Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Software Estimation with Hours or Story Points in Scrum (aka the Eight Bloodsucking Ticks of Estimation)

Should you estimate with hours or Story Points when starting a scrum?

I've done both here in the great state of Texas and here's my thoughts:

Starting out I always liked hours.  Hours are comfortable, you can understand them, and they are  simple.  How many hours to make that widget?  Seven.  Easy.   You can touch hours, look them up in the dictionary, and explain to your boss what an hour is.  But "hours" have a dark side.

At the beginning of a sprint, we estimated we could work 6 hours a day,  with 2 hours for email and meetings.  How many stories can we put in a sprint?  Well, we've got two weeks, that's six hours times 10 days equals 60 hours of work per developer.

But our estimates were always way low for the work, about half of what they should be.  Frustration mounted as we missed features due to poor estimations.   Slowly, like a rattler sneaking up on a rat,  I realized the problems with estimating in hours.

When estimating hours we miss these eight bloodsucking ticks:

1.  Additional parts of the task we didn't think about.

2.  Some tasks are harder than we thought.

3.  Task Interruptions.  "Hey, I know you are in the middle of a scrum, but production has this huge problem and the big boss says to drop everything and fix it now."

4.  Unexpected tool problems.  At the most inopportune time, your drive will crash, Visual Studio will get corrupted, and the new guy will demolish the entire Git repository.

5.  Too many meetings.

6.  Developers are natural optimists.  "I really can do that in seven hours."

7. Pride.  You don't want to look bad in front of the ScrumMaster (tm)  and other developers, so you estimate low hours.

8. No time for bug fixes.  QA will find bad code, but we don't estimate time for it.

After seeing hours not working well we switched to story points.  How much is a story point worth?  We started with a rough guess of half a day.  (I know story points are suppose to be complexity, but, ... yeah, whatever, we started with two a day).

After a few sprints we got our velocity - about one story point a day - and it worked well.

The magic of story points is that they subsume the 8 Bloodsucking Ticks of Estimation into them.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Tips on Selecting the Lowest Electricity Rates in Texas Using

 Looking for the cheapest electric rates in Texas?  The shocking truth is that it's not easy.
Start by visiting

This will list the "cheapest" plans, but it's not quite that simple.  Companies have hidden costs, like a surcharge if you don't use 1,000 Kilowatt-Hours in a month so you just can't get the lowest price per KWH.

Here's a simple three step strategy for finding the best price for you.

Step 1:  Find out how much electricity you used each month for the last year.
You can find this by looking at your old bills, or, if you have a smartmeter, visit .

Here's my chart from from last year:
And the details

Step 2:  Get the average for the months in these bands:  below 500, 500-1000, 1000-2000, above 2000 KWHs.
I had 9 months between 500 and 1000 KWH with an average of 570 KWH, and 3 months above with an average of 1,100 KWH.

Step 3:  Call the companies with a rating of four and five stars that seem to have the best rates from and ask them to tell you how exactly much a month with your average usage in those bands would be.

(Make sure their numbers include everything except taxes.  Two reps on different days from one company quoted me just the "electric charge", and neglected the $9.99 penalty for not reaching 1,000 KWH in a month until I asked if it included that charge.)

 Then multiple those monthly rates times the number of months in that band to get your yearly cost.

 Here's my spreadsheet.  I had 9 months below 1,000 KWH and 3 above.

Months below
1000 kwh
Months above
1000 kwh

93Annual Cost

Average KWH5701,100

CompanyPhone NumberPlan Name

Green Mountain(844) 854-2260Pollution Free Conserve 12 Choice$38.00$67.00$543.00

Discount Power(866) 584-7776Saver 12$45.16$85.00$661.44

Reliant(855) 350-8650Reliant Conservation (SM) 12 plan$45.24$83.77$658.47

Power Express877) 400-0232Sustainable 12$61.00$111.15$882.45

Apt 18$43.00$112.34$724.02

Source Power and Gas(888) 557-0065

TXU(855) 847-6135Discount Texas Choice (12)$75.00$130.00$1,065.00

Smart Discount for 12 months$65.00$86.00$843.00

Mid America(800) 342-3346

Ambit(877) 282-6248Texas select 6 month term$52.85$82.72$723.81

Lone Star Select 6 month$51.14$79.42$698.52

For my usage patterns the best offer I found was from

Step 4: Have someone else do the heavy lifting.  A few options:

A.  Spreadsheet at .  It only works in Excel, and I use a Mac, so I cannot verify if it works, but it does look promising.

B. will tell you the cheapest plan based on their algorithms.  The cost is $35, but can easily save you that money.

C. will also calculate your best plan.  It's free for a while and they will charge money soon.  It's a beautiful website with wonderful graphics and an easy to follow process to get your best rate.
Here's a pic of my results:

Additional notes:
1.  At the web site you can get the exact formula the company uses for the different plans.  I tried to calculated what the customer rep should quote me before calling.

2.  It appears every company in the OnCor  region has to pay OnCor $5.25 base plus
-->$0.036384 per KWH.  Many companies charge a rate for electricity in the different bands, e.g., 7.5 cents for each KWH below 1,000 and 9.2 cents for above 1,000 KWH plus a base charge plus the OnCor charges.Other companies have a "bundled rate" and they roll the OnCor charges into a higher per KWH rate.

3. A good article about the process is at 

Good luck!

Let me know if you find additional helps in picking providers.  I've thought about making a web site to roll all this up into a simple grid.  Would that be helpful to you?

[Update:  As it turns out my cheapest plan was from Gexa Energy, which both and found, but I did not research.  I would have saved about $80 a year if I'd used their advice.]