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April 29, 2005

Other Adam Barrs

I discovered there is another blogger with the same name. His blog is called "The Life and Times of Adam Barr".

So there are several Adam Barrs out there besides me:

There are a few others you can dig up: a young musician in Portland, OR; a 60-year-old man who got murdered in Pennsylvania last fall; a high-school wrestler/football player in Michigan; a couple of people in England (who may be the same person). I wonder which one of us submitted the cookie recipe? Here's a guy with the same middle name also. It turns out that three years after that wedding page was posted, the other ADB's wife died, 2 days before her 29th birthday. My heart goes out to him. We Adam Barrs gotta stick together, you know.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:32 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

A Couple More Panoramic Stitches

A few more from the Olympic Stadium tower...since it is 3-sided, you get 3 views. The other two are this one looking south-east (that's the former Olympic Velodrome in the front, now reconstituted as the Bio-Dome):

and this one looking north:

The street in the foreground there (Sherbrooke St.) is actually straight. The stitcher chose the sphere-horizontal projection; when I switch to cylinder-vertical, the street is straightened but the horizon is now curved:

I should point out that the compass directions given here are Montreal directions, which are warped because the island is on a river that flows east-west but happens to bend to the north right around the city. As a result everything is skewed 90 degrees. For example any Montrealer would tell you that Sherbrooke St. runs east-west but in fact by the Olympic Stadium it runs almost exactly due north-south.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 28, 2005

Can the General Operating System Design Problem Be Solved?

When I was back in Montreal, my father had some trouble with his computer. This seems to happen a lot. What's frustrating is that although I used to be able to help him, these days I almost never can.

These invidents all follow the same pattern. First he tells me about something he is unable to do, usually involving networking. I confess that I have no inside knowledge, but I'll take a look. I futz around with it a bit. We both get frustrated because it appears that Microsoft has delibrately made it difficult to do something. I explain that there probably was a good reason for why it was designed the way it was, but the logic escapes me at the moment. Eventually we get it working, or not.

For example, this last time he had just purchased a new laptop and wanted to share files between them. When I want to share files I usually bypass the GUI and run "NET SHARE" on the server and "NET USE" on the client. This has always worked, except for a slight blip with older Windows 9x clients that didn't let you specify the username and always tried to connect to the server as "Guest".

On his new XP SP2 machine, however, it didn't work. It turns out you have to run a wizard of some sort first. And even better, you have to run the wizard on your older, pre-XP-SP2 machines. Which is a bit difficult when your pre-XP-SP2 machine is a laptop with no CD drive, and filesharing isn't working because that's the problem you're trying to solve.

This is especially frustrating because I worked on NT networking for many years. There's probably still some of my 15-year-old code rattling around in there. But when I sniff it, all you see is the server returning some unhelpful error message. So it looks like the wizard you are run tweaks some magic bit somewhere to say "yes, it's OK to share files from this computer". But of course I have no idea what exactly it does, and there is no documentation that tells you.

As usual, I'm sure Microsoft is not doing this just to be annoying. XP SP2 was all about security and file sharing is a big security opening. So I have no doubt that the wizard, before allowing file sharing, first shuts down some of the openings you get if you just blunder in and start running "NET SHARE" left and right. Presumably you need to run it on downlevel machines for the same reason. This is the standard security vs. convenience debate (as it happens, this type of issue was discussed on Slashdot today).

The problem here is that there is no "right" answer for that the user experience should be here. In the old days Microsoft felt that convenience was more important, so they went that route. But there were still people back then who needed the security more and didn't like that choice. Now, in cases like this Microsoft is choosing security over convenience. Sure, you can argue that getting security "wrong" is a lot worse than getting convenience "wrong", but in this case the security seems to be reducing the convenience down to zero.

I'll point out that my father has a Ph.D. in mathematics, wrote his first computer program 49 years ago, and has been using a PC for almost 25 years. He writes TeX code for fun, for goodness sakes. As for me, I work for Microsoft. I guess we're not in the main demographic that Microsoft is targetting for home network setup. Still, it should be *possible* for us to understand what is going on well enough to get it working--don't you think?

This led me to start thinking about the set of problems that Microsoft is trying to solve with its mainstream OSes, and how in many cases the goals are contradictory:

  • Secure, yet convenient to use.
  • Easily usable by third-party hardware and drivers, yet stable.
  • Supports a wide variety of applications, yet offers a consistent user experience.
  • Unintimidating to novice users, yet accomodating to power users.
  • Takes advantage of the latest hardware platforms, yet runs on older machines.
  • Innovates at the API layer, yet continues to support older applications.
  • Can have security patches applied on a regular basis, yet patches never break anything.
  • Has complete documentation avialable to users, yet the source code is not released publicly.
  • Can be easily upgraded to newer versions, yet everything continues to function as before.

I could continue the list, but you get the idea. The question is, is this even possible?

My point is not to impugn the ability of Microsoft in particular to deliver this software. If anyone can do it, Microsoft can, and the Longhorn team is certainly trying their hardest. My point is: can such an operating system be designed? Assuming that you could instantly create perfect, bug-free code to match whatever design you came up with in your mind--could you come up with a design for an operating system that satisfied all these criteria?

If you look at Microsoft's main competitors, they aren't aiming quite as wide. Apple controls the hardware platform, trades off tighter control of hardware and software for fewer third-party products, and squarely targets ease of use over power users. Linux aims at power users, does not worry as much about consistent UI, takes advantage of its available source code to allow others to document it, and expects users to fix up some upgrade and patching issues.

And these may be perfectly reasonable tradeoffs, because obviously there are many users who are happier with OS X and Linux. In the situation above with home networking not working right away, I predict that on OS X it would be even more obfuscated and harder to debug, and on Linux it would be much easier to figure out what is wrong. But that's just one situation, reflecting the tradeoffs made in those OSes.

It's sort of terribly noble of Microsoft to really attempt to tackle the general problem and be all things to everyone. I'm just not sure if it can be done.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:04 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 26, 2005

It's a Blog, Blog, Blog, Blog World

Today I attended a presentation given by Michael Howard on the latest news in threat modeling. I was sitting next to Larry Osterman. At one point Larry nudged my arm and pointed out that the guy in front of us was surfing the web during the talk...and what he was reading was Larry's blog! So of course Larry blogged this fact, then I posted a comment, which Larry approved, and then posted a reply to--all during the talk. I'm sure whatever caveman invented the wheel had this scenario in mind as the end result.

Although the mystery surfer later added a comment in the same thread saying he knew it was Larry behind him. He said he recognized him from his Channel 9 interview. I suppose Larry is fairly recognizable.

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


There's a new entry in the "anonymous, wise-crackin' Microsoft blogger" territory that was staked out by Mini-Microsoft. He (She? Doubtful) blogs as the "Microsophist". According to the Wikipedia, sophist is a "derogatory term for rhetoric that is designed to appeal to the listener on grounds other than the strict logical validity of the statements being made". In other words, it's a blogger. Meanwhile, our crack research team has burped up the fact that "Microsophist" is an acronym for "OO, MR. PC IS SHIT".

Which is appropriate, since the Soph-Meister has chosen the ouster of Bill and Steve as his guiding principle. Meanwhile, Mini-Microsoft wants to jettison middle management. One of them needs to slow down or it will just be Vice Presidents and bloggers left.

If I had to pick, I would keep Bill and Steve. Someone sent me email pointing out that Steve had given money to lots of Republican causes. But I continue to believe (possibly naively) that Bill and Steve do, in their heart of hearts, want to do the right thing.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:48 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 25, 2005

Panoramic Images

Microsoft's Digital Image Pro software has a feature where it can stitch together multiple overlapping pictures into panoramas. I actually heard about this because I went to a talk by Michael Cohen, who works in Microsoft Research, where he demoed an improved version of this that does all kinds of fancy things. But I couldn't get that to work on my machine...but the one in Digital Image Pro is pretty good.

This is a composite picture of downtown Montreal from the lookout on Mount Royal -- it was originally six pictures. The lookout has a railing which you can just see in the bottom left and bottom right corners:

I like the effect of irregular edges...If you want the full-sized one, here's a lower-quality version (2.1 megs) or the full version (17.5 meg). The picture above has some wonky-looking buildings which was an effect of shrinking it down by a factor of 12 in Digital Image Pro (I'll have to try in another program to see if it also does that).

And here's a view from the tower of the Olympic Stadium -- this is 5 pictures across and 2 pictures high:

[full-size low quality (1.2 megs), full-size high quality (11.8 megs)]. In that picture you can actually see downtown (on the horizon to the right of center) and the mountain from which I took the other panorama (just to the right of downtown).

Posted by AdamBa at 04:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 24, 2005

The Value of Diversity

The United States, at this point in history, is the only superpower. Look around the United States at the names of the movers and shakers. Politicians, doctors, professors, business leaders--the people who have made, and will continue to make, the key decisions that affect the future of the country. You see names like Smith and Jones and Williams, but you also see Denisov and Baali and Mayoral and Vassilakis and Oshima.

Now look at a similar group in another country. Will you see this much diversity? In almost every case, the answer is no. The people running Japan are Japanese. The people running South Korea are Korean. The people running Germany are Germans.

This is not a knock on the abilities of Japanese, Koreans, or Germans. My point is that the United States has the ability to tap the entire population of the world, all 6+ billion people, to produce its next generation of leaders. "Ability" meaning that people can come here and be accepted and find a community. A lot of countries are extremely diverse (although to an American they may not appear to be). Russia is diverse. India is wildly diverse. But in how many countries could the child of immigrants from another country be elected to government? Or just look at national sports teams...how many countries have "diverse" athletes representing them? Canada, England, maybe France and Australia, a Chinese gymnast competing for Switzerland...it's a pretty short list.

So as the United States confronts the new flat world that Thomas Friedman keeps nattering on about, the fact that it has such a broad talent pool to draw from is one of its biggest advantages (in addition to the built-in geographic advantage it enjoys -- large, full of natural resources, and a livable climate throughout).

(As an aside, it's interesting, if you search the web, how many countries are described as being the "most ethnically diverse" in a certain area. Obviously people see the value in this. But there's a difference between being ethnically diverse in your general population, and actually having an ethnically diverse ruling class.)

(And of course, because of its relatively short history, the notion of who is "ethnically American" is less clear than for most other countries. But for these purposes, it refers to the Northern European Caucasians who founded the country).

Now look at Microsoft. Microsoft reminds me of cruise ships in one interesting way. On cruise ships I have been on, the staff comes from a wide variety of countries. This is because non-US-flagged ships can have employees who aren't eligible to work in the U.S., which allows the company to pay people less (it also increases the chance that a guest will find someone who can speak their language, so there is somewhat of a customer service aspect to it). But the cruise lines do have a requirement that all staff can read and speak English--and in my experience, they hire people who speak excellent English. So you wind up with a staff which is entirely composed of non-Americans, yet they all interact seamlessly in English.

Microsoft has the same melting pot aspect to it. There are people from all over the world, all interacting in English. When I started in 1990, I recall being struck by how monochromatic the employee base was, compared to the startup I worked for in New Jersey. That's probably why the executive ranks today are less diverse than the general employee population. But the company overall is much more diverse now, and over time that will filter into upper management.

So Microsoft has made itself more diverse since 1990, the same period where it experienced its greatest success. And as Microsoft competes in the software industry and beyond, the diversity of its employees, and the abililty to draw from as wide a pool as possible, needs to continue to be one of its advantages. It is helped in this, of course, by the fact that the company is in the United States, and that it is situated in a "blue" (Democratic-leaning) state, which tend to be more diverse than the "red" (Republican-leaning) states (which to me is one of the main reasons that the red states tend to be so severely on the economic dole from the blue states).

It's not just ethnic diversity, of course, it's all kinds of diversity, including sexual orientation. So it is naive of Microsoft to think that supporting laws that most directly affect it (more visas, tax breaks for R&D, etc) is more important than supporting laws that promote diversity.

(The list of names above, incidentally, was taken from a list of ambassadors to the United Nations.)

Posted by AdamBa at 08:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 23, 2005

Microsoft and the Anti-Discrimination Bill

Scoble got permission to post Steve Ballmer's company-wide email about stories that Microsoft had caved to pressure to not support a state anti-discrimination bill.

More specifically, Ballmer states that Microsoft did not decide to stop supporting the bill after two employees testified in favor of it in February, and a local pastor threatened to launch a boycott. Instead, Ballmer says that the company decided in January, when planning its legislative agenda for this year, to be neutral on it, as opposed to supporting it like it did last year.

Scoble says he is disappointed because Microsoft is appearing to cave to anti-gay forces. I disagree with that accusation -- I do believe Ballmer when he says the decision was made in January. It's an unfortunate case where someone asks you to do something and you were already planning on doing it, it's hard to prove that the two were unrelated.

BUT, there is a suspicious part in Ballmer's memo:

"What message does the company taking a position send to its employees who have strongly-held beliefs on the opposite side of the issue?

The bottom line is that I am adamant that Microsoft will always be a place that values diversity, that has the strongest possible internal policies for non-discrimination and fairness, and provides the best policies and benefits to all of our employees.

I am also adamant that I want Microsoft to be a place where every employee feels respected, and where every employee feels like they belong. I don't want the company to be in the position of appearing to dismiss the deeply-held beliefs of any employee, by picking sides on social policy issues."

That, Steve, is a crock, and you must know it. Look, what this says to me is that the following sequence happened:

  1. Microsoft sponsored the bill last year.
  2. Some employees complained about Microsoft's sponsorship -- not in February of this year, but sometime last year.
  3. In respons to employee complaints, Microsoft decided not to sponsor it this year.
  4. The company came up with the rationalization above, about how sponsoring the bill could make anti-gay employees feel discriminated against.

Steve, first of all, can we cut this "murderers are victims too" line of thinking? Do you agonize about hurting the feelings of employees who enjoy looking at porn on their computers? What about those who like to post internal schedules on public forums? Do you stay up at night worrying about their feelings? I doubt it.

Second, what you said is wrong. If an employee has deeply-held beliefs that woman are inferior, or a certain ethnic group has negative character traits, the company certainly has no qualms (nor should it) about dismissing those beliefs, no matter how deeply held. I just did my 30-minute anti-harassment self-training that all employees are required to go through, and obviously if someone decides to run around the hallways shouting anti-gay slogans, they will be disciplined in a way that they would not if they ran around the hallways shouting anti-seafood or anti-deodorant slogans. The company supports free speech up to a point, but beyond that, when personal belief becomes harassment, the decision has already been made which one wins.

So I'll allow that Microsoft's decision to not support the anti-gay bill was made in January, but that decision looks very very very very very very very very very very suspicious. I don't think anything fishy happened this spring, but I do think something fishy happened last fall.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:05 PM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

April 21, 2005

Flying on WestJet

To get to Montreal last week, we decided to drive to Vancouver and then fly to Montreal. The advantage of doing this is that you can fly direct. Plus, you don't have to worry about customs at the airport.

Air Canada's flights were a bit expensive, so I decided to take a chance and fly on WestJet, a discount airline. Turns out it was a great decision.

For one thing, many of WestJet's planes have live satellite TV in every seatbacks. The channel selection isn't bad; they don't have any child-specific channels, but CBC shows kids programs until noon. This wasn't too helpful on our flight east, which left Vancouver at 11:15 am (so we only had kids programs on CBC-West for 45 minutes), but on the way back, our flight left at 7:45 am from Montreal, so we had kids programs on CBC-East for most of the flight, and then on CBC-West for the rest. I got to watch "Pop-Up Video" on MuchMoreMusic while cruising at 40,000 feet over Thunder Bay.

WestJet also just started web checkin, about a month ago. I was a bit worried about our 7:45 am flight because WestJet has no pre-assigned seats and does them first-come-first-served at checkin, so we would need to get their early to get 6 seats together. But now they allow web checkin (and seat selection) 12 hours before departure, so at 7:45 pm the previous evening we got our seats and boarding passes and were all set. All the people at the airport were oohing and aahing at our home-printed boarding passes, so it must still be rare.

But it actually turned out that checking in early wasn't that crucial, because the flight was less than half full. Most people had a full three seats to themselves to take a nap on. It made me realize that it has been longer than I can remember since I was on a flight that wasn't full, and usually overbooked.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 20, 2005

Thomas Heatherwick

Sure, any civil engineering fangeek worth his ASCE Bridges calendar has Time 100 member Santiago Calatrava on his name-dropping speed dial. But if you want to be ahead of the curve, I've got a new name for you: Thomas Heatherwick.

Heatherwick is a British designer who has worked on various avant garde things, but probably most famously the folding footbridge in London and the B of the Bang sculpture in Manchester. I saw a report on the folding bridge--it's pretty cool.

Posted by AdamBa at 07:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 18, 2005

Athletic Enhancement

A couple of highbrow media outlets have articles that echo what I discussed in my review of Juiced by Jose Canseco, that the distinction between steroid use and recent medical advances is a tricky one. The New Yorker had a discussion of Juiced (among other books, including Microsoftie Ramez Naam's More than Human), and Slate asked why elective LASIK was different from steroids.

Posted by AdamBa at 08:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 16, 2005

Losing the Expos

The baseball press has been covering the fact that the Washington Nationals just had their home opener, George Bush threw out the first pitch, etc.

From the Montreal point of view, however, this is when the realization finally sank in that the Expos are gone, gone, gone. The Montreal Gazette requires a subscription for lots of its articles, but just looking at the headlines and blurbs of their recent coverage conveys the sadness of a few diehard fans. Of course it's only a few, which is why they lost the team in the first place.

As it happens, today we went on a ride to the top of the tower at the Olympic Stadium, which is where the Expos played. A nice view of the city--it's unseasonably warm here and so a bit hazy, but clear and sunny. The Olympic Tower is a member of the World Federation of Great Towers, an organization whose existence you were probably unaware of. Tonight there is a monster truck jam tonight at the Big O (here's the (here's the slow-loadin', browser-hangin' PDF poster).

Posted by AdamBa at 02:22 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 14, 2005

The Age of Missing Information

I am on vacation this week, staying at my parent's house in Montreal. I found a copy of Bill McKibben's 1992 book The Age of Missing Information. McKibben recorded and watched every program broadcast on his local cable system during a 24-hour period, then spent 24-hours on top of a mountain in the Adirondacks, and compared the two. According to the dust jacket, the question he asked was: Does having access to more information than ever mean that we know more than ever?

The first review on Amazon calls it "worthy but belabored" which is pretty accurate. Not surprisingly if you have read any of McKibben's writing (or even if you haven't), he decides that television is pretty stupid most of the time, and enjoying the soliture of nature is pretty nice. He spends 250 pages driving home this point; the best parts of the book (for me, cynical child of the end of the millennium) are when he snidely deconstructs the crud he sees on TV, which means he is unintentionally aping the emotional detachment that he vilifies.

These are some quotes from the book (the second is actually a quote from an essay called "The Hipness Unto Death" by Mark Crispin Miller):

"All the information offered by the natural world suggests that somewhere between the meaninglessness of lives lived in destitute struggle and the emptiness of life lived in swaddled affluence there is daily, ordinary life filed with meaning.

"[Television] has us automatically deplore or ridicule all anger, fear, political commitment, deep belief, keen pleasure, exalted self-esteem, tremendous love; and yet while making all these passions seem unnatural, the medium persistently dwells on their darkest consequences, teasing the household spectator with the hints of the intensity it has helped to kill."

"That reduction to absurdity--that mocking, knowing snicker--is so sad, because it shuts people's ears to the promise of this particular moment. Which is, simply, this: having immense amounts of technology available to us, this society could pick and choose those things that would create a life both sustainable and rich."

"Those of us who live in the north know that every few years a big snowstorm immobilizes us and turns off the power--and turns the world spectacularly peaceful. We forget that we have the power, and the right, to simulate the effects of a snowstorm as often as we want."

McKibben is not a real Luddite: he is not opposed to technology. He just wants less of it, sometimes. He's not so concerned about people who watch TV knowing less, as he is about them knowing less that matters, and therefore living less fulfilling lives.

The date McKibben watched was May 3, 1990. He lived in Fairfax, Virginia, and he describes the cable system as "enormous": 93 channels, which is pretty average these days. And of course, his book came out just before the Internet arrived, which vastly increased the amount of information available. However, it could be that the soul-sucking effect is more concentrated in television, with its entirely one-way, lowest-common-denominator stream of drivel. I'm sure McKibben thinks that people who spend all day emailing, blogging, IMing and surfing are missing out on life, but perhaps the Internet has some redeeming features that televison does not.

Posted by AdamBa at 05:31 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 10, 2005

"Revenge of the Sith" Plot Revealed by Lego?

Is the plot of the next "Star Wars" movie known?

I just got my latest Lego catalog and the descriptions of the sets tell a lot of the story (spoilers follow, maybe). Anakin hopes in his Jedi starfighter to fight vulture droids, Droid Trifighters, and the ARC-170 Fighter, then later the droid armada attacks the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk, but the Wookiee catamaran fights back, while elsewhere Obi-Wan Kenobi races across the sinkhole planter of Utapau on Boga in pursuit of General Grievous, then cut back to Kashyyyk (slow wipe transition here, presumably) where Mace Windu leads the Jedis against the mighty clone turbo tank and clone scout walkers, then at some point Anakin Skywalker is wounded in battle and dons the Darth Vader getup, and naturally Anakin fights Obi-Wan in a climactic lightsaber duel on a planet of molten lava.

Do I need to see the movie now? Especially since you know the story has to lead in to the original "Star Wars" movie. Presumably Obi-Wan "loses" the lightsaber duel (with a knowing, Jedi-like smile on his face) in a way that allows him to escape to Tattooine with young Luke tucked under his arm, while DarthV grabs his TIE Fighter and zooms off to tell the emperor the good news. Actually my group is going on May 19, so I could see it for free, but it occurs to me that I didn't see the second movie...for the simple reason that I wasn't working at Microsoft at the time, so I didn't get the slight push I needed to bother.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:45 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 08, 2005

Bloggers As Journalists

I was watching C-SPAN2 this morning and they had a debate about "Are Bloggers Journalists?" I know this topic is a hornet's nest, but I can't resist...

I watched the introductory statements, and the general gist from the bloggers was that they were journalists if they called themselves journalists. Some dude named Garrett Graff, from fishbowlDC, pointed out that even the last graduate from the worst medical school gets to call himself a doctor, so why shouldn't anyone be able to call themselves a journalist.

Interesting theory. It's true, anybody who graduates from medical school and does a residency can be called a doctor. Just like anybody who finishes NASA training can call themselves an astronaut. Shoot, any damn fool that wins a majority in the Electoral College gets to call themselves the president. What's up with that?

Graff may have had intelligent things to say later, but presumably his opening statement was the best argument he could come up with...and if the best argument he could come up with is so patently BS, then I have serious doubts about the rest of what he says.

Several bloggers pointed out this is a silly debate. Well sure it's a silly debate -- until someone tries to get credentials or some other privilege reserved for journalists. Just like it's fine for me to call myself a doctor, until I try to prescribe medicine.

The funny thing is that Graff (and Ana Marie Cox from Wonkette, who was also there) seems like he is a journalist. He blogs for a commercial site for which he presumably is paid, he has editors and readers, etc. But he's a journalist because he is one, not because he says he is one. He actually did once get a day pass to the White House, based on contacts he had made as a journalist.

The reason doctors are a terrible example is because they do have specific training and certification. The problem is cases where nothing of the sort exists. But wannabe journalist bloggers are acting like they are the first group every to confront such a case. There are plenty of situations like this, where being designated as something has real meaning: What organizations qualify as non-profits? When can people get a tax deduction on their house for working at home? Who counts as a minority business?

These are all "slippery slope" type of deals, and in most cases you don't allow everybody in, or nobody in; instead you come up with some sort of test. It's not that hard to construct a "three-out-of-five" type test to determine if a blogger is a journalist: are they paid, do they have editors, do they have substantial readership, how long has their organization been around, etc. If you want to ensure that high schools kids writing for their school paper qualify as journalists, then make the test ensure that. If you want to make Scoble a journalist, then make the test ensure that.

What bloggers should be fighting for is the simple recognition that online publishing counts the same as print publishing. So someone who writes a column for espn.com is the same as someone who writes a column for the New York Times. Someone who writes a self-supported blog with few readers is the same as someone in their basement mimeographing ten copies of a newsletter. That's it.

Now that I've explained it all, we can stop talking about this.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:17 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

April 07, 2005

Microsoft Internal Recruiting Wars?

One thing I have noticed recently at Microsoft is posters in the hall advertising jobs in different groups.

Microsoft allows, and even encourages, people to switch jobs, as long as they have been in their current job for a year. The basic idea being if you have an employee who wants to work on something else, it's better for the "greater good" of the company if you allow them to switch, rather than letting them get disgruntled, quit, etc. Also, the company realizes that giving employees exposure to different groups is good for both the employee and the groups.

There's an internal website with job listings which you can search, but it's always been pretty passive and low-key. A presentation given by a group might have a "We're hiring" bullet on the last slide. Someone's email signature might say "Interested in a cool job in <insert name of project>? Click here" with a link to their job listings. Now, just on the cork board in our little third-floor kitchenette, beside the usual array of thumb-tacked offerings (massages, townhomes, insurance, mortgages, vanpools, and the daily "two for one" bake sale in Cafe 43) are no fewer than four ads from groups in Microsoft that are hiring (C#, Windows Update, Windows Media, and one incubation project which is probably a secret). They all try to grab you in their own way -- the C# shows the definition of a class called MyFuture.CSharpJob which derives from IChallenging, IExciting, and IFun, and takes it from there.

There are lots of openings at Microsoft and it's hard to find good people, so the 60,000 current employees are a juicy target. I wonder if there used to be a policy against active poaching, or if it was just considered poor form. Probably one group did it successfully and then everyone else said "Hey, wait a minute!" and the race was on.

Posted by AdamBa at 03:35 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 05, 2005

First Baseman Protocols

I went to the Mariners home opener yesterday. We own a small fraction of some season tickets, so our seats are pretty good: six rows back on an aisle, and the aisle is directly lined up with the stairs at one end of the Mariners' dugout.

It's near first base, so the first baseman (and a few other infielders) use those stairs when they go back to the dugout after being in the field for a half inning. Because the firat baseman often makes the final putout of an inning, he often has a baseball in his glove when he comes off the field. As a result, this location can be a good place to get a souvenir baseball.

BUT, you have to know the protocol.

First of all I should explain that when the Mariners opened Safeco Field, they adopted the trendy notion of seat licenses. Seat licenses are a brilliant idea where instead of just charging people for season tickets, you charge people for the RIGHT TO BUY season tickets -- and then you charge them again for the tickets. Most of the primo seats at Safeco (for example, the first six rows where our seats are) are seat license seats. You buy a 20-year seat license and this gives you the opportunity to buy the season tickets for those seats. You can sell the seat license if you want. Owning the seat license also requires you to buy the season tickets every year, so really it's just a way to jack up season ticket prices, but with a different pricing scheme.

For reasons that include a) good customer service for seat license seats and b) keeping riff-raff out of the empty seat license seats, the Mariners have installed seat attendants at the bottom of each aisle. The seat attendants (who are people -- the previous sentence wasn't quite clear on that) help fans find their seats, shoo away those who don't belong, stop people from jumping on the field, etc. During the part of the baseball game where something is actually happening on the field, they sit in folding chairs at the bottom of the aisles.

The seat attendants are assigned to the same spot for every game, so you get to know them. Ours is an affable fellow named Jerry, who is great. If you want to define customer service, include a picture of him. Jerry remembers everybody (so he never has to ask to see our tickets), gives out candy to the kids, and leads us in singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Yesterday I spilled a bit of my drink on my scorecard and Jerry dried it off on his pant leg.

Anyway, as I mentioned above our aisle is where the first baseman runs off the field, and he usually tosses a baseball into the stands if he has one in his glove. Now, the Mariners first baseman used to be John Olerud, who was a master of the baseball-toss-into-the-crowd. From being at many games, we knew what to expect.

First of all, Olerud (and first baseman in general) only threw a ball if he ended the inning with a putout. After EVERY inning, someone in the dugout would throw him a baseball so he had one in his glove to warmup the infield for the next inning, but he wouldn't throw that one. This confused a lot of kids who would be clamoring for a ball when we knew there was no hope of it.

Also, Jerry did not want lots of kids rushing down the aisle to jockey for the ball. So he established a convention with Olerud that if too many kids ran down the aisle, then Jerry would stand with his back to the field. Olerud would see this and not throw the ball.

So if you knew the protocol, you could avoid some disappointment for your kids. We would know, based on how the inning ended, if it was even worth having them run down the aisle and wave their glove. And if we saw a two-out grounder to the shortstop, we could have them out there ahead of almost everyone else.

Olerud has departed for greener pastures. Last year the Mariners had Scott Spiezio and Bucky Jacobsen at first base a lot of the time. They would generally just throw the ball to whoever kid they saw in the front row, which led to some ridiculous distributions (one family with two kids got four balls in one game).

Now the Mariners have Richie Sexson at first, and he looks like he is settled in there for a while, so it's worth investing in some training. Jerry was down at spring traning and said at first Sexson would just roll the ball back to the pitcher's mound at the end of the inning. So Jerry talked to him one day and explained the situation, and Sexson did pretty well yesterday. Olerud would actually pick out a specific child, point at them, and flip the ball to them when he was close to the dugout stairs. He was also a master of distributing the ball around; they say Ted Williams could tell you exactly where in the strike zone a pitch was, but I think Olerud could tell you down to the seat where he tossed each baseball. Sexson flipped it from further away, towards nobody in particular. But he did alternate left-side-of-the-aisle, right-side-of-the-aisle, to get some decent distribution. Did not get an opportunity to see whether the "Jerry's back" rule was in effect.

(There was one new wrinkle -- Jerry had some holograms, I think, that he would stick on baseballs that went into the stands, to guarantee their "game-used" authenticity. I guess this was the CRC part of the protocol).

Baseball players are taught to always think ahead of time about what to do in the current situation. Like, "if the ball is hit to me, throw to second." So when the first baseman is sitting there, in some small part of his mind, he is thinking "If the ball is hit to the shortstop, cover first...AND THEN THROW THE BALL TO THE LEFT SIDE OF THE AISLE THIS TIME!"

Baseball is not without its charms.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:26 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

April 03, 2005

Broom in Bloom

It's the time of year when the scotch broom is blooming in Redmond. Scotch broom is a plant that mostly just sits there looking dull, but for a few weeks each year erupts with great masses of yellow flowers. You see a lot of it by the side of highways in the Seattle area. Highway 520 near Microsoft used to be surrounded by the stuff, back in the bucolic days before they built the NE 40th St exit.

Scotch broom is considered a noxious, invasive weed, but I like the way it looks, and I always found the yellow flowers to be a nice harbinger of spring.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 01, 2005

Microsoft Ships Server SP1 and Windows x64

A few days ago Microsoft shipped Windows Server 2003 SP1. They also shipped Windows for x64, but they don't seem to be talking about that much (there's just a stale page on the website that talks about it coming soon).

I guess the difference is that the service pack is a free upgrade that is available immediately for download, while the x64 stuff was just RTMed (released to manufacturing) and won't be available in stores and OEM machines for a little while. The press is definitely talking about the service pack, so that must be the message that marketing is putting out. Still, your intrepid reporter went to the ship party yesterday and the excitement internally was all about x64.

It is very unclear if the x64 stuff includes the latest service packs -- i.e., is Windows Professional x64 really XP SP2 x64, or the original XP? And do the various flavors of Windows Server x64 include the SP1 changes? So I checked with someone, and the answer is YES, the x64 releases do indeed include all the latest service pack fixes.

I was talking about x64 with someone at work and they repeated a line from someone else: "Not a lot of people need 64 bits...but a lot of people need 33."

Posted by AdamBa at 09:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Proper Way to Plant Trees

No, that is not a metaphor for growing your company or building community...this article really is about the proper way to plant trees. I personally like to putter around my garden (because a garden is one of the few places you can putter around -- I would say it is the #2 place to putter around, after the house). One of the things I am trying to do is grow some madrones. I order them from Forest Farm in one-gallon pots, but the success rate on transplanting them is only about one in three. I just planted a couple last week and on one the root ball fell apart when I took it out of the pot. So it was encouraging to read that this might actually be the right thing to do.

Posted by AdamBa at 08:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack