Thursday, December 27, 2007

Happy New Year!

Back in LA for a few days...

Spent the morning with my laptop at Panera Bread, still the best source of free nationwide WiFi and french toast bagels!

Finally got around to making a few tweaks to my blog. I added a Shelfari bookshelf, and a Flixster badge. Shelfari is nice. My friend Mike recently left Microsoft to work there. I like the way they let you customize the bookshelf, and hope they continue to make it even more customizable.

Flixster, on the other hand, is hideous. It's heavy on the advertising, and is highly tailored to MySpace and Bebo (read: 12 year old) crowd. I started using both apps on Facebook to keep track of what I'm reading/watching, share with friends, and discover new reads/films. Flixster fills up my profile's news feed with all sorts of crap about friends taking quizes rather than information about what movies I've watched. The blog badge is animated, and cycles through 20 "recent" movies showing only one at a time. Horrid.

I also recently ditched Bloglines for Google Reader, and will never go back. It's much better than the first time I tried Reader before their major revamp, and it's much better than the recent Bloglines Beta. Offline reading support through Google Gears seems promising but useless until it supports images (who wants to read blogs without inline images??).

Here's a nifty little device I stumbled upon recently that geotags photos right on the SD card -- no sync/software required. Definitely wanna ditch my PhotoTrackr for a Photo Finder, but then again, how long until it's all built into mainstream cameras? 1 year? 2?

Finally, it seems Windows Live Messenger might get support to talk to AIM and Gtalk soon! That'd be a dream come true -- one IM client to serve them all!!

That's all for now. Need to blog more soon on life in general, the startup, etc. Off to New York City in a few days for New Years. Yay.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

&& GTalk !<3 AIM?! :-(

Cool to see Google and AOL working together so that Gmail users can now IM AIM users. I personally prefer not to chat from the web page where I read my email, so I really hope Google Talk also gets this feature soon.

Two years ago, I had 4 IM clients installed on every PC. When Microsoft and Yahoo decided to partner, I was able to ditch YIM and knock the total down to 3. Hopefully soon, I'll finally be able to kick AIM to the curb as well.

It seems like every new version of AIM is more poorly designed, bloated, and unstable than the previous version. Most recently, the latest release of AIM completely screwed up my new laptop, and apparently it's been a widespread problem for people who run with UAC turned off.

I don't mind so much having both Windows Live Messenger and Google Talk running at the same time. They're both pretty solid, and are good for different things. WLM is featureful -- supports tablet ink, folder sharing by replication, and a bunch of other neat things. Gtalk is incredibly fast and lightweight -- almost everything's a single click away. I'd love to have a client that supported the best of both worlds, and interoperability between the two, but sadly, I suspect that's not likely to happen any time soon. ;)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Outlook's killer feature

Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 has one feature that I really miss from using it daily for 2 years -- the ability to copy and paste an image into an email.

I really like taking screen clippings and including them in emails, both because pictures make things fun to read and because they're often worth a thousand words (and who wants to write or read a thousand words?!).

But with all of the web-based email services (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, etc) it seems you have to save the image as a file, then attach the file to the email, and in most cases, it doesn't get inserted in any particular position in the message body.

The fact that this is still the case in 2007 is tragic. I'd even go so far as to switch back to Outlook for work email, except that I imagine when I would send an email with a few pictures between paragraphs from Outlook to a Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo Mail recipient, they would probably often arrive out of order and/or looking different than how they looked when sent? But maybe it would work alright if I switched Outlook from rich text to html email? Has anyone ever tried?

When Ray Ozzie took over Bill Gates's job last year, he was working on a pet project to help bring copy/paste to the web. Has it gone anywhere, or was it a complete failure? Ray hasn't updated his blog at all since mid-2006. (As a sidenote, anyone else notice that regular Windows Live Spaces users get their blogs plastered with ads at the top but Ray Ozzie doesn't?)

Perhaps now that Gmail supports IMAP, I should try the Windows Live Mail client app again. Should I be willing to suck up having to look at banner ads while I read my email if I can paste my screen clippings? Perhaps I'll give it a go...

[Update 12/25/2007] I ended up giving the Windows Live Mail desktop client another try, and it's absolutely wonderful with Gmail's IMAP support. Images pasted into messages still appear inline in Gmail, and it has a great offline sync story. Check it out.

Monday, November 26, 2007

DIRECTV Removes TiVo From Our House

Before I returned to my family's home in LA for Thanksgiving, my Dad apparently got a call from DIRECTV letting him know that in order to continue receiving service and newer HD content, they would need to replace his dish and receiver. So, without providing any more information or options, they came out to our home and did so.

In the process, DIRECTV did something pretty sly -- they sneakily kicked his TiVo to the curb.

I love TiVo. They're sorta the Apple of the DVR -- pretty, friendly, and easy to use. I bought my parents their first TiVo 6 years ago after owning and loving one of my own. They loved it too, and bought more newer ones over the years -- including a DIRECTV receiver with TiVo software.

At some point, DIRECTV figured it would be cheaper to bundle their own software instead of offering TiVo. That's fine and well. But to come into our home and replace it without even telling us in advance that that was what they would be doing? Shady.

There have been news articles that DIRECTV has extended support for TiVo, and that new TiVo-enabled models will even be released in the future. So I'm not quite sure what's really going on -- but now you've heard my family's experience from the front lines.

Poor TiVo. RIP.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gooooood Morning Los Angeles!

Pheeeew! After 15 hours of traveling by ferry, car, and plane, it's good to be back in Los Angeles with my family for Thanksgiving.

As an early Hanukkah present, my parents, who have been incredibly supportive of this whole quit my job and burn through savings adventure, replaced my dead Thinkpad T40 with a brand spankin' new Thinkpad T61. It's a beautiful machine with a 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB ram, 100GB 7200RPM disk, 128MB NVIDIA Quadro video card, bluetooth, "Wireless N", and a 15.4" WSXGA+ TFT display that runs at a smokin' 1680x1050 resolution!

I'm super happy because it was getting a little frustrating to wait 20-30 seconds after hitting 'F5' in Visual Studio on the older X-series tablet I was borrowing over the last few months!

One of the funny things about the new Thinkpad I've noticed in my first hours using it is that they split the regular-sized left Alt key into 2 smaller keys -- on the left is the Windows key, on the right is Alt. Sony is the king of non-standard keyboard layouts with their compact VAIO laptops, and I absolutely can't stand VAIOs because of it. At first, the new Thinkpad key design thoroughly annoyed me because my thumb kept hitting "Windows" instead of "Alt", bringing up the new, horribly designed "Flip 3D" feature. While it makes for sexy TV commercials, it's a horrible way to switch between windows. But I've found a solution to this problem! In just a few seconds, I'll rebind Windows-Tab to Switcher -- at which point I hope my fingers will slip more to use Windows-Tab, since as far as I know Alt-Tab can't be rebound.

That's all for now. Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Life without "is" is...

... null.

Software testing is a polarizing topic. Some people swear by software testers ("SDET"s at Microsoft) and demand a 1:1 developer:tester ratio, others think they're not worth the overhead whatsoever and that developers should test their own code (and we'll hear about the rest from customer service). Usually the latter camp begins to cave when they find themselves running a global service and stuff like this starts to surface at 4:30am the morning after a change.


Anyhow: "Adam Herscher is preparing for the 15 hour journey from Beaver Island, MI back home to Los Angeles, CA" (and is not null)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I spent a few days playing around with Ruby on Rails. It was the first time in over 2 years that I'd learned a new, non-Microsoft language/technology stack, and I like it a lot. The two key Rails concepts I spent time playing with were ActiveRecord and the Model View Controller scaffolding. ActiveRecord was very similar to Microsoft's new LINQ technology that I've been using lately. The Model View Controller stuff was very intuitive and easy to 'get'. This morning, I came across a post on Scott Guthrie's awesome blog about ASP.NET's new MVC framework. It looks promising. I have to imagine someone at Microsoft was inspired by Ruby on Rails, but who knows.

I have no interest in spending time right now on an ASP.NET vs RoR post (and I don't have enough Rails experience to do so)... but I must say the one thing I do love about Ruby on Rails is its "convention over configuration" philosophy. I vaguely remember reading something once in a perl manpage about a perl core tenet of being able to do one thing many different ways. There's value in both philosphies, but lately I'm starting to place a much higher value in how quick, easy, and friendly something is over how powerful/extensible/backwards-compatible it is. For example, some of the ASP.NET controls are incredibly powerful, but it takes 4 hours to scratch the surface and evaluate a single control that might or might not be useful (what's the difference between a GridView, DataList, ListView, and Repeater, and why should I care?).

I think the difference between the Rails web site and the LINQ web site really sums things up well. Rails is the "Apple guy" of web developers -- used by indie hackers and designers, and ASP.NET is the "PC guy" -- used by big Enterprise people that wear suits and get sent to training sessions and stuff.

Anyhow, that's all for now. Here's a picture from Jeff's webcam right outside our office on Beaver Island (it should be current as of the time you loaded this page):

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Sustainability of Web 2.0

Since the inception of the term "Web 2.0", something about it has made me cringe. Even after reading numerous definitions and opinions over the past 2 years, I never seemed to be able to describe exactly what bothered me about it so much (beyond its ambiguity), until now.

Perhaps unintentionally, "Web 2.0" has come to represent the general category of recent tech startups. Beyond the media hype/Dilbert/geek-culture ("Lunch 2.0") references, the term has been tossed around as a business category in every recent discussion I've had with friends in the finance world. It's even being used as a category in an official capacity on paper: I recently had lunch with a partner in an investment fund with a few million dollars earmarked specifically for "Web 2.0 companies" (as labeled in SEC filings).

I think it's time to accept that, just as the many failed (and few successful) tech startups from the late 90s came to be known as "dot coms" (a once flattering name), this round has been categorically labeled as "Web 2.0s".

But what makes me cringe when I hear "Web 2.0" is not the way it has been interpreted or categorically applied. Rather, something bothers me about the category of companies that the term now represents. It's the same cringe I felt when I was working for a tech startup in Silicon Valley back in 2001 and I would *shudder* when people would use the word "dot com" because at the time, something was fishy about the whole "dot com" category, and in the same way, something feels fishy to me about the "Web 2.0" category today.

At the root of the fishiness is the question of whether or not this category of web 2.0 companies are sustainable.

Two years ago, Paul Graham wrote:

The reason this won't turn into a second Bubble is that the IPO market is gone. Venture investors are driven by exit strategies. The reason they were funding all those laughable startups during the late 90s was that they hoped to sell them to gullible retail investors; they hoped to be laughing all the way to the bank. Now that route is closed. Now the default exit strategy is to get bought, and acquirers are less prone to irrational exuberance than IPO investors. The closest you'll get to Bubble valuations is Rupert Murdoch paying $580 million for Myspace. That's only off by a factor of 10 or so.

Well, there have since been a few more bubble-like developments like a potential $10 billion valuation on Facebook, but even putting those aside, I still don't see the current situation as sustainable for long. It seems to me that with the IPO market gone and venture investors driven by acquisition exits, founders of web 2.0 companies are often not focusing on building sustainable businesses that could ultimately be successful without being acquired. I run through the hundreds if not thousands of web 2.0 companies, and see mostly potential Bloggers, Bloglines's, and's (all successful acquisitions), but very few Amazons or Ebays, let alone Apples.

While founders are doing things significantly cheaper than in the late '90s, VC investment is still at an all-time high since 2001. I suspect that a lot of money is riding on large numbers of web 2.0 companies hoping to be acquired, but statistically I imagine that a relatively small percentage are actually being acquired, and the rest are silently burning through their cash. It's only been 2 years since "Web 2.0" was coined, and less time since the term has come into the mainstream as a category, and so there probably couldn't have been too many stories of web 2.0 startup death yet (the TechCrunch deadpool is growing, but thankfully it's no circa 2001).

I can only hope that I'm simply wrong to shudder at the label "Web 2.0", in the same way that we all came to shudder at "dot com", while most people around me seem to be using the term happily as a category in everyday speech. But I certainly question the sustainability of so many "web 2.0 companies", and coming from the perspective of someone currently in the process of doing a consumer tech startup, I'm certainly concerned about all of the recent bubble talk, and what its impact might be on our ability to raise money in the future should web 2.0 begin to tank.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Email Photos

Last week, Jeff and I published a small web app that makes it easy to resize and email photos.

We posted a bit of background here and here.

I think it will be useful for people who don't want to spend time learning how to use their operating systems or imaging software to resize photos they've taken off their digital cameras, and who aren't interested in maintaining an online photo gallery or using a social networking site like Facebook (Jeff/my parents and grandparents seem to fall into this category).

But to my own surprise, I've also started to use it myself to quickly send off photos to friends -- even to send quick screenshots to Jeff when he's sitting 5ft away.

Anyhow, that's all for now. It seems it has been 2 months since my "Three weeks in" post, so I suppose I owe anyone who still reads a follow-up "Three months in" post shortly! There's been a lot going on around here lately, so it should be an interesting one.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Three Weeks In

It's been roughly 3 weeks since I landed in LA and began working on the new business with Jeff.

Interestingly, I feel a lot like I did when I started my new job at Microsoft, and when I started other exciting new jobs before that. One of the fun aspects of having kept this blog is the ability to look back over my posts from June/July of 2005 and see that same spark of enthusiasm for starting something new then.

As with all of the challenging jobs I've started in the past, when the end of the day comes (or night as the case may be), I find myself feeling pretty exhausted. We've been working from roughly 8:30am until any time between 11pm-1am, 6-7 days a week, with relatively few breaks. Most days, I find myself eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner in front of my computer. Today, however, I escaped to eat a bowl of chili for dinner in front of the TV while watching 10 minutes of COPS 2.0 on G4, and now I'm taking a second break to write this blog post. One upside on the work/life balance front is that my parents have an awesome hot tub, which we use to wind down 4 or 5 nights a week. Not so bad.

Besides a single visit to an LA geek dinner, and a night out roughly once a week, I feel like I've more or less put my social life on hold. I've also tabled my Mandarin lessons because even with my ChinesePod loaded iPhone, I don't seem to have free time to listen. I'm trying hard not to give up the gym, though we've only ended up making it once or twice a week so far.

I don't expect too much to change over the next several months while we try hard to get something up and running, and as a result, my posts here will likely continue to dwindle. Rather than sharing random thoughts on a wide range of subjects as I have in the past, I'll likely move towards juts posting sporadic personal updates from time to time.

That said, Jeff and I have started blogging about our experiences from day zero in building a new technology company. We call it fluxcapacity (the blog, not the company). If you're interested in such things (topics will range broadly from technology to business), and would like to follow our progress, I invite you to subscribe.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Hello iPhone.

Ten reasons buying an iPhone was a sound financial decision:

10. It was $300 less expensive than the first Smartphone I imported in 2004.

9. I just recently signed a new 2 year at&t contract anyway.

8. With Visual Voicemail, I'll actually save money I would've otherwise spent having to make a call to listen to messages.

7. Since it has an iPod built in, I'll save money and time by not buying, charging, and syncing a 2nd mp3 player device in the future.

6. Jeff and I will need to test our own UI on many devices and platforms.

5. As a technology entrepreneur, it's critical that I investigate and understand various advances in technology (and thus, one of these is obviously next).

4. It was really fun to play with today at Mind Camp (like band camp, for nerds!)

3. My last phone's LCD cracked then died after dropping it one too many times over the weekend (i.e. the real catalyst for it all).

2. After dropping my last phone again when pulling it out of my pocket in the Apple store, I was able to secure a rugged iPhone case to protect my investment for only an additional $30.

1. Simply put, it really fucking rocks. Get one. Really.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Leaving Microsoft

It's official. I've decided to leave Microsoft.

The past 25 months have given me a great opportunity to learn and grow, while working for one of the best software companies in the world.

But alas, the time has come again to change things up, take on some risk, and start a new adventure. In just a week, I'll be moving down to LA to bootstrap a startup with Jeff, a friend from college who recently finished his Masters and with whom I worked on the mates project several years back (and as a sidenote, he's been up to some pretty cool stuff since!).

We won't be working on location-based social networking or flying robots, but it's a little too soon to share our plans just yet.

With that, I leave you with some pmarca words of wisdom...

First, and most importantly, realize that a startup puts you on an emotional rollercoaster unlike anything you have ever experienced.

You will flip rapidly from a day in which you are euphorically convinced you are going to own the world, to a day in which doom seems only weeks away and you feel completely ruined, and back again.

Over and over and over.

And I'm talking about what happens to stable entrepreneurs.

There is so much uncertainty and so much risk around practically everything you are doing. Will the product ship on time? Will it be fast enough? Will it have too many bugs? Will it be easy to use? Will anyone use it? Will your competitor beat you to market? Will you get any press coverage? Will anyone invest in the company? Will that key new engineer join? Will your key user interface designer quit and go to Google? And on and on and on...

Some days things will go really well and some things will go really poorly. And the level of stress that you're under generally will magnify those transient data points into incredible highs and unbelievable lows at whiplash speed and huge magnitude.

Sound like fun?


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Facebook, Twitter, and Paris Hilton

I toyed around with Facebook applications a bit today.. they range from cool and useful to... well:

Right.. so, is it just me, or does Facebook completely eclipse any value Twitter might've once had?

Building a platform makes for interesting times.. like Microsoft, Facebook competes with quite a few other businesses building applications on their own platform, and not all Facebook applications are created equal (competitor apps, for example, cannot currently be placed above certain Facebook apps). It won't be long before fights begin to break out, and Facebook runs out of business some of the companies it's currently feeding.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Home Sweet Home

After a painfully long flight home, a quick jaunt to the ER for intravenous rehydration, and a weekend of deep sleep, I'm back and settled in Seattle.

Despite getting sick, the trip to China was absolutely amazing. I've posted all the pictures on my flickr, and included a few of my favorites below for fun.

The pictures are mostly correctly geocoded, and I was looking forward to overlaying our path onto a map, perhaps using Popfly, but I noticed that neither Google Maps nor Live Search seem to have China coverage. Anyone know why not, and if there's a service that does (preferably with an API)?

Watching sports on Tokyo airport TV

How to ensure you'll never forget how to wash your sweatshirt


Smart way to keep the arrival area clear

7 Eleven is everywhere in China

One-way escalators... bad idea.

Me looking kinda like a monkey

MSN is everywhere in China

Probably the best view of any CPK in the world

I always wanted a wallet with an SD memory card holder!

Spiderman.. spiderman..

Human-sized PSP in a Hong Kong mall

China entrance form. People living with HIV/AIDS are not allowed.

Take a picture, send a postcard! All from your phone!

Didn't think I'd see a hybrid car in China

Shepherd looking at available phone numbers. More lucky numbers == more $$$.

Everyone loves cards in China. Every store has a club card. A problem in dire need of a technological solution.

New Audi Q7. Lots of expensive cars in China -- Porsche, Lexus, Audi, BMW, ...

Good citizens kill bugs.

Capitalism is alive and well

All scaffolding in China is bamboo. Very cool sight.

Brand newly sprawling Chinese suburbia

Tom & Jerry cartoons from the 80s on the airplane!

Beautiful Lijiang lanterns

More beautiful Lijiang

Farmers put their wheat on the road so cars going by will crush it for them

Beautiful Lijiang water and sky

Coolest bank storefront I've seen

Picking out our vegetables, fish, and meat for lunch (the latter 2 of which were still hanging out alive by the entrance)

Advertising on the baggage claim. Smart.

Grandma old computer

All foreigners staying in Beijing must report to the local police

Grandma old computer runs pirated Windows :(

Cute kitty with her 5 newborn babies!!

Found a Sizzler when my stomach couldn't take Chinese food any longer. In the menu, they define "Western" and "Grill", sort-of how we do the same for concepts from distant, foreign lands

Rooftops in the Summer Palace

Magnum bar with a Windows Live Spaces promotion!

Don't do... well, anything really.

The ridiculous Starbucks that opened in the middle of the Forbidden City.

My receipt from the ridiculous StarbucksCoffee Forbidden Store

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pill Popping in Beijing

Oh, how the tides have turned. Somehow, halfway through my China travels, I picked up a nasty bug that had me writhing in pain with a 101 degree fever, body aches, and stomach pains. I'm still unsure whether it was eating that $1.50 lunch in a dive on the street with no electricity and the flies buzzing, or the intense heat exposure in Zhongdian at 9,000 feet above sea level, or just bad luck. Shepherd ate and journeyed everywhere I did and is fine, but then again, he did live here for most of his life.

Luckily, after losing a day to (miserable) air travel, and another day and a half to pure rest and eating nothing but crackers, water, Tums, and Ibuprofen, all of the symptoms are gone except the intense stomach pains and unsightly related stomach symptoms. This morning, we stopped by a drug store to buy some medicine, and after Shepherd explained the symptoms, they gave me some drug they claimed everyone in China takes and is best. Unfortunately, after a day of dosing, things didn't seem to be getting any better. I looked online (which, by the way, is getting quite trying with Wikipedia banned in China), and found the drug, Berberine Hydrochloride, to apparently be rather useless.

So, after 2 and a half days of unsuccessfully sleeping it off, I went back to the drug store tonight armed with a list of possible Western medications I found on the Internet -- the active ingredients in Immodium AD and Pepto Bismol, and three different antibiotics that could be used to kill whatever's in my system.

At this point, Shepherd was out getting dinner with a friend, so I went it alone... and when I got to the drug store the lights were off and they were closing up. I ran in and showed them my paper list and pleaded with them to help, at which point 20 minutes of me searching for English drug names on Chinese boxes and 4 women yelling in Chinese pursued. They'd drag me over to the Chinese medicine area, and I'd pull them back to the Western medicine. Finally, I found a box of Norfloxacin, and gave up on the rest of the list. The antibiotics cost me less than $1.50 US.

So alas, my trip to Beijing thus far has been less than stellar. Hopefully, I'll kick this tomorrow and venture out to Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City, and then the Great Wall Thursday.

On a lighter note, the trip from Lijiang to Zhongdian (before we flew to Beijing) was pretty sweet. We hitched a ride with a tour bus (all Chinese tourists) and made friends with a bunch of fun people. When we stopped to eat after visiting the Tiger Leaping Gorge, a few of them invited us to eat lunch with them, and then insisted on buying -- telling me "Welcome to China!" as we left the restaurant. It was a quite welcoming gesture. As for the geek in me, I noticed one girl on the bus had a Dopod (HTC) Chinese Windows Mobile phone which looked pretty slick, and when we exchanged contact information, they asked for my "MSN" (now "Windows Live") Messenger, and for my MySpace! That said, they said MSN is losing mindshare to QQ -- apparently a better service here. I googled for it and wanna read that first damn Wikipedia article, but alas, no Wikipedia for me!

Zhongdian itself was a bit lackluster. We visited an amazing Tibetan Buddhist template, but the commercialization of it dissapointed me. Outside the temple you get offered to take a picture on a sad-looking Chinese cow. After you buy your ticket and enter the wall around the template area, you're then offered to take pictures with brightly clothed kids and their pet dogs and lambs as you climb steeps stairs at 9,000 feet. Then, perhaps most annoyingly, when inside moving between rooms, you're told you must buy additional tickets. The truth of the matter is that I'm happy to donate the cost of all the tickets and additional donations (maybe $10 US total) or more to their temple, which I assume serves the community quite well, but being milked for money by kids who should instead be in school wasn't cool.

Anyhow, time to call it quits for the evening.

"Wan an" :-)

Saturday, May 26, 2007


It's been a week since I arrived in China with my friend Shepherd. It's an amazing country, and backpacking through it has been quite the experience so far.

I'm currently sipping on green tea while sitting at a cafe in Lijiang, an incredible city in the beautiful Yunnan province. Above the computer reads a sign, "intel net Y5/hour", which translates to Internet, 65 cents/hour. There's very little English to be found here (even Blogger is entirely in Chinese with no "English" link to be found), and the attempted translations on both homemade and official signs continue to give me a little chuckle. With Shepherd's help, my Mandarin has been improving exponentially.

We started off in Hong Kong, by way of Tokyo. Hong Kong was as I had seen on TV and in movies and had read about. The best way I can think to describe the city is bustling up close and beautiful from afar. We hiked through the city all the way from the water up to as close to the peak as one can get on foot. The mid-levels of the city have a one-way escalator (I had seen once on the Travel Channel), which changes direction based on the time of day. Of course, we were going up during rush hour when most are going down, so we instead climbed hundreds if not thousands of stairs. It was an amazing trek, with lots to see (and take pictures of!) along the way.

We then took the ferry over to Kowloon, and had lunch with an amazing view of Hong Kong island's skyscrapers disappearing into the clouds above, with its green mountains in the background. We did some shopping, and at night ventured out into the quite Westernized Lan Kwai Fun district which was one big party of ex-pats and foreign tourists.

After two nights in Hong Kong, we took a train into mainland China, passing Shenzhen and arriving in Guangzhou, Shepherd's home city. The train was my first opportunity to see "real China", and I was incredibly surprised by the scale of just about everything and the level to which the country is developed. One must keep in mind that china is massive, with something like 1.2 billion people. Everything here is done on a massive scale. While apartment buildings in the US have perhaps tens or hundreds of units, buildings here have thousands, often with up to half a dozen matching towers. While washing machines have arrived, dryers largely have not, and it's interesting to see people hanging clothes to dry off the 30+ floors (and to see this on every floor of the buildings). Thiefs in China also apparently climb buildings, so even units on such high floors sometimes have bars covering the windows!

Guangzhou was certainly one of the highlights of my trip thus far, primarily because we spent 3 nights living with Shepherd's family. When asked, I said I did not have any dietary restrictions and wanted to eat whatever they ate, and all the food I got to try was absolutely amazing. Shepherd's Mom made some fantastically tasty dinners, and we had by far the best Dimsum for breakfast that I have had to date. Guangzhou is in Canton where Cantonese is spoken over Mandarin, and unlike Hong Kong, it's rare to encounter people who speak much English (outside of perhaps the business/academic circles). So, I learned a few important words in Cantonese (along the lines of "Thank you", and "Yep!"), dropped a few words in Mandarin here and there, and otherwise let Shepherd and his family do the talking for me.

The size of Guangzhou was like nothing I have ever seen before in a city (and I'm from Los Angeles). One can drive hours in any direction and continue to be surrounded by huge towers. The polution is problematic, but once we escaped from the city to visit some beautiful gardens, the air quality improved drastically. Two things I began to notice while in Guangzhou were 1) how apparent China's emerging middle class is and 2) how great of an effort the government (at multiple levels) is putting in to improving the quality of life -- from city infrastructure to the environment. I had heard about the former, but the latter especially surprised me (and would continue to be apparent, especially with respect to the environment, as we traveled to Lijiang). Guangzhou has a beautiful, relatively new subway system, highly developed infrastructure (water, power, phone, mobile, internet), taxis are full at rush hour, teens chat on their cell phones while shopping at the malls which have AMC-like movie theaters inside, etc. China's middle class is supposedly numbered at roughly 300 million people -- the size of the entire United States.

In any event, after spending three nights with Shepherd's family, and meeting some of his friends from back home, we headed to the airport to catch a flight to Lijiang, by way of Yunnan's capital city of Kunming. Like everything else in Guangzhou, its airport was massive. To board our China Southern flight, we had to hop on a shuttle bus at the gate, which we assumed would take us out to a stairway at the plane (despite very modern jetways). Surprisingly, it took us all the way to another wing of the massive airport where we re-entered and boarded through a jetway. The wing seemed connected, so nobody was sure exactly what was up with the shuttle bus. :)

When we touched down in Lijiang, we hopped on a very nice bus that played Chinese pop music videos (with lyrics for Kareoke -- or "Kuh-lee-oh-kuh" in Mandarin) and took us into the city, where we took a short cab and met our hostel/guest house host, who, like everyone else in Lijiang, has been incredibly friendly and helpful. We picked out a nice room with wooden walls, 2 beds, and a private bathroom, which is costing us about $10 (US)/night, or $5 each. Did I mention everything here is insanely inexpensive? Things like bottled water, ice cream, and coke cost about 25-50 cents. Today, we had very tasty and filling Sezchuan pork noodle soup bowls (homemade noodles) for lunch that together cost us less than $1.50. And they're building very beautiful new homes in the newer areas of Lijiang which sell for about $50,000 -- a very tempting proposition (apparently, other foreigners -- Chinese and not -- are indeed buying).

The old city of Lijiang has certainly been another highlight of the trip. It is incredibly peaceful, with beautiful traditional Chinese architecture dating back many hundreds of years. Even new buildings are built with the same style of architecture, which I hope will help preserve at least some of the feeling as it continues to transform into quite the tourist destination. Interestingly, most of the tourism to Lijiang is now Chinese (again, signs of emerging middle class market?), whereas 10-20 years ago it was almost entirely foreign travelers. At night, the streets of Lijiang are lit up with hundreds of red lanterns, and rivers/waterfalls run alongside and under the streets, which are filled with shops and bustling nightclubs. Last night, we saw a performance of singing and dancing by local Naxi people, whose culture and history have become the pride and joy of the city.

The views in Lijiang, during the day and at night, are staggering. Today, we hired a guide with a car to take us outside the city to some of the local sites (about $15 for the entire day). We visited some sites that highlight the history of the Naxi people, a beautiful temple, gardens, and ended the day by going horseback riding through the wilderness. The temperature has been consistently in the 70s, sunny, and hardly humid. It's clear the government is doing a lot to preserve Lijiang while also building it into more and more of a tourist destination. Today, I asked our guide, a Naxi woman with 13 generations of history in Lijiang (who works in the tourism industry), what she thought of the local tourist economy. She didn't like it, and instead preferred the older days where even though people had less, neighbors would help each other more and were less corrupted by the new money. The old city, where people used to live, has turned into a collection of small hotels and shops geared towards tourists. To improve the environment, local people can no longer wash their laundry in the rivers that run through the city -- good or bad? You tell me.

Well, after checking email and jotting down these blog notes, the evening lights and lanterns have been illuminated at the intelnet cafe, and my 65 cent hour is long past up. Shepherd and I are off to get some "Chifan" (dinner), then perhaps "yi ping pijou" (a beer) or two, and then back to sleep to rest up for our journey to the Tiger Leaping Gorge and Zhongdian (recently renamed Shangri-La by the government to increase tourism) tomorrow.

Zai jien!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

T-7 Days To China

I'm getting really excited about my upcoming trip to China. I've been eager to visit for years, and can't wait to get there (read: it's gonna be a long week at the office!)

I received my PhotoTrackr in the mail (the first hardware product to get a Supr Flickr infused r name?). It's a sweet little device. Immediately locked on to gps signals from my patio, and logs its location to memory every 5 seconds. It's smart too - goes to sleep when it stops moving, and wakes back up when it senses vibration. When I plug it into my PC, it plots my path on a Google Map, and tags any photos I took with the location I was at when I took them (based on timestamp metadata). Definitely plan to strap it onto my backpack in China, and can't wait to whip together an app myself that consumes the data sometime after I get back.

My trip to China is as follows:

Hong Kong (pics) - Friend and I arrive and spend 3 nights in a hostel we found on Then take a bus to Guangzhou.

Guangzhou (pics) - Crash at my friend's family's home for 2 nights. Fly to Yunnan.

Yunnan (pics) - Arrive in Lijiang (pics) and spend 3 days/nights exploring Southwest China's Yunnan province. Figure out what cities/hotels to sleep in when we get there. Just know we need to get to Zhongdian (pics) by bus/train to fly out 3 days later to Beijing by way of Kunming (pics).

Beijing (pics) - Spend 4 days/nights exploring Beijing. Sleeping at another hostel we found on Hopefully meeting up with a friend who used to work for Microsoft in Redmond/Beijing and now works for a Chinese startup.

Any backpacking/china advice is welcome. I've never done either before. :-)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

New Addictions

Came back from MIX fiercely addicted to Twitter and Facebook Mobile. Cracked open my laptop in bed this morning, skimmed my Twitter friends RSS feed, and found out a Twitter Mobile launched too. Also found out from Pete's Twitter that T-Mobile released an upgrade for my phone to Windows Mobile 6.

Twitter is changing blogging (and my already unsafe drive to work). However, I'm going to try as long as possible to resist moving from blog posts to short Twitter messages (which, I'm noticing, have a rather low signal to noise ratio). That said, each has its uses.. still figuring out what those are for me.

As a sidenote, Facebook has the best designed mobile site I've ever seen. They truly get what info and features is useful on the go, and what isn't. Their interface is littered with examples -- here's one.. when you accept a friend request from your phone, they don't bother you by asking for friend details. Instead, next time you sign in to the site from a PC, there's an unobtrusive reminder in the right-hand column where you can add friend details for the friend request you accepted while on the go. Smart.

Also tried Joost this morning. Very slick.

Update: Get your Joost invite here.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


I can't remember the last time I felt truly overwhelmed. This week so far has been a whirlwind in every way. For the last 36 hours I've been in Las Vegas at the MIX conference. I expected to come out here and learn about the latest and greatest in web technologies. I've learned. But what I've experienced has been more of an emotional high and rollercoaster.

Maybe the pictures tell it best. I just got back from the Facebook party at the Playboy club at the Palms, where the top shelf liquor flowed like tap water, as it has just about everywhere I've stepped foot in the last 36 hours of the 72 hour "conversation". MySpace's party is tomorrow night, and I shudder to think about showing up only to pawn off a surpluss of Ketel Red Bulls and Patron shots on others yet again.

Vegas is insane as ever. The fake blue skies of the Venetian canal shops make it feel like it's perpetually late afternoon, as we finish our dinner and step out of yet another Wolfgang Puck restaurant around 11pm at night to head over to the next party.

As usual, I'm blown away by the smallness of the world. "Oh, you know so-and-so?", the conversation goes as I rub shoulders with the whose who of the web 2.0 elite. That guy I just met was Evan who? He started Blogger and Twitter? Wow.

Part of me is having fun. Part of me feels I don't fit in. And part of me is wondering how I'm gonna explain this to my boss and wondering what the hell I'm doing here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Impulse buy of the day...

Saw this on Engadget and couldn't resist...

Gonna have to test it out while backpacking through China next month...

Monday, April 23, 2007

My MIX Schedule

Here are the sessions I plan to check out next week at MIX07 (in addition to the keynote sessions with Ray Ozzie, Robbie Bach, and Scott Guthrie):

Building Rich Web Experiences using Silverlight and JavaScript for Developers
Speaker(s): Joe Stegman - Microsoft

Silverlight is Microsoft’s solution for delivering rich, cross-platform interactive experiences for the Web and beyond. Silverlight enables the creation of rich, visually stunning and interactive content and applications that run on multiple browsers and operating systems. In this session, learn more about the benefits of Silverlight from a developer perspective and get an introduction to building Silverlight applications using JavaScript and Microsoft developer and designer tools.

Yahoo! on Microsoft .NET 3.0 and Microsoft Expression
Speaker(s): Eric Burke - Yahoo!, Josh Jacobson - Yahoo!

Come see and hear about the amazing experiences Yahoo! has built using Microsoft .NET 3.0 and Microsoft Expression.

Using LINQ to Dramatically Improve Data Driven Development in Web Applications
Speaker(s): Anders Hejlsberg - Microsoft

Modern applications operate on data in several different forms: Relational tables, XML documents, and in-memory objects. Each of these domains have profound differences in semantics, data types, and capabilities, and much of the complexity in today's applications is the result of these mismatches. Anders Hejlsberg, Microsoft Technical Fellow and Chief Architect for Microsoft Visual C# and LINQ, will explain how LINQ (Language Integrated Query) unifies these programming models and dramatically improves the experience of creating data intensive Web applications. Anders promises to have few slides and lots of live code demos!

Thinking in CSS: How to Build Great Looking Sites
Speaker(s): Molly Holzschlag - Digital One Corporation

Delve into CSS with Molly Holzschlag, and look at the power CSS offers to Web developers and designers. Hear Molly's secrets about how to build stunning sites quickly and easily.

Designing with AJAX: Yahoo! Pattern Library
Speaker(s): Bill Scott - Yahoo!

With the recent rise in popularity of AJAX, we now have the opportunity to more closely model the real flow of the user. This presents a radical change to the designer paradigm—designers create in "chunks" while users think in "flows". Come explore interaction styles and design principles that can inform future design projects. Come see a set of common design patterns that are currently in vogue and examples that illustrate good design choices and bad design choices.

PANEL DISCUSSION: Social Networking: Enabling the Two-Way Street
Speaker(s): Marc Canter, Aaron Emigh - Six Apart, Dave Morin - Facebook, Mike Walsh - Leverage Software, Evan Williams - Twitter

Web applications with a social context are here to stay. Are underlying Social Networks a business or feature? How can they be used to enhance bi-directional communication? Join a rich discussion on the impact of social applications and how best to use them as part of your business.

Lessons Learned: Designer/Developer Productivity in Windows Presentation Foundation
Speaker(s): Jonathan Russ - IdentityMine, Josh Wagoner - IdentityMine

Join the IdentityMine team for an in-depth discussion around lessons learned on Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) designer/developer workflow and productivity. They look at several real world WPF applications they have built and show you how to help maximize productivity across the entire team from Graphic Designer to Interactive Designer to Developer. Also, get a sneak peek at several of IdentityMine’s forthcoming Blendables™ Brand WPF Control products and take the opportunity to participate in an open Q&A session with the team.

Amazon Web Services: Building a 'Web-Scale Computing' Architecture
Speaker(s): Jeff Barr - Amazon

Building a reliable, flexible architecture that can manage the unpredictable nature of today's internet business is challenging. Jeff Barr, Evangelist for Amazon Web Services, will provide the blueprint for 'Web-Scale Computing' - enabling you to utilize Amazon Web Services to build an elastic architecture that can quickly respond to demand. Barr will demonstrate code samples to show you how to build your application on Amazon Web Services’ simple APIs. Barr will also showcase real companies who have built their web apps on Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2).

Navigating the Programmable Web
Speaker(s): Don Box - Microsoft, Steve Maine - Microsoft

RSS. ATOM. JSON. POX. REST. WS-*. What are all these terms, and how do they impact the daily life of a developer trying to navigate today’s programmable Web? Join us as we explore how to consume and create Web services using a variety of different formats and protocols. Using popular services (Flickr, GData, and Amazon S3) as case studies, we look at what it takes to program against these services using the Microsoft platform today and how that will change in the future.

The Megasite: Infrastructure for Internet Scale
Speaker(s): Jim Benedetto - MySpace, Allen Hurff - MySpace, Aber Whitcomb - MySpace

Come hear MySpace share its experiences using Microsoft technologies to run Web applications for the most visited site on the Web. MySpace discusses its best practices for a massively scalable, federated application environment, and how it matured its deployment processes. An open Q&A session lets you pick the brains of engineers from both MySpace and

I tried to pick as many talks as possible by presenters at other companies since it's easy to get tunnel vision here in Redmond and good to learn about non-Microsoft technologies and experiences from time to time. :-)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Busy Busy

IMAGE_083Hmm.. 2 weeks gone by without a single blog post.. the stack of reading material is piling up, with no end in sight. What else is new. :-)

Life has certainly been busy lately. Mainly working hard at work to get a Beta version of my product out the door and posted on the web for download. Nonetheless, was able to duck out for 32 hours this past week for 'Development at Microsoft' training -- learned all about what Microsoft thinks makes for successful software developers. Definite highlight was meeting developers working on different products all across the company, and having candid no holds barred conversations.

Going to MIX in Vegas next Sunday for a 72 hour conversation. If you're going, ping me, and check out the event page on Facebook so you can be all web 2.0-eey like me.

I recently bought a replacement battery for my IBM Thinkpad T40. Best ~$90 I've spent in awhile. It's nice to have 3-4 hours of solid battery power after living with 30-40 minutes for the longest time. Also slapped a sexy transparent Zune sticker on the top to fit in as a nerdy hipster at the conference next week.

Finally, I'm in the process of getting ready to sell my condo (Winter night-time pics) in Capitol Hill. If you or anyone you know is interested in buying it, let me know. ;-)

Monday, April 02, 2007


I recently bought a plane ticket from Seattle to Hong Kong with a return from Beijing to Seattle. It cost me $770, a discount of 37% off the cheapest online price of $1220 (same flight).

Just goes to show that you will still find cheaper fare classes available at little stores in Chinatown than on the big bad web.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Pranksters @ Work

Originally uploaded by adamjh.
If you work on my team at Microsoft, beware of what may happen if you decide to abandon the team for a vacation after shipping a product.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Picture's worth a thousand words...


This morning in San Diego a couple of customers snapped some pictures during a keynote demo of the product I've been pouring my heart and soul into designing and building over the last 2 years..

It's really fun to watch such a great software project grow from nothing into something that people want to take pictures of (even if it's still not much to look at)!

More pics here and here (thanks Maartin and Erik for the pics). My teammates and I at Microsoft have also been blogging about our baby here.