Saturday, March 31, 2007

Things I hate about my Macbook

There's more Mac Love coming.. But in the interest of equal time, here are a couple of things I don't like about my Macbook.

  1. The button you use to unlatch the front of the computer is definitely form over function. Looks great, but requires the use of the fingernails on my fat fingers to open the computer. It is distracting--which is unfortunate because it precludes every session with this great machine.

  2. The automatic screen dimming is annoying. This is designed to compensate for ambient lighting conditions. It would be great if it wasn't constantly shifting the intensity of the screen.

  3. Finally, I know that the Mac introduced the concept of cut/paste using C-X/C-V. But dang it's hard to get used to using the Apple "Command" key in conjunction with X/C/V when you've been using Windows for a few years. I know it's not a failing of the Macbook. But it trips me up 20 times a day right now..

Friday, March 30, 2007


I just installed Xcode on my Macbook so I could goof around with the gcc toolchain.
smitchell:/usr/local/src/ruby-1.8.5-p35 smitchell$ ./configure --prefix=/usr/local/ --enable-pthread --with-readline-dir=/usr/local
checking build system type... i686-apple-darwin8.9.1
checking host system type... i686-apple-darwin8.9.1
checking target system type... i686-apple-darwin8.9.1
checking for gcc... gcc
checking for C compiler default output file name... a.out
checking whether the C compiler works... yes
checking whether we are cross compiling... no
checking for suffix of executables...
checking for suffix of object files... o
checking whether we are using the GNU C compiler... yes
checking whether gcc accepts -g...
Did I mention this is a real computer? Geek out. :)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Data Center in a Can

This is a fascinating paper from Microsoft Research on the use of densely packed servers in a shipping container.
The units are designed to successfully transport delicate goods in extreme conditions and routinely spend weeks at a time on the decks of cargo ships in rough ocean conditions and survive severe storms. ... Each module includes networking gear, compute nodes, persistent storage, etc. The modules are self-contained with enough redundancy that, as parts fail, surviving nodes continue to support the load
When I first heard about this I thought, big deal, water cooled, densely packed components in a big steal can sound like the machine rooms of the 60's through the 80's. But the ruggedized nature of the shipping container, and the portability aspects are pretty cool.

Million Souls
This is an awesome concept.
If a million readers have been reached, Yvo will go on to raise awareness on the next topic.
Click the link.


Wikipedia has a nice summary of the various "ilities" that are oh-so-important in engineering, but often overlooked. Great reference.

Our Staff Meetings are Bugged!

Hey, how'd they get this audio transcript of our latest staff meeting? We're being bugged!
Son, we live in a world that requires software. And that software must be built by people with elite skills. Who's going to build it? You, Mr. Marketing? You, Mr. Sales? You, Mr. Finance? You, Mr. Human Resources? I don’t think so.


I've become a big fan of Kathy Sierra's style and content over the past year. She's a smart one. I read her story yesterday about weirdos hassling her on-line in disbelief. Unfortunately, midway through her story it all made sense. Kathy's become a well respected person in this community, and some guys who should probably be in therapy or institutionalized have a real problem with women in positions of respect or authority in the community.

Two observations:

1. Women leaders, professionals, and celebrities deal with junk every day that normal guys don't even begin to understand.
2. Should the net really be as anonymous as it is? In the off-line world guys like this wouldn't be effectively protected by the anonymity--why should they in the on-line world?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mac News

I've been playing with my Macbook now for two days. Here are some impressions.

I forgot that software can do the right thing most of the time. I have spent years fighting with Windows applications. And when you start using the Mac gui you feel like you have to fight it too. Then you realize that, like Ruby, if you just try the thing that makes the most sense, it's often what the software has been designed for. This is a big part of that welcome home for me.

There's a real operating system under here. I am working on getting the VPN connectivity to work to go correctly. When I wanted to really see what was going on, I opened a command prompt and started using things like ifconfig, traceroute, and tcpdump. I could also see logs, processes, and use scripting languages like perl, python, and ruby right out of the box. Earlier I said the Mac was my first computer back in 1984--but that I started programming exclusively in Unix a couple of years later. Well, this is the best of both worlds.

The Macbook Pro hardware is incredibly elegant. Using this thing to browse Digg is like eating McDonalds while driving down the road in a 911 Carrera. It's fun to find the hidden capabilities--like the ability to use two fingers on the mouse pad to scroll. I love it.

The standard suite of Apple software products are powerful, simple, and easy to use. Its not wonder that people don't need the millions of third-party applications that exist for the PC. Products like Dashboard, Spotlight, Keynote, iPhoto, iTunes hit sweet spots of user need and functionality in just the right way to thrill you.

I love Front Row. It sells me on the AppleTV. It also underlines how smart Apple is. The iPod, Front Row, and Apple TV are all basically the same software system (maybe they are the same software). They're zeroing in on the huge home and personal entertainment marketing with a killer platform in the same way they zeroed in on the desktop metaphor in computing. Brilliant.

Speaking of third party applications. I did buy Roxio's Toast 8 with TivoToGo for the mac. The standard TivoToGo functionality is pretty much the same as with the PC. But with Toast you can burn Tivo recordings to DVD! Also, I noticed that the picture quality and playback capabilities of the Tivo recordings on the mac are 1000% better than on the PC. Mediaplayer couldn't play back Tivo recordings to save its life. Its not just video that looks better either--it's pictures too. I'm not a graphics guy enough to understand why--but this thing looks way better than my top-of-the-line PC ever did.

Speaking of Microsoft. The only software I'm struggling with is theirs. I got Office 2004 and every time I launch an Office application.. Well.. Let's just say it's not the experience to which I'm becoming accustomed. Maybe it's just Entourage that's causing the bad impressions.

Now, if I could just get my VPN working properly..

User Driven Design

There are some good thoughts in this article from the New York Times on the involvement of end users in the design of products.
It is a difficult idea for research and development departments to accept, but one of his studies found that 82 percent of new capabilities for scientific instruments like electron microscopes were developed by users.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Mac and Me

My parents bought me my first computer in 1984. It was the original 128K Macintosh. According to the sales guy, they'd already sold out of their first shipment, and more were back ordered. So I had to spend an agonizing six weeks waiting for my computer. I spent it reading and rereading the first issue of Macworld magazine--pictured here, a copy of which I still have in my closet.

My Mac came with a keyboard and a mouse. It had 128K of memory, and a 400K 3.5" floppy drive. We also bought a dot matrix printer in the matching Apple Beige of the era. The whole thing was $3,500. That's $6,922 in today's dollars (thanks Mom!)

I also got Microsoft Basic for the computer. This was back when Microsoft was known for their programming languages, and had only just started selling
MS-DOS a couple of years prior. I still have my old Microsoft Basic programming manual in the closet as well.

Now that I think about it, although I programmed almost continuously for the 25 years since I got that computer, I only programmed on the Macintosh on that first machine. Once I started college a couple of years later, I switched to programming Unix, and never went back.

I was an avid Mac user for more than a decade. The university environment where I worked through the late eighties was populated with lots of Macs. I enjoyed many of the capabilities of Macs that were novel for the era such as SCSI, Apple Desktop Bus (the original "USB"), AppleTalk networking, file sharing on LANs, and lots of elegant applications. While I programmed on unix machines, I always used a Mac for telnet (and later xterm), and personal productivity apps.

I used Macs all the way up into my time at JPL. But at JPL we also used a lot of SunOS, Solaris and other unix workstations that blew away the Macintosh in terms of power at the time. The "PC" was still not caught up to the true workstations in those days. And there was another problem--the Macintosh had gone to heck. The product line was diluted with too many models--only a few of which did anything well. AppleTalk was falling way behind TCP/IP. MacOS was in obvious need of a major overhaul. Macintosh was way too expensive for what you got. And the brand was struggling for respect. Enter Windows NT.

I finally, grudgingly, left Macintosh.

I used PCs for several years. I never loved them like I loved the Macintosh of years previous. The PC was just a nicely priced commodity. That was all. I think the only PC I've ever really respected is a small, relatively light, tough as nails Dell CPix notebook that I've had for 7 years and still use around the house as a web browser. Otherwise, they've all been forgettable throw aways.

For years I've wondered if I'd ever have a chance to use a Mac again. It was hard for me to imagine an employer who would buy one for me. I didn't think I could justify the cost for one for myself--especially when my employers were so willing to buy me a PC notebook I could use at home. I finally bought Monica an iBook a few years back. But that is hers. I still spend my day dealing with Windows.

As Macintosh gained credibility over the past few years, and as they continued to amaze the market with their newfound leadership. I became guardedly optimistic. I found myself working for an increasingly Mac company. Our VP of Engineering had one under his desk. Or corporate IT guys are ex-Apple employees--and carry around MacBooks themselves. Hmmm..

Today I took possession of my new MacBook Pro. While it's a totally different machine, I feel like I did when I sat down with that first Macintosh in 1984. It's like the passion that is common to both an antique Ferrari and its modern offspring. I feel like I've come home.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Will code for beer

Building 8, Cube #EC4.1

Secret Ambition

I have a secret ambition. To move to Hollywood, become a television producer, and create a new TV show. It will be a cop drama/comedy buddy format. It will be set in the 1980's and will star Mr. T and Alf. I will be the next Stephen J Cannell--which is great because I'm already 2/3rds of the way there name-wise.

Anyway, I'm happy to see that Mr. T is still working. It will make my job that much easier:

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tooling the Impossible

This is awesome! An old post from Geeking with Greg, quoting Google Earth CTO Michael Jones:
Your perception of a thing that is a viable problem to think about is shaped by the tool you can use.
This is good stuff. But the opposite is also true. If you think about the tool you might be able to use, you can solve some impossible problems. Somewhere in here, there's also the need to focus tools on specific problems, rather than general issues. Focus on the impossible, and make a tool that makes it possible.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Google releases Google Home page themes?

This was weird. Tonight I saw a new link show up on my Google Home page, "Select a Theme." It gave me a drop down of skins to select for my Google Home page. Selecting one of the skins and my Google Home page reverted back to normal. Reload--normal. Only when I went back through my history could I recover the "themed" home page. Now I can't find any trace of these Google Home themes. But I did get a screen shot:

Hugh Syme

If you're a Rush fan, check out Hugh Syme's web site. The Grace Under Pressure cover is my favorite. My mom used to say I looked exactly like the guy in the Power Windows cover.

John Backus of Fortran, BNF dies at 82

An interesting obituary on the human side of John W. Backus' life. Also of BNF fame.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


This NY Times article on search engine spamming reminds me of the billboards one sees on the sides of the roads. In Fresno, there are corridors of travel that were largely unregulated with regards to the style and quantity of advertising that was allowed by the property owners on each side of the road. The results were horrendously ugly strips of road full of signs and billboards that (along with other factors) eventually ruined the economic viability of the area. It's amazing how short sighted people can be.

History of programming languages/Unix

I don't remember if Brent or I ever blogged these links. Pretty interesting:

The history of programming languages

The history of Unix

The Home Front?

Two articles caught my attention today. One, from the Los Angeles Times is an opinion piece that tries to illustrate what life would be like for Californians if the war was happening here. One example that caught my eye:
Feb. 27: A suicide car bomber outside a busy Starbucks in Whittier killed three people. At about the same time, at an El Pollo Loco restaurant on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, a bomber ate lunch and left behind a sack of explosives, which killed three people and injured 13 when it went off.
How would Americans react, and what would they be doing about the situation if the war was "real" for them?

In fact, it's not, largely because the immediate threat to our way of life and security has been way overblown. Another article today, this one from the Washington Post, reveals various analysis that shows that..
U.S. intelligence officials and outside experts believe, the Iraqi branch poses little danger to the security of the U.S. homeland.
While there may be some continued threat from some radicals who wish to attack us at home, they're not--or we'd be seeing serious attempts on our soil. And they're not coming out of Iraq. Additionally, the war in Iraq is turning into a mindless support of a the Shiite majority, in what has evolved into a civil war. The result is going to be long lasting and grim--without any pressing need or benefit to us. As the Washington Post reports:
"It is very likely that the effects of the current jihad in Iraq will, like the earlier one in Afghanistan, be felt for years to come in the form of inspiration, skills and networking opportunities for a new generation of jihadis," said Paul Pillar, the CIA's former national intelligence officer for the Middle East and author of previous intelligence assessments on Iraq. "That does not mean that a U.S. withdrawal would make AQI more likely to attempt attacks against the United States."

Transactionless eBay

Martin Fowler spills the beans regarding eBay's lack of use of transactions across its various databases. I first heard about this in 2004 at The Serverside Symposium. John Crupi was giving a pretty forgetful talk on something he called Software Radiology. Along the way he managed to slip in an anecdote about how eBay doesn't use transactions--and instead makes something of a best effort.

From time-to-time I have had a chance to cite this story--typically when arguing against too much complexity in enterprise systems. Sometimes the efforts to enforce integrity aren't worth the expense.

I didn't know the fact that eBay doesn't use transactions was a secret all these years. :)

More on small teams

Some good stuff from Tim O'Reilly's blog paying homage to the famous Skunk Works of Lockheed Martin. He points out comparisons to small software/product teams of today.

In particular, Kelly's 14 Rules is worth a look. This one stands out at me right now:
A very simple drawing and drawing release system with great flexibility for making changes must be provided.
We're currently struggling with a very not simple CM system for product lifecycle management and trying to make it functional. These comments on the Skunk Works idea show how agile development techniques can apply to some fairly large projects.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Straight to the source

The other day I enjoyed an unusual (for me) event. I read the physical print edition of New York Times. I picked up a copy for an article I saw above the fold laying in the newspaper rack. As I began leafing through the paper, I began to ask myself, "does anybody really read the paper any more?"

I was struck by the depth and effort that went into these articles, and wondered how the paper could afford to put so much energy into all this writing--given that everybody gets their news via Google Reader these days. :)

Then I started to notice something. The various articles were the same headlines I'd seen earlier in the day via my RSS feeds. I spotted at least half a dozen articles that had originated in the Times, and been referenced in my various news feeds. It turns out that the New York Times is the source of a lot of the stuff I read about from other secondary sources.

So I've decided to go straight to the source, and subscribe to the Times' news feeds :)

The Tribe

When I was in college a friend of mine hung out with a group of people who referred to themselves as "The Tribe." They were a like minded group of pseudo-hippie-student types. The core of the group all shared a house together with a very "casual" living arrangement.

It dawns on me now that even in the absence of written rules and organization, this group had a lot of preconceived notions of what behavior within their group was acceptable and what was "uncool." They were a clique--which resists newcomers who don't mesh well with the group. Even as informal as they were, just by human nature they were pretty highly organized.

From Wikipedia, a tribe is:
... a group of interlinked families or communities sharing a common culture and dialect.
Technical communities fit this pattern. We have a common dialect of technical terms as well as cultural aspects. Our web tools group (Ruby on Rails, Linux, etc.) is a related but different tribe from our GUI group (C#.NET, Windows, etc). At some level they speak the same language and share culture. But at a more detailed level they're different tribes.

When I was in school I took a linguistics class (which I highly recommend to any CSci students). Our professor said that in many Native American languages there are several words for "those people" or "that group over there." That is, these tribal dialects and languages spent a lot of their lexicon differentiating between groups of people, and separating us vs them.

I'm trying to find a good compromise between the imposition of standards in a development community vs letting small groups do their own thing. There is a funny irony to agility methodologies in that they quickly become religious wars: one group declares that another group isn't doing it right if the second group isn't following the first group's methods. But an organization as a whole is much more agile if smaller groups within the community are given the latitude to find solutions and to be creative.

More from Wikipedia:
Current research suggests that tribal structures constituted one type of adaptation to situations providing plentiful yet unpredictable resources. Such structures proved flexible enough to co-ordinate production and distribution of food in times of scarcity, without limiting or constraining people during times of surplus.
Yet some involvement of "state" organization of tribes is in the best interest of the state:
States would encourage (or require) people on their frontiers to form more clearly bounded and centralized polities, because such polities could begin producing surpluses and taxes, and would have a leadership responsive to the needs of neighboring states
and regarding tribalism in general:
because tribal life itself was not (and is not) the same for all tribes; the natural environment where a tribe lives has an especially important influence.
I often recoil at the idea that a central authority can/should dictate the specifics of how various development or engineering groups should operate. Smaller, more informal social structures are possible and natural. The state--in my case engineering management--should be more concerned with the creation of an overall environment that is conducive to productivity and realization of the larger organization's vision.

In this context, an operational group like mine should be supportive of the independence of the various groups within the organization rather than attempting to homogenize them with institutionalized tools and practices.

Boxing Robots?

For a split second during this video I was looking forward to seeing the "fight" between these two robots. It wasn't much of a contest. But it made me wonder if humans will be needed for boxing competitions in the future--or if we'll build robots to slake our lust for violence. :)

It's remarkable how our minds are wired for specific responses when seeing certain images. I suspect any human would feel a twinge of empathy as this robot struggles to learn to walk. And a little excitement at the prospect of a robot pushing contest. These are obviously robots--so it's something of a surprise when these feelings pop up automatically.
via Groonk's Newsmine

Friday, March 16, 2007

Random people doing stuff

From sean's place,
Steve, Google seems drive (a lot of) value by doing this. Moreover, they innovate. Just thought you should know.
I thought the same thing when I saw this article. It kind of shows how out-of-touch Ballmer is to what's going on this decade. I think the proof is Google.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Testers Wanted

We need testers so much that we've created these two very professionally produced recruitment videos. These were recorded on our products in the test labs. Enjoy.

NST Mix Tape - Vol 1

NST Dance Remix

Monday, March 12, 2007


I've been playing with Twitter since it first came out a few months back. I too thought it was useless, and really only signed up and invited my wife because I wanted to demonstrate how geeky I was (she doesn't know yet).

Suddenly, almost immediately, something strange happened. I was leaving little "messages" for my wife on twitter, and she was leaving messages for me as well. It turns out that during the day, she's busy with her life, and I'm busy with mine. We're rarely both at our computers at the same time long enough to hook up with instant messaging. We kept missing each other with the "Are you there?" message and no response. Yet, throughout the day there are little things we want to communicate with each other about, but that are not important enough to justify the overhead of an email, and certainly not a blog post.

Twitter fills the (small) gap between email/blogs and IM. Simple as that. It can be asynchronous like email, and at the same time "instant" like IM.

I don't know if Twitter will be productive/useful in the long run. But the fact is that it's useful to some people in some contexts right now. Suddenly, a lot of people are using it. And that means it probably has a future.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


I'm convinced that we live in my generation's version of McCarthyism. I've said for the past several years that if the bad guys wanted to do in a crowd of Americans, they only need to walk into the nearest Starbucks, Wal-Mart, or other American icon and blow the place up. There is no shortage of soft targets in this country. And since our borders are notoriously porous, the lack of daily carnage on our soil implies to me that the hoops we jump through in airport security are a misdirected reaction to fear--not unlike the crazy things we did to combat the red hoard 50 years go.

I just want to..

Scoble just posted this via Twitter.. Audio portion of Kathy Sierra's talk on user interaction. This is part of her opening remarks at SXSW. More comments on the event are on Creating Passionate Users blog. This is awesome. I love the story mid-way through the talk on using Excel.

I can't yet find her slides.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


I once wrote a program for the Mac to fulfill two purposes. First I wanted to learn how to program on the Mac. Second, I wanted a way to quiz myself so I could learn what league each major league baseball team was in. I was a fledgling baseball fan, and it annoyed me that I couldn't remember what league a particular team was in. So I wrote this program that would quiz me by showing random teams and I had to select the correct league. I think I had it quiz me more often on teams that I missed most. It was an incredibly effective.

Later on I seem to remember writing a similar program (this time on Unix) that would quiz me with ham radio license exam questions (the ARRL published the pool of questions ).

This program, cueFlash, would have helped a lot.

Debugging Sucks, Testing Rocks

This Second Annual Google Test Automation Conference, sounds awesome! Maybe I'll try to send one of the guys there.. I imagine it will be biased towards testing of web applications, but it would be nice to hear get exposure to some bleeding edge stuff.

The Buck Stops Here

The other day I went into Starbucks. You know, to get a cup of coffee. The girl takes my order, then turns around, looks surprised and says, "I'm sorry, we're all out of coffee. Do you want to wait a few minutes while we brew some more?" I went to McDonalds.

I've got another problem with Starbucks. Why does it make normal men start to drink, shall we say, girlie drinks? Again I was standing in line to get some coffee, and the guys in front of me are ordering non-fat, soy lattes with blah blah blah.

The more you see Starbuck's popping up in little two-horse towns like Fowler, CA, the more obvious it is that the "culture" and "atmosphere" comes in a shipping crate. And it has nothing to do with community, service, or even good coffee.

I'd become addicted to the particular make and model of Starbucks coffee for a time. But I'm slowly breaking my habit by frequenting other places (like my kitchen) more and more to get my caffeine fix each AM.

Anyway, here's the view from Starbuck's chairman Howard Schultz via Slate. I guess he agrees with me.

Change your clocks, change your battery

Don't forget to change the batteries in your smoke alarms when you change the clock tonight. Lest this sad story be yours.


Please see the links to various SCM sources from UPLM's blog. I'll add an old favorite of mine, SCM Patterns for Agility.

More John

I can't decide if I like John Hodgman's performances or his writing better. He's got the unique talent of being a gifted silly comedic writer (like, say Dave Berry), yet can deliver a subtly hilarious performance as well.

Anyway, I just noticed this bit from Wired.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Why Apple is the best retailer in America

From Why Apple is the best retailer in America:
The most striking thing, though, is what you don't see. No. 1: clutter. Jobs has focused Apple's resources on fewer than 20 products, and those have steadily been shrinking in size. Backroom inventory, then, can shrink in physical volume even as sales volume grows. Also missing, at the newest stores, anyway, is a checkout counter. The system Apple developed, EasyPay, lets salespeople wander the floor with wireless credit-card readers and ask, "Would you like to pay for that?
A while back I wrote about my experience in my college bookstore:
When I was in college the campus bookstore had this policy: no students were allowed to take their backpacks into the store. You had to drop your backpacks into cubbies in the entrance, and hope their contents remained safe from the very criminal element that the bookstore was trying to protect itself from. It was pathetic. This store decided to take their problem (shoplifters) and transfer the problem to us (the honest student). They basically told every student who walked through the door that A) they didn't trust you, and B) they weren't competent enough to handle their problem without alienating their customers.
Now consider the difference between these two stores. On the one hand, you're told that you're trusted, and people help you. On the other hand, you're told that you're not trusted, and the store's logistical and security problems are dumped on you.

Now consider my experience the other day when I downloaded Microsoft's DST update.
Validation Required This download is available to customers running genuine Microsoft Windows. Please click the Continue button to begin Windows validation.
I was forced to first download and install Microsoft's Genuine Advantage utility. This little gem is a piece of software you have to use to prove to Microsoft that you're not a thief. Like the bookstore book bag experience, I'm sure it helps Microsoft tremendously. But, like that annoying person at the exit to Best Buy and Comp USA who stops you to make sure you're not stealing, it's annoying and degrading. It's exactly an example of how not to do business. When I have alternatives, I require better service. Or at least, I require that I not be treated like a criminal first, and a customer second.

Eighty Percent Solution

From this post on Statistics for Google Gadgets:
It's very interesting to note that 44% of the total number of page views were for the 28 gadgets created by Google.
Google has this eighty percent solution thing down. (Well, in this case 44%--but you know what I mean.) They build just enough functionality to satisfy a large number of people, they release said software, and they improve incrementally.

Apple Human Interface Guidelines

Can be found here. :)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Ode to Stuart

Google + "Stuart" + "I'm feeling lucky" = "Stuart"

Project Management Tools

I recently tried out Project Manager .NET -- which is very nice. Now I see, redMine, which is less powerful, but built on the oh-so-elegant Rails.

Okay, here's the "beer" part

..well, not really beer--but it's related.

When I was younger I was part of an elite paramilitary beer swilling organization we referred to as The Brew Brigade. (A handful of friends and I goofing around)

As a recent present, Monica got our name inscribed on a barrel of Maker's Mark whiskey through their ambassador marketing program. From their web site:
Some dream of seeing their name on Broadway, others…on a barrel. It’s official. Your name is on a barrel of Maker’s Mark. And we have the pictures to prove it. Seeing your name on one of our barrels is probably the single greatest honor of being an Ambassador. So we hope you cherish the moment as much as we do. You’ve made history. Maker’s history. However, you’re not alone. There are 29 other names on your barrel. Since Maker’s is best shared among friends, perhaps you’d like to get to know your barrel mates a little better. That’s why we’ve created our barrel message board. On it, you can chat with the other people on your barrel. (Right now, these are the only folks you can converse with. Later, we will create a forum that allows Ambassadors to chat with whomever they wish within the Embassy.) So, if you’re ready to see your name, take a deep breath, mentally prepare yourself and view your barrel plate

I am a genius

From The Speed of Light Problem:
Basically, we’re in California and Amazon isn’t. This means that when we initiate a read or a write to S3, we’re sending bytes to them and they have to cover, at minimum, the physical distance to Amazon’s datacenters (wherever they are) before anything can be done. Assuming that one of their datacenters in on the East Coast, and assuming we have to read or write from that one occasionally, we’re talking 60-80ms of time just to get bits there and back. No-one on Planet Earth can get around this problem, so it bears consideration when you’re planning for S3 usage.
Move the S3 datacenter to California. Problem solved. :)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Raising Money

These are great excerpts of startup stories from Guy Kawasaki.

I remember when we were raising money at Oak Grove. Before the bust, when there were tons of people playing the stock market with too much easy money in their pockets. I guess they'd be playing golf with each other and give each other hot tips on little unknown startups like ours. I remember seeing hand written personal checks for $20-$50K with hand written notes that said something to the effect of "count me in." It was feeding frenzy of greed. Those guys never saw their money again.

Wiki Patterns

As somebody who believes in the power of the wiki, and since we just happen to be a user of Atlassian's Confluence, I find this site on Wiki Patterns very interesting.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

See for yourself

One of Rudy Giuliani's principles of leadership is to "see it for yourself." I always try to go to the scene of the crime. In our business that usually means seeing the code, or trying the program for myself. Now that I work in manufacturing company, it sometimes means visiting the production line.

You gain valuable insight when you do this. I don't know how many times I've found obvious bugs in a program that was "done." Or realized how skilled and hard working people really are behind the scenes. I don't believe you know what you're talking about if you don't see it for yourself--especially when you've got other people doing the real work and you're just a manager.

As I hear about this Walter Reed thing in the news, I kept thinking, "here's a case of leaders who haven't seen the scene for themselves--otherwise they wouldn't let it get so bad." But I guess something else is wrong, since a quick search with Google shows Bush's visit to Walter Reed just a few months ago.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


For all you GUI designer weirdo types out there.. This interactive flash demo, Color in Motion is pretty cool. Discovered via Amy Hoy's blog.

Napkin Look and Feel

(This is a post I'm recycling for a few years ago. It's still applicable today. :)

Any experienced developer can tell you the story about how they showed a rough prototype of a new application to somebody, but then couldn't get them to understand that the software wasn't anywhere near done yet. Joel Spolsky talks about it in detail in The Iceberg Secret, Revealed.

I once worked for a guy who I really respected as being technically smart and plenty business savvy. We agreed that we'd have the developers build a "mock-up" (we were careful to not even go so far as to call it a prototype--it was only a mock-up of the user interface) of a web based application we were considering developing. We stressed over and over again that this was a mock-up and was not the actual application, and was not even a prototype of the application.

So, we spent some time building the mock-up, agreeing on what it would look like, and provided just enough click-through type navigation that we could get from screen A to screen B correctly. The mock-up looked pretty good. In fact it looked like a real application. Over time the mock-up was enough of a success that we started kicking around the idea of actually building the application.

Here's where it gets weird. This guy who I respected as being technically smart, and who had agreed that this was only a mock-up, started using strange language like "finish the prototype" or "flesh out the functionality." It became apparent to me that, even with all of this talk about building a mock-up had been lost on him all along. He still figured a good percentage of the work was done, and that we now had a framework from which to flesh out the rest of the application. I tried to explain that it was like a Hollywood set--a building that was really just a facade with nothing inside, maybe not even any walls and the front was just propped up by 2x4's. But he'd already committed himself mentally, and all was lost.

Cases like this are why I love the idea of the Napkin Look and Feel

I wish there was something similar for web applications--maybe use one of those handwritten looking fonts for all of the text, and have a graphic person sketch all of the graphics to look hand drawn. It would be really nice if one could modify the LaF of the buttons and other widgets as well.

Google Gadgets inside the Firewall

I assume that one must still connect to services outside the firewall to take advantage of these tools.. But this announcement by IBM that they'll support Google Gadgets on Websphere is interesting.

Our corporate IT department wants to standardize our Intra/Extranet on WebSphere--so things might be looking up.

What Would Linus Charge?

I first heard about Microsoft Charging for DST updates from our corporate IT manager. It's insane. How many billions has Microsoft made off of their 2000 products over the past 10 or so years? How many loyal customers are still running on these products--especially in the back-office and the data center? Remember, servers don't need to be upgraded if they're not broken. How do those customers feel today?

I've decided to coin another new term. "WWLC" - What Would Linus Charge? This is appropriate every time somebody has to pay Microsoft for something they can get for free somewhere else.

I'm with Rob, my next computer will be a Mac. I'll probably still have to run Parallels for certain apps, but it won't be running Vista. By the time Windows XP is obsolete, I'll be able to abandon Windows altogether and move on..

Tail Wagging

I've been fighting with this problem for a while now. There are forces at work in the world that exist to complicate life. In a sufficiently large organization there are bureaucracies to protect the bureaucracies.

Lately I've been thinking about what actually provides value to the customer. And how to keep things focused on that. It's tough when your job has something to do with building infrastructure. How thin can I keep this infrastructure so it doesn't distract from the job of providing value? Or I can pick a number (say 3) and limit the number of levels of indirection between the things that provide value to customers (in our case products), and the things I'm working on right now?

Kathy Sierra's post and this excellent picture speaks to the topic nicely.

Power to the People

In my old age it will be nice to watch as a younger generation of enthusiastic people build powerful applications out of tools provided for them on the internet. And as they do so right from their browser.

The early nineties showed lots of promise. But things looked pretty grim there for a while as Windows continued to dominate and gobble up the arena of "serious" applications.

But today we've got easy web publishing and customization--only a few years ago the exclusive domain of the "web programmer"--now routinely performed by people with blogs and custom home pages. Over the past few years, many creative uses of Google Maps have popped up. Most recently we've got Yahoo Pipes. Don't forget infrastructure services like Amazon's S3.

Etlos CRM for Google might be the most striking example I've seen recently. Maybe because I've been through the whole "buy a really expensive CRM system" thing before. And I am pleased to see people taking the initiative to build a simple solution to the problem.

The various tools on the Internet have reached a critical mass of functionality, customization, community ownership, and APIs that transform it into a platform rather than just a communication network.

But don't worry. This video on OSX Leopard's Core Animation reminds us that us geeks will still have a job programming local hardware too.

Friday, March 02, 2007

This is your Macintosh on Rails

This just in (well, if you consider August of last year "just in") Apple includes Rails with Leopard. Very cool.


I am a DHSC.