Friday, December 30, 2005

Flickr's 2005-Your Single Best Photo Group

Flickr's 2005 "Single Best Photo" group is amazing:

http://flickr.com/groups/2005-yoursinglebestphoto/pool/

Everybody contributes one photo, and the results are amazing.

You know what's really amazing about this? The Flickr 2005-Your Single Best Photo phenomenon was not a result of "Customer Focused Design". The Flickr team didn't sit down and identify top customer scenarios, then prioritize features from 1-10 based on their customers' preferences.

The Flickr team built a lot of cool stuff, and let their users throw stuff against the wall until something stuck.

I think that most of the time, when people talk about how "innovative" a company is, they're really referring to qualities like "cool", "willing to experiment", "willing to do something just because it feels right" - willing to repaint your company web site with a tribute to Rosa Parks, willing to replace your corporate logo with a starry night version on van Gogh's birthday.

The authors of Why Business People Speak Like Idiots recently came to Microsoft to chide us on some of our shortcomings related to the above (namely, lack of personality). Could Flickr's "Single Best Photo" phenomenon have happened at Microsoft? Not as a feature or special project, but as a grassroots occurrence? On Spaces? Messenger?

Would Microsoft connect with their customers and the world by replacing the content on microsoft.com with something heartfelt to honor a death at the spur of a moment?

We dye all of our campus fountains green internally for a launch, yet we're so reluctant to show customers this side of our company. Why?

Campaigns like Start Something are manufactured out of marketing divisions. I'd argue it's time to take a hint, and let our most valuable developers shine through experimenting and bringing cool stuff to the world just because it feels right. But if you were an executive, would you buy that pitch?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Vegas: Night 3

Woke up and got a facial at the Mirage spa, followed by a quick hotel breakfast. Did some browsing at the Forum shops, but didn't buy anything (was too bummed about being down $195). Had a quick lunch with friends at Chinois, then went back to the hotel to take a nap.

Got sidetracked by the Blackjack tables on the way to take a nap, and spent 4 hours of hard work making back my money from the night before. Sat next to a big black woman playing 3 hands of $100 bets singing and clapping Hercules, Hercules, Hercules after every big hand. Sang with her after picking up $150 on double-split aces. Walked away up $75 (net, including losses from the night before).

Had dinner at Prime in Bellagio, and saw O again after 2.5 years. It was just as amazing as the first time. Wow.

Returned to the tables to throw down some serious cash before skipping town. Back down. Way down. No numbers will be mentioned, mostly because I'd rather have forgotten about it by the time I'm ready to have another go next year.

:-)

Vegas, baby!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Vegas: Night 2

Woke up and ate breakfast. Met friends at the Mirage VIP lounge (I’m not really very important, I just play the part in Vegas), then went over to the Wynn to check out the Ferrari shop (cool pictures on the way). Then back to the Mirage for a little Blackjack and a deep tissue massage.

Snacked at Spago over at Caesars, then over to the Palms for a tasty meal at Nine. Cabbed it over to Caesar's for drinks at Pure. Line and cover looked like a bitch, so props to Joey for getting us on the VIP list (more cool pictures on the way).

Back to the Mirage for more Blackjack ($245-> -$195. Ouch.)

Some adventures omitted. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Now off to sleep. Did I mention my hotel room has a pornstar mirror wall that runs along the side of my bed? Shibby!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Vegas: Night 1

Arrived at The Mirage in the early afternoon. Saw Ka. Ate at SEABLUE (oysters, prawns, scallops, lobster, seared yellowfin tuna, liquor, wine, coffee, and lots of dessert). Played BlackJack at The Mirage (12am-3:30am; $200->$445).

I forgot how unreal Vegas is.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy Holidays!

Just wanted to wish everybody a happy holiday (if you're celebrating one)!

I'm down in Los Angeles with my family for Hanukkah, and heading out to Vegas this week for a little bit of fun. Then back to LA for New Years, and finally on home to Seattle.

Cheers!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Work Hard Play Hard at Google

A few weeks ago I blogged about Work Hard-Play Hard vs. Work-Life Balance.

Here's what it's like at Google. Yes, it's anecdotal, but I've heard similar things from Scoble upon his return from the GooglePlex, and from my buddy who just finished interning there (the same one who interned with, and initially convinced me to apply for a job at Microsoft).

Look at folks starting to respond in Mini's comments:

That is completely idiotic. Putting in code at 4:00 AM is all about testosterone. If this is what Google is all about then ride the stock wave while you can, bubba. Where I come from this is called bragging.

Classic. Does MarkL have a family? You can get off working like that when you're in your 20's, not getting laid on a regular basis, and wanting nothing more than to be coding. We've all done that. But at some point, life gets to you and you have kids, and other things going on. Is it worth not seeing your kids so some geek out there can have 1GB of free email? Not in my world.

I hope they aren't Microsofties.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Impact of College Hires (and Mini-Microsoft)

There's an interesting conversation going on in the comments over on Mark Jen's blog about the impact of college hires at a company like Microsoft vs. small startup companies.

Some of my own observations:

For starters, both Steven's blog and Mark's blog (and all of our recruiting blogs) have primary or secondary goals of recruiting readers to work for their respective companies. So, don't take everything that you read at face value. Ask a few people who work for Microsoft, and ask a few people who work for startups. As Dare pointed out, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of what these two say. Also keep in mind that in order to be applicable to a large number of people, this dialog needs to remain about "Working for Microsoft vs. working for a startup" -- not "Working for Microsoft vs. working for Plaxo". Your mileage may vary from startup to startup.

I have a unique perspective because I've worked at 2 startups (stamps.com and Xtime) out of college (one internship, one full-time), and I've worked at Microsoft out of college (after returning to finish college). In my experience, and again, while your mileage may vary both across startups and across groups and positions at Microsoft, I was able to make an impact at all three places.

That said, at Microsoft, I've felt expected to make a much larger impact than anywhere else I've ever worked. When I first started, I would raise questions like "Which architectures should our product support?" I was quickly told, in every case, something along the lines of "We pay you to tell us that. Go figure it out." I work on a brand new product, and have impact (read: decision-making power) over much of what we do or don't do and how we do or don't do it across at least three large feature areas for which I am responsible. I also participate in, and influence, the development of features and products I'm really not responsible for, simply by weighing in and providing feedback when I'm so inclined. In my experience, having this type of impact at most startups straight out of college is unheard of for the reasons Steven cites.

On grunt work:

At a startup, you will do grunt work. But you'll probably enjoy doing grunt work due to the high pressure, "make or break" situation of which you'll find yourself a part. It's like Mark says - everyone does grunt work when it's necessary to get the job done (in a healthy startup, at least).

At Microsoft, there is grunt work too. There's less grunt work, because the role of a Microsoft employee is usually more specialized than the role of a startup employee. I know about 20-25 college hires, and very few are spending a significant amount of their time "taking care of build scripts, fixing code in bugs they didn't write, and setting up test machines" (and certainly no more than they would at a startup). For example, in my division, we have test labs, with test lab systems engineers and network engineers that specialize in being the best at designing and building out test environments. As a Program Manager, I'm paid to plan, design, and drive implementation of new software features -- not set up test machines (though I did poach and set up a pile of "test" servers in my office purely for fun - *whistles innocently*).

At both startups I worked for, I spent a significant amount of time setting up test machines (in addition to programming, and doing a very wide variety of other things). In my opinion, one situation really isn't better than another - they're just different. You need to decide which you would prefer. And as for grunt work - there's grunt work everywhere. The best workers are the ones who identify it and step up to do it without being asked - at a startup or at Microsoft.

On Mini-Microsoft:

This part of Mark's post really gets me:

if you want to know what working at Microsoft is really like, check out Mini-MSFT’s blog and the comments people leave there. I guarantee you that’s the real deal.

Let me tell you a little story. Back at the University of Michigan, students would protest a wide variety of things day in and day out. We'd debate the University's affirmative action policy. We'd debate selling Coke due to the company's negative environmental impact on water sources in distant parts of the world. We'd actively protest budgeting decisions. Every student government candidate would make extending the campus library and gym hours a central issue to his/her campaign.

Some of these issues were serious. Others were silly. Either way, they made big headlines - in our school newspaper, our local city newspapers, and sometimes even in larger national publications. If, without any context, a UofM recruiting candidate were to be thrown into the middle of one of these chaotic debates with some students literally crying over their "oppression", he/she might think the student body was oppressed, and the University simply a messed up place.

In fact, the opposite is true. The University of Michigan is a great place because of the conflict, the debate, and its tolerance thereof. I'd draw similar parallels to Microsoft. At no other company will you find such an open environment where people openly debate everything from the company's policy towards gay rights to the company's policy towards free clean towels in the locker rooms (nevermind the fact that Microsoft's buildings even HAVE locker rooms!).

Unfortunately, a side-effect of having 60,000 bright, rambunctious protester employees, is that dirty laundry will be aired publicly - no matter how insignificant or unrepresentative of the general situation. When Microsoft recruits come across the Mini-Microsoft blog, they get a skewed picture of reality -- despite the often insightful writing and comments. I'm still not sure whether or not I think the benefits of Mini-Microsoft outweigh the negative impact it has on recruiting, branding, etc. I highly support efforts by Chris Jones and others to create internal "safe" blogs that take on the hard issues and promote debate, and wonder if these provide a sufficient middle ground.

I think that Steven Sinofsky is going a bit overboard by removing comments that link to Mini-Microsoft. Mini-Microsoft is credible. Sadly, I think the reason some people detest the blog so much is largely because it is in fact credible. Anonymity doesn't affect the credibility of the actual information. If the information is wrong, take on the information, not the author (especially in this case, where Mini-Microsoft has actually proved himself to be rather intelligent and engaging).

And if you do believe that anonymous information cannot be credible, it still leaves me wondering... when did lack of credibility become a reason to start censoring comments on a blog? Blog comments that aren't credible still have the potential to promote insightful discourse and debate.

Anyhow, just my 2 cents. I was going to leave it as a comment on Mark's blog, but it got a bit long-winded. Sorry 'bout that.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

What the heck's a PM?

People are constantly asking me what exactly it is I do as a "Program Manager" at Microsoft.

Steven Sinofsky has the answer.

The funny thing is that while everything Steven writes about is true and central to my job, there's so much more I see and do. We really do invent our own jobs - and mine is certainly constantly changing and evolving!

If you have any questions about the PM position at Microsoft, shoot them my way (preferably via comments!)

(Now off to the company party for real...)

Zen Neeon?

Well, just as my roommate picked himself up a new iPod Nano, my 6 month old iPod shuffle died entirely on me.

I'm in the process of sending it back to Apple for replacement, and in the meantime started looking around again for a PlaysForSure device that meets my needs.

Finally, it looks like one is coming! The new Creative Zen Neeon 512/1GB/2GB is small, flash-based, rechargeable - albeit via cable and not direct connector (the old ones took AAAs), has an FM tuner for those TVs at the gym, a display, and 32 hours of playback time!

It still doesn't look as sexy as the Nano, and doesn't do pictures/video, but the FM tuner has really become a key feature that the iPods lack. And maybe when I have a device that isn't locked to 1 music store, I'll start buying music online (I still buy and rip CDs -- not a fan of lock-in).

Anyhow, it looks like the flash Neeon isn't being sold just yet. Has anyone had a chance to play with one?

Now, off to the company holiday party I go!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Business and Software Reading List

Joel on Software has posted a great reading list of books on business and software management. Check it out.

I've read (and highly recommend):

The Mythical Man-Month
Peopleware
21 Dog Years
Crossing The Chasm
The Tipping Point

I guess I have a ways to go to catch up with Joel. A bunch on is list have been recommended to me by many people already and are either sitting on my nightstand or on my Amazon wishlist.

I'd also recommend checking out:

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Good to Great
Brand Harmony

What's Running Through Adam's Head

Here's a rundown of what's been running through my mind lately...

Cool Restaurants

I went to two cool restaurants recently in LA: Magnolia and BOA. Magnolia's a cool new trendy bar/restaurant. No reservations, and a bit of a wait, but a great bar, great food, great people, lots of fun. BOA was one of the best steakhouse dinners I've had in awhile - modern, lively, great music. Highly recommended.

I've also started keeping a list of cool restaurants, bars, dessert places in my new hometown of Seattle. I'm trying to figure out how to incorporate it into the blog, which brings me to my next thought...

Blog + Wiki = Bliki

Actually, I cringe at the thought of saying "check out my bliki" out loud. ;-) But my thinking here is that the difference between a blog and a wiki at this point is mainly that a blog is primarily temporal, and a wiki generally has many contributors. The line is getting greyed, as it should. We've got blogs with many authors, but what I'd really like to see is blogging functionality that isn't necessarily temporal. I have a feeling some blogging infrastructures (Wordpress?) provide features like this... I wish Blogger did too.

For example, let's say I'd like to post a wiki-like page with a list of my favorite bars and restaurants. I'd like to update this page over time, possibly exclude it from my syndication feed so updates aren't sent out every time I add a restaurant -- this page should be omnipresent, not archived by the date on which it was originally posted. I think I could do a lot more with this site if it were 80% blog and 20% wiki (and conversely, I bet some wikis could use some 20% blog functionality too).

Alaska Airlines Check-In

At LAX, all of the Alaska Airlines Check-In stations now use electronic checkin machines. No more people (except for a first class line which still gets real people). I guess this is actually a good thing, except that the interface on their electronic checkin machines is absolutely horrible, has about 10 unecessary steps, and generally pisses me off royally every time I nee dto use it.

UPS Requires Gov't ID to Send Packages

I was at a UPS customer service center a few weeks back, and noticed a sign announcing that government issue photo ID would be required to send packages as of a certain date. I hate the fact that I have to show my ID to fly, but I'll put up with it. Requiring ID to send mail though? Privacy is going down the tubes... quickly.

I'm Subscribing to More Magazines

If RSS is so great, why am I subscribing to more magazines? I recently ditched the Wired RSS feed and subscribed to the print magazine. I like kicking back and picking up a big paper magazine with fun, cool, colorful ads, yet I hate ads in RSS feeds, and working through hundreds of new items each day feels more like work than pleasure. Hmm.

Wireless Laser Desktop 6000

My dad recently bought a Wireless Laser Desktop 6000 mouse and keyboard. I liked it so much, that I went over to the company store the other day and bought one for myself. It's so amazingly precise, beautiful, and ergonomic. I highly recommend it.

Cheek Kisses

When I was down in LA, I went out to a few bars with friends. When they introduced me to some of their friends, everyone expected kisses on the cheek. This is just weird. I mean, ok, on the surface it is rather fabulous. But c'mon, as if handshakes aren't bad enough. If it were up to me, we would all press our palms together, bow slightly, and say "Namaste".

The Windows Brand

The Windows brand is NOT cool, so why did we rebrand MSN as Windows Live? If it were up to me, we would create a new brand completely detached from Microsoft, Windows, and Office. That's what Xbox did. And why is Xbox cool? Because Xbox marketing realizes that Microsoft isn't, and keeps the brand completely separate -- so much so that people think Xbox is some strange offshoot secluded devision of the company (which it isn't). Windows is going for "clear, confident, connected" (whereas OS X goes for "cool, unlike Windows" -- check out their white on black magazine ads). Fine. But not sexy. MSN services should be going for "cool, kickass, sexier-than-google-yahoo-and-aol".

The Zelda Effect

I'd like to call for the abolition of "next" and "more" links -- in software and on the web.

Remember how the original Legend of Zelda game transitioned between map screens? When you would walk over to the edge of the map piece on the screen, more map would simpy transition into play.

This is what I call the "Zelda Effect". Why should I ever have to click "Next" to see more search results? How about when I get down to the 10th result, just show me the next 10?

Jill and I are talking about doing something like this with Ping. Another great example of this done in a really seamless way is Google's Picasa.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Snow Crash

Over Thanksgiving, I had some free time to do some reading for pleasure, and finally finished Snow Crash.

Wow. I know I'm about 15 years behind, but what an amazing book. After reading tons of business/marketing/pop-culture psychobabble back-to-back, picking up an amazing piece of fiction was a treat.

It has a great Wikipedia page, but be warned that it contains spoilers. The coolest thing by far was realizing how many of Neal Stephenson's imaginative ideas are coming true today - especially around the idea of the metaverse where people buy virtual real estate that sustains economies. I recently read a news story about this happening today. What will happen tomorrow? And will governments become less significant as corporations become more and more globalized?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Sleeper Cell, More Skiing, Ramblings...

My good friend Jegan Paren Rajeswaran told me tonight about Sleeper Cell, a new Showtime series. I'm a complete sucker for these shows, and watched a few episodes. Not too impressed (the writing is a bit lacking), but it's enough to keep my interest.. for now. I also love the soundtrack, which I'll probably never be able to find or buy.

I took the day off of work and went skiing with my neighbors at Crystal Mountain. Taking the day off was bad, but oh did it feel so good! ;-)

Ski pictures are here, and I've posted video of Javila, Steve, and me on Google Video too (I was feeling especially dorky today).

Tomorrow, it becomes illegal to smoke in bars and restaurants in Seattle. This morning, I walked past a local bar having a "Prohibition" party tonight to celebrate the last night of freedom before it is taken away.

Smoking bans are a tricky issue for me. Other than a drag here and there, I'm definitely not a smoker, wouldn't date a smoker, and don't love hanging out in smoke filled rooms with poor ventilation. So for purely selfish reasons, I'm not gonna mind the smoking ban.

That said, all things considered, I'm not about forcing my own preferences on others on principle. But alas, the ban passed. All the better, I suppose.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Don't Worry About What You Do, Worry About What You Don't Do.

I was reading a Just do it! post over on the Xooglers blog, and came across this insight:
Most organizations worry about the negative consequences of the things they do. Google, thanks in no small measure to Larry and Sergey's leadership, tends to worry more about missing out on the potential benefits of things they don't do.
For better or for worse, I love this way of thinking. I think most companies have a CYA policy in place. First, a bunch of process leads to risk assessment for each decision that is made. Okay, fine. Then, if any line item on the risk assessment leads to "Might be sued for doing X" or "brand/image may be tarnished for doing Y", the idea is generally shot down -- or "tabled for this release" (i.e. indefinitely put on the backburner".)

Without getting into specifics about all of the things that Microsoft might not have done for legal or image reasons, I've seen several specific examples of this way of thinking in my work experiences over the past 6 months (luckily, none on my project.. so far). I'm not suggesting anyone jump in and take every risk that presents itself blindly, but sometimes erring on the side of caution is NOT good policy!

In the worst cases, the risk isn't even as severe as a lawsuit or negative publicity. Rather, it's a risk that some technology/standard won't be adopted. For example, why will Internet Explorer be the last major browser to support RSS, and why doesn't Windows Media Player natively support Podcasts? Because hardly anybody had heard of these technologies and there was a significant risk early on that hardly anybody ever would! Lame.

I think this is actually one of the primary reasons why people do not perceive Microsoft as being "innovative". It's not that the company isn't innovative, but rather that Microsoft products aren't usually the first to jump on the 'latest trend' bandwagon and be first to market with the latest trendy features (even though we can point you to research papers and proof of concepts from 3-5 years ago in which a variant of the trend was pioneered at Microsoft).

How does a company change? I'm not sure it does, first and foremost because I'm not sure this policy is bad for business all of the time. It pisses off the innovators and early adopters (tech geeks aka the Slashdot crowd), but does it hurt the bottom line? I'd actually argue that historically, for Microsoft, it hasn't.

But now that Google... and Firefox... and others... are on the scene... doing all of the things that Microsoft might not have ever considered doing for this that or the other reason... and doing them first... who knows... perhaps a culture change is already in the works.

Evolve or die, right?

Just Another Manic Sunday...

Did you see Live Meeting on The Apprentice this past Thursday?

Gretchen has posted some info on an opportunity to work at Microsoft on Live Meeting, and a link to a funny commercial. Hehe, I like.

On another note, I'm completely backlogged on my blogging - lots of cool stuff to write about and very little time.

On Friday, I had coffee at Microsoft with Mark Jen. Mark seems like a cool, bright guy. Thanks for hitting me up. :-) (BTW, if any other readers out there find themselves bumming around this neck of the woods, I'm always up for an afternoon dose of caffeine.)

Mark's friend introduced me to Bluefly.com. Have you seen it? Pretty cool concept.

Yesterday, I went skiing at Mt. Baker. First ski of the season, and an awesome ski it was! I'm hoping to get quite a bit more in this season.

Anyhow, having declared today Super-Productive-At-Home-Sunday, I hope to do some catching up on blogging and other "To Do"s. I'm also planning on launching another blog later today, with a specific focus on location aware software. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Bus WiFi

The bus I take to work now offers free WiFi. Rock on!

(via Mike)

... and Jeff notes that using WiFi AP MAC addresses to pinpoint location just became a whole lot harder...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Ping! Usability Testing!

Jill and I did our first paper usability tests on Ping! Woohoo!

We've posted some mockups here, and notes from the usability test here.

I'm definitely bought in to early usability tests on paper proof of concepts. What do you think?

Windows Live Mobile Is Here!

Congrats Mike on shipping Windows Live Mail for mobile devices!

Windows Live Search (web and local) has also launched. I've been playing around with it for a while now, and have gotta say it's been a great resource to have on the go.

This is one of my favorite teams at Microsoft. No doubt we're gonna see some really cool stuff coming from them in the future. Keep up the great work, and again, congrats!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Xooglers!

I've spent a considerable amount of time this evening sipping on a cup of Lapsang souchong while reading Xooglers, a new blog by a handful of ex-Googlers.

Fascinating, I must say!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Nobody builds software faster than Microsoft

As eWEEK [officially ;-)] reports, Microsoft "is readying an online marketplace, code-named Fremont, which is apparently in response to a similar feature that rival Google Inc. introduced a few weeks ago."

It's true. Microsoft saw that Google was introducing a new product and immediately re-tasked several hundred software developers to work day and night building a rival product.

Before Google introduced Base, Microsoft wasn't planning anything. Fremont didn't even exist. It was absolutely 100% completely in response to Google.

Microsoft is just that agile.

Windows server sales surpass Unix, Linux

InfoWorld reports that for the first time ever, Windows server sales have surpassed both Unix server sales and Linux server sales.

My product falls under the umbrella of Windows Server System, so this was pretty exciting to see. :-)

(Do I need to turn in my Tux keychain now?)

Work Hard-Play Hard vs. Work-Life Balance

Oh! The price I'm now paying for having done no work over vacation! *Sips tea in preparation for another late night*

Mini-Microsoft writes:

For folks just out of college, my only insight is: if you're unattached and unencumbered by responsibilities the last thing you need to do is go work for a large, slow moving corporation in the 'burbs. Take risks and live the crazy big city life and blow your youthful energy laying down effort on the big pay-off opportunities. You will learn more and do more than you can possibly imagine, especially compared to being placed as a new shiny cog in the corporate machine (where all you can say during your first review is, "And what does this 3.0 mean?"). Then come knocking on the door of the corporate beast in the idyllic, moist, family friendly Pacific Northwest.

This statement bothers me... because there's some truth to it. Microsoft is slower moving than a startup or a couple of gearheads in a garage. Microsoft is not a risky place to work. Microsoft generally doesn't present big pay-off opportunities. Microsoft is generally not characterized by "youthful energy" (something Mini's post doesn't help, btw).

After school, I considered not going to work for Microsoft. Actually, I considered not going to work for anyone, and just building something on my own in my (parents') garage. I didn't even want to interview with Microsoft. A friend convinced me to do it on a bus and I said yes just to get him off my back.

Anyhow, despite all of the aforementioned things that Microsoft is not, I've still learned more here in the last 6 months than I did in 6 months of college, or in 6 months at a startup (I took 2 years off from school to work for a startup in the SF Bay Area).

My biggest concern is what I'll learn in the next 6 months, or in the next year, or two years. Will the learning curve level off? Will things slow down? I've seen Dare mention on his blog several times that he plans to leave Microsoft for reasons I can certainly relate to. And the downsides Mini mentions about being young and working at Microsoft are very real problems. A startup is faster, riskier, has more youthful energy, and bigger pay-off opportunities than a 60,000 person company. Is it more fun to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?

I've realized there are two types of people who work at Microsoft. There are the WLBs (Work-Life Balances), and there are the WHPHs (Work Hard-Play Hards).

During my New Employee Orientation, I was bombarded by information about how Microsoft promotes "Work-Life Balance". And it does. And I didn't really care to hear about it. And 95% of the hundreds of people in my New Employee Orientation were older than I, many probably have partners and children, and many probably care about Work-Life Balance more than I do. They're the WLBs, and they the make up most of the company.

Then there's me. I'm a WHPH. I'll sit in front of the computer and forget to eat or drink if I'm engaged. While the WLB might come to work for 8 hours and work 7 of them + 2 more at home with the kids, I might come to work for 14 hours but spend 5 reading blogs and eating/drinking/chatting with coworkers. We both get the same amount of work done... I guess. But for me, I'm much more engaged working with other WHPHs than WLBs. And don't get me wrong, I respect the WLBs as much as I do the WHPHs -- WLBs are usually much much more experienced than WHPHs. My team is about 80% WLB and 20% WHPH. Unfortunately, this leaves the hallway lonely and quiet after 8pm at night, so I go home too... because it's no fun to stick around.

I think that one of Microsoft's biggest challenges is recruiting and retaining the WHPHs. Often, these are people who are less concerned with stability, great benefit packages, etc. These are people who are in it to have fun and take risks, and are also probably looking for big pay-offs for taking big risks and putting in longer hours than the average bear. I would also conjecture that these are the type of people who are jumping ship to Google and/or startups. Hmm. Hey Mark, someday I'd love to hear/read about why you decided to leave Microsoft, if that's a story you're up for telling!

Microsoft, and other large companies, need to spend more time studying WHPHs, and strategizing around recruiting and retaining them for the long term.

Now, back to work for me. ;-)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Beware of New HP LaserJet Printers!


As part of a Thanksgiving project to make my parent's home "fully" wireless, my Dad and I picked up a new HP LaserJet 1022 and hooked it up to a D-Link DP-G321 wireless print server.

Despite my best efforts, I couldn't get the damn thing to print. After doing a bit of searching online, I came across this and this (english translation) information.

It seems that the new lower-end (ours was $200) HP LaserJet printers are using a host-based printing system. The printers must be directly attached to a Windows or Mac computer, and thus aren't compatible with most print servers (I think HP sells their own compatible wireless print server for over $200 - but forget that!).

Note that this restriction is not explicitly called out in the above HP support document entitled "Explanation of Host-Based Driver", which of course focuses more on the "benefits" of host-based printing (*eye roll*).

Here are the printers that are currently crippled by host-based printing:

  • HP Color LaserJet 1500 series printer

  • HP Color LaserJet 2600n printer

  • HP Color LaserJet 3500 and 3550 series printer

  • HP LaserJet 5L and 6L series printers

  • HP LaserJet 1000, 1005, 1010, 1012, and 1015 series printers

  • HP LaserJet 1020, and 1022 series printers (by default a host-based driver is installed for both of these products. A PCL5e driver is available for use with the HP LaserJet 1022(only))

  • HP LaserJet 1150 series printers (The PCL5e driver is the default driver for this printer.)

  • HP LaserJet 1160 series printers (The PCL5e driver is the default driver for this printer when performing a typical installation. The PCL5e print driver is available on the CD-ROM and for download from the HP Web site.)

  • HP LaserJet 3100 and 3150 series products
If you're thinking about setting up a wireless or other home or small-business print server, or use an OS other than Windows or OS X, be very careful about choosing one of the above printers.

D-Link also provides a list of servers they have successfully tested with their DP-G321 wireless print server.

Also, for what it's worth, the D-Link DP-G321 is a great device. I bought a similar device last year made by a company called Hawking Technology that was a total piece of crap and is now a brick taking up space in the bottom of a drawer. I've actually been pretty happy with D-Link in general. I've had 2 Linksys APs die on me recently, and a Netgear fry (literally -- the thing burned up). D-Link seems to be on the ball when it comes to making great products and posting up-to-date firmware and support info.

Anyhow, the HP is going back to Fry's. I've hooked up Dad's old HP LaserJet 6P, which is compatible with the wireless print server. HP lost the sale, incurred the cost of the return, and earned a bad review posted on the 'net for others to read. Hope they get a clue soon.

(The Caution Image was made by warninglabelgenerator.com - doesn't this site rock?)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Pictures are Fun.

Somebody dyed a fountain at work green in honor of the Xbox 360 launch. Neat.

John Porcaro has pictures from Zero Hour (1, 2, flickr). Oooh and there's video too!

I'm a sucker for pictures. Do you have any cool ones you'd like to share here? Comments welcome (please keep them PG-13)! :-)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

LA: Day 4

Me in my old room:



Today I ...

- Got coffee and bagels with my best friend from high school. Sat outside at a table next to Matt Battaglia. Checked out an awesome men's clothing store, Sy Devore.

- Ran 6 miles in the park with my older sister.

- Took my new jeans to my Mom's fabulous tailor (she had a picture of Sinbad on her wall of clients - haha).

- Watched Harold & Kumar with my Mom (a slightly weird experience) before we go to dinner and then maybe hit the bars.

I miss LA. :-(

Xbox 360 - Sold Out.

Well, Wal-Mart was wrong - they sold out.

Best Buy sold out too. My friend Josh drove by one last night shortly after midnight and said there was a huge line to get into the store.

The $400 premium package is being resold on Ebay for anywhere from $1500-$3350.

Insane.

Monday, November 21, 2005

John Varvatos USA & Barneys COOP

Spent the day shopping with Mom at South Coast Plaza, by far one of the most fabulous malls in Southern California. Every time I come back to LA, I'm blown away by the city's sense of fashion (and OC too!).

People here are so well-dressed.. tan.. and generally sexy.. and drive such beautiful, overpriced cars. It's so fabulously superficial! Ah, I miss home.


So, the two gems I discovered today were the John Varvatos USA line at his store in the mall and the Barneys COOP store just across the way.


The John Varvatos USA line (seen in pictures) is a little more hipster and casual than his main line. It's also a fraction of the price. It had its own little room in the back of the South Coast store.

The Barneys COOP was neat too. It's a betapilot store -- one of seven. It had an awesome selection of jeans and casualwear. Highly recommend checking it out.

That's all for now!

Chris Anderson on Xbox 360 and The Long Tail

Chris Anderson takes a look at Xbox 360's Media Center Extender functionality.

I'm so jealous, and I'd by lying if I said that I wasn't pondering lining up to buy my own tomorrow morning. I love how even Russ can't resist giving Microsoft his money (it's okay Russ... technically, we lose money on each of these babies).

Hmm... Wal-Mart thinks they won't sell out. We'll see!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Is RSS Mainstream Ready?


I'm not quite sure where my dad lies on the adoption curve.

He loves trying new things... Laying around the Dad-pad, you'll find:

- A $400 Archos portable media player (he's never used)
- A $500 programmable digital touchscreen entertainment center remote control he had to hire somebody to program (we never use because it broke and there's nobody to program the new replacement)
- A Sony Vaio laptop (he uses once a year)
- A brand new Thinkpad X41 Tablet (he's had for months and is waiting for "spare time to practice" before using it)
- An HP photo printer (he's never used)
- About a hundred shrinkwrapped DVDs (he's never watched)
- An abandoned blogging effort (lasted about 11 days)

So, given Dad's love for new things, I figured I'd spend a few minutes this morning showing him how I read RSS feeds through Bloglines.

Of course, he loves the idea and wants to try it!

Now, while Bloglines is a great service and works well for me, I wouldn't exactly call it usable for the average user. I figured we should try setting him up with one of the newer, more mainstream services.

First, we tried Windows Live. We signed him up for a Passport account, and began setting up a few RSS feeds. Most of the news sites he wants to subscribe to provide a concise list of about 10-20 feeds. The Live.com RSS search feature returned a horrible list -- nothing like the lists on their sites. So, I manually copied and pasted a few specific feeds into Live.com for him.

The next problem with Live.com was that the feed we subscribed to is named "News". My Dad and I didn't know which "News" feed we were reading, and there was no way to rename it!

Finally, the biggest issue, was that Live.com doesn't mark feeds as read, and only seems to display 5 feeds. I'm getting the impression by this point that it's not meant to be a news aggregator, but rather uses RSS to provide a little value-add here and there to its portal. I'm not sure it's all that useful, but hey, time will tell!

Next, we tried Google Reader. Google Reader was definitely better as a content aggregator, but still didn't meet Dad's needs. It also wouldn't let us rename the feed from "News" to something else, and the information architecture/navigation model is a bit difficult to get used to. I love keyboard shortcuts, but Dad will never use them. While tagging is cool, he's never gonna use it (at least not for another 2-3 years?). Dad loves Gmail, but Reader was too far out of left field.

So finally, Dad suggested we just try Bloglines. I set his feeds up there (Bloglines also doesn't allow you to rename "News" to something else), and let him play around with it. Bloglines has major usability issues (for example, upon loading bloglines.com, how is my dad supposed to know to go to the tiny "My Feeds" tab, and to create a new folder, you need to add a feed, then use the "Create In" dropdown box to select "New Folder", and enter a name in a Javascript dialogue box -- come on, guys!). But hey, we'll see how it works out for him.

In any event, it became clear to me very quickly that the biggest hurdle to RSS adoption by mainstream folks like Dad is going to be adding feeds. Right now, Dad has to find the url to the RSS feed (incredibly difficult), then copy it, then paste it into the right one of many obscure form fields in any of these interfaces. Discoverability is something that browsers (IE7, Firefox, etc) are working on bigtime, but as far as I know, they only add the RSS feed to the local store. Dad wants his feeds in sync on his home and work computers. Some services are working around this by providing "Add to My Yahoo!, Add to Bloglines" type links next to feed icons - a hack that won't scale. I'd propose an "rss://" application handler or similar, that could be bound to any RSS service or software. Does it exist today?

Well, that's all I've got! It's a sunny day in sunny Los Angeles, and time to get off the laptop and enjoy the beautiful weather. In the meantime, I'm interested in hearing your thoughts! Is RSS ready for my Dad?

And lastly, why can't RSS feeds be renamed like bookmarks/favorites can? Hmm...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Six Months with the Borg: First Impressions

It's been almost 6 months since my first day at Microsoft, and also quite some time since my last substantive, original blog entry.

So, after a long day's work and a quiet evening of laundry, dishes, tea, a little bit of reading, and an episode of Lost, I figure it's finally time to sit down and let loose with something I've been waiting to share for quite some time... my first impressions of work and life at Microsoft.

This isn't meant to be an analysis of the good, the bad, and the in-between, or an attempt to explore all of the difficult issues Microsoft faces, but rather a glimpse into the highlights of the first six months of a college hire's life at Microsoft. Take it for what it's worth, your mileage may vary. ;-)

Here goes...

First, What's Cool...

Play with 2010's software in 2005

One of the coolest things by far about working at Microsoft is getting to see and play with cutting edge technology years before it's released. And it's not just about seeing and/or playing with the latest build of Windows, Windows Mobile (and the new phones!), Media Center, Office, Xbox, Messenger, MSN Search, IPTV, ... I'm also talking about software (and hardware) that hasn't even been announced yet... and even incubation projects in research that probably won't hit the market for 3-5 years!

I played with something today that I never knew existed. Something that, when ready to launch, would blow every existing similar product out of the water. Something that, only a company with a huuuuge division devoted to research, could build. There are hundreds of these projects in existence at Microsoft - I come across new ones every few days. It's unbelievable, and for a computer science major and technology geek like me, it's neverending fun.

Bug Bashing

Ever come across a bug, or even a poorly designed feature in a Microsoft product that just really pissed you off to no end? Yeah, me too. Shortly after I started, I discovered that Microsoft employees can log bugs against any Microsoft product (I spent 3 weeks doing this for the backlog of things that have bugged me for the last 10 years).

If the issue really bugs you, you can hunt down the person responsible for it, jack up the priority, call it critical, and continue hounding by email, by IM, by phone... until the damn thing gets fixed. How's that for satisfaction? ;-)

In all seriousness though, I run the next versions of Windows and Office on my desktop, and log my grievances now so that you won't have to after they ship - and tens of thousands of my closest colleagues are doing the same - just for fun, just because we can, and just because we're invited to do so by the people who are building them!

Exposure to the Best and the Brightest

I get to watch, meet, and interact with some of the coolest, brightest, smartest people in the world. And it's not just about seeing BillG and SteveB give talks in person, or about trading emails with kickass bloggers like Robert and Dare. Microsoft also brings in great thinkers and popular authors, journalists, speakers like Tom Friedman and Malcolm Gladwell. I've met researchers whose papers blow my mind, I've watched a kid I went to college with put Steve Ballmer on the spot in front of the entire company about Microsoft's reputation among college students, and I've sent email to Steven Sinofsky and Ken Moss without having to think twice before hitting send.

Next, What's Shocking...

I'll Take one Smackdown, Hold the Side of BS Please!

The most shocking thing by far - and I mean shocking - is the level of openness at Microsoft. This company is the most self-critical group of individuals I have ever seen. You can't imagine the expression on my face the first time I saw dozens of emails sent to thousands of employees with the subject "why msn search sucks". If you think Microsofties are a bunch of uptight, conservative, greedy, businesspeople, think again.

These are ex-newsgroup junkies, ex-BBS junkies, ex-debate team leaders, ex-hackers... They tell it how it is - no BS, no dancing around pink elephants, and then they fix it. And from what I've seen so far, 90% of the time, the voice of reason, not the voice of authority, wins out. It is a true meritocracy, and I love it.

Information Overload

Another thing that's shocked me is the unbelievable availability and flow of information. There are hundreds, possible thousands, of corporate intranet sites and email distribution lists. I rarely find out about what's going on around the company through official channels. I find it hilarious how many of my coworkers get their news first through the rumor mill, then poke around internally to dig up more information.

Before joining Microsoft, I'd receive 5-10 "check out this cool thing on the web" emails a week pointing me to random things on the Internet. Now, I get 5-10 "check out this cool thing at Microsoft" emails a week pointing me to random things on the Intranet too. It's mindblowing.

Real People in Touch with Reality

I have to say that it's rather unfortunate that I found what I'm about to say shocking. Microsoft employees are real people, who care about shipping great software that their customers love more than anything else. I don't encounter talk about bundling this or that, or playing unfair market games, or hatred of our competitors.

Microsoft employees are open about using Firefox, Google, Yahoo, and Apple products - at home and at work. They appreciate the competition and strive to build better products at the same time.

Finally, What to Watch Out For...

Ah... the dangerous part of the post. Along with the good comes the bad. Here's what I've noticed (in the best possible terms)...

Not Everybody Gets to Work on Xbox

Not everybody gets to work on Xbox (somebody is working on MSN Autos). Not everybody gets to work on the iPod (somebody is working on the eMac). I could go on with more examples, but I think you get the point.

If you interview with Microsoft (or any company), make sure that you're truly passionate about the job and the team. Microsoft generally sets college candidates up with interviews with two teams. If the interviews go well, but you're not certain that you're passionate about either of the opportunities, talk about it with your recruiter and ask to interview with two more teams. You're taking a slight risk in doing so (passing up a certain offer on a job you aren't passionate about in exchange for a good chance of another offer on a job you might be more passionate about), but it's probably well worth the risk.

It's also difficult to move around internally at first. So if you have an offer for a job in sustained engineering supporting the previous version of Visual Studio, and it wouldn't get you excited for work in the morning, don't take it!

In retrospect, I didn't really know enough to make an informed decision about the product group I was hired into. I was lucky that things worked out, and I ended up in a healthy place. I'll probably blog further on this at some point in the future (maybe in another 6 months ;-)

CollegeMicrosoft is What You Make of It

Microsoft is a huge company, and it's easy to get lost in the shuffle and become a number. If you haven't gathered this so far, Microsoft is like college in many ways. There are 60,000 employees and a campus with dozens of buildings. You can go out of your way to get involved with different "extra-curricular" activities (seriously - we have everything from beach volleyball and hockey to board games and bar hopping), or you can pass them by. You can go out of your way to have coffee and lunch with some of the smartest, brightest people around, or you can sit in the back of the room with your eyes closed.

Unfortunate Distractions

Watch out for Meeting Madness, No Birds, and generally ridiculous amounts of unnecessary email and process. It's easy to spend an entire day responding to other peoples' email drama. Don't get caught up in this!

At the end of the day, Microsoft is a goal/commitment-driven organization, and a meritocracy. People are rewarded (at least, ideally) by the work that they deliver, and not by the amount of email they generate or number of meetings they call. That said, there are people who love meetings, love long email, and love process roaming about. Avoid becoming one at all costs!

Closing Thoughts

Well, I suppose that's all I've got for now. It's 1am, so I should probably get some sleep. I'm spending tomorrow coffee shop hopping while I work on finishing a spec draft. I still can't talk about what I'm working on... but that day will come soon and I'm really excited for it!

If you're a college student considering working for Microsoft and have any questions, please don't hesitate to post them here or send me an email. I've also found the JobsBlog to be a greeeat resource.

Cheers :-)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Three Cheers for CableCARD!

Media Center's upcoming support for CableCARD was announced publicly today!

Lack of CableCARD support has been the only thing standing between me and a Media Center for quite some time, so I'm super-excited about this announcement. Essentially, this will allow you to plug your cable directly into your Media Center - no need for a cable box, an IR blaster, or complex hacks to get your Media Center to support HDTV, the full spectrum of digital cable content, and recording multiple shows at once.

I can't wait!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Who uses Windows Mobile phones?

A couple months ago, at Viceroy, I was playing with my brick, when all of a sudden a cute, young hipster chick leaned over and said "I have the same phone, but when I go out, I take my Razor". I smiled, and she proceeded to ask if I worked for Microsoft. "Is it that obvious?", I asked. We chatted for a few. She and her friends work in Marketing. Heh. ;-)

Last night I saw Liz Phair and Missy Higgins at Neumos. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted an attractive girl playing with a Typhoon. So I figured I'd play geek, leaned over, and asked her if she worked for Microsoft. "Yeah", she replied, with a bashful giggle (probably thinking to herself "Is it that obvious?"). She works in PR.

So, other than the cult following who reads Pocket PC Thoughts and similar enthusiast sites, who exactly uses Windows Mobile phones for personal use other than us Microsofties?

Walking through an airport a couple months back, I saw a Verizon ad targeting business users - on it were 3 smartphones. 2 of the 3 were Windows Mobile. I realized then, and it only compounded further with the announcement of the Windows Mobile Treo and free push email with Exchange SP2, that Windows Mobile was about to make huge inroads into the business world.

But do consumers want Windows Mobile smartphones yet? The Tornado could be the first to break into the market of early adopter consumers, but I have my doubts. I've seen the Blackberry killer and the Treo killer. Where's the Razor killer?

Friday, November 11, 2005

How Do You Measure Up?



(From the men's restroom at the Queenstown Sofitel)

The Snopes article mentions mirrored one-way glass panels allowing restroom patrons to see out as they take care of their business. In May, I actually went to a nightclub in Tel Aviv that had two-way glass panels around the restroom, but was lit in such a way that you could only see silhouettes through the glass. It was... interesting.

How Cool Is Dennis Crowley?!

Yesterday, in a semi-intoxicated state, I mentioned in passing on my blog a wish for Dodgeball support of email checkins.

First thing this morning, Dennis Crowley, dball founder, sent me an email pointing out that they do! Just needed to check "Windows Mobile + Treo + Sidekick users", and put in my email address.

First off, I just have to say that it's friggin' awesome that this dude watches and reads blog links into dodgeball.com. Second, it's friggin' awesome that he took the time to send me an email basically giving me quick, free tech support, founder2user.

Dodgeball rules. Blogs rule.

Now my only question is who's gonna be the first to spoof my email address and check me in to Deja Vu. ;-)

I'd have to say it was a good day...

Weird day.

Instead of driving over to Redmond, I met a coworker at Sure Shot in the U district for coffee. We brought our laptops and worked at 2x productivity for ~4 hours. Then we grabbed lunch in Cap Hill, and worked at my place for another hour or two.

Our team hit a major milestone last week, and at the urging of our product unit manager, we stopped by a party to celebrate downtown. Open bar. Can't complain.

Ended up bar hopping with a bunch of coworkers for about 8 hours. Jillians, W, Del Rey, Axis, Pesos. I tried to Dodgeball, but my Windows Mobile phone doesn't like sending SMS messages to email addresses (and dodgeball doesn't accept messages via email - boo).

Hanging out with coworkers outside of work is > *. Bonding++;

Need sleep now.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I'm Running Behind; A&F Crossed The Line Again

The Microsoft PuzzleHunt was one of the most intellectually intense experiences I've had in quite some time. A workout for the mind. Loads of fun. Very little sleep. People are uploading pictures here.

Five days behind on email and blogs. Ouch.

My housemate David sent me this article:

Retailer Abercrombie & Fitch said on Friday it would stop selling some of its T-shirts after a national boycott by teenage girls, who objected to slogans emblazoned across the shirts such as "Who needs brains when you have these?"

What the hell were they thinking?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Entertainment Update!

Everyone at work was talking about Lost when it started back up this season, so I started watching, and instantly became hooked. Since I've spent 10pm-midnight throughout the last week and a half catching up on the 1st season DVD set (thanks Netflix!), my bedroom has become a jungle of dirty laundry and dirty dishes. It's beautiful.

With work keeping me busy during the day, and Lost keeping me busy at night, I've also been seriously neglecting my blog. So, I figured what better time for a brief Entertainment Update!

I've seen a few movies recently that I really liked (these have all been added to the side column on my blog too). In no particular order:

Igby Goes Down
Serenity
Come Undone
Spirited Away
La Femme Nikita
Playing by Heart
Km. 0

In addition to Lost, I've also started watching Weeds on Showtime. It's sooo good. And, I've been watching a documentary series on Sundance called Transgeneration. Eye opening stuff.

I've stopped watching Law & Order, Queer as Folk (series ended), and South Park.

The Wire, one of my all-time favorite series, is returning in 2006. Woohoo.

I started reading Getting Things Done by David Allen, but put it down after about 50 pages. I buy into his ideas, but there was some irony in that in order to become "stress free", I found myself reading a 250 page book about workflows I should implement to manage my life. I'll probably pick it back up again, but for now, I needed some fiction, and settled on Snow Crash.

I've also posted links in the side column to two local radio stations - KEXP and C89.5. They both offer free streams over the Internet. Check them out.

That's the news up to the minute. I'll be spending the rest of the weekend at the 9th annual Microsoft Puzzle Hunt - solving some of the world's toughest puzzles with a team of some of the world's smartest puzzle solvers, competing against hundreds of the world's other smartest puzzle solvers. I can't wait ;-). Some of the puzzles from PuzzleHunt II (2000) are online if you wanna check em out.

The Microsoft-sponsored College Puzzle Challenge also starts next week for students at Columbia, Cornell, MIT, University of Michigan, USC, University of Texas, and University of Toronto. One of my coworkers is taking the whole week off to go back to school to recruit and run the Challenge. Lucky bastard!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

What's New?

Wow, it's been a week since I've posted anything here. What the heck is going on?

I've found that when life gets busy, blog gets deprived. Sad. :-(

Emotionally, I'm in a weird, transient place. Seattle is finally starting to feel like home after almost 6 months. On a high note, there's nowhere I'd rather call home right now. I love this city! On another high note, I've made a cool network of friends I enjoy spending time with outside of work (though a large number of the friends do happen to work for Microsoft with me, which I suppose is to be expected around here). On a low note, I'm still not at the point where I've made close friends with whom I can bare my soul in desperate moments. But I'm getting there. Hopefully. I've also been dating a bit, which is always.. interesting. Dating and I have a love/hate relationship. Nuff said.

Professionally, things are beginning to settle down. Work has become comfortable. I had a hypothetical conversation with a coworker today that went something along the lines of, "If you could work at any company, including this one, on any project, would you make the move today?" We both sort-of shrugged in uncertainty. It'd have to really be something special. I recently met someone who told me his motto in life is "defeat complacency". I like that. My biggest fear is that I'm beginning to feel complacent with work, and I'm finding myself having to challenge that feeling more and more every day.

If you've been watching my moblog, you've probably seen some fun random pics recently. Here's one of my coworker Ben and I after carving a pumpkin for our team. Here's another one of my management wearing togas around our hallways. And there are a bunch more like this one from a team offsite to the go-cart track today. Oh yes, and to top it all off, Margaritas in the office.

In the words of Steve Ballmer, I love this company!

But in all seriousness (i.e. removing the kool-aid filled feeding tube from my throat for just a moment), one thing that's been on my mind is the desire to write a "Six Months at Microsoft: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" post soon -- before I become old, jaded, out of touch with reality, take the cool things for granted, etc. Hmm.. I'll have to ponder further.

I think that's about all for now. I've got a bunch of links I wanted to blog about in a text file at work, but they'll have to wait awhile. Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Next Phone?

I'm debating over whether my next phone will be a Tornado or Wizard.

I was pretty sold on the Tornado after playing with one recently, but the Wizard is getting raving reviews.

Life is full of so many difficult decisions... ;-)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Good Engrish

James's friend bought a chair with this tag:



Very engrish.com. :-)

Xbox 360 + MediaCenter = ::drool::

There's an awesome interview up on Channel 9 with a few guys from the Xbox 360 and Media Center teams:

Xbox 360 and Media Center: Living room of the future

I've seen live demos of this stuff, and I'm convinced it will truly revolutionize home entertainment.

I'll definitely be picking up a 360 this holiday season. I'm also due for a new PC sometime soon (current one is a heavily modded 5 year old 1.2Ghz Dell Dimension - OLD!). Did you know Dell PCs for home users ship with Windows XP Media Center Edition by default now? Hmmm!

And the day Media Center supports cable cards is the day I kick my Comcast cable box to the curb. Isn't it fun having customers BEG you to build something they're ready to open their wallet for?

Then all I'll need is a 720p native HDTV, a Dolby surround sound system with optical in, and an 802.11a home network.

Quite the holiday season wishlist, eh? :-)

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Doh.

Well, it's 10pm Saturday night and I'm RAS'd in to corpnet. Work won out.

I was digging through a corporate intranet site looking for some technical information, and came across a SharePoint web part that was pulling in a feed of top stories from MSNBC (could it be made any easier to get sidetracked??). This headline caught my eye: Tracking cell phones for real-time traffic data.

There have been pilot research projects like this going on for quite some time now, but this one actually looks like it's headed toward production:

In what would be the largest project of its kind, the Missouri Department of Transportation is finalizing a contract to monitor thousands of cell phones, using their movements to map real-time traffic conditions statewide on all 5,500 miles of major roads.

Wow! This is a step in the right direction toward my vision of location awareness in software. It's not quite there yet, since the cell phones themselves still aren't aware of their own locations, but nonetheless, still a cool collaborative application of software that builds on mobility and location information.

That said, I'm a bit concerned about the privacy implications:

Privacy experts also worry that the traffic monitoring could later evolve into other uses — perhaps to catch speeders or fugitives.

That's because each cell phone has a unique serial number, in addition to its call number and a code that indicates its service provider. A cell phone company must always be able to track the location of its phones in order to know where to route a call.

"It's a mission creep issue that would be of most concern to consumers," said Lillie Coney, associate director of Washington, D.C.-based EPIC. "They may start out saying we want to know if there's a traffic problem and then take that information and start using it for different purposes."


The government will now have the ability to track the movement of cell phones in real time. McCarthy would've had a field day with this toy. "Show me the current location of every cell phone that ever entered this building". Yep - it'll be possible.

"Show me the current location of Adam Herscher's cell phone" isn't a far stretch either. Does the PATRIOT Act allow for this? Will future legislation?

What if a hacker gained access to this information? Google Maps mashup, anyone?

Friday, October 14, 2005

So Sleepy.

It's been a long week. Less productive than I set out to be, more exhausted than I've been in quite some time.

For the first time in 3 months, I came home after work and am ready to just crash. I'm weighing options as to whether I wanna spend the weekend relaxing or working, and working is winning out. So much to do, so little time.

I've also got lots on my mind I want to blog about, but can't right now for a multitude of silly reasons. Hopefully soon. The last few months have been such a great learning experience. Microsoft calls it "drinking from a firehose". I feel like Trinity learning to fly the M-109 military helicopter.

More interesting, informative posts to come soon.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Seattle Freeze

So sad yet so true:

Beyond the smiles, the Seattle Freeze is on: Our Social Dis-ease

My favorite quote:

When Seattleites say, "Let's do something sometime," what they really mean is: "Let's never do anything ever."

As a newcomer to Seattle, I can vouch that this article is 100% genuine in every way. Sigh!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Ping!

Four days ago I wrote about getting restless.

This weekend, Ping was born.

It'll be vaporware for a little while.

Gates Goes To College

BillG is about to kick off his 2005 college tour. Friends at UM can read more about his campus visit here.

It must be interesting to be a college grad considering working at Microsoft these days. One one hand, you have the semi-official JobsBlog and StevenSi's always-optimistic TechTalk. On the other hand, you've got the candidate-beware Mini-Microsoft and more transparent accounts like Working at Microsoft (via Dare).

The funny thing is that in my somewhat limited four months of experience, I agree with all of the above. I agree with Kevin and shudder at some of the truths in the recent Business Week articles.

I'm gonna hold off on posting my overall account of working at Microsoft as a newgrad for a while longer (mostly because it's Sunday and I've already been staring at the computer screen for 6 hours straight). Could be an interesting account though... soon...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

City Living

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a friend and I met up downtown to get some dinner and see a movie. We were blanking on food ideas, so he whipped out his phone and started browsing a list of restaurants. It wasn't just any list - his phone knew his location, and gave him a list of his friends' favorite nearby restaurants. Browsing through them was easier than browsing through songs on my iPod! We settled on Union Restaurant, and he clicked once or twice to "call ahead" for two.

Dinner was great. As we were finishing up, he whipped out his phone again and got a list of movies playing near the restaurant. We settled on Serenity and he clicked a couple more times to buy two tickets. Before we left the restaurant, he gave the restaurant an 8 out of 10 star rating, and got some driving directions to the movie theater. As we pulled into the parking garage, the navigation system on his phone directed him right into an open spot someone had just pulled out of on the first floor. How perfect!

Serenity rocked my socks, and after the movie, we decided to head down to Belltown and grab a drink. It was good time, but unfortunately he had a meeting early the next morning and decided to take off pretty quickly, leaving me all alone.

It was still early, so I decided I'd stay out a bit longer. I pulled out my phone, and started browsing through profiles and checking out the pictures of other people in the bar, the bar next door, and a few other bars down the street. Profile surfing was as quick and easy as channel surfing on my tv (pre-digital cable lag if you know what I mean).

I came across a few cool people at the bar, and we texted, then decided we'd meet at the bar for a shot. What can I say, I'm a lush! All of a sudden, I got a text from a coworker at the W hotel bar. He must've found me while browsing his friends, or friends-of-friends, or list of people who work at Microsoft - on HIS phone!

I texted him back, then ended up stopping by the W for a bit. But before I headed over, my new drinking buddies and I bookmarked each other and promised to do it again sometime. I set my phone to vibrate if they ever happen to be within a few block radius.

So yeah, by the time I got out of the W I was stumbling around like a silly fool and in no shape to drive. So once again.. I whipped out my phone.. and clicked once to order a cab to my location. After a few minutes of fiddling with the keys, I staggered into my apartment, clapped twice to hit the lights (c'mon, phones can't do EVERYTHING!), and hit the sack.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

How Fast Can You Type?


How fast can YOU type?

Restless.

I'm getting restless.

I love working at Microsoft, and I'm lucky to have fallen in with an excellent group, but it's a far cry from some of the cool stuff I was working on at the University of Michigan.

I'm passionate about search, social networking, presence and chat, recommender and reputation systems, and most of all location aware software. I love building software that incorporates these concepts, pushes the limits of technology, and will be used and loved by millions of consumers.

Unfortunately, this isn't what I'm doing at Microsoft, despite everything else about my job being great.

So, I've decided it's time to start coding for hobby again. I have some kickass ideas, and it's time to bring them to life.

The plan is to put down the books, lay off the TV and Netflix, and start building something great. I'll still be giving Microsoft 100%, but I'm still young (well, somewhat young), and can afford to resist becoming complacent just yet.

More info to come...

Monday, October 03, 2005

359.33.9.234

In CSI Miami land IP addresses can start with '359':



Doh!

Hey CBS! Need a technical advisor?! I'll do it for free!!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Long Tail

The saying goes "you learn something new every day." For me, today was the day of The Long Tail. The term came up recently in a presentation I saw on the future of television. It was glossed over -- thrown into the middle of a sentence. So, truth be told, I didn't really grasp the point that was being made at the time. It would've been like hearing someone talk about something "tipping" without having read The Tipping Point.

Then today, I came across a post on Dare's blog about Web 2.0 companies, which referred to "leveraging the long tail through customer self-service". I quickly MSN Searched (ok, not really) for the term, and came across this Wikipedia entry (whenever Wikipedia's in the top ten, I tend to assume it's a great place to start reading).

Wow. What a cool concept. No, like so many great ideas, it isn't revolutionary. But it's a great formalization of something we might already inherently know, and a great guiding principle.

So, I went on to read the great Wired article that started it all: The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, Editor In Chief of Wired Magazine. Wow! Wow! Wow! Chris has a blog too, which I've now subscribed to.

Chris's book on The Long Tail is due to come out in 2006. I'm looking forward to reading it. To a few of you, The Long Tail concept is old news. To the rest of you, I strongly suggest reading up on it. No doubt this'll be one of the next big (and eventually annoying and played-out) buzzwords of 2006. ;-)

Cheers!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Jeff's lab

Oh man. My buddy Jeff is video blogging a series he's calling Jeff's lab.

Jeff, you rock. But what the heck are you gonna use that board for??

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

"Screw The Nano"

"Screw the nano," said Zander. "What the hell does the nano do? Who listens to 1,000 songs? People are going to want devices that do more than just play music, something that can be seen in many other countries with more advanced mobile phone networks and savvy users," he said.

... says the CEO of Motorola.

I love CEOs that just don't get it. It's not about listening to 1,000 songs. It's about having 1,000 songs to choose from. And judging by the number of high capacity iPods that have sold, plenty of people want more than 100 songs in their pockets. Not to mention the ROKR's lack of sex appeal.

The carriers that carry his phones are his #1 customer, and the users that use them are his #2 customer. In one sentence he manages to diss his #1 customers' for having less advanced networks than their European counterparts, and his #2 customers for being less savvy than their European counterparts -- all the while, completely missing the ball.

It doesn't matter whether or not people want devices that do more than just play music. It matters whether the ROKR is that device. We'll see how ROKR sales measure up to Nano sales (or even Windows Mobile sales!), and let the numbers do the talking.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Creating Passionate Users

Who can argue with a post called "Subvert from Within"? ;-)

Love it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Kevin Speaks

Kevin Schofield, whom I respect greatly, has some thoughts on the recent Business Week articles.

Kevin writes:

Enough already.

Top Ten Reasons Why I Love Microsoft

Right on, Kevin. I'm glad you took the time to blog your thoughts.

Tuesday fun

I'd have to say it was a good day.

Woke up around 8am and decided not to go into the office. Too much work to do. Office is too distracting. Was 300% as productive working on my couch for a few hours.

Went into the office around 1pm for 2 meetings. Both very productive. Lost about an hour afterwards chatting with people in the hallway. Went to the bank. Drove through Taco Time. Came home.

Did about another 1.5 hours of work at 300% productivity level. Went to the gym. Went to Del Rey with my housemate for some food and drinks. Met up with coworker at Del Rey, then stopped by Viceroy for another round of drinks.

Was playing with my phone at Viceroy, when a cool chick was like "I have that phone too, but when I go out I put my sim card in my Razor instead". I don't blame her. Met her and her friends who also work for Microsoft (Windows & Windows Media Marketing & Bizdev). Fun kids.

Apparently we had a re-org today. I didn't go to the impromptu company meeting or watch the webcast yet. Honestly, it's just another distraction from the real work. I hope this is a step in the right direction for these people getting their shit together, but in the meantime I've got real work to do and since we're talking about my boss's boss's boss's boss's boss's boss's boss, it doesn't directly affect me much.

A friend who works for MSN Mobile convinced me to try Dodgeball. It rocks. Why is my friend in MSN Mobile convincing me to try Google products?

All in all, I'd have to say it was a good day.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Place Shift For Free*

Earlier today I wrote about the Slingbox for place shifting TV.

A few minutes ago I came across WebGuide 3, a free place shifting app for Media Center.

No, it won't let you place shift live TV, but it will let you place shift all of your recordings. It's software, so it's easily upgradeable. Who knows what other cool features are on the way. It's also web-based, so it's available across multiple platforms.

So why the '*'? Media Center is expensive (I don't have one yet either) - much more than the $250 Slingbox appliance. But, in the long run hardware prices will fall, Media Center will become affordable for the average consumer, and its capabilities as a platform will beat out the competition. We've seen this with Windows powered desktops, laptops, and servers. We're starting to see this with Windows powered phones. Next will be Windows powered TV, and following that will likely be Windows powered automotive systems (like car nav-systems on steroids).

Drinking the kool-aid? I think so!

The Slingbox looks neat.

Check out Sling Media. Their Slingbox product looks pretty sweet!

I totally buy into "place shifting". Tivo pioneered "time shifting" by allowing you to watch TV when you want. Sling allows you to watch TV where you want.

There are 2 things stopping me from buying one of these today:

1. No support for HDTV

2. No support for multiple tuners (I don't think my housemate would be very happy when I remotely change the channel through an IR blaster)

Ideally though, I'd also like to see:

- Place shifting integrated into existing devices (cable boxes, Tivo, Media Center) as a feature rather than requiring its own additional hardware

- Wireless support (I'm lucky that my wireless AP is near my cable box, but most people probably aren't in this situation)

- As little 3rd party software as possible (Content available via a web server, etc - also leads to platform independence)

- An API

Also check out this interview with Sling's CEO.

And while we're on the topic of TV technologies - why is there still no decent recommender system in place for TV? Why hasn't anyone tied TV into social networking apps? I want to see what my friends, family, and people with generally similar interests are watching. Every interview/demo I've seen of the future of TV talks about these features as being in the pipeline, but isn't it possible now? Why is TV still completely isolated from the Internet -- not just in terms of distribution (IPTV) -- I'm talking about the metadata. There is no technical barrier standing in the way of enabling these scenarios today.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Windows Presentation Foundation demo

Here's a preview of the type of applications you're about to experience thanks to the new Windows Presentation Foundation (Avalon). [To watch it, click the little square icon just under the video]

It's a very neat demo - you don't need to be a developer to enjoy it. Minute 3 is where the action starts.

I had a chance to play with Avalon C# and XAML capabilities during my last 4 months of school. It was super-cool stuff. Can't wait to see more apps taking advantage of it.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Business Week on Microsoft

Business Week did a whole series of articles (including a cover story) on Microsoft. Mini, subject of much attention, has got something posted on it here.

I'm a bit conflicted about Mini's blog. He makes some great points.. and I think his intentions are in the right place... but in the end is it really good for the company? He claims to care so much about the stock price.. but is the Business Week coverage he's generating going to positively affect the stock price? Will it help or hurt Microsoft's recruiting efforts? Its public image? The morale of its less-jaded employees?

Airing your dirty laundry in public certainly has consequences... I guess Mini's betting on his public criticism achieving positive change that could not be achieved through internal feedback mechanisms. But in the meantime, he's doing quite a bit of damage. It's high risk, and so far, I see little evidence that it's working.

Monday, September 12, 2005

My Hero

From an interview with Blake Ross:

10. What are some lessons learned from developing Firefox that you can share with my readers who are working on their own projects?

The things you never think about are the ones driving users nuts. For example, a developer making an e-mail client might spend 6 hours designing the compose window, and 5 minutes hooking up the "Attach" button to the Windows Browse dialog. But it's that Browse dialog that'll give people gray hair over time.

The fact that the dialog is a standard part of the OS is no excuse. In fact, software is often weakest where its developer settled for something prepackaged. Consistency is important, of course, and should always be a factor. But it's your responsibility to make the best software you can, and if you're delegating to the OS without question, your competitors already have a leg up on you. In Firefox, we threw out the Find mechanism applications have used for decades because, frankly, it sucked.


This is the coolest, most insightful comment I've read in a long time. I love it.

It especially strikes a chord with me because where I work, we're seldomly allowed to re-invent dialogs that are standard parts of the OS. On a macro level, I understand why. It makes more sense for us to push off those requirements to the people responsible for the sucky OS dialog in the first place. But on a practical level, such requests get deprioritized very quickly -- people want to build new features, not improve sucky dialogs.

This is why we need Firefox -- and competition in general. Challenge the status quo baby!