. As we continue to evolve and grow our team, we’re seeking those that will add more value to our team, not just those who might consider themselves the next Ruby on Rails Rockstar.

Rely on the team, not the individual.

So, if you’re in the process of designing (or redesigning) a team, you should definitely “read this article”:":http://www.sciammind.com/article.cfm?articleID=D9058A4E-E7F2-99DF-36023504D1E43BD6.

Building Better Teams
Scanned from Scientific American Mind June/July 2007

Also, if you’re an excellent team player and feel like you flourish as an Interaction Designer or Rails Developer in a team-focued environment, introduce yourself.

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Article

High time for Highrise

13 Jun 2007

Earlier today, 37signals, posted an article, which referenced an in-depth review of Highrise by Robby. This review has various tips for getting started with Highrise, and how our team has integrated it into our internal workflow. We’ve been able to use a little GTD along with the Mail.app Act-On plugin to painlessly keep track of our new inquiries.

After trying many other products, none of which ever met our needs, Highrise has become a major fixture in our process for sales, contact management and networking. Also, Basecamp recently received a little spit and polish to give both products a common look and feel, which has made the integration all the more seamless.

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Article  |  Studio

Meteorites: Wheel in the Sky Keeps on Turning

11 Jun 2007

Watch this Wine Evangelist

“Gary has been sharing his passion for wine with daily online videos where he sniffs, slurps, and spits wine all the while imparting wit and wisdom about wine (and about the New York Jets).”

E-mail is not a platform for design

“E-mail is not a platform for design. Unlike the web, which also started as an exchange medium for text messages but which benefited from the inclusion of images and other media, e-mail works best when used for its original purpose, as the most basic of content exchange systems.”

How to hire the best people you’ve ever worked with

“…I like hiring people who haven’t done the specific job before, but are determined to ace it regardless.”

How Bad Design Increases Business

“The web is a marketplace. When people stopped respecting the rules of the market it crashed. They put priority on getting users with no revenue stream. They put priority on fancy trinkets of websites that didn’t produce income or even have a business model. That was Web 1.0 bubble.”

Hacking Firefox: The secrets of about:config

“…many of Firefox’s settings aren’t exposed through the Tools > Options menu; the only way to change them is to edit them manually. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most useful Firefox settings that you can change on your own and that aren’t normally available through the program’s graphical interface.”

Hot for Features

“Instead of the engineering specs, design and marketing have to work together to figure out what the story of the product is, how all the features fit together into a unified product that can be sold and enjoyed. We don’t need to sell simplicity any more than we should sell complexity. We need to sell — and design — products that are useful, usable, and desirable.”

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Article  |  Misc

Portland Revealed: Episode 5: Places to Work

16 May 2007

Let’s face it, there is always work to be done… and if you find yourself in need of a table, a chair, and some free wifi, be sure to check out some of our favorite spots.

Cafés and coffee shops

  • Urban Grind – There are two in town, and while we prefer the one in NE, the location in the Pearl is easier to get to and not crawling with kids. The NE spot, however, is bigger and they have extension cords running throughout. The coffee is decent, and they do have some food options. The NE location is open until 4pm, and in the Pearl you can stay until 9pm through Saturday, and 7pm on Sunday.
  • Costello’s Travel Caffe – Costello’s may be small, but it is one of my favorite places in town to do a bit of work. The coffee is good, the food is tasty, and the music is almost always excellent. Plus, they have these wonderful flat screen tvs showing scenes from the day’s chosen cities. They are open Thursday, Friday and Saturday until 10pm and Sunday from 9-5.
  • World Cup – Be sure to check out the World Cup at the Ecotrust building in the Pearl (also home to Hot Lips Pizza, yum) for good coffee and free wifi. There is outdoor seating as well. I haven’t been there, but I have heard that the NW 18th location has more outlets.

Late night hacking?

  • Nob Hill Pharmacy Cafe – Located on NW 21st, Pharmacy is probably Portland’s favorite 24 hour coffee shop. There is lots of seating to be found, but it does fill up quick. When you are done working, there are bars aplenty, in nearly every direction. I recommend the Zesty Cucumber martini at Bartini just next door.
  • Backspace – Backspace is one of my favorite places is Portland, and not because it’s right around the corner from the office. Backspace is open until 2am, for you night owls. If you read our last installment of Portland Revealed, you will know that this is one spot to grab a Viso Vigor. Easy to get to by bus, but be warned, our neighborhood is currently a construction site. Don’t let that stop you from checking out Backspace, though. Hey, and if you need a break from work, head over to Ground Kontrol for some old (and some new) school arcade games. Want a glass of wine while you work, two doors down is Someday Lounge, a great new bar brought to you by the Backspace brothers and then some. It is easily one of my favorite bars in Portland.
  • Fireside Lodge – The Fireside may not be ideal, but they are open 24 hours and it is usually a little less crowded than Pharmacy. The service is usually friendly, and the coffee is okay (but not great).

Your office away from the office

  • Cubespace – Site of Portland’s first Barcamp, I had the chance to check out Cubespace last weekend. In fact, it was my first experience working in a cube, and while it may not be ideal for an everyday sort of thing, the space was pretty great for what I needed. Rent a cube for $10/hour or $40/day. They even have a soda fountain serving RC Cola and a cheerio/m&m dispenser.
  • Souk – I haven’t been to Souk, which is right down the street from our office, but I know they are similar to Cubespace. I believe the desks are not cubed in, which means a little less privacy, but certainly less distractions than a coffee shop. Souk’s hotdesks are available for $10/hour.

Coding in the sunshine

  • Pioneer Courthouse Square – Want to sit in the sun and work? Head down to Pioneer Courthouse Square (right on the MAX line), where you can enjoy being surrounded by downtown Portland and get free wifi.
  • Couch Park – One of several Portland parks that has free wifi, though I can’t say I have tested it. Couch Park is in the lovely NW neighborhood with coffee, tea, and bars all nearby. Couch Park is also near a bus line, so it is easy to get to.

Not enough?

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Article  |  Misc

Portland Revealed: Episode 4: Stay Awake During RailsConf

16 May 2007

It was just two years ago that I discovered local beverage company, Viso (Visoda at the time), makers of the popular Vigor energy drink. It has since become a staple in the PLANET ARGON offices.

“Its cheaper than a mocha, has more caffeine, and has vitamins so I don’t end up in catatonic state after coding for 20 hours straight.” — Alain Bloch, Rails Developer, PLANET ARGON

Organically sweet, available at our neighborhood coffee shop (and most nearby markets and grocers), and chocked full of caffeine. 300mg, to be precise. You read that right, 300! According to the bottle sitting on my desk, that is the equivalent of 3 cups of coffee. But don’t worry, it’s all organic, so it’s good for you… right? ;-)

Great Wall of Viso

Viso beverages taste great and are nothing like regular energy drinks. They’re sweet (but not too sweet), non-carbonated, and full of vitamins. You can also get a sugar free version, called Will. Non-caffeinated varieties available too. You’ll likely see me wandering the conference floors with one in my hand.

Where to get Viso?

  • Order online (website designed by Portland locals, Needmore Designs)
  • Backspace (where we often buy it.. 1/2 block away from our office)
  • Several smaller markets (think that 7-11 is carrying it now too)
  • Bars (some bars now make Vigor-based hard drinks!)
    As you can see, we take our Viso drinking… very seriously.

Alain gets desperate

Consider this a friendly tip from the locals, if you need a little pick me up that you can carry around in your bag, grab yourself a Vigor and join the ranks of the Portland caffeinated.

“Viso makes me feel alive again!” — Chris Griffin, User Interface Design, PLANET ARGON

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Article  |  Misc

Portland Revealed: Episode 3: Get outdoors

11 May 2007

In Portland Revealed: Episode 1, Gary gave a quick overview of some of Portland’s finer points. In this episode, we’ll go into more detail about some of the things to do outside while at the conference. We know at least a few of you are planning on spending a few days before and/or after the conference soaking up the city and surrounding areas that wanted to explore the lovely outdoor parts of Portland.

It’s springtime in Portland and the weather has been great the past few weeks for lacing up your boots, running or walking shoes up and hitting the paths. We’ve kept this list to places within the city limits and easy to get to for conference goers.

Hit the (dirt) trails at Forest Park

It would a crime to not begin this list with Forest Park, Portland’s pride and joy. As Gary mentioned in Episode 1, Forest Park is the largest, forested natural area within city limits in the United States. Since many of you will be taking advantage of our excellent public transportation system, you can actually get to several trails via Tri-Met, both the MAX and by bus.

You could spend days wandering around all of the trails here. A few of us at PLANET ARGON have been known to go hiking and running around Forest Park in the afternoons/early evenings after a nice, long day of working with Ruby on Rails.

Gary running through Forest Park
Gary Blessington, Director of Design and Development at PLANET ARGON, seen running through Forest Park earlier this week with his dogs

For more information about Forest Park, visit Friends of Forest Park.

Pound the pavement at Waterfront Park

Just a quick jaunt from the conference center and you’ll find yourself at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, on the Willamette River (pronounced wil-LAM-met). If you are a runner, try the waterfront run for an breezy 2.5 miles, which takes you down waterfront park, across the Hawthorne Bridge, up the Eastbank Esplanade, and back across the steel bridge. For more information and directions, visit here.

Waterfront Park
Waterfront Park

If it’s sunny out, Waterfront Park also makes for a great place to lounge on the grass with a good book.

Climb your way up to Mt. Tabor Park

If you make it farther into SE Portland, you might head over to Mt. Tabor Park, which sits atop an extinct volcano cinder cone. Don’t worry, we’re not expecting it to come back to life anytime soon, but be sure to check out the cinders “near the peak, where a basketball court and outdoor amphitheater are now situated, part of the cinder cone has been cut away, and is visible to park visitors. The remaining cinders were used to pave the nearby parking lot” (via wikipedia). Mt. Tabor is great for picnics, going for a jog, walking the dog, and getting a nice view of Downtown Portland (but you’ll have to make it to the top for this one). You can take the buses directly there, which makes it very accessible and a favorite among the locals.

Mt. Tabor
View of Downtown Portland from Mt. Tabor

Take a stroll through Washington Park

Lastly, for those of you looking for a more leisurely walk though a park packed with extra amenities, make your way to Washington Park in SW Portland. You can get there by bus, or MAX, with the Washington Park MAX station being the deepest transit station in North America, at 260 feet below ground!

Peaceful day
Trails at Washington Park

If the trails aren’t enough to keep you busy, you will not be short of things to do. Washington Park is home to the Oregon Zoo, the World Forestry Center, the Portland Japanese Garden, Hoyt Arboretum, and the International Rose Test Garden, with more than 700 varieties of roses. It’s just about to hit its peak of the season, so all you flower lovers, this is the perfect time! Best of all, the view of downtown from the Rose Garden is stunning, and on a clear day you can get a great view of Mt. Hood.

Feeling brazen?

If you have a lot of free time, check out the 40-Mile Loop and let us know how it is. ;-)

We hope that you all enjoy Portland as much we do!

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Article  |  Misc

Portland Revealed: Episode 2: Beertown

10 May 2007

RailsConf 2007 is just over a week away, and we have been asking ourselves “what should any new visitor to Portland know when they arrive?” Our answer? Where to get a pint (or three) of good Portland beer. In this second episode of Portland Revealed, we’re going to help you find some of the best beer in town.

Many of you might not know that Portland has more local breweries than any other city in the world. In fact, just a few months ago, Tom Potter, Mayor of Portland, dubbed Portland (also known as the City of Roses) Beertown. “According to the Oregon Brewers Guild, no matter where you are in Portland, you’re never more than 15 minutes from a craft brewery.” Oregon consumes more local craft beer than any other state in the country. 11% of the beer guzzled in Oregon is local, where the national average is only 3.5%! There is no doubt that we Oregonians (natives and transplants alike), love us some good local beer, and we think you’ll love our beer too!

Full sail

While in Portland, we suggest you take some time to get acquainted with our city’s beer options. We thought we’d help you get started by sharing some of our favorite spots (and most offer free wifi).

McMenamin’s – A Portland staple, McMenamin’s can’t be overlooked. Our favorites spots for just a beer are The White Eagle and Ringler’s Annex. For beer, pizza and movies, check out Kennedy School in NE (the theater has sofas!) and the Bagdad theater on Hawthorne. Be sure to try their Ruby ale… and if you are feeling particularly Portlandish… ask for a Rubinator.

Laurelhurst – Another great beer, pizza, and movies spot on 28th and E Burnside.

Tugboat – Just around the corner from PAHQ, jvoorhis was the first to recommend this spot and it’s Alain’s favorite. Feeling brave? Try the Chernobyl Stout.

New Old Lompoc – great outside patio in NW Portland, though this place gets packed pretty quickly on a sunny day. I am all about the Centennial IPA, "a classic Northwest IPA. Nicely balanced and easy drinking with all the hop flavors that Portlanders insist on.

Rogue – Wouldn’t be a list of Portland beer without Rogue.

Bridgeport – They claim to be the oldest craft brew in Oregon, and certainly shouldn’t be overlooked.

Widmer Brothers – Want to drink Robby style? Order a Hefeweizen with lemon!

Moon and Sixpence – If you’re just looking for a good English Pub to get a pint, Gary suggests the Moon and Sixpence in NE Portland, which is where he meets his fellow ex-pats meet to discuss the latest in the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United.

Laurelwood – Two locations, though we recommend the one in NW (unless you like a more family style atmosphere). They also have good food. Yum!

A Roadside Attraction – You might not guess it from driving by, but Daniel swears by this spot for a pint and a patio. Plus, it’s non-smoking.

Lucky Lab – this is where PDX.rb meets after monthly meetings. There are several locations, but our favorite is the original on Hawthorne. If you’re feeling in the mood for a pint of beer and a cookie, this is the spot!

Beer and Cookie

A Pint at PDX?

Want to start your visit to Portland off right? Grab a pint at PDX at one of three spots. And remember, free wifi at the airport. Portland knows it’s priorities. ;-)

Other Beer Resources (Beersources?)

If you are interested in grabbing a beer with some of us during the conference, stop by our IRC channel or contact us on our site (select “RailsConf Meetup” for the inquiry reason).

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Article

The Business of Rails

8 May 2007

As Portland prepares for an influx of Rails enthusiasts, Robby is getting warmed up for the Business of Rails panel, where he will be joined by other Rails business leaders to talk about what it takes to be a successful Rails consultant.

For those of you in the Czech Republic, be sure to catch up with Robby at Ostrava on Rails in June, where he will be making a Business Case for Rails.

Not going to make it to Portland or Ostrava? No need to feel left out, Robby has promised a series of blog posts, also titled a Business Case for Rails.

Last, but not least, check out Robby’s comment in Sun sets its sights on Web 2.0 start-ups
.

Ruby on Rails has been considered a major threat to the Java community for quite awhile,” said Robby Russell, executive director of Planet Argon, a developer of community and social networking Web sites in Portland. Sun has now developed J Ruby, which lets Ruby applications run on top of Java. And the theme of JavaOne this year is “Open Possibilities.”

It’s a beautiful day in Portland, let’s hope the sun stays around for all of you heading our way.

Spring is here!

We look forward to talking with you about the Business of Rails.

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Article

Coming Soon: Boxcar for Rails business hosting

8 May 2007

It’s been year since I announced our Rails Business Hosting, and it has been a popular hosting choice for many of our customers. We’ve been hard at work designing a new hosting service, which aims to provide you with even more privacy, more guaranteed resources, and better options for scaling your Rails application as your business grows.

In the coming weeks, the PLANET ARGON team will introduce Boxcar, an exciting new hosting service that has been designed, developed, and fine-tuned over the past several months.

In the meantime, check out the new Boxcar site, launched this morning by our designer in residence, Chris Griffin. Sign up on our mailing list to be one of the first to find out when this new service is available for public consumption. You can also stay tuned to our blog, as we’ll be posting more updates over the coming days and weeks as we prepare for our launch!

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Article  |  Misc

Rails the #1 technology to know in 2007?

19 Mar 2007

Earlier today, ComputerWorld published an article that lists what they believe are The Top Five Technologies You Need to Know About in ’07. In this article they list the following.

Five Hot Technologies for 2007

  1. Ruby on Rails – Faster, easier Web development
  2. NAND drives -Bye-bye, HDD?
  3. Ultra-Wideband – 200x personal-area networking
  4. Hosted hardware – Supercomputing for the masses
  5. Advanced CPU architectures – Penryn, Fusion and more

That’s right! You might have noticed that ComputerWorld has named Ruby on Rails, our development framework of choice, as the top technology to know about in 2007!

“Equal parts design philosophy and development environment, Rails offers developers a few key code-level advantages when constructing database-backed Web applications. One of the central tenets emphasizes using less code for application development by avoiding redundancy and following Rails conventions. This means increased performance and, ideally, decreased development times.”

It’s great to see that the technology that we decided to adopt over two years ago is still making big headlines!

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Article  |  Studio

Meteorites: Let's get this party started

12 Mar 2007

5 mistakes your company blog should avoid.

“Blogs are about people talking with other people – not a time for corporate speak. Dull, dull, dull. Show some passion about what you do. Engage your reader – don’t write at them.”

A Roundup for “Developers, Developers, Developers…

“…a compilation of products that developers may find useful.”

Clear Blogging: How People Blogging Are Changing the World and How You Can Join Them

“Almost overnight, blogging has become a social, political, and business force to be reckoned with. Your fellow students, workers, and competitors are joining the blogosphere—and making money, influencing elections, getting hired, growing market share, and having fun—to the tune of 8,000 new bloggers a day.”

Slife

“…a new application for the Mac OS X that lets you visualize and organize your computer activities like never before. Slife observes your every interaction with applications such as Safari, Mail and iChat and keeps tracks of all web pages you visit, emails you read, documents you write and much more.”

Down with titles

“Being at a fairly small company, most everybody plays several different roles that would justify several different titles. Naturally, we all have our primary role, but that only covers about 75% of what each of us does.”

The Arepa Cabal

“The first rule about the Arepa Cabal is that you don’t explain what the Arepa Cabal is.”

Pimpin’ Products Ain’t Easy…

“The act of pimpin’ products, on the other hand, never involves any kind of questionable tactics. Pimpin’ means putting your product’s best foot forward. Accen-tuate the pos-it-ive. It means not shirking from self-promotion, and shouting your product’s position, features and benefits loud and clear.”

Research Is a Method, Not a Methodology

“Like other tools in the designer’s toolbox, research should be used only when necessary, not applied to every project unthinkingly.”

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Article

Presidents Day 2007

19 Feb 2007

It’s Presidents Day 2007 here in the US and what better way to celebrate than to highlight some of the things our presidents have said? Here are a few of our favorite quotes.

“The thing that’s wrong with the French is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur.” -George W. Bush, via Gary

“I’m an idealist without illusions.” – John F. Kennedy, via Alain

“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” –Thomas Jefferson, via Robby

“People are just about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” -Abraham Lincoln, via Allison

“The world has nothing to fear from military ambition in our Government.” -James K. Polk, via Daniel

“If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.” -John F. Kennedy, via Brian

What are some of your favorites?

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Article  |  Misc

Portland Revealed: Episode 1

19 Feb 2007

Although Railsconf is still three months away, people are already planning for what should be a great four days of learning, networking and, of course, fun.

What makes this year’s conference even more special is that it is in our home town of Portland. For those of you who have yet to visit, you’re in for a treat. For a somewhat small city, it certainly has a lot going on. Perhaps the most attractive aspect, to many people like myself, is the abundance of outdoor activities. Having access to countless trails, skiing and more, all within an hour or so drive, makes it a great place to live.

While you may not get time to head out of town to wander around the Gorge, its easy enough to get over to Forest Park, which is a great place for walking, running and cycling. It includes over 5,100 wooded acres making it the largest, forested natural area within city limits in the United States. More than enough space to wander around while you absorb what you learned at the conference.

Bicyclists

Cyclists can rent from various places around town, with Fat Tire Farm being the closest to the park. Its actually on the same road as one of the entrances to a good cycling trail, which can be accessed by heading west on Thurman St. However, they do not take reservations and it is first come, first served. Getting over there from the Convention Center is also very easy, with Portland’s excellent public transport system. Most of the downtown area is covered by a fareless square, which means you can take the Max, for free, over to west Burnside, then catch the 15 bus over to NW 23rd.

We hope you’ll enjoy Portland as much as you enjoy the conference itself!

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Article

t-minus 20... 19...

16 Feb 2007

Once upon a time, a PLANET ARGON company blog was neglected and under-used. One brave and diligent hero did work tirelessly to better the blog galaxy with his wit and information, but sadly the blog was taken hostage by spam space-pirates and trackback tyrants. The people of the PLANET blog were weary of the toils… and eventually the PLANET blog was ignored so much that a year and half passed without the sun shining brightly on its surface.

But there is hope for the blog galaxy. Today… a new blog has been born.


Our brave team has decided to give hope back to the blog galaxy and launch a new blog. The team has selected Mephisto as the blogging engine that will run on our much beloved web development framework, Ruby on Rails. Many of us have our own personal and technical blogs, but we wanted to enrich this PLANET by fostering and engaging in an open dialogue with our customers, friends and communities. We hope that this new blog makes PLANET ARGON an even better place to be a part of.

All the employees at PLANET ARGON are suited up in preparation for our quest deep into the blog galaxy… and we hope that you enjoy the ride.

3… 2… 1… blast off.

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