« August 2004 | Main | October 2004 »

September 29, 2004

Is User-Centered Design the Future of Software?

Went to another interesting talk this week, sponsored by the usability excellence group at Microsoft.

This presentation was by Eric Schaffer, CEO of a company called Human Factors International a leading (or perhaps the leading) usability research company.

Eric, who identifies himself as PhD, CUA, CPE, was there to tell Microsoft that the future of computing was human-centered design (and no, I have no idea what CUA or CPE mean. In computing CUA is the Common User Access, and CPE is a telecom term meaning Customer Premises Equipment. I would suspect that in this context CPE means Continuing Professional Education, which is a term from accounting. CUA might be the Catholic University of America, or it might not. Anyway, where was I?). This is not particularly shocking given what his company does, but his argument was pretty convincing.

User-centered design means that you consider the needs of the user first (the key word being "first"). The design of software should be obvious to the user, not to the designer; the structure of an application must fit the user's schema, the deep mental model they have for how things work. This will minimize the visual, intellectual, memory, and motor load on the user. Although once you understand the user's mental model, it is possible that you can move it in a certain direction if there is a critical concept that they need to internalize.

Microsoft certainly does usability studies, but they are done to test out a design, not as the first step in creating it. In fact, Schaffer says that even organizations with good human-centered design processes can still design hard-to-use software, if they have the wrong people (meaning, the technical people) doing the research. It's a problem of psychophysics: we can't see the user's point of view if we are too embroiled in our own point of view. It's like trying not to think about something. He mentioned one company that had its database designers go out and talk to users. They reported back that every user liked to think of their data in terms of the database design.

The solution to this, according to Schaffer, is to have about 10% of your development staff be usability professionals (a category that includes UI designers and graphic artists, as well as usability researchers). Only when this occurs will usability be completely institutionalized (he lays out his arguments in a book, not surprisingly called Institutionalization of Usability).

These days a lot of software design, and a lot of bad software design, involves web pages. Schaffer claims that 85% of usability has to do with the navigational structure of a site. He points out that there are only about 10-15 different kinds of page –- high volume container, intranet portal, wizard, search, simple form, document, etc. -- and he recommends that sites have page-level standards for each of these, so that individual page designers can use the appropriate standard document and ensure that navigation, colors, page layout, button text, etc all have site-wide consistency.

He says that the 1980s were the decade of hardware, the 1990s were the decade of software, and now we are in the decade of usability. This might give Microsoft pause, since we are a software company. Microsoft has an opportunity to ride this wave, but needs to realize that the current user interface of all of its software is suspect and may need to be redone, or at least have another layer larded on top. And I don't think that Microsoft practices what Schaffer preaches, which is separating the software designs from the usability studies. When Bill Gates proclaims that unlike an iPod, Microsoft-based media players will support video as well as audio, because that's what users want, I can't help but think of the database designers I mentioned earlier, and their blindered view of user's needs. Yes video is cool, but in a situation like this, I think I trust Apple to have a better idea of what people really want.

Schaffer say in this era of usability, there will still be brilliant hardware and software designers, but "the majority of people will just be getting it done." In his view, as software becomes more like other design disciplines, programmers will become less like architects or construction foremen, and more like welders and electricians. You wouldn't have a building without them, but nobody pays much attention to them.

If you've got $117 burning a hole in your pocket, Schaffer also recommended the book Funology: From Usability to Enjoyment by Mark Blythe, which delves into human computer interaction from a more academic perspective.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 28, 2004

Moving Mount Fuji

Gretchen, one of the blogging recruiters at Microsoft, discusses the book How Would You Move Mount Fuji? by William Poundstone. She mentions that she hadn't read it yet.

I took an "Interviewing at Microsoft" class just after I started late last year (this is about how you, as a Microsoft employee, interview other people). I like taking these classes to see what the latest word is from recruiting. One of the instructors had a job which involved working on recruiting techniques and strategy. I asked her if Microsoft recruiting had been affected by the web sites and books that discuss recruiting. Her response was, "You know, someone just told me about a new book...something about Mount Rainier I think?" This was 7 months after How Would You Move Mount Fuji? came out.

I am somewhat surprised that Gretchen has not read the book yet, given that it deals with precisely her job and will be read by many people who she interviews (I give her credit, however, for wanting to read it!). I was astonished, however, that someone who worked specifically on thinking about how Microsoft recruits would not have read it.

I first contacted William Poundstone, the author, in April 2002, after I saw a post of his on techinterview.org asking for people who wanted to discuss Microsoft interviewing. At the time, he was working on a book about intelligence tests. I emailed him, he read my book, and we did a lengthy interview. At some point later he changed the focus of his book to be about brainteaser interviews, although in the book he kept a lot of his material about intelligence tests (which is quite interesting). I discuss the book at greater length here.

In my book I mention, jokingly, that interview candidates used to walk into the lobby shouting "So they won't fall in the hole" (in answer to the famous "Why are manhole covers round?" question). Of course this never actually happened (I mean really. Try to picture it). Poundstone related this story with a somewhat smaller dose of salt, and it then wound up in an excerpt from the book he wrote for Reader's Digest (which resulted in a fact-checker calling me and asking if it really happened?). Now, in How to Ace the Brainteaser Interview, the story is presented straight, no chaser. All my fault.

In the acknowledgements, Poundstone says that Joel Spolsky and I were his two main influences in shaping his view of Microsoft interviewing. Joel is quite gung ho on the merits of Microsoft-style interviewing, whereas in Proudly Serving I have a much more dubious view. Since How Would You Move Mount Fuji? also has a dubious view, I like to think that I was the main influence on his opinion. Of course, I could be flattering myself.

Posted by AdamBa at 08:45 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 26, 2004

How to Get a Book Published

I received email a few days ago from a publisher, asking if I wanted to write a book on Monad.

(I won't talk about that anymore in this post. It was just an introductory teaser to get you to read it, like they probably reach you in writing classes. So forget about if I will or won't write a book about Monad.)

What it made me think of, however, was the amazing number of "series" of computer books that are out there.

For example, take a standard topic like Python. You've got Python Cookbook, Learning Python, Python Programming for the Absolute Beginner, Python in a Nutshell, Python: The Complete Reference, etc.

Now pick another subject, say Java. Lo and behold you have Java Cookbook, Learning Java, Java Programming for the Absolute Beginner, Java in a Nutshell, Java: The Complete Reference, etc.

This is not a coincidence; the books with similar names are from the same publishers, and share cover designs and knowledge expectations for their target audiences.

What's remarkable is how many of these series there are. For example O'Reilly's author guide mentions the Mastering, Programming, Running, In a Nutshell, Pocket Reference/Guide, Definitive Reference/Guide, Cookbook, Essentials, Missing Manual, Hacks, and Power Tools series. Wrox has the Beginner, Professional, Expert One on One, and Programmer's Reference series. Microsoft Press has the Building Applications, Faster Smarter, Introducing, Step by Step, Inside Out, Plain & Simple, and Troubleshooting series. Manning has In Action, Implementing, and Recipes. You get the idea.

What this means is that there is this immediate need, whenever a new computer technology comes along, for 20-30 books on the subject. There may not be an actual need in the marketplace, but if Monad becomes a success, then there will be an opporunity for 20-30 people to successfully pitch books on the topic to publishers.

So if you have a burning desire to have a book published, there are 3 easy steps:

1) Pick a technology that is about to emerge (it's probably too late for RSS; there are not a lot of RSS books out there, but I bet there are 20 being written).

2) Quickly become an expert on it, or at least more expert than most other people.

3) Contact a publisher.

That's it! Oh, you have to write the book also, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:03 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 24, 2004

Fast Company

Baseball player Shawn Green, who is Jewish, has decided he will sit out tomorrow's game, but play tonight (the game is over; Green hit a home run and L.A. won).

Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, runs from sundown Friday to sundown on Saturday (actually it starts and ends at "nightfall", which is a bit later than sundown). On that day you are supposed to fast and refrain from work. By bad scheduling luck, the Dodgers have two games in that 24-hour span, and they are in a pennant race.

In my personal case, I observe Yom Kippur by fasting, but I still work (if it falls on a workday). I also don't attend synagogue (why be different from the other 364 days of the year). I'm not sure what Shawn Green's precise beliefs are. Judaism is somewhat more open to interpretation than some other religions; as my mother says, the only thing two Jews can agree on is how much a third one should give to charity. If Green is not opposed to working and is merely fasting, then his decision makes sense; he could play tonight having recently eaten dinner (although he would have to lay off the sunflower seeds and Gatorade during the game, and skip the chicken a la king afterwards (and if you understand that "chicken a la king" reference, I am impressed)). But by Saturday afternoon he would be into the last 6 hours of his fast and probably not at his perky best for a baseball game.

I find it easier to go to work, actually, since you aren't surrounded by food like you are at home. Being at home while fasting is like being on a restrictive diet; it makes you aware of just how many times during the day you think of eating something.

Here's a page about Yom Kippur. It says you're supposed to avoid washing and bathing (shouldn't be a problem -- why be different from the other 364 days of the year, right?). I wonder if blogging is prohibited (is there a blogging rabbi? Of course!)...there's also some tips on fasting. Hmmm, that's sort of like giving advice on how to not climb a mountain. Just don't do it! I don't know if I have comparatively easy fasts, since I've only done it in my body. Certainly I can go without breakfast or lunch on any given day without collapsing. But fasting is a bit like getting a shot at the doctor's. You sort of remember what it feels like, but you can't really remember until it happens.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


I was looking at the Amazon.com "Similar Items" listing for Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters and in addition to 9 books, there were also three other things: The game Sims 2, the soundtrack to the movie "Garden State", and the "Star Wars" DVD set that just came out. Another mysterious free association from the mind of Amazon.

That was from my computer at work. For some reason when I check that from home, I get different results, only 4 books, and different ones too.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:16 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A Real Live IT Generalist

Here's a link to my post that discusses the IT Generalist persona, from a blogger who really is a one-man IT department. He writes

I don't think the title IT Generalist is a good one for the person who works in accounting as their regular job, who also has to take care of the computers. I see myself as an IT Generalist, someone who's responsible not just for the desktops, but a server or two, database management, training, application support, maybe a little back-end website stuff, email, anti-virus, etc. IT Generalist is a full time job, one that does require being a "mile wide and an inch deep".

Yes, that's exactly right. I hope he was disagreeing with some of the commenters, not with me. An IT Generalist is a full-time job and does all the things he mentions.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 23, 2004

The Silent Epidemic

It happened again today. Another husband, another successful Microsoft employee, left his wife and family.

"Was he suffering from depression?" I asked.

A surprised look. "How did you know?"

I knew because it's the third situation like this I've seen this year.

It's hard to know what is going on here. But I can make a guess.

My guess would be that for many people at Microsoft, the comparison between life at home and life at work is no contest. It used to be that for the average working man, his daily life was stressful, and home was a refuge from all that. This is the premise of the book Fascinating Womanhood; the notion that home needed to be a refuge, that housewives needed to understand their husbands' world of stress.

But then things began to change. Technology companies like Microsoft went out of their way to make things easy on employees. Need a soft drink, or a new computer? Need someone to come to your desk and give you a massage, or advice on office ergonomics? Need a private office? Anything to allow knowledge workers brains' to operate with a maximum of efficiency.

As for home life...well, I have four children (whom I love dearly), but our house isn't any kind of refuge from anything, except peace and quiet. Add to that the layers of angst and guilt that have been heaped on modern parents, and it is work that becomes the refuge from the stress of home.

And consider the rewards at Microsoft: good performance is rewarded, both short- and long-term, with kind words, encouraging emails, stock grants, and promotions. At home, if you are lucky, you may discover after 18 years that much to your surprise, your child is not actually an undereducated delinquent, but rather is on his or her way to becoming a functioning member of society, maybe.

So you put those two together and you wind up with a situation where men derive the majority of their sense of self-worth from how they perform at their job, not from how they do as a husband and father. At Microsoft, with the use of stock options and grants as compensation, the connection between individual performance and company performance is reinforced. But this implies the opposite; bad times for the company must be a result of individual poor performance.

And let's face it, times might be a bit tough at Microsoft now. Everything is in play; it is hard to be sure that you, your group, your division, your company is doing the right thing. Hanging over it all is a creeping dread that the company may be too large, too set in its ways, to compete. It's not everywhere, it's not all the time, but it's there, sometimes.

So you get the inevitable result; people's sense of self-worth suffers, and eventually real depression sets in. And this leads, ironically, to the balm that has healed in the past: towards the soothing hum of the office, and away from the crash and clatter of home, and the lives left behind.

Posted by AdamBa at 11:28 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 21, 2004

My Product Gets Slashdotted

We just released a new drop of Monad (the product I work on at Microsoft) and it got linked by Slashdot. Sniff, I'm so proud. This seems to have had a positive effect on the download count.

When I told my father (a mathematician and co-author of the book Category Theory for Computing Science) about Monad, his comment was, "Do you know that monad is another word for a triple?" Well, amazingly, someone on Slashdot said the same thing.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 20, 2004

M&M Anniversaries

There is a "tradition" at Microsoft that is often-mentioned in blogs, which is that on the anniversary of your hire, you put a pound of M&Ms out for every year you have worked there (for example, on your first anniversary you put out one pound of M&Ms, on your second anniversary you put out two pounds of M&Ms, on your third anniversary you put out three pounds of M&Ms, on your fourth anniversary you put out four pounds of M&Ms, on your fifth anniversay you put out five pounds of M&Ms, on your sixth anniversay you put out six pounds of M&Ms, on your seventh anniversary you put out seven pounds of M&Ms, on your eighth anniversary you put out eight pounds of M&Ms, etc).

You can see this tradition mentioned here and here and here and here and...ahhh, you get the idea.

The interesting thing about this tradition is that I never heard of it when I worked at Microsoft from 1990-2000. So it's a new old tradition. In fact there is some unexplained legend lore around it. For example this post claims that the second anniversary is not a "traditional M&M anniversary". And over here someone says it was originated by an ex-MSFTer named Hans Spiller. I've actually contacted Hans previously for some of my other historical excavations, so I emailed him and I'll see what he says.

This seems like it might be a good interview question! Let's see, you've got 60,000 people at Microsoft, and 250 work days each year...so how many pounds of M&Ms are sitting in the halls of Microsoft on any given day?

Someone in my group just hit five years and brought in five pounds. Which we were still working away at one week later.

When you come back to Microsoft, you get an adjusted start date, which is moved forward by the amount of time you were absent. This lets them calculate your seniority accurately (seniority is used for 2 things -- how quickly you accrue vacation, and who gets first office pick, although that is also just a tradition (but one that was around back in 1990)). My real start date was March 5, 1990, but now after a 3 1/2 year absence my adjusted start date is September 22, 1993. This means that Wednesday is my 11-year anniversary, sort of. But it's not really my anniversary, plus I don't need 11 pounds of M&Ms anywhere in my sight distance, so I think I will continue to not follow this tradition.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:57 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Technology in the Service of Mankind

There is some cool technology floating around Microsoft since I left in 2000.

For one thing, Outlook and Exchange combine to produce "Cached Exchange Mode" (this may work with other email programs and mail servers, I don't know). In this mode, all your mail is stored on a central email server, and your client view is just a cache of that. So you can run Outlook on several machines (such as a main development machine and a laptop) and they both get a view of the same mailbox. When you modify your local mailbox (send email, delete it, move it between folders) from one of the machines, the changes are reflected on the other machine also (if there's a conflict -- for example you delete a message on one client and move it to a folder on another -- it gets flagged as such).

Then, you have RPC-over-HTTP. Outlook uses RPC to communicate with Exchange, and RPC-over-HTTP will run RPC (securely) over any HTTP connection. This means you can connect your Outlook client to the Exchange server from any public Internet tap.

On top of that, you have "universal messaging". This means that all your voicemail becomes email messages to you, with the message as an attachment (actually universal messaging works the other way also -- you can call in and it will read the messages in your Inbox to you, except the synthesized voice sounds like the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show, so it's like "There is a meeting bork bork bork at 2 pm bork bork bork to discuss the schedule bork bork bork"). This works so well that I realized the other day I had forgotten my voicemail password because I never used it.

Plus I (and many people) have a Tablet PC with a built-in wireless card, which works great with the wireless network at Microsoft. But even better, thanks to all this technology goop, I can be sitting in Starbucks with my laptop, connected to their wireless network, running Outlook in cached Exchange mode, connecting over RPC-over-HTTP, listening to my voicemail.

And my point is...there's no point! It's just cool!!

Posted by AdamBa at 09:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 19, 2004


The paper today reprinted an article by William Greider bemoaning the situation in Iraq. This a couple of weeks after they printed Garrison Keillor's progressive hand-wringing.

Leaving aside my personal politics, which will be revealed later, I realize that the left finally has an inkling of how the right felt about Clinton. I think the mere notion of Clinton as president was just fundamentally revolting to many right-wingers; they could not stand the notion that someone like Clinton was president, and they felt that voters must have been misled in some way, and if they only realized who Clinton really was, they would toss him out on his ear.

Although left-wingers presumably disliked Bush pere and Reagan, I don't think they felt this same gut-level revulsion about him. But now, with Bush fils in office, they can get a sense for how Republicans felt about Clinton. They feel that voters must have been misled in some way, and if they only realize who Bush really is, they will toss him out on his ear.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Geek Gear

I received a new catalog from Computer Gear, a geek gift site that is just down the road (just down the road from Microsoft, I mean).

They have two different Swiss Army knives with USB memory drives (Exhibits A and B), and two different Swiss Army knives with double-head hex bits (Exhibits C and D), but they don't have one that has both of those. Isn't this combination obvious? (P.S. If it works I get royalties.)

Besides a crystal-covered mouse and Gummi Linux Tux candy, they also have this ceramic jar. The funny thing about the jar is it looks just like the ones you buy in new-agey catalogs, except those say things like "Fairy Dust" on them, instead of "I'd Rather Be Online". They seem to emanate from an outfit called Tumbleweed Pottery which has an entire collection of these things. And they do mugs and lotion bottles too.

Meanwhile, look at this picture of a USB drive pen, also from the fine folks at Computer Gear. Focus in particular on the picture inside the ellipse, of the pen "in action". Now cast your mind back to a time when you were a bit less mature and think about the picture again...what does it look like? Right!! Doesn't it? And if you are thinking, "It looks like a computer with a pen sticking out of the side", you can stop reading this now.

Meanwhile, for the rest of us reprobates who think it looks like the pen is having sex with the laptop, it's obvious that we need an off-color name for these USB memory drive thingies (well, it's obvious to me). You know, something snappy like "data dildo". They say all jokes start in prison, but maybe we can start one right here. Any takers?

Posted by AdamBa at 09:58 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 18, 2004

One Example of Why People Dislike Microsoft Software

Yesterday we had a group meeting. There was some food at the meeting, plus cake for a member of the team who was leaving to work on something else within Microsoft. It was scheduled from 2-5, but it wound down around 3:30. Which was just in time for the Server and Tools "Unwinder", which meant more free food if we bothered to walk to another building.

I didn't, however. Instead I spent 61 minutes and 35 seconds on the phone with helpdesk, trying to stop my computer's CPU from spiking up to 50% usage every 5 seconds.

As it happens, one of the presentations at the meeting was about the "IT Generalist" persona. Microsoft has started using "personas" when thinking about customers. This means picking various users of the products (developers, soccer moms, help desk technicians, etc) and creating a fake person of that type, complete with name, picture, marital status, hobbies, etc, etc. The idea is to crystallize these various users so you can really understand how they use Microsoft software, what they like and dislike, what the "pain points" are, and so on.

The IT Generalist is one such persona. In fact he (this one happens to be a he) is one of the more dissatisfied personas. There is not much public info on the specific personas, but Bob Muglia mentions the IT Generalist in this interview (read fast, or search for "IT Generalist"). As Bob puts it, the IT generalist is "a person who is literally a mile wide and an inch deep". OK, I don't think he meant the person literally has that width and depth, more like his computer knowledge has those characteristics. The IT generalist (we'll call him Joe, although that is not the name of the official IT Generalist persona -- which may be a trade secret, for all I know) is probably the only full-time computer support person at a company with 100 people or so, where technology is never noticed until it breaks, Joe is completely reactive and has no time to learn the software as well as he would like, and generally Joe gets no respect for anything he does.

Personas are actually a great way to understand our customers, and by the end of the presentation I was feeling real empathy for poor Joe as he goes about his daily thankless tasks. He probably gets paid less than I do too.

So anyway I go back to my office and my computer is still spiking its CPU usage, so I call the Microsoft helpdesk. It was actually pretty trivial to diagnose that the problem was that Windows automatic update was obsessively trying, and repeatedly failing, to install some update on my machine. What was a bit trickier was making it stop. The update was being pushed by the domain administrators, so neither I nor the helpdesk person had the ability to disable it. After various attempts (Microsoft helpdesk technicians can, if you authorize it, get access to your desktop remotely and try things directly, rather than instruct you), I finally had to reboot to safe mode, rename a directory, and then reboot. The CPU calmed down, although I guess the update remains uninstalled.

Anyway, after all this I started wondering what Joe the IT Generalist would have done in this situation (admittedly in this specific situation, of an update being pushed by a domain admin, Joe would be the domain admin and could probably disable it). The helpdesk technician at Microsoft was able to look up this problem in a knowledge base and get advice on how to solve it. Would Joe have access to that? Plus the helpdesk technician had an escalation path, eventually leading back to a Microsoft development team. Joe doesn't have any of that. He probably wouldn't have an hour to spend on this nonsense. And if the machine in question belonged to a senior partner at a law firm, say, Joe might be out on the street anyway if it took him an hour to fix it.

And that hour could have been much longer. Task Manager told me that the app that was hogging the CPU was called update.exe. Where was that coming from? The helpdesk guy had me do a full search of my hard drive looking for update.exe. Which is nice except I have a partial Longhorn source code enlistment on my machine, so it's got a lot of files there. And even then it found 8 different files called update.exe. Which one was it? Plus update.exe would run very briefly and then go aware for five seconds. LUCKILY, I work on Monad, and in Monad you can type

get-process | where {$_.Name -ilike "update*" } | pick Path

repeatedly, until you catch update.exe in the act, and then it tells you the path it was launched from (or you could just write it as one loop that exited once it got the answer, if you spent the 30 extra seconds to think about it). Without that, it might have taken much longer to diagnose what update.exe was (at first the guy thought it was adware).

OK, so what can Microsoft do about this? Someone (maybe Einstein, maybe not) once said "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." Perhaps Microsoft should fix Windows Update so it isn't insane. We could improve Task Manager so it reveals the path of each executable, and maybe some information like whether it is signed, and also let users snapshot process information so you can catch briefly-running processes. That's all part of the basic ability to figure out what the heck is running on your computer, that Linux does better than Windows. Then you've got Microsoft's historical over-reliance on GUI admninistration tools and the assumption that things will work, not break, and all the other questionable design decisions Microsoft has made over the years. Yeesh.

For an hour I was living the life of an IT Generalist, and it was pretty scary. Microsoft has a long way to go to before Joe gets to sleep easy at night.

Posted by AdamBa at 03:12 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

September 17, 2004

Former Microsoft Employee #2: Nikhil Kamkolkar

In 1993-1994 I rewrote the IPX network stack for NT. One of the other developers working on this project was named Nikhil Kamkolkar.

Nikhil eventually left Microsoft, did various things, including a stint at Softimage in Los Angeles, working with special effects people in the film industry (you can read his bio, although it gets ahead of the story here).

He had talked about producing movies, and now he has actually done so. In fact he was written, directed, produced, and starred in a movie called Indian Cowboy. Which is playing in Seattle. At the Independent South Asian Film Festival. On Monday. He sent me email inviting me, but I'm not sure I can make it.

It is strange, to say the least, to see this guy that I used to spend time wading through the NT kernel debugger with, up there in a movie trailer.

Nikhil has also been in the play Indian Ink, and he has a production company with two more movies in development. And like Laura Ruderman, he's younger than me! Although it is likely, if he has kids, that they are not as cute as mine.

Posted by AdamBa at 11:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Former Microsoft Employee #1: Laura Ruderman

The Libertarian candidate for Secretary of State has a blog. But I'm here to talk about the Democratic candidate.

In 1994 I left the NT group and went to work on a short-lived interactive television project inside Microsoft. The administrative assistant was a woman named Laura Ruderman. I eventually left the group to go to Softimage, and lost track of Laura.

Fast forward to 1998, and in the interim Laura has been promoted to be a program manager at Microsoft, and is now running as a Democratic candidate for the state house, representing my district. I helped her out a bit, putting together some yard signs and writing letters to others in my neighborhood.

She eventually won a close election, then was re-elected in 2000, beating a former Microsoftie (and former Libertarian) named Toby Nixon (who was eventually appointed to be the other representative in the district, where he remains to this day). Laura won again in 2002, although by this time our house had been redistricted from the 45th into the 48th district, so I got to entertain my neighbors with letters in support another former Microsoft employee named Ross Hunter (do you see a pattern in who gets elected around here?).

Now, in 2004, Laura is running for Secretary of State. Quite an impressive journey in 10 years. And she is only 33 years old.

I met her a while ago, to hand over a campaign contribution, and she told me she had taken a short-term clerical job at a bank in Bellevue (being a State Representative is a part-time, low-paying job). She said most people didn't really know who she was, although a few did like to talk politics with her. I love this image, of her working away doing filing or whatever, but meanwhile she has the power to introduce laws and she is Vice Chair of the Technology, Telecommunications, and Energy Committee, and Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus and she talks to the Governor and she is gaining some national political attention.

Her opponent, incidentally, has come out against paper records on electronic voting, although he has recently softened his stance. Laura has a page of e-Voting links, which I have been submitting suggestions for.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Searching for Old Stuff

This site used to be a plain old thing in FrontPage. Looking at my Activity Log (not because I am a big Activity-Log-searching geek, but because there were some ping errors), I noticed a few searches that looked like they were looking for old articles I had written. Unfortunately those won't be found by Search, which just looks through blog entries. You probably want to look at my old columns or my old writings.

Really I should change the Search to do a Google search of the site.

Posted by AdamBa at 08:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

My (Not So) Soggy Buddy

I signed up 2 ISV Buddies, one of whom is a former co-worker named Thomas Dmitri. Thomas (or Tommy as he was known back then) may be most famous for his karaoke version of "Funky Cold Medina" at the company Christmas party many years back, or perhaps for his great contributions to Windows telephony.

Anyway, he now has a small (very small) software company in New Orleans, about which more later, and I adopted him as one of my Buddies. He sent me a pre-alpha version of his product and when I asked him about an update he said: "We might make a new release Friday depending on whether or not we have to evacuate New Orleans."

There's something you don't usually have to worry about when doing release management.

But I checked yesterday, and all was well: "Luckily, it just missed N.O. It got windy, some branches fell, some rain started, then it just died down. No power loss, no flooding (we are 13ft below sea level), no nothing. I guess it turned east last night. So little rain, I have to water plants my today."

Posted by AdamBa at 08:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 15, 2004

Company Meeting and Product Fair

I watched the company meeting webcast yesterday from the comfort of my own office. I had the option of going down to the cafeteria to watch it (enticed by free Krispy Kreme donuts), but watching it in my office allowed me to work/email/surf the web during the slow parts.

The meeting was somewhat interesting. The format was Kevin "No Chain" Johnson, Grand Poo-bah of Sales and Marketing, sitting in a fake living room with Bill, then Steve, and finally Bill and Steve together. Kevin was asking questions and Steve and/or Bill would answer them. It was great when Bill admitted...oh wait I can't say that publicly. And then when Steve yelled that...hmmm, that's probably confidential also.

The questions were typical softballs like "How will Microsoft continue to innovate?" and "What are our key strategies to deal with security?". In between the live segments were videos that had been produced by various teams. For example, the MSN butterfly sitting backstage before an appearance, talking about the times ahead for MSN. Or a fake infomercial from the Server and Tools Business (my business!), advertising the record "STB's Greatest Hits". Way back when I used to attend the meetings they would have people come up on stage to do live demos of upcoming products, but this time it was just Steve, Bill, Kevin, and the videos.

A couple of quotes. From Bill: "Software never wears out. That is a challenge and an opportunity." From Steve: "The software written in the next 10 years will have more of an effect than anything else in the whole industrial world. It will change more in the next 10 years than it did in the last 10 years."

Then today (and yesterday) we had a product fair with 100+ booths. The most impressive thing was not so much any individual booth, as just the sheer breadth of what Microsoft is working on. When you realize that each booth has an entire product team behind it, marketing, PSS lining up to support it, etc, etc...it's mindblowing.

The coolest thing I saw there was the fingerprint reader that Microsoft is going to ship soon. You can set it up so each finger can be a different user and when you press the finger for a given user it does a Windows XP Fast User Switch to that user. The other cool stuff was various mobile gadgets, big honking displays and televisions, desktops that combined three flat panels into one virtual display, and a row of Xboxes.

This means the cool stuff was hardware, not software, which doesn't quite jibe with what Bill and Steve had talked about the day before. But I guess it is easier for hardware to make a quick coolness impression.

I asked somebody if they were going to bring back the EasyBall Mouse, which is great for kids. I think he thought I was kidding, but I wasn't. Given how these things always get bid up on eBay, I think there is still a market for them. I have a fantasy that somewhere inside Microsoft is a forgotten closet full of these things in mint condition.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Find the Bug, Win an iPod mini!

Computer bookseller Bookpool is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a redesigned website, but more importantly with a Find the Bug contest.

I wrote a new program specifically for the contest. It has one bug, like all the others in the book, but I made the program more obfuscated than the ones in the book (after the feedback on my first attempt was that it was too easy).

The contest closes October 13th. The first prize is a copy of the book (oh and they throw in an iPod mini also). The second prize is two copies of the book! Just kidding, actually it's just one copy, sans iPod.

Now I just need someone to slashdot this puppy.

Posted by AdamBa at 08:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 13, 2004


Tomorrow, September 14th, is primary election day in Washington State. Please vote early and often.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Frank Thomas

Disney animator Frank Thomas, one of the "Nine Old Men", died on September 8. He worked on virtually any "classic" Disney aninmated film you can think of, including "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves", "Bambi", "Dumbo", and "Fantasia".

In 1995 Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson, another Disney animator, came to speak at Microsoft. I had no particular idea who they were, but a co-worker dragged me along. They gave a very interesting talk about, covering similar material to what is in their book, The Illusion of Life. At the end they said they could sign a limited number of copies of their book (limited due to some aspect of their employment at Disney), but I didn't have a copy to sign.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 12, 2004

Off-by-one errors

Occasionally I will mis-type the name of a common website, only to discover that I get redirected to the proper site anyway.

I was curious what Google owns besides google.com. It turns out they own gogle.com, gooogle.com, and goolge.com. They also own google.net, google.org, google.info, google.tv, google.biz, google.us, and I would assume most or all of the rest of the TLDs. All these redirect to the main google.com site.

However, they don't own oogle.com, goooogle.com, goole.com, glooge.com, googe.com, or googl.com. That last one seems like a real oversight.

And they seem to worried somewhat about fingers being in the wrong place. They own foofle.com and googlr.com, but not gppgle.com or googke.com. And they don't own booble.com...although it IS a search engine.

The original google.com was registered in 1997; the rest seem to have been registered on an ad hoc basis between 1998 and 2000.

Microsoft, by comparison, is much less concerned with this, which I suppose makes sense since it is not solely a web presence. The only TLD they (we, I guess I should say) own is microsoft.net, and none of the typos. Even for MSN, however, they only own msn.net, not msn.org, msnbc.net, msncb.com, etc.

Posted by AdamBa at 07:20 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 09, 2004

Microsoft Company Meeting Coming Up

The annual Microsoft Company Meeting is next Tuesday, the 14th.

I haven't attended one of these for about 10 years, through a combination of being a) in Montreal b) too busy/uninterested to bother and c) not employed at Microsoft.

In the old days, the meeting was followed by a company-wide party. In 1990, the first year I attended, they had the meeting in the Mercer Arena at the Seattle Center, and then we adjourned to the party, which was at the Key Arena where the Seattle Supersonics play (except it wasn't called the Key Arena back then). The party featured a concert by the band Chicago, and a typical (for those days) lavish food spread. It wasn't as fancy as the old company-wide Christmas party, but it was pretty nice.

Eventually they stopped having the party and replaced it with a sort-of trade show where different groups could demo their products. This year, instead of trying to have one huge meeting, they are having a meeting which 2500 people can attend, and simulcasting it to all Microsoft sites. It will run from 9 am to 11 am, which I guess was chosen because it the best chance of people worldwide being awake during it.

The expectation is that most people in Puget Sound will watch it online, since 2500 people is only a small fraction of the local workforce. Email went out earlier this week saying that someone would be in the lobby to hand out the allotment of tickets for our building, starting at precisely 2:01 pm. I wandered by at around 2:10 and observed a few people standing in line, but no apparent great rush (the woman was writing down the names of people who had received tickets, and there were maybe 20 names at that point). Next to her was a sign announcing that our building had received less than 100 tickets for the event [grumble grumble fewer not less grumble grumble]. I didn't get a ticket, but I'll probably watch the webcast.

They will still do the trade show, but over two days, in the conference center. This is the same building that the Microsoft Home is in, so perhaps they will be allowing people a peek in there.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 08, 2004

My bio AND a picture of history

This is my bio from the back cover of Find the Bug:

Adam Barr lives in Redmond, WA and works at Microsoft Corporation as a Program Manager on Windows Server. For ten years, he was a Software Design Engineer at Microsoft Corporation, where he worked on products ranging from Windows NT, Windows 2000, and Windows XP to Microsoft Interactive Television and Softimage Digital Studio. He has exceptional experience in C programming and Windows NT kernel development and debugging. He is author of Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters: What I Learned in Ten Years as a Microsoft Programmer.

This is the one from inside the book:

Adam Barr has been programming ever since he was in high school, when his father brought home a line terminal and a 300 baud modem. This was followed by an original IBM PC with a floppy drive and copy of DOS 1.0. After college he worked for a year and a half at Dendrite Americas, a small software company in New Jersey, and then spent ten years as a software developer at Microsoft, working primarily in the NT kernel. He took some time off to work on his first book Proudly Serving My Corporate Master: What I Learned in Ten Years as a Microsoft Programmer, and to be a full-time parent. In the fall of 2003 he returned to Microsoft as a Program Manager working on Windows Server. Adam received a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Princeton University in 1988. He lives in Redmond, Washington with his wife and four children.

The outside one is more serious and imposing. "exceptional experience in...Windows NT kernel development and debugging". Well, I certainly used to, although my skills are a bit stale.

The one inside is more "jokey". I looked at various computer books and it seemed all the author bios were like that ("likes to play guitar and surf...although not at the same time!") so I went with that vibe.

And I still have that DOS 1.0 diskette (it's a little hard to see in the picture there, but the version is 1.00 and the copyright date is 1981). At one point Microsoft had an exhibit of various artifacts in one of its buildings (all that stuff is now in the Microsoft Museum). They had an old copy of DOS, but even they could only scrounge up a DOS 1.1 diskette. I also have the manual, but it has been corrupted by the insertion of DOS 1.1 update pages. The original DOS manual was in a three-ring notebook, and DOS 1.1 came with just the pages that were to be updated; the user was responsible for going through and inserting them as needed.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Website for Find the Bug

I finally put up a very simple website for Find the Bug. Believe it or not I spent most of the time in Corel Draw, hacking up the front cover to make it into a horizontal banner.

I was talking to a friend at work today and I was trying to describe the book. It's hard to describe it in a single sentence. It's not quite "Help you improve your debugging skills", or "Get better at code reading" or "Have fun solving code puzzles". It's a bit of all of those.

I was reading Chris Sells' post What Makes A Book Successful? and the one that concerns me is having a significant audience. In one sense any programmer could benefit (IMHO), but then again the book is somewhat unique so it is hard to categorize the audience (which is related to the fact that it is hard to categorize the book). But it's exactly the same as the What's wrong with this code? puzzle that Larry Osterman posted today, so I think there is a market for this.

Well, we will start to see in a few weeks.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 07, 2004

Gratuitous Linkfest

Hmm, just generated some good inbound links to various famous bloggers. Might as well throw in an unnecessary Scoble link (looks like his geek dinner in Montreal went well). And here's one for Diamond Dave, who has evidently just arrived in Seattle, after driving across the Canadian praries (listening to some appropriate music, I hope). Also, Adam Ulrich, a Microsoft tester who is dedicated to improving the use of test automation and the respect given to testers, two initiatives which I strongly support (random link to WSA event about interviewing testers).

Posted by AdamBa at 10:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Brainteaser Interviews

Today's mail brought a complimentary copy of John Kador's new book How to Ace the Brainteaser Interview. He sent me a copy because he interviewed me for the book (in fact a brief article in Fortune about the book has a quote from me).

I haven't read the book yet, except a quick scan to look for my own name. I did look at the blurbs on the back cover. Three of the six blurbs are from me, Joel Spolsky, and Chris Sells -- the same "people with an opinion on Microsoft interviewing" that William Poundstone talked to at length when researching How Would You Move Mount Fuji?

Kador has a section at the back where he links to various interviewing-related sites (including here). In discussing Poundstone's book, he mentions Ole Eichhorn's review of it, but not my review on Slashdot. I'm pretty sure Kador read my review, because a) I told him about it, so why wouldn't he, but more importantly b) in his book (he == Kador at this point), he mentions the somewhat obscure book Games for the Superintelligent by James Fixx, which I also mentioned in my review of Poundstone's book.

Did everybody follow that?

Anyway, I'm not trying to criticize Kador here. A blurb on the back, a link inside, some quotes, a free copy of the book -- no complaints from this end.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Office Supplies

Larry Osterman, my former co-worker on NT, discusses the recent cost-cutting moves at Microsoft, specifically the fact that office supplies are now only stocked on the first floor of each building, instead of on every floor. He also references Dare Obasanjo's more sarcastic take on the same issue.

I do find this particular cut annoying, and it's true that conference rooms never seem to have whiteboard markers. BUT I question the implied assumption that executives did not consider this scenario when planning this change. YES, it is possible that Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer live in such a rarefied space, where their admins have admins, and everybody else they talk to has admins, and they have technical assistants who probably pre-check any conference room they are going to be in for adequate marker supplies (and they have their own private conference rooms to boot)...it's possible that it never occurred to them that this policy might result in a meeting being delayed while someone went to get markers. However, I doubt it. I think Bill and Steve are perfectly capable of playing the mental game called Let's Imagine a World Where Supplies Are Only On the First Floor, and anticipate precisely the scenario that Larry lays out, and despite that, still decide to proceed with the new supply policy.

Not sure if that makes it better or worse, however.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 06, 2004

It Happened for Me Last Night

In the movie Youngblood, there's a scene I remember set in the house where some of the players are living. Junior hockey players, who are generally in their late teens, usually stay with host families in the cities where they play. In this particular scene, the woman who lives in the house has taken Rob Lowe upstairs for a little hanky-panky, evidently a rite of passage in this particular house. And the goalie, who per the stereotypes of hockey movies is French-Canadian, looks around wide-eyed and says, "It happened for me last week!"

So about a week ago I turned on automatic updates to our new Windows XP SP1 computer, as a way to get SP2 installed. The downloads happen at 3 am, but I guess it waits until the alignment of the planets and/or the server load is amenable before picking the night to do it, because every morning when I would go to check, it was still plain ol' SP1. Finally, last night the computer got its ashed hauled. So now we have SP2, I guess, it's in the other room finishing the install right now, and I haven't heard any explosions.

Shocking postscript: According to the Amazon.com reviews of the movie, the goalie in Youngblood was played by Keanu Reeves in his first role. Thinking back, he does look vaguely familiar.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 05, 2004

With a Name Like Smuckers, It Has to Be Patented

If you look carefully at a package of Smuckers Uncrustables, you will see that it is covered by US patent 6,004,596. Or at least the peanut butter and jelly version is (for those who don't habitually make lunches for small children, Uncrustables are prefab sandwiches; you keep them in the freezer, pop them in a lunchbox, and through the magic of ever-increasing entropy, they are ready to eat when noontime rolls around).

So what is patentable in a pre-made PB&J? If you click on over to the patent, the abstract reads as follows (yes, the first sentence is copied verbatim, grammatical confusion and all):

A sealed crustless sandwich for providing a convenient sandwich without an outer crust which can be stored for long periods of time without a central filling from leaking outwardly. The sandwich includes a lower bread portion, an upper bread portion, an upper filling and a lower filling between the lower and upper bread portions, a center filling sealed between the upper and lower fillings, and a crimped edge along an outer perimeter of the bread portions for sealing the fillings therebetween. The upper and lower fillings are preferably comprised of peanut butter and the center filling is comprised of at least jelly. The center filling is prevented from radiating outwardly into and through the bread portions from the surrounding peanut butter.

OK, so if you missed it, the key sentence is the last one. Sure, any yahoo with some bread, some peanut butter, some jelly, and a crimping machine could come up with this thing. But the patentable idea, the brilliant insight that is non-obvious to someone skilled in the art of making sandwiches, is the relative position of the peanut butter, jelly, and bread.

See, in a sandwich you have your bread [quoth the patent] "having a first perimeter surface coplanar to a contact surface", and then you've got your filling "of an edible food juxtaposed to said contact surface". And then you've got the third filling, which is the same as the first filling. And then [insert drum roll] "said second filling is completely surrounded by said first filling and said third filling for preventing said second filling from engaging said first bread layer and said second bread layer". Do ya see it!?!?!?! If you make a sandwich like I make it, with bread, peanut butter, jelly, and bread in that order, then the jelly "engages" with the bread, and the bread gets soggy. But if you make the sandwich so that the peanut butter completely surrounds the jelly, then the bread doesn't get soggy. I love it.

And I haven't even gotten to the other great things in this patent (which helpfully offers the book 50 Great Sandwiches as its sole reference)...the discussion of the crimped edge "a finite distance from said at least one filling" (as opposed to what distance?)...and then the pictures...and when they start talking about all that wasted outer crust, I almost shed a tear.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 04, 2004

Speaking of Lego...

Last year my wife bought me an Ambassador membership to Legoland. One of the perks of this is that I get to go down once a year, if I choose, for a 2-hour session with a Master Builder, where we build a particular project. Last year we built a figure to Miniland scale (I made a hockey player, which I would post a picture too if I wasn't too lazy). This year the model will be the dreaded sphere. I'm not sure I am going, however.

Since I went last year, Legoland had their Master Builder search and picked three new Master Builders. I was at Legoland in March and I went to the Model Shop, where the MBs usually work during the day and you can ogle them through a window, if you don't mind looking like some lame-ass Lego groupie. Kristi, Nathan, and Aaron were indeed there, working away. I wondered, as I had before, if this really would be a good job. Certainly it's a cool job, and the result of your exertions is impressive. But day-to-day...Nathan and Aaron were sitting facing each other. Nathan was painstakingly working to duplicate an existing model of a car, which involved about a minute of checking and double-checking per piece applied; I guessed it would take him half a day to finish it. Aaron was working on something; at some point, someone else walked up, grabbed his glue gun, and gave him some instruction on how to use it properly. Kristi was sitting further back, at a table by herself, headphones on, face expressionless, working on a model that I couldn't discern. I looked at her and thought of Jack Vance: Margery Liever now sat alone, a vague smile on her face; was she not achieving her heart's desire?.

Nathan Sawaya has a website which shows various things he built before he got the Legoland gig; I don't think he has updated it much since then. Aaron Sneary doesn't have a site I can find, although he does have pages on brickshelf and MOCpages.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Lego Jewelry

Giant Robot is selling Lego repurposed into jewelry -- a bracelet, earrings, and a zipper pull.

It claims the zipper pull is a GR exclusive. Let's see what the Goog says...well it didn't find anything (even the GR item), so I guess that's pretty exclusive. The earring idea, at least, has already been had by at least two people on eBay.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 03, 2004

258 and .400

Seattle Mariners outfilder Ichiro Suzuki is chasing George Sisler's record of 257 hits.

Seattle has played 134 games (their record is 51-83), so they have 28 games left. Currently he is 218 for 583, or .3739. 218 hits in 134 games is 1.626 hits per game, although Ichiro has sat out 2 games, so he really is producing 1.651 hits per game. Assuming he plays the remaining 28 games, he will get 46 more hits, which will give him 264, comfortably more than Sisler.

What is less discussed is the possibility of him hitting .400. He is averaging 4.417 at bats per game, so he will have 123 more at bats if he plays every game and bats at his current rate. So he would wind up with 706 at bats.

If he winds up with 264 hits in those 706 at bats, his average will still be .3739 (of course, since both the hits and at bats were extrapolated from his current numbers). To hit .400, he needs 283 hits, a whopping amount, but only 19 more than the 264 he is projected to, less than one a game. So in his 123 at bats, he would need 65 hits, not the 46 he is projected to hit. That means he would have to hit .528 in his last 28 games.

If we just wants to reach 258 hits to break Sisler's record, he only needs 40 more hits, which means he only needs to bat .325 the rest of the season. He's had a streaky year in which he has batted over .400 in three months and below .275 in the other two, but he's hitting .469 since the All-Star breaks (all these splits, and more are available at espn.com).

So, it looks like he has a good shot to break Sisler's record, but .400 would be a stretch.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 02, 2004


At the Peclers Paris presentation, there was a woman named Charcy Evers, who is an analyst for Peclers covering Washington, Oregon, and Texas (not sure how they arrived at that geographic lumping). Ten years ago Charcy was a model for Elite, and during the presentation by Francoise, she was sitting two rows in front and just to my left.

Since I don't normally sit that close to models (or former models), I spent a bit of time observing Charcy. I had heard that often when you see a model away from a runway or photo shoot, they can look somewhat plain. I wouldn't call Charcy plain (there's a picture here, but it's not a particularly good one), but it's true that if I saw her in a room, I would certainly think she was attractive, but I wouldn't necessarily think "Wotta babe" and pick her out as a model.

Still, I can see why a designer would view her as a good place to hang their clothes. Her features are fairly angular, which I think makes them more striking when lit properly. She had great cheekbones. I have heard that having a symmetric face (left-right) is important for models, but I couldn't judge that.

She's also tall, and lanky. At a certain point in the presentation she was leaning against the wall, and if you think there is not a good way and a bad way to lean against a wall, think again. She had draped herself just so, and her carriage, as they say, was a thing of beauty.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Peclers Paris Futur(s) 4

A friend of mine who was in law school once said he took two kinds of classes; those that would help him in his career, and those that would make good dinner conversation.

Today I went to a presentation that was definitely in the latter category. Microsoft has a "design and usability excellence" group and they invited a woman named Francoise Serralta to give a talk. Francoise works for a French company called Peclers Paris. They describe themselves as a "styling agency" -- visit the website if you want to know more.

Peclers does design consulting, but they also put out publications you can buy, which give quaterly advice on what is happening in color, materials, patterns, etc. And, they put out an annual report called Futur(s), which "analyzes the evolution of major socio-cultural trends and consumer attitudes" and "presents an exclusive and creative approach to defining the look of tomorrow's consumer goods." (so the email said).

Francoise is the driving force behind Futur(s), and she came to Microsoft to talk about the most recent version, the fourth one (hence the name, Futur(s) 4), which came out in April. This is actually a unique opportunity because the book sells for $5935 (yes, that's more than five thousand dollars), and normally only consulting clients of Peclers Paris would get such a presentation.

Francoise, who is an impeccably turned-out, charmingly-accented French woman of indeterminate age, spoke about the five main transversal currents described in Futur(s) 4: Happy Fuzz, Re-naissance, Famous/Anonymous, Essensual, and Lost in Fantasy (don't worry, it will get no clearer as you read on).

This was (honestly) fascinating stuff. She talked about "animated transparency -- based in mystery, lace, and open work effect; concealing and revealing play inside the transparency." In other words, casemodding is a harbinger of the future. Under a subset of "Happy Fuzz" (which she also called "Happy Blur") called "Tech Romance", she said that technology was now more preciously seducing. I love that phrase, "preciously seducing." It's what inspired Steve Jobs to look at an iMac and say, "Don't you just want to lick it?" And, according to Francoise, there is a new romantic approach to technology, in which convenience is less machine and more human. Even the vacuum cleaner is glamorous, or, as she neatly summed it up, "Everything is round."

And blogging has not escaped her semiotic eye. Under "Famous/Anonymous", she talked about "Black Energy" and the "Dark Parade", by which she means the adbusters, hackers, flashmobbers, and bloggers who are descendents of the rock-and-roll subsersive artists, seeking to counter the prevailing commercial energy (she said that, not me). She mentioned that the fancy clothier Comme des Garcons has started creating Guerilla stores, which appear and disappear within a year, and initially require you to find out their location from someone else who knows -- shades of Orkut!

The book itself is also interesting, it has various samples of materials and colors for you to get the full tactile experience, and has much more background research and expansion of the themes that the presentation touched on.

I'm not sure who was in the audience, but there was at least one package designer (Microsoft I guess is horribly violating the "everything is round" direction by taking a round CD and immediately putting it in a square case inside a square box). It turns out that the materials used on things like remote control buttons is actually something that people study and design, and there were a couple of people from the Microsoft hardware group who thought about issues like that.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:42 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


I was linked to by Robert Scoble, so in grand blog tradition, I am going to link back to him. Will the resultant link chasing produce more energy than it consumes, thus fulfilling the centuries old dream of perpetual motion? Probably not.

Eek, Scoble is going to Montreal (my hometown) and is planning a geek dinner at Arahova. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Except they are going to the one on Crescent. I used to go the one on St. Viateur. Because it is right across the street from St. Viateur Bagel. You can of course just go to St. Vaiteur and get 6 or so hot bagels and inhale them. Or you can buy taramasalata from Arahova at St. Viateur. So you've got 2 of the best foods on the planet right there.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack