Friday, June 24, 2005

Longhorn & IE7

For the last 3 weeks, I've been using Longhorn and IE7 on my desktop at work, and it's been KILLING me not being able to talk (or blog) about any of it.

But now, you too can see Longhorn and IE7, because Robert Scoble just posted a new video with a couple really sweet demos over at Channel 9.

Yay. One thing less to bite my tongue on. (Sidenote: This morning I went to a sweeeet demo of Xbox 360. My jaw, and the jaws of about 1500 of my coworkers, were on the floor. All I can say is that it's certainly going to be a fun holiday season this year. I took a picture of the only thing I was allowed to.)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Quick thoughts

Had another great day at the office. Today's highlight was attending a keynote talk by Bill Gates. Sooo cool!

If you read my blog via the Atom feed, this is a heads up that I've done a little bit of updating to the sidebar. Last night, I watched Monsoon Wedding, and tonight Maria Full of Grace. Both were absolutely amazing, and I highly recommend checking them out. Not many movies score a 93% and 97% (respectively) on

I've also added a link to another great book: Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing. It's an amazing read, exploring the challenges facing women in computing - from birth through college. Everyone should read this book, whether you're passionate about computing or not, it'll strike a chord with you. When I read, I booktab pages that make insightful points I'd never thought of previously. This gem, at only 150 pages, came in at 17 tabs. I've read longer books in the past few months that have received zero tabs (they don't get written about here because it isn't worth my time). So again, I highly suggest checking it out, and thanks to Jill for the copy (and to Microsoft for donating it along with ~40 others to be circulated around the University of Michigan).

Finally, I clipped a post by Kevin Schofield on BitTorrent and Avalanche that I found to be a good read. What a mess. I'll let you do your own research and draw your own conclusions.

That's all for now. Goodnight!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

No work, all play.

Today was an exceptionally fun day at the office.

As part of Microsoft's effort to promote Engineering Excellence and Trustworthy Computing, I attended talks given by Steve Ballmer, Scott Charney, and Ken Moss.

It was uber cool getting to see and hear what these guys had to say up close. Watching Steve B speak candidly about competition was just awesome, and the whole room cracked up when my friend Dan decided to ask him something to the effect of "Does it piss you off that my college friends don't think Microsoft is cool?" (Yes, he used the words "pissed off", at least three times - and his question was better worded than I'm letting on, but anyhow, Nicely done Dan.)

MSN Search is something that fascinates me, mainly because search is an incredibly complex and challenging problem, and also because it's an area in which Microsoft is the underdog. So listening to Ken talk about his group's efforts and plans was just incredibly fascinating to me - so much so that I sent him an email with some follow-up questions afterwards.

I'd have to say that one of the coolest things about working for "the borg" (a la Scoble) so far is the access I've gotten to excellent people. It's awesome watching people I've admired from afar for some time shoot informal emails back and forth on topics ranging from search to blogging to social networking.

Now, off to prepare some powerpoint slides on mates for a meeting at the University of Michigan on exploring campus-wide IM. Chug chug chug.

Friday, June 17, 2005

It's not a bug, it's a feature!

I came across this courtesy of my friend Dan, and just had to blog it. Supposedly sighted in a MSFT parking lot:

Hilarious. Sorry if it's old (or photoshop'd!)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A couple of great flix...

I love Netflix.

Over the past week, I've watched three amazing films:

Nowhere in Africa (or via RT)
Spellbound (RT)
Kinsey (RT)

If you haven't seen them yet, you're missing out (especially Kinsey). Opinions?

Which do you prefer, IMDB or RT? I'm tired of building links to both.

Check out the list of recent movies I've enjoyed in the column on the right. If you think we have similar tastes, add me as a friend on Netflix to get my recommendations, and I'll do the same! (You'll need this:

So, I wonder what Comcast's plans are given the Netflix/Tivo partnership that's in progress... Hmmm...

Monday, June 13, 2005

Plaxo: Where's the value?

A couple weeks ago, I decided to try Plaxo. I think very highly of Mark Jen, who recently took a job with the company. I also have to say that I've been very impressed with the Plaxo web interface, the Outlook plugin, and the company's obvious commitment to their users and the community.

Unfortunately, I've realized that Plaxo just isn't for me. Here's why:

1. In the end, the only value proposition I found in Plaxo was the ability for my contacts to update their own contact information through their Plaxo accounts and have it be automatically reflected in my address book. Unfortunately, so few people in my address book use Plaxo (i.e. none), that it becomes apparent rather quickly that I won't be realizing the benefits of this value proposition at all. The dream is that everyone uses Plaxo to manage their contacts, and then everyone's address book is always up to date with zero management overhead. I don't believe that Plaxo, with its current suite of offerings, can gain a large enough userbase to get there.

2. My initial intended use of Plaxo was as a means of managing and storing all of my contacts. I have personal contacts in Outlook at home and business contacts in Outlook at the office. I have a list of people I call often in Outlook on my phone (which currently syncs with Outlook at home). I have stacks of business cards belonging to plumbers and appliance repair services that I only want to find when I'm searching specifically for them. Unfortunately, Plaxo didn't give me the functionality I needed to keep these sets separate (sync some contacts with work, some with home, some with the phone, and some.. just don't sync at all).

(Sidenote: In the end, after deciding Plaxo wasn't gonna do the trick, I decided to continue to keep the work and personal contacts separate, and attach an Outlook category of "Phonebook" with the personal contacts I want in my phone, then filter the view on the phone to show those contacts only, but still sync the entire list.)

3. I wrote about this a bit in my previous post - I don't buy into sending my contacts automated update request messages. Stacy Martin, Plaxo's Privacy Officer, actually left a comment on this topic earlier this evening. Stacy, I'm glad you've signed on to the idea of engaging the community. I just certainly hope you're doing it to solicit feedback as much as you are to spread Plaxo's preconceived vision!

Stacy writes:

But unlike sending your own personal email, the benefit of using Plaxo is that any response you receive will be automatically updated back into your local address book. Contrast this with sending a personal email message without using Plaxo - you must manually update the appropriate entry when a contact responds.

But Stacy, my using Plaxo to solicit updated contact information does not get rid of the burden of manually updating the appropriate entries. It only shifts the burden from me to the person whose updated information I'm requesting. In fact, I believe that's what upsets me so much about being on the receiving end of automated Plaxo update request messages. If you are requesting information of me for your records (your benefit), the least you could do is have the courtesy to put it into your contact management application's forms yourself, rather than expect me to do it for you. By making it easy on yourself, you are making it harder on me, and by involving the Plaxo automated system in the first place, you are making our limited contact even less personal in nature. And while the solution is "Everyone just use Plaxo", the incentive (obviously) just isn't there.

4. The idea of accessing my information anywhere through Plaxo online is a great one. But fortunately, all of my contacts, calendar items, and tasks are seamlessly synced to my phone, already allowing me to access my information anywhere. So, alright, not everyone has a smartphone. Like I said, I like the Plaxo online feature. But it's certainly not the future - because many business users already do have smartphones with these capabilities, and soon enough, everyone else will too (well before everyone else uses Plaxo, right?). The same goes for Plaxo's premium mobile access feature. Why do I need to access my information by WAP when a) I already have my information on my device and b) my device (and more and more other devices) already have fullblown web browsers? It's a nice-to-have, but there's no future in it.

I've already blogged a bit about how silly it is to offer duplicate address book entry removal as a premium product. I think it's just as silly to have included a Yahoo search bar in the Plaxo plugin. I can already add search plugins to any application, or even my taskbar! No more search bars! I realize they're essentially free to implement, and then you get to list them as a feature on your feature page. But c'mon, how about innovating and creating something completely new and useful instead, and leave the search bars to the search companies?

So, what should Plaxo do instead?

Give me some real incentive to use Plaxo to manage my contacts.

That incentive needs to be more than a dream of how amazing it could be (but isn't yet) if everyone else also used Plaxo. It needs to be more than another search bar and more than the ability to sync contact information between computers. And when you give us all that incentive, the amazing dream will fall into place as a bonus.

Where are my contacts right now? If they use AIM, Yahoo Messenger, or MSN Messenger, are they online or away? If I'm traveling on vacation or for business in New York City, show me any of my contacts who are living or also just traveling nearby. What kind of music are my contacts listening to? What are the top 10 songs that my friends have ranked in their playlists? Let me schedule a dinner party among a group of people in my contacts. Let me see relationships among my contacts (if they desire to allow me to do so). Show me my contacts' flickr photos. Now that I think about it, why do I have 'contact networks' in AIM, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, Friendster, Orkut, Flickr, and the list goes on and on and on...

Don't re-invent the IM client or the social networking web site, but reap the benefits of each and bring them into the realm of contact management. And do it now, before somebody else does.. while there's still time to be the first mover and achieve some lock-in. The goal might have been to alleviate the pain point in managing large numbers of contacts. I don't buy that model, or at least I don't buy it alone (and neither do you if you've found yourselves resorting to boasting about search bars). Time to change it up.

Comments? *ducks*

Sunday, June 12, 2005


Christopher Spera over at wrote a pretty great review of the i-mate PDA2k (another rebranded version of my phone) after using it for 6 months. He calls it a hands down winner among Pocket PC phones.

I've been pretty happy with it, though I concede it's a bit big to lug around all the time. I also feel kind of geeky whipping the monstrously huge thing out in the middle of a bar on a Saturday night.

So, I've been starting to look at some of the smaller Smartphones. Tonight I went bowling with some of the Microsoft interns and recent college grads, and one of the guys had just gotten an Audiovox SMT 5600 (the one currently featured on the Smartphone site's front page). It seemed pretty slick. My only real concern is the input method. I love the transcriber (handwriting recognition) on my PPC phone and the slideout keyboard. The intern with the new phone had a portable bluetooth keyboard that was pretty neat, and only about the size of my current phone when folded up. Hmmm...

Anyone out there own a Windows Mobile Smartphone? Any thoughts?

By the way, I'm also still looking for advice on good Podcasts for my morning/evening commutes. The only bearable ones I've found so far are This Week In Tech and Engadget (and the latter is only barely bearable). I'm looking for intelligent chatter (tech, business, world news, whatever..) more than music. Do any of you even listen to Podcasts?

Saturday, June 11, 2005

plazes and location-based social networking

I came across an interesting project this morning: plazes. There's some overlap with what we've been doing with mates. I think we're going to be seeing more and more companies bringing location into social networking. What will be key, however, will be building a platform, not a suite of applications. plazes is on the right track by integrating with existing social networking sites and providing an API:

Plazes is going to want to talk to other systems and formats. With the help of our Plazes Plugin it is easy to use Plazes on your own page or blog. Plazes also allows you to link your other digital identities or instant messaging accounts to your profile. There is a lot of great software out there people are used to and we are not out there to change that fact. On the contrary, perspectively we will allow other systems to use information out of Plazes via a web API. This way, search engines or instant messenger can serve location-aware information. Already very soon we will include rss feeds so you can keep up with your favorite Plazes and the whereabouts of your friends through the launcher, your rss reader, or maybe even mobile...

That's pretty neat, though I'm not so sure about the "or maybe even mobile" part tagged onto the end as an afterthought. While we're still 2-3 years away from Joe User's mobile phone sporting integrated GPS and a high-speed always-on Internet connection, there's no doubt in my mind that's the future of location-based social networking - not another web app that asks you for your zip code and lets you showcase your location on your blog.

Nerds Make Better Lovers

NY Daily News: Nerds make better lovers.

"Ready for a real relationship? Ditch the pretty boys and grab yourself a geek."

I love it.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A little bit of entertainment...

For my birthday (which officially begins in 1 hour -- yay!), I decided to get myself a subscription to Netflix. I'd been carrying around a "to watch" list of films on my phone for quite awhile, and figured it was time to jump in. The first movies I added to my queue were: Spellbound, Nowhere in Africa, Kinsey, and Maria Full of Grace.

I also really really want to see Born Into Brothels and Nina's Tragedies, but they apparently haven't been released yet on DVD.

In other news, I'm finally jumping on the Podcasting bandwagon. Now that I'm spending about an hour a day commuting to/from work, I might as well use the time to catch up on "current events". I started by downloading the iPodder client, though I have to say I'm more impressed with the concept than the actual software. The iTunes integration is messy, and a bunch of the downloads seem to randomly stall with no way to restart or resume.

Anyone out there have any suggestions on better podcast download/mgmt software (at least until Apple builds it all into iTunes natively)? What podcasts do you listen to?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Hello, Microsoft.

As many of you know, yesterday was my first day at Microsoft. The past two days have been absolutely amazing. Most of the time was spent in NEO (New Employee Orientation -- pronounced like Neo from The Matrix -- Microsoft has so many acronyms that the corporate intranet even has an acronym searchbox on the front page ;-)), followed by an afternoon setting up my desktop and meeting with my team.

One of the highlights of my NEO program was the executive guest speaker, Martin Taylor. I'd seen his interview on Slashdot, and his interviews on Channel9 [1, 2], and in a way he's someone I really look up to at the company. So it was awesome getting to hear from him and getting to pose him a question in person.

Today, I got my dork badge. The picture came out surprisingly well. Yay.

Unfortunately, I don't have much else to say at this point. Not surprisingly, I'm finding myself in a bit of a difficult position. There's sooo much I'd love to write about from the last 2 days, but feel it's prudent to err on the side of caution and avoid accidentally disclosing a bunch of information that I shouldn't be disclosing.

I feel like on one side of the spectrum there's fired Google blogger Mark Jen (not to mention the Microsoft contractor who was fired for posting pictures of Apple computers on a loading dock), and on the other side of the spectrum there are Robert Scoble blabbing away and Gretchen from HR posting pictures of her corporate ID card. It's gonna be a while before I find my place in the mix.

As for what I'm actually doing at Microsoft.. I'll likely post a bit more on that in the future. Unfortunately, for now, mum's the word.

[Update: Want to read more about my experiences interviewing with Microsoft? Check out this post.]