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November 29, 2004

Iain McDonald is blogging

Iain McDonald is blogging. When Iain talks about the development process, you should listen. Iain was one of the guys who pulled Windows 2000 out of the weeds and got it shipped. His job was basically as Brian Valentine's Chief Butt-Kicker. On that project, his foot got pretty sore.

This is a quote from a review of Iain's band's CD: "These boys may look like baboons' backsides, but their debut EP is a thing of beauty." Hey now! Come on, we all have days where we look like we haven't slept or shaved or showered...Iain's just having an entire life like that.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:08 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Running as Non-Admin, Day 1

My first day of running as a regular user and there were basically no problems. Email worked fine, web access, etc.

I only hit one glitch, but it was PRECISELY the kind of glitch that Microsoft could avoid if more of its own developers ran as non-admin. By coincidence my antivirus software signature file was out-of-date. When I logged on with my non-admin account, the XP SP2 security control warned me about this. But when I went to update the signatures manually, it immediately popped up a message saying I did not have permissions. So I logged off and logged back on as administrator, and THEN it told me that the reason it couldn't update the signature file was because some service was not running. I rebooted, logged in as administrator, and it updated fine.

The service must have died at some point, and for all I know if it had kept running it would have automatically updated the signature even if I was logged in as non-admin. But running as non-admin in this error situation prevented it from telling me what was wrong -- instead it did the security check first and gave me the access denied error. Plus, the XP SP2 security popup runs as part of the system, therefore it is not a separate process that I can "Run As..." the administrator account.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:46 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 28, 2004

Take My Results Ranking - Please!

Scoble just blogged about MSN Search's "results ranking" feature. He asks: "What do you think? Is this useful? Does it help you get better results for the searches you are doing?". Ye gods. I've been meaning to blog about this piece of crud. I do NOT think it is useful. In fact I dislike it intensely. I hope the following comments are taken as constructive criticism...I know the MSN Search team is working hard, I know several people who work on the product and they are all very smart, and I think it's great Microsoft is doing search. Perhaps this was added as a result of user surveys...in which case I posit that the wrong people are being surveyed.

Here's a picture of the offending UI component:

Where to begin...Google I guess just updated the variable that holds their "Searching XXX web pages" count from 32 to 64 bits, so they can now bump their index from 4 billion sites to 8 billion sites. Woohoo!! Look, those numbers are only useful if the site I want is one of the extra 4 billion, and it actually shows up on the first few pages of results. People talk about how search engine X returns 100,000 hits for something and search engine Y returns 200,000. Does anyone (who has ever kissed a girl) really care? Do you spend a lot of time on hits 100,001 through 200,000 (SEARCH HITS, I mean).

My point here (and I do have one) is that I really don't know or care much about the search engine results that I don't see. Once you get past about 100, it's all just noise.

So I think the MSN Search results ranking thing (which lets you specify variables for exactmatchness, popularity, and freshness on a scale from 0-100, with 50 the default) is the kind of feature only a true geek could love and/or productize. If I get GOOD results the first time then I don't care, and if I get BAD results...well let's see. I DIDN'T see the pages I wanted. Now I'm supposed to GUESS what deficiency in these pages prevented me from seeing them. Let's all join hands and meditate and perhaps a spirit from the eighteenth dimension will reveal something about those forlorn pages...MMMMMMM, maybe they are "fresher" then the pages I did get. Or maybe they are a "more exact" match than the pages I did get. How the heck should I know?!? If I knew so much about these pages I have never seen, I probably wouldn't be so desperate to find them that I spent time futzing with those sliders.

I can speculate as to what leads to this kind of design. It's one of those "Google zigs, we zag" moves that Microsoft is good at. Google's Advanced Search lets you specify all vs. any of your words, and a rough date range. So MSN Search has this results ranking slider. That's the wrong way. You want to be more precise, not less. What does a freshness of 57 mean compared to a freshness of 68? Google lets you pick last 3 months, last 6 months, or last year. Why not provide an exact date range? You're inserting fuzziness where people either want a) nothing or b) more precision.

This is a beta, so here's my beta feedback: get rid of this. Thanks. P.S. In case this "feature" lasts, I'll try to make myself useful by pointing out that the help page for Search Builder has the sliders ordered wrong in the text.

Posted by AdamBa at 04:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Traffic Choices in Puget Sound

Interesting article in the Seattle Times about a road pricing study that is being done by the Puget Sound Regional Council. Drivers are charged fake money for using different highways in the area, with the price per mile varying by time of day, based on current congestion patterns. At the end of the year-long study, participants would receive any unused fake money, as real money.

I received a phone call about a month ago by someone looking for participants for this study. At first I thought it might be a scam, because they asked about the cars we owned, which could be a way to judge household wealth. But as they described the study in more detail, and asked me questions about things like the slope of my windshield (so the dashboard GPS device could talk to the satellites -- no Hummers allowed!) I became convinced it was legitimate. They said I would have to bring my car in for half an hour to install the device, and half an hour at the end to remove it, and I would be paid a few hundred dollars at the end of the year.

They said they would contact me by phone or email, but I never heard anything more. Nobody stole my cars or broke into my house either, so I remained a bit mystified by the whole thing. I checked with my brother, who works on things like traffic studies, and he said it did sound legitimate, and that regional councils did those types of studies. I was actually looking forward to participating! At least as I was stuck in traffic going to Safeco field, I could console myself that my misery was being recorded. Since the article indicates the study is real, I guess they just decided not to pick me.

Posted by AdamBa at 03:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 27, 2004

Running as Non-Administrator

In a comment to this post about malware, someone asked:

Since Microsoft runs such a managed network environment I'm surprised you are allowed to run as Administrator there unless you absolutely have to for your development work. Is that a privilege that comes with seniority or does everyone through development sales and marketing routinely run as admin? Or is it just on your personal test machines? Do you have systems set up to filter spyware at the firewall?

I have not heard of any job -- certainly nothing in the development teams -- where you are not allowed to run as administrator on your own machine (and it's certainly not based on seniority). People DO sometimes need to install applications or do some of the many activites on the long list of things that require you to be administrator.

Actually, I have no idea how long that list is, or if it even includes installing applications, because I run as administrator. This is bad for a couple of reasons. First of all it makes me vulnerable to bad bits. Second of all, we at Microsoft want users to run as non-admin for similar reasons, so we should all be running as non-admin to know what it is like (Larry Osterman blogged about the non-admin experience a few months ago). Therefore I am going to pledge that Monday morning I will stop running as administrator on my machine.

To be more precise, I will take my domain account and take it out of the Administrators group (and hopefully be able to put it in Users, not Power Users). I'll still have the actual local Administrator account if I really need it. And I can grant my domain account a few privileges (like debugging) as necessary.

Microsoft actually could enforce a rule that your domain account can't be local administrator (and they could write a script to check this, since the domain administrator account is also a local administrator). I suppose some people would respond by running as local Administrator, but it is so convenient to run as your domain account, for accessing network resources, that most would continue to run as that.

I don't know what firewall filters Microsoft has in place. Certainly they have a spam filter which is evidently pretty good, since my Microsoft email address is floating around from back in the early 1990s when we all naively posted in on newsgroups (all I get these days is Rolex offers, I suppose because that hasn't been added to the list of spammy words). I don't know about filtering other stuff. Someone told me recently that they put an unpatched version of an older version of Windows on the corporate network, and within 5 minutes it was infected with a virus.

Anyway I will try running as non-admin on my machine, and report back.

P.S. Bookpool, the bookseller that ran the Find the Bug contest, is now running a malware-related contest, tied to the book Malware: Fighting Malicious Code (just recently reviewed on Slashdot).

Posted by AdamBa at 12:55 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 26, 2004

The Bird Was the Word

Yesterday around 11 am, as the children were watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the adults were considering when to start cooking our turkey, the power went out.

This is not a huge problem because we have a generator. However the parade announcer had just proclaimed the imminent arrival of the new Spongebob Squarepants balloon, so the kids were panicking that they would miss it. So I had to hustle out and crank up the generator ASAP (and the Spongebob viewing was saved).

The second problem was how to cook our turkey, because the oven is not on the generator. We considered microwaving it, but eventually decided to grill it on our backyard grill.

Everything went fine, and we enjoyed living "off the grid" for a bit (the TV signal was coming in off the air to our HD antenna, and the grill is powered by a liquid propane tank). Except the generator is powered by the natural gas line, so we were only off the electrical grid. The power eventually came back on around 2:30.

The grilled turkey turned out great and may become our standard cooking method. My wife had bought me a Grill Alert remote thermometer. This thing has a probe connected via a cable to a wireless transmitter. So you can check the temperature remotely, and more importantly do so without having to lift the cover of the grill. It's a great idea, except it didn't work, despite my pressing various reset buttons and changing batteries. I always seem to have trouble with these kinds of devices -- our outside remote thermometer is flaky also. Must be my magnetic personality.

It didn't help that I couldn't find the manual. If you look at the Amazon.com listing for the Grill Alert, you will see there is a way for manufacturers to submit the URL of the product manual. In fact it says that "Manufacturers, merchants, and enthusiasts" can submit a manual (heh heh). Unfortunately nobody had done so yet.

This year, as with every year, I have so much to be thankful for that it would be pointless to try to list it all. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 25, 2004

All My Base Are Belong To Them

I just ran Ad-Aware on my computer and discovered it was stuffed full of spyware. I watched in awe as it paraded a cornucopia of 946 suspicious items in front of me, including 3 active processes and 500+ registry keys. I felt like quite a turkey for having such an infected computer. And I should give thanks to my father, who suggested I check my computer for spyware before it turned into a pumpkin.

You can find a list of Anti-spyware tools at PC World's site, among other places.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:40 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 24, 2004

List of Managed Processes - In Monad

Krzysztof Cwalina, a .Net architect type, had a blog entry showing how to list all managed code processes on your machine.

The code is pretty simple in C#:

PerformanceCounterCategory clr = new PerformanceCounterCategory(".NET CLR Memory");
foreach(string process in clr.GetInstanceNames()) {
     if(process != "_Global_") {

But you still have to compile a program, etc...b-o-r-i-n-g!! In Monad, it's much easier: you can just type, from the command prompt, the following two lines:

$pcc = new-object System.Diagnostics.PerformanceCounterCategory ".NET CLR Memory"
foreach ($p in $pcc.GetInstanceNames()) { if ($p -ne "_Global_") { $p } }

On my machine it returns the following list:


msh is Monad; I'm not sure what the other stuff is.

Posted by AdamBa at 08:47 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 23, 2004

Imagine Children's Museum

Took the day off and brought the kiddies up to the Imagine Children's Museum up in Everett, which was formerly known as the Children's Museum in Snohomish County.

Quite a good museum, definitely newer and snazzier than the Seattle Children's Museum, although the one in Seattle has a certain funky charm. They've got some of the same stuff -- play theater, pretend restaurant, store (the same stuff every children's museum has) but they also have some unusual things, like an electricity room where they'll make your hair stand on end, and the opportunity to milk a fake cow, and a room downstrairs full of some cool Swedish construction toy (sort of like giant wooden Erector sets) whose name escapes me.

One thing they have is a water table, similar to the one at the Odyssey Maritime Discovery Center on the Seattle waterfront. The one at Odyssey is nicer, since it has the dam and locks (and remains, to my knowledge, the single best object for children to play with in the entire Puget Sound).

Imagine also sells Christmas cards designed by children. Like the one on the left. A 13-year-old kid did that!

Anyway if you have some tykesters, it's worth checking out Imagine. It's about 35 minutes drive from Microsoft, assuming no traffic.

Posted by AdamBa at 08:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 21, 2004

John Dvorak Says "Erase It"

John Dvorak, noted computer industry crankcase, was kind enough to link to my blog and explain that he has issues with my claim that the continued #1 spot for Microsoft on the MSN Search anal sex results was actually a good sign (Dvorak includes an excellent head-in-ass picture, must check out).

MSN's Search site includes a page about site ranking, which explains that it is completely automated (and the ranking is indeed changing, since Rick Santorum's website is no longer in the top ten of the above query).

This actually reminds me of the attempts Microsoft made to run 16-bit Windows code on 32-bit Windows by constructing a perfect simulation of 16-bit Windows. They eventually discovered it was too hard; you had to put in hacks to detect certain misbehaving applications. The situation with search is not quite the same (in particular nobody doubts that making an app run is a good thing, if the alternative is it failing; with search, you are in more murky waters comparing one set of search results to an infinite possibility of others). Still I wonder if MSN Search will be able to keep its purity.

Dvorak claims that it is well-known that Google hand tweaks its results. I don't know if this is true. I am pretty sure they started out wanting to keep the results purely algorithm-driven; they had to change this in response to lawsuits, but I don't know if they had done it in response to "bad" results.

Actually Dvorak brings an interesting perspective because he says Google is hand-tweaking for the benefit of users. Meaning, get the Microsoft page out of the results so that it doesn't interfere with people who are looking for real anal sex pages. I never really thought of it that way. To me the issue was do you remove something that is embarrassing to Microsoft -- in other words hand tweak the results for the benefit of Microsoft itself. Isn't that the kind of thing Microsoft wants to avoid, for the sake of our overall reputation as an honest company? Unfortunately that seems to be conflicting with our reputation as a producer of accurate search engines (I think the issue might be clearer cut if the link were to another company).

I should disclaim the fact that I don't work on MSN Search, and I know nothing about their plans to handle this kind of issue. I expect that the link will disappear soon, and nobody will really know if it was better algorithms or hand fixups.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:47 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Verrazano Narrows Bridge Turns 40

Forty years ago today, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge opened.

There are various ways you can evaluate a bridge -- setting, length, design, symmetry. There is no doubt in my mind that the Verrazano Narrows Bridge remains the finest bridge ever built. The location is perfect, the proportions are ideal, the details of the design are flawless.

There are many pictures of the bridge on the web. Here's one at the official site. I like the MSN Search results better than Google's. But the most impressive thing is that they are all good. I have never seen a picture of this bridge where it doesn't look great.

At the opening ceremony of the bridge, there was much pomp and circumstance and honors directed at the designer, Othmar Ammann. However, the announcer famously neglected to mention his name. There is a story that Donald Trump was there with his father (he would have been 18 years old at the time) and was struck by the fact that Ammann had been the key figure in building the bridge, and yet his name was lost amidst the sea of publicity-grabbing dignitaries. And at that moment Trump supposedly made a vow to himself that his name would never be the one that was ignored.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 19, 2004

Uniforms for the Washington Ex-Expos

ESPN had a contest to design new uniforms for the Montreal Expos when they move to Washington (to be named the Nationals, according to a source).

I really liked this design by Lukas Johnson. He's assuming the team is called the Senators, but most of the elements would work for either team. Particularly clever are the "flag W" hat logo (shown at left) and the incorporation of the D.C. flag (who knew?) into the sleeve trim.

Posted by AdamBa at 07:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 18, 2004

Moving Day

Today the Monad team packed up our stuff, and tomorrow we will be moved to a new building, ready for our arrival on Monday.

I was in building 40, which has the distinction of being one of the two tallest buildings on campus (6 stories). So there are some nice views of the Cascade Mountains from certain offices. I didn't have such a view, because the building is roughly shaped like an H and my office was on the inside of one of the legs, looking across at the other leg.

But the office did have this nice art-y view of building 26 in the reflection of the windows on the other side:

Because the glass on the other windows was not quite flat and not quite lined up the same, it created a cubist effect. For comparison, here is the real building 26 (this image is flipped so it matches up with the reflected one):

My new office is in a different building...if you view your building number as your Hold 'Em pre-flop hand and your office number as the flop and turn (and doesn't everyone think of them that way)...then I've got 2 low pair and an inside straight draw.

At this point I was going to reminisce a bit about different offices I have had at Microsoft, but I might annoy someone, so I won't.

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

Gretchen Ledgard Reviews "How Would You Move Mount Fuji?"

Microsoft blogging recruiter Gretchen Ledgard has some unkind words about William Poundstone's book How Would You Move Mount Fuji? (to be fair, she also had some kind words. Here they are: nice, understood, captured, interesting, agree, truth, useful, good, well-written, fun).

First of all I have to disagree with her statement that "Going behind the closed doors of our processes won’t necessarily help anyone 'cheat' our system." This is what ETS says about SAT prep classes. In fact they say it right here: "ETS does not recommend expensive and elaborate coaching courses. Although the courses vary according to objectives, duration, and method, we believe that most of the claims made by commercial coaching companies are greatly overblown."

Actually I don't think Gretchen is saying that because she is following a mandate from HR higher-ups to downplay books like this so we can get back to the days when this was all shrouded in a delicious air of mystery. I think she just feels that way. And I disagree with her -- knowing about the interview process in detail is a huge help to candidates. What we could both agree on is that there are now lots of places, besides this one book, to get this information.

Gretchen also says, "As much as we say it and as much as people don’t believe us, puzzle questions really are about the journey, not the destination. Even more so, these types of questions probe on communication skills, team work, and ability to draw from both raw intellect and common sense to isolate issues." I disagree with this, in general. Most puzzle questions are about getting the answer. Communication skills...not much. Team work?!? Huh? What does a puzzle have to do with team work. But the problem is that you can find some questions where watching a candidate journey to the answer is revealing. You can find a lot where it isn't, and there's no quality control on that. There's the same problem with arguing about open-ended design questions. Yes, some of them are reasonable, but I think most are stupid. Gretchen thinks most are reasonable and some are stupid. Not much point in arguing that.

Plus she doesn't address one of Poundstone's central points, which is the assertion that people make up their minds about a candidate in the first 15 seconds, and it is a fallacy to assume that Microsoft interviews, be they brainteasers, open-ended questions, or what have you, are more objective than traditional "So why do you want to work for company X" kind of interviews.

When I interviewed a year ago, the first interview started out with the interviewer saying "Stop me if you have heard this before." I was pretty confident that I had heard whatever it was before. So when he said "You have ten boxes of marbles" I yelled "Stop!" even though I wasn't sure which specific "ten boxes of marbles" question it was. And that was the last puzzle question I had all day.

Gretchen does make one important point. Microsoft has de-emphasized the brainteaser interviews during interviews. Or more precisely, it is attempting to do so. In interviewer training I took when I restarted, the trainer said that some "executive guidance" (read: from Bill and Steve) had come down a couple of years before to nix the straight brainteasers (not sure what had happened a couple of years before to inspire this, except my book came out where I complained about this kind of question -- hey a guy can dream, right?). So they were telling everyone who went through interview training about this. But they hadn't told the company at large about it. The stated reason was that they wanted to commmunicate the reason behind the change at the same time, which worked best during small training sessions. But the problem is that most people don't re-take interviewer training. So the only people who are learning about the brainteaser deprecation are all the n00bs. It will take 5-10 years for this knowledge to sink into the Microsoft collective consciousness. Until then, dust off your Dudeney before heading to Redmond.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:10 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 17, 2004

Adam Gopnik Makes Me Think About Microsoft

Adam Gopnik is a New Yorker staff writer. Besides our first names we don't have much in common (except we both grew up in Montreal as the sons of expat univerity professors from Philadelphia). The other Adam is an excellent writer (if you want to get weepy about your kids growing up, check out his book Paris to the Moon). His most notable trait is the ability to whip out these incredibly profound generalizations in the middle of his articles.

He had a good one in the most recent issue, in an article about the French newspaper Le Monde (the nominal subject of the article is irrelevant; in fact the articles really exist as a diversionary tactic to get these Gopnikisms past the notoriously finicky NYer editors).

I quote: "In bureaucratic organizations, things are accomplished in memos; in hierarchical ones, in meetings; and in academic-collegial ones, in the interstices between meetings and in the margins of memos."

This got me thinking as to what kind of organization Microsoft was back in 1990, and what it is like now.

Back in the good ol' days, there were far fewer meetings. I think this was partly for technology reasons. Before we could schedule meetings in Outlook, it was just too hard to have a lot of meetings because meeting organizers could not be sure when people were free. Meetings had to be arranged by sending email to all participants. As a result, ad-hoc scheduled meetings were rare (this had the nice side effect of making people more available for meetings if needed). What you had was scheduled weekly meetings where technical discussions would take place, and the occasional meeting with senior people, where information was mostly transmiteed in one direction (and the time was simply stated as a fact and you had to accomodate it if possible).

And you certainly didn't have a lot of memos (actually you had zero memos, but group- or company-wide emails replaced those; there were very few of those that communicated decisions that had not previously been hashed out in smaller discussions).

What you had instead was what Gopnik calls the "academic-collegial" decision making process; people would wander by other people's offices, or buttonhole each other after meetings or in the hallway ("the interstices between meetings"), or send emails to a few people ("the margins of memos"), and that's where most of the thinking got done.

I think the term "academic-collegiate" would pretty accurately describe the environment that Microsoft management was trying to create, and if we take Gopnik's analysis as correct (and we must, because you can't out-phrasify Adam Gopnik), then they were successful.

Nowadays, people accuse Microsoft of being more bureaucratic. But I think that is inaccurate, because there are still not a lot of large-distribution emails saying "We will do it this way". Instead, Microsoft has become more hierarchical. Because you do have a ton more meetings. Partly it's because now we do have Outlook to reliably schedule meetings, which means there are lots of them, which means people aren't in their offices a lot, which means you have to schedule meetings...and so it goes. But partly it's because Microsoft has become a place where people in management want to keep an eye on things, and that means fewer impromptu decisions between people and more scheduled meetings that can be predicted and tracked and monitored as needed. If people upstairs want to be involved in decision-making, they need to ensure that decisions are made at a predictable time and place.

So remember that. When someone complains that Microsoft is bureaucratic, you can say no, it's actually too hierarchical.

Now get back to your previously scheduled meetings.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:31 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Washington Governor's Race Still Undecided

The initial count is done in the election for Governor of Washington State, and currently Republican Dino Rossi leads Democract Christine Gregoire by 261 votes, or almost exactly 0.01% of the votes cast.

The race is close enough to require a machine recount, but not a manual recount (which would have been required if the difference were 150 votes or fewer/less (tough call on "fewer" vs. "less" there)).

From this page with the history of state recounts, you can see that this is easily the closest election in state history, especially as a percentage of votes cast.

Interestingly, the last two recounts were in 2000, for Senator and Secretary of State. Although the results were not reversed in either case, in both cases the Democrats gained more than the 261 votes that separate Rossi and Gregoire (+276 for Cantwell in the Senate, +267 for Bonker for Sec'y of State -- yes it was +267, despite the incorrect claim on the website that it was +77).

The recount should take another week, according to this article.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 15, 2004

MSN Search Keeps It Real

As of right now, querying MSN Search for "anal sex" still returned Microsoft's homepage as the top result (and Rick Santorum has moved up to #7).

This is actually a good sign. It shows that MSN Search is actually trying to do an honest job of trusting their engine and not gimmicking the results. What would it have said about their credibility if they simply hacked it up to change the search results? Would they have done the same if it pointed to one of their competitors?

If you read Robin Good's write-up of the recent Search Champs event, some of the suggestions they gave are based on the premise (oft-heard on Slashdot) that Microsoft was planning to play with the search results: "Do not try to push other Microsoft content as default authority by default." "Respect user privacy like the most scared thing you have." "Get out of PassPort-like schemes, if ever needed." "Transparency about results and methods utilized to achieve them is important." I personally was pretty sure that Microsoft was going to be honest with its search results, but I think the continued anal sex link to Microsoft is actually a very hopeful sign to those who were concerned about it. So kudos to them.

I assume the reason that Microsoft's homepage comes up first is because there really are a bunch of sites that link to Microsoft using "anal sex" as the link text. I don't think it would be that hard for Microsoft to fix this in an honest way. The 'Settings' page for Search has a notion of SafeSearch, which classifies pages into sexually explicit and not, and by the by disallows the "anal sex" search entirely if you ratchet it down (Google calls its porn filter the exact same thing -- SafeSearch -- right down to the intercapping). So some basic algorithm like "if the page linked from is nasty and the page linked to is not nasty, lower the weight of the link" should fix this up. Obviously Google has done something of that sort, since they are indexing the same Internet and manage to keep Microsoft off the top ten of anal sex results.

Microsoft does have one problem that Google doesn't quite have, which is that lots of pages link to it for reasons other than its search business. For example pages may say "Anal sex over here! Best viewed with Microsoft Internet Explorer." Sort of a good news, bad news deal. It's nice people are optimizing their sites for IE, but it might mess up your search engine.

(Of course Google (and Yahoo) have a problem Microsoft may not, which is that lots of X-rated sites link to them as the "If you are underage, click here to exit" link. Disney is also a big player in this niche; a Google search for "exit" returns Yahoo, Google, and Disney in that order, while a search for "leave" swaps Disney and Google.)

Interestingly enough, I tried a "Near Me" MSN Search for "anal sex" and Microsoft was nowhere to be found, even though I live a mere five miles from headquarters! Still a few bugs in the system I guess...

Posted by AdamBa at 09:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 12, 2004

MSN Search

So I fired up MSN Search to do a little navel gazing, looking for "Adam Barr" and "Find the Bug" together. First it asks me if I want to search to "Adam Barr" and "Find the Big" instead. Gee, I really don't, especially since if I search for that, I get zero results. I find the "Did you mean to search for...?" part of Google one of the most impressive things, because it is usually right. But it's pretty silly of MSN to suggest a search that returns a big goose egg. I did report this during one of the tech previews, but no change so far. I'll keep reporting it. Maybe the developer it gets assigned to will get curious and buy the book.

Anyway once I ignore its advice, MSN Search returns 570 hits, with the book's website first. Google finds 1700 sites but puts the book's site on page 2, and this site first. I guess this is just differences in ranking algorithms; this site certainly mentions Find the Bug, and is linked to by more sites than the book's site. But in this case MSN Search is doing better.

Moving on to more important things, I first verify a tipster report that searching for anal sex on MSN Search does indeed return Microsoft's homepage #1 and Rick Santorum's homepage #9 (Google returns neither on the first page). Meanwhile searching for "crack smoking" president on MSN gives a couple of Bush hits on the first page, while Google gives results a bit more to the right, politically (naturally they both return Marion Barry references at #1).

And of course, searching for "Dick Cheney" penis on MSN image search returns absolutely no images whatsoever of our Vice President's Wyoming-sized WMD. Google also draws a blank. Dang it! What good is an image search if you can't satisfy your infantile desire to see "Donkey" Dick Cheney in his finest hour?

Posted by AdamBa at 10:51 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 11, 2004

Coding Slave

Here's a sad saga of woe from the spouse of an EA employee (discussed on The Mighty Dot). 9 am to 10 pm, seven days a week? That is a pretty insane schedule. I play hockey with a guy who worked as an artist on Halo 2, and although they had a good solid 6-month crunch, they had nothing like what was described in that article. And they certainly got some time off when they were done.

(Which reminds me: people talk about 100-hour weeks. Do you realize that 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, isn't even 100 hours?)

It's easy to say that you can quit instead of working crazy hours, but that messes up your resume, plus you do want the product to succeed...at least he doesn't have kids (I infer from them not being mentioned in the article). For me the big break came not when I got married, but when our first child was born. Yes, I enjoyed spending time with my wife, and it's pretty geeky/analytical to say that she's a functioning adult and can do fine without my presence. But it's still way different when you are tired from parenting and you've got diapers to change AND then your lovely husband is sitting in his nice quiet climate-controlled office geeking out with other adults.

Anyway, I can't feel too too bad for this guy and his wife when I compare that to the people you meet in books like Nickel and Dimed. At least working at EA is an interesting job with a cool work environment and a tangible result at the end -- there's just too much of it. Now imagine working 3 menial jobs, day after day, year after year, just to put bread on the table.

Posted by AdamBa at 04:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

We Fought the Law...

...and I guess the law won. This is what Dan Gillmor points out in this column. Quote: "One of the major reasons Microsoft achieved its browser dominance is that it repeatedly broke the law by abusing its monopoly."

My initial reaction to that kind of statement is "Wait! Broke the law? But...ummm...geeba geeba." I don't agree with the rest of his article, which is that Microsoft has not changed its business practices in any meaningful way. Microsoft has changed its business practices in many many meaningful ways.

While I think almost every employee would agree that the company is pretty open and friendly, many employees would feel that it hasn't changed much because they didn't think it was evil to being with. I always felt this huge disconnect between the public perception of Microsoft as evil, and what I (and everyone I knew) came to work trying to do, which was make better software for people.

During my New Employee Orientation when I restarted here (a year ago), we were treated to a talk from a Vice President. They said they were going to have time for questions at the end, and I thought of a pretty good, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" question, which was: "Do you think the ruling against Microsoft in the DOJ case was justified, or was the company treated unfairly?"

I wasn't really planning to ask it, but during question time nobody else was raising their hands, and I figured heck, I'm a shareholder and he's a VP, he's rockin' on my dime, might as well ask it. His response was to hem and haw a bit and then say that he personally had never seen any malfeasance. Which I guess is the response I expected (what's he gonna say, "Yeah we got hosed? We were guilty as sin?" Dream on).

BUT we employees do have to keep in mind that Gillmor, in this particular case is right: the company WAS found guilty of antitrust violations, and arguably hit the "double inside straight draw" of an egotistical judge and a partisan Secretary of State to get the settlement we did (I should point out that I think the settlement, based on what Microsoft actually did, was fair, to say the least; but based on how the trial had proceeded, it was a good result for Microsoft).

So whether employees have internalized it or not, the law says we were guilty guilty guilty guilty, and we should remember that.

Posted by AdamBa at 01:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


My group is being moved to another building at Microsoft. The date for the move is next Friday, the 19th.

As part of the move, we will be kicked out of our offices that day (actually at 5 pm the day before). This is because it is a complicated 15 Puzzle-like move, in which they have to shift everybody around just so (actually it may be more like a "16 puzzle", in which there are no spare offices available to hold things temporarily). I remember back in October 1990 we did a big Building 1/2/3/4 reshuffle of the NT, Lan Manager, and OS/2 groups (following the "bears switching positions" divorce from IBM) and they gave us a day off to do the move, which was a huge deal then. I went by work that day and they had moved everybody's boxes down to the garage (in the old buildings there is only one floor of garage and they are partially visible from outside, so it looked like they had just yanked the floors out and let everything drop). Then they moved everything from the garage to the new offices.

Anyway, one unusual thing about the move (for me) is that we did not get to pick our new offices. Usually your manager or group manager gets a map of the new space and walks around having people pick offices based on seniority. But here they just assigned offices -- I think still using seniority, but it means instead of having a great view of the 520 freeway, I have a great view of the park-and-ride lot, with only an angle view of the freeway.

They dropped off moving boxes yesterday. Actually first somebody came and dropped off masking tape. Then someone else came with the boxes. The box guy I guess was a subject-matter expert, because he actually visually appraised my office and then decided I needed 3 boxes (all my junk from the first ten years is still in our garage at home, so in fact I'll need about half a box once I get done throwing out stuff I don't need). Then a third person came by to count my computers. Then today an administrative assistant for the group that is getting my old office came by to scope it out. My office is actually an island of Monadness marooned in a sea of some other group (Active Directory I would surmise, based on hallway conversation) and my old office is being given back to that group.

Posted by AdamBa at 01:14 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 09, 2004

Lunch with Larry

Today I went to lunch with Larry Osterman, who I had not worked with since the NT networking group in 1994, and I hadn't seen since he ran into me (almost literally, when I tried to sneak in front of his car in the parking lot of Costco) a few years ago.

It was great to see Larry and reminisce about the "Good Ol' Days" when the whole NT team fit on one floor of Building 2. I also got to check out his office (as seen in the Channel 9 video and successors), with his collection of Microsoft service awards, big Lego constructions (yes, he has this one), patent cubes and plaques, 20-year-old manuals, and various other tchotchkes.

The event that inspired me to pay a visit was some feedback that Larry sent me on Find the Bug, in particular the "Kanji Backspace" problem in Chapter 3. This involves code to backspace in text stored in a double-byte character set (DBCS).

Those of you who read Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters (and I know there are a couple of you out there) will recall a story I told about Kanji Backspace, which is a well-known Microsoft interviewing puzzle. The story involves 2 different training sessions I attended.

The first training session was about interviewing college seniors on campus and how to determine if they were "flybacks", candidates for further interviews in Redmond. Someone explained that they had a good question to use, that great people always got it right and anyone who got it wrong didn't deserve a flyback. The question was the famous Kanji Backspace. OK, that seemed a bit harsh, but whatever.

The second training session was about interviewing candidates on campus. In the old level system at Microsoft, college hires might come in at level 10 or thereabouts, and be promoted every 2-3 years. It got a little trickier when determining at what level to hire someone who had industry experience. In this training, someone described how they had a particular question they used to determine if someone should be hired as a level 12 or level 13 -- roughly if they should be slotted in as a stud or a god (using the well-known progression of stud -> god -> programmer -> king). Using a single question to determine someone's level is wrong, wrong, wrong, but what made it wrong, wrong, wronger was the fact that the question they used was Kanji Backspace. That's right, you get the question wrong as a college senior and maybe Microsoft wouldn't even pay for a plane ticket out...but you get it right with a couple of years under your belt, and bingo you're an architect!

Anyway, cut back to this week, Larry had some doubts about my Kanji backspace algorithm, so before lunch we spent a bit of time on his whiteboard debating it. It turned out that we were both a bit wrong. But the most amusing thing for me was that here you had two people who had more than 30 years of experience as Microsoft developers between them, and even we couldn't agree on Kanji Backspace.

Well, maybe if we were in college, we would have gotten it.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bloggish Book - The Power of Many

If you're bought into the transformative power of the blogosphere, perhaps you should check out the book The Power of Many, by Christian Crumlish.

The subtitle of the book is How the Living Web is Transforming Politics, Business, and Everyday Life. From the website: "A nonfiction book that explores how ordinary people are using online social networking to locate others who share their interests and kindle face-to-face communication."

I have never met Christian Crumlish in person, but he belongs to a writing email list that I also belong to, and he has given me good advice in the past, on blogging and other things. If you look at the Amazon circle for his book, it's got all the blog darlings: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised by Joe Trippi, The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki, We The Media by Dan Gillmor, Smart Mobs by Howard Rheingold...you get the idea.

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

November 05, 2004

No on Charter Schools

Washington voters just rejected Referendum 55, which was seeking to allow charter schools in Washington.

The article includes the charter school pitch:

R-55 would have made Washington the 41st state in the nation to allow charter schools. Those schools would be publicly financed and operate under a charter, or contract, with local or state education officials.

The charter identifies a school's mission and educational plan. Charter schools typically operate free of many regulations that apply to conventional public schools, setting their own curriculums and schedules, for example, or hiring with a freer hand.

I am very pleased that this initiative was voted down (the third time in the last ten years that Washington voters have nixed charter schools). Bill Gates was a big supporter of the referendum, donating $1 million to the cause. Although I think Bill is a smart guy, in this case he was wrong, wrong, wrong.

It's not so much charter schools per se that I object to. I think if parents want to get that involved there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer at their local public school. I think the charter schools do a worse job of educating their students, and the reason rich people want them is because they want the "benefits" of a private school (read: no kids from broken homes, with discipline problems, etc) on the cheap. But hey, if a bunch of parents want to play school principal and tube their own kids' education, who am I to oppose it.

No, the real reason I dislike charter schools is because they are a sympton of a societal illness which I will call "I'm Smarter Than You Syndrome" (ISTYS). ISTYS is why people think they know more about how to solve congestion than traffic engineers, and more about their own health than a doctor, and more about education than the people running public schools. You see ISTYS in action when people start asking for "transparency" in a process, which is slang for "the people doing this are stupid, they need a smart person like me looking over their shoulder."

It's no surprise that Bill Gates supports charter schools, since Microsoft fosters an ISTYS attitude. It hires smart people and tells them, "You are smart, you can do anything." It encourages people to speak up when they think something is being done wrong anywhere in the company. That's well and good inside Microsoft. But when you export that attitude to your personal life, you're not being proactive and quality-driven. You're being obnoxious and uninformed.

The notion that because you are smart you could "fix" public schools, and the related notion that because public schools need fixing indicates that the people running them are not smart, indicates a lack of understanding about other people, and a large ego to boot. In other words, you come across to people the way George Bush comes across to Democrats. Someone once compared Microsoft to the United States, saying that the way Microsoft is viewed by the rest of the computer industry is the same way the United States is viewed by the rest of the world. That's ISTYS at work. So Bill, let me humbly suggest that there are better ways to spend your $1 million.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:36 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 03, 2004

The Day After

Looking to leave the country? Harper's has a helpful article on the subject.

This site lets you look at electoral college maps for previous US elections. Quite interesting. Look at how Jimmy Carter won in 1976 -- Texas was the westernmost Democratic state. And to those who say the Democratic party needs to fundamentally reinvent itself if it is to win another election, look at what Bill Clinton did just 8 years ago -- effortlessly crushing Dole, including a Lousiana-to-Minnesota five-state straight (and he won Ohio AND Florida). I know Evangelicals have become a force since 2000 but all is not lost because of fundamental problems with the Democratic party -- all is lost because of fundamental problems with Democratic candidates.

Posted by AdamBa at 01:55 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 02, 2004

Exit Polls

Election results are starting to trickle in! Slate is helpfully leaking exit poll data (which it's not supposed to do).

People are talking about the exit poll "debacle" in Florida in 2000, where the state was first given to Gore, then back to a tossup, then eventually to Bush. This was seen as a failure of exit polling and everyone is vowing to do better this time.

I don't understand this. The exit polls from Florida initially claimed that more people in Florida intended to vote for Gore than Bush. This was correct; more people in Florida did intend to vote for Gore than Bush. But due to the butterfly ballots, they didn't actually vote that way. So the exit polls were doing their job correctly; it was only after the data wonks noticed that the reported results were not tracking the exit polls correctly (which they did impressively quickly, I think) that they had to put the state back in play.

Posted by AdamBa at 04:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Track Problems at the Polls

ABC News has an article which reports on all polling problems reported so far today. The list so far looks like typical stuff which I'm sure happens every election, except the scrutiny is so much higher.

Posted by AdamBa at 02:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Election Day 2004

I kept the faith and I kept voting
Not for the iron fist but for the helping hand
For theirs is a land with a wall around it
And mine is a faith in my fellow man

Theirs is a land of hope and glory
Mine is the green field and the factory floor
Theirs are the skies all dark with bombers
And mine is the peace we knew between the wars

- Billy Bragg, "Between the Wars"

Posted by AdamBa at 08:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 01, 2004

Center for Information Work

I went on a tour of the Center for Information Work a few weeks ago. The CIW is designed to give visitors a sense of what productivity software will look like in a few years -- or at least to show that Microsoft is thinking about what productivity software will look like in a few years. It's housed in the Executive Briefing Center on Microsoft's campus. Normally tours are for Microsoft customers, but they have started giving employees tours when time permits. It's a nice perk of being an employee (Microsoft, to its credit, has started doing this more often -- realizing that one way to make employees understand customers is to have them experience some of what customers experience, including the cool stuff).

I'm never sure of the NDA status of things like this. But there's a press website for this, with a bunch of pictures, and here's an article about it winning an award that features a big closeup screen shot. So it's not exactly a deep dark secret.

The tour I took started in the work center, where computers were set up with a variety of different monitors -- some with multiple flat panels, some with regular monitors and tablet displays, and some with the Broadbench, a big wraparound screen. All the various displays on a single computer were seamlessly linked into one big virtual desktop. Afterwards we moved to the conference room, which featured the RingCam 360 degree camera, as well as some atmospheric props that included a hard hat, a section of airplane wall, and the dashboard of a semi truck cab (really).

It's not clear exactly what group within Microsoft is funding this, or reading survey results, but if you pulled on the right string you would undoubtedly wind up untrying the shoe of Jeff Raikes. Raikes is in charge of large sections of Microsoft's product groups, most importantly the Information Worker group (Office, basically). If this were another company showing off this technology, it would come across as trying to commoditize the operating system; but coming from another group within Microsoft, it seems more likely they are simply deciding that the productivity of the Information Worker is too important for any of it to be left to the Windows team to solve.

As you can see from the screen shot, the productivity software takes over your entire desktop. Office has had notions along these lines in the past, if you recall the Microsoft Office Manager toolbar that it used to install (which I think has now become the Office Shortcut Bar). In the CIW demo, there is Office goop all over the screen, with nothing of the operating system visible (except perhaps that fancy orange background).

Another view would be that this is part of a plan by Office to blunt an attack by Google. I know nothing of Office's strategy, but one of the directions it is moving is towards becoming a server platform, but of course this plays directly into Google's strengths. Google's weakness is its reliance on the browser; the CIW demo uses the desktop in a way that browser-based client software would be hard to match. Unfortunately the timing is probably wrong for this particular theory; the CIW opened two years ago, before anyone was too worried about Goozilla and Gooffice.

A more likely probability is that the CIW is simply the result of some happy hackers, with no particular connection to a product group and too many Xbox hours logged in the past, coming up with the coolest UI they could think of. Since people like playing games, why not make your daily productivity software experience as much like a video game as possible? Who knows if users really need a surround-sound, "Whole Lotta Love"-like whoosh when email arrives, but why not give it to them just in case? While the CIW is a neat demo with some great hardware, it's not clear that it was designed by people who have really spent a lot of time thinking about increasing the productivity of the Information Worker.

Yes, it's a nifty demo and it undoubtedly impresses customers. But if you believe in the Sally McGhee/David Allen theory of productivity, the ultimate aim is to have a single, leak-proof task list. Computers are uniquely suited to this, and I believe that the true productivity leap that computers have always promised will only arrive when the operating systems and applications are redesigned with the task list as their central model. Instead of moving in this direction, the CIW demo has your tasks scattered all around the screen...in fact the little buggers don't even sit still.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Electronic Early Voting in Orange County

On my way home from the O.C. last weekend, I was at John Wayne Airport when I noticed a booth set up for early voting. They had a (paper) voter list for you to sign off in, and an electronic voting machine, the eSlate. There was someone manning the booth, who gave me a demo of the machine (since he had nothing better to do).

This is not absentee voting, it's early voting; you vote at a polling place (which this folding table in the airport was) before the official Election Day. You can't do it if you vote absentee and of course you can't vote again on Election Day (who knows how well that is enforced). From the list of sites they had (grocery stores, malls, etc), there were many opportunities to do so. They had handouts in a bunch of languages (since the area is pretty diverse -- the one I grabbed is English with Vietnamese on the back). And the booth was open at 6:30 pm on a Sunday.

It looked pretty simple to use, altough I might not be the typical user. They had a fake election programmed in for a demo, with candidates like Charles Dickens and Martha Washington for State Senator (is Dickens even eligible to be a California State Senator? Not the being dead part, the being British part). In the real election, California voters get to decide on a $3 billion stem-cell research initiative.

Of course I asked about a paper trail, and he said not until 2006. But as someone pointed out in a talk on secure elections that I went to, a paper trail still has problems.

I remembered this when I saw this article in the paper today about absentee voters who die before election day. Technically their votes are not supposed to count, and with paper absentee ballots that are held until election day before being counted, it is possible to actually enforce this to some degree. But with early electronic voting, it is impossible.

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

The Votemaster is Andrew Tanenbaum

This morning the "Votemaster", the brains behind the popular (and leftward-leaning, although scrupulously fair in its numbers) Electoral Vote Predictor website, revealed that his true identity was Andrew Tanenbaum, noted computer scientist, author, and programmer.

I used Tanenbaum's Operating Systems book in a class in college, and I have been following the EV Predictor site daily. This is one of those strange moments when two paths intersect completely unexpectedly. Sort of like hearing that Jennifer Tilly is dating Phil Laak.

Of course when I heard the news I headed over to Slashdot to submit it, but somebody already had, and now the site is slashdotted (although holding up pretty well).

Posted by AdamBa at 08:14 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack