30 July 2015

Brazil's Latest Fad: Coloring Books for Adults

Brazil has a reputation for samba, soccer and beaches. It's also known for poverty, crime and corruption. One aspect of Brazilian culture that often eludes outsiders is fads. More than anything I ever experienced in the United States, the attention span and interest of the Brazilian people is as brief as it is intense.

In the late 1990s a soap opera set in late 19th century Brazil glorified the lives of Italian settlers. The program's name was "Terra Nostra," and it led to a flurry of shops and products with some variation of "terra" and "nostra" in the name. A few years later, when I first made my home in Brazil, another soap opera came on called "O Clone." Part of the story was set in modern-day Morocco. Naturally, belly dancing became all the rage. Soap operas exert enormous cultural influence in Brazil, driving many trends and fads. If there's a pop song you can't seem to escape because it's playing everywhere there, you can be almost certain it's part of the soundtrack for a current telenovela.

Other fads are fairly inexplicable. In 2002-2003 it became commonplace to see teen girls wearing pin-back buttons all over their jackets and/or backpacks. I have no idea where the fad came from, but shops all over were selling the buttons, sporting everything from national flags to images of cannabis and popular bands. Then, just as quickly as it started, the fad passed.

In recent years Brazil has made great strides in reducing illiteracy, but it has made precious little headway in creating a culture of literacy. People don't have the reading habit as they do in the United States, perhaps for lack of good reading material, but more likely because it hasn't been instilled from childhood in Brazil as it has in the U.S. Runs of books in Brazil rarely go over 10,000. Most do well to sell half that. There is one type of book that's gaining ground, at least temporarily, in Brazil: the coloring book.

Specifically, coloring books for adults are experiencing great success. As someone who used a coloring book to 'de-stress' at one point in life, I can appreciate the value people see in them. During my last full-time ministry I suffered a lot of anxiety. Pressures of family and the faith community were a bit much for me, and ultimately I learned that a lot of this had to do with systemic ills in the congregation (and a few bullies). In any event, coloring in a children's book helped me relax. I also took up baking around the same time.

Watching the report below, though, it's impossible for me to believe that this new trend in Brazil is anything more than a fad. I don't give it even a year.

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29 July 2015

28 July 2015

A Very Brief Introduction to User Story Mapping

In a recent role I implemented Agile practices with a startup's development team. I've already blogged about the situation I faced there with insistence that I both track individual team member velocity and provide 'release notes' instead of a proper Sprint Review/Demo Meeting. Another point of contention was that of the 'Epic,' something we never got quite right because the product manager kept giving us complete requirements and designs but no user stories, as though we were still working in Waterfall. The Epic is important in Agile planning, particularly when a User Story Map is involved. I'll be showing here the basic steps to creating a solid User Story Map.

First, it needs to be understood that a User Story Map places a set of user stories into 2 dimensions. These are Sequence and Priority. At the very top of this structure is the Epic.

An epic is an activity that is fairly large, such as "Request a Free Sample" (what the last company I worked with did). That could also be phrased as a user story as well, such as: "As a member, I want to be able to request a free sample." On the Epic level I'm not certain there's much need for employing the user story format.

Next, we need to think about themes. A theme is a step in the workflow necessary to accomplish the ends of the Epic. Stories that correspond to each step should be prioritized beneath each one. For example, under the "Request a Free Sample" Epic we could find the following themes
  • Sample Search
  • Shopping Cart Options
  • Checkout Options
  • Feedback Options
“Request a Free Sample" is the Epic, Epic is further broken down into a handful of themes, such as “Sample Search” and “Feedback Options.”

Beneath each theme the user stories must be arranged in order of priority. Those nearest the top represent the MVP and are considered most important to implement first. The further down the list, the lesser the priority. It is important to note that this is not the project or release plan, but rather a visual representation of the stories with their assigned priority (as determined by the product owner).

This was a very simple explanation of User Story Mapping. Although I've found blog posts and articles online that help explain it in more depth, I have yet to locate a quality video that runs through the steps to creating a User Story Map. If anyone happens to know of a good one, please let me know in the comments, or else via the contact form on this blog.

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27 July 2015

Hossein Derakhshan on The Web We Have to Save

Hossein Derakhshan's blogging got him into trouble in Iran. So much so that he did 6 years in jail. After being released unexpectedly, he turned to the Internet to resume his activities. What he discovered was that in Internet time, those several years away were more like a century. In the post below, he shares in detail the differences as well as the danger he perceives to the Internet. It could be argued that he's simply against the unfamiliar, having been left behind as progress marched on. There may be something to that, but it also seems to me that in his haunting prose there is a warning that should be heeded.
The Web We Have to Save

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26 July 2015

The Paths 5 Religions Took to Spread Around the World

The video below illustrates the way 5 belief systems became 'world religions.' It's a little strange to watch, as it gives the impression these religions were spreading into a void and that there is homogeneity in the regions where they dominate.

Judaism, for example, looks terribly isolated from the outset, but in fact it arose from the Israelite religion that was deeply related to the religious beliefs of surrounding nations. It's fairly unique innovation in being a strictly monotheistic religion came about relatively late in comparison with what the Bible suggests, finding roots in the reform under Judah's king Hezekiah, and distilled through the Babylonian Captivity.

Further, the regions into which these religions spread were normally already populated to some extent by people with their own ideas, and within the major religions themselves there are various sects, denominations and cults.

It's an interesting video, nonetheless.
This animated map shows how religion spread across the world.
This animated map shows how religion spread across the world.
Posted by Business Insider on Monday, July 13, 2015

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24 July 2015

Ash vs Evil Dead

When I was in college in the late 90s, my friends and I stumbled across "Evil Dead 2" at a local video store (remember those?). We watched it, laughing all the way through. While I've never seen the original Evil Dead, I've watched Army of Darkness a few times (it's always on cable somewhere). So it came as good news to hear that a new series, "Ash vs Evil Dead," will be debuting this Halloween. Check out the trailer below. It's pretty great.

The man, the myth and the chainsaw return in the official trailer for the STARZ Original Series Ash vs Evil Dead, premiering this Halloween.
Posted by Ash vs Evil Dead on Friday, July 10, 2015

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Avengers of Oz: Age of Tin Man