May 29, 2007
Gary Flake is AwesomeOne of the things we do in Developer Engineering Excellence, every six months or so, is have a "commencement" for students who have taken some of our classes aimed at more senior developers. Since these classes focus on career development, the idea is to have a Microsoft executive talk to a small audience on the general topic of career advice, with time for Q&A later (there are no actual diplomas handed out). We don't pick any ol' executive, we (or me, actually, since I am the current organizer of these) choose someone who has a background as a developer. We also offer beer and munchies, which given our budget is actually a rare occurence. And the talks are taped for later viewing.
Last week we had Gary Flake speak at commencement and he was great. Talking to people like him gets me excited (or I suppose I should say "super excited") about Microsoft. There were only about 65 people there, out of about 400 people who had taken one of the classes since the last commencement. I suppose this is due to Newton's First Law (the objects-at-rest-stay-at-rest part), but they had a great time. It's not a bad number of attendees (the commencement is completely optional) it's just a shame more people couldn't have benefited from it. Gary gave some excellent advice and also had some very honest answers to questions. Luckily thanks to technology you can watch it if you want (if you work at Microsoft I mean). Go to the learning site and search for "commencement", it's the one from May 2007. The first 3:24 is me doing the intro, then you get to the good stuff.
Interested in Filling out a Critical Thinking Survey?A while ago I received email from somebody who is working on a Ph.D. thesis comparing critical thinking skills between freshman in college, seniors in college, and people in industry. He asked me to find Microsoft people to take the test but so far I haven't had good results getting responses. If you are interested (and you work at Microsoft), email me at this account or at work, and I can send you the info. He is NOT going to ascribe our results to Microsoft, just to software industry professionals (I checked this out with marketing).
It takes about 45 minutes and the questions are mostly sophisticated variations of the form “All Burgundians are liars, Henri is a Burgundian, therefore…” At the end you get an evaluation comparing you to others who have taken the test. I personally enjoyed it, so let me know. Thanks.
May 19, 2007
Followup to "My Somewhat Lame New Computer"While I was cleaning up comment spam, I realized that some of you were actually attempting to have a followup conversation to my "My Somewhat Lame New Computer", despite the hail of spam that was surrounding it. I cleaned up the post and apologize for being negligent there (normally posts don't get spammy until after the real discussion ends).
So, here are some of the later comments and my reply:
DMB commented, "Dude. Just buy a Mac. Why would anyone subject themselves to Windows torture these days is beyond me. Unpack it, turn it on, and it just works." My wife has a Mac and makes similar comments occasionally as I pound my head in frustration (the two computers are in the same room). But, there are also times where she can't figure something out, and I feel the Mac is less diagnosable than Windows, or at least I know less about diagnosing it (it may fail less often, but when it does it is harder to get out of). Plus there are times when she has to come over to my machine because such-and-such app doesn't run on a Mac.
Bob wrote, "didn't LRCC.com recently start offering XP again as an option ?" Well, of course DELL and LRCC happen to both be four letters and have a repeated final letter, but far be it from me to state that LRCC actually was Dell...anyway I did hear that Dell was installing XP again on certain machines. But one of the points of buying a new machine was to get it all preinstalled, I don't want to format and start over.
Anon said, "I too am experiencing those once-a-day machine freezes on vista. I noticed that freeze is usually followed by an unusually high disk activity. Any ideas what could be causing this?" Well, my once-a-day freezes are gone. What did I do? It gives me no particular pleasure, as a Microsoft employee, to report that what I did was stop using Internet Explorer and switch to Firefox (which I had previously done on my old computer also). I tend to leave browser windows open for days and days, and making that change that fixed the problem (literally overnight). I don't know why it fixed it, and actually I suspect that what was hanging IE was some third-party plugin that LRCC had larded onto my computer (because on my Vista computer at work I also leave IE open for weeks and haven't had a single problem)...but that's the fix I was able to make. I work at Microsoft so possibly I could have installed a debug version of IE and sent back some info to the IE team to help debug it, but as a real home user of course that would have been impossible.
Wesley Parish said "I think I can see why people wait for the first service pack before they consider Microsoft OSes to be usable. I feel amply vindicated in not buying a Vista-ready computer - yet." I have heard this, but since I had a great experience with Vista at work, and my home computer dated from the Bill Clinton era, I was expecting it to work well and was surprised that it had so many problems. The kind of situations a service pack will help is the hardware combos that don't exist in Microsoft's labs, which happen to fail in the field when used together. In this case I had bought a preinstalled computer from a major manufacturer, which was offered with a fairly limited set of hardware options which I hadn't changed at all; they had had many months to test their hardware with Vista before they started shipping machines. Perhaps I have a warped view because I work at Microsoft and tend to run all kinds of beta, alpha, and earlier versions of our operating systems with no problems, but I was not worried about the stability of v1 of Vista.
Wesley also wrote "(BTW, do you have something to get rid of all the comment spam? It's nauseating.)" and Max followed up with "Isn't it kinda sad that a blog run by an employee of the world's largest software company is nothing but a dumping ground for spam?" Well, it is both nauseating and sad, although I'm not sure what working at Microsoft has to do with it, since I run Movable Type. I have been busy working hard to promote engineering excellence at Microsoft so the world's largest software company can make great software; this takes away from the time I can spend nuking comment spam. I probably should install an MT addin to filter spam, or hack up the app myself to filter out certain kinds of comments (like those with http links in them), but I just haven't done it yet.
May 18, 2007
A Nice Training OpenerI took a "Train the Trainer" class a few weeks ago. One of the things they talked about was having a good "opener" and "closer" for your training. An opener is something to make people mingle a bit; it should be fun and be at least slightly related to the content. A closer is a way to wrap things up, again with a slight reference to what has just been learned.
One opener the trainer trainer used was having a word search on the tables when we started. There are various websites that will make a free word search, I have already tried this in a couple of classes and I liked it. You leave the word searches scattered on the table, only a few people do them, but it allows you to put a few of the key words in their minds before the class starts.
There are also sites that will generate crossword puzzles, so another EE person and I had the idea of putting out a crossword puzzle on the last day of multi-day training. On the first day the word search introduces the words, by the last day they should know what they mean so you can give out the crossword puzzle.
Then I had the idea that I should also provide a cryptic crossword puzzle. Same answers, different clues. Stuff like "Sounds like criminal followed proper technique for thinking about interface design" (that would be "CONTRACT") or "Our methodology involved looking for scum around Middle Earth" ("SCRUM", obviously).
I know I have better things to spend my time on, but I can't resist the temptation.
May 15, 2007
Cleaning My GarageI cleaned out most of the old junk from my first Microsoft decade that was occupying space in my garage. This included the daily pages from my paper day-timer (I judged the chance of my becoming President slim enough that these weren't worth saving) and two boxes of business cards from Softimage (in French, ooh aah).
I also had a collection of mugs, most were from random Microsoft vendors but I did find 4 that seem worthwhile keeping:
That one on the left deserves a closer look:
Yes, it's from back when Microsoft was working on OS/2. Must be about 20 years old. Do people think these things have eBay value? I hate to throw them away. The second one is a black Microsoft logo mug, the third is from Softimage, and the fourth has a "C compiler + Windows SDK = lots of applications" design on it.
I also found shrink-wrapped copies of Windows NT 3.1, Windows NT Advanced Server 3.1, and Windows NT Workstation 3.5. I have these because they gave everybody who worked on the project souvenir copies. On the left is a photo of the requirements for NT 3.1. As you may infer from the CD-ROM drive being optional, it does in fact include 3.5 inch floppies. So does the Server version, which is probably why the box is so big. By the time 3.5 rolled around the next year, it was CD-only.
I also have a "souvenir" copy of Windows 2000, which was in a special silver box. They also gave us copies of Windows 2000 Server. These are not company store copies with the ugly sticker with our employee number on them, they are completely standard copies you would find in a store. As a result they have value on the open market. When we got the souvenir copies of Windows 2000, they were sent to our offices in a box which many people left lying around on the floor. The copy of the Server version was under the Workstation one in the box. When I went to pack up my office when I left the company in April 2000, I discovered that someone had stolen the Server version out of the box. I notified the authorities and it was eventually discovered that the same theft had occurred in many offices.
May 12, 2007
Workplace Advantage: Let a Thousand Hammers BloomThe Workplace Advantage remodel has arrived. Yesterday was my last day in the "old" second floor of building 21. I packed up all my stuff and for four months I will be working from home, or in meeting rooms, or lounges, or wherever I can find Microsoft corporate network Wi-Fi. Next week I am teaching a class Tuesday-Thursday and I'm spending Monday meeting with someone else getting ready, so I won't really notice the difference until the week after.
It was a somewhat unusual move because my stuff is going to storage, not another office right away. For one thing I had to pick anything I needed to use in the next 4 months and bring it home. For another, they said they wouldn't move any non-standard furniture so I had to move my rocking chair to an office downstairs in building 21. My main desktop computer is going to be moved to the office of co-worker who volunteered to have it sit there; he's just going to plug in power and network and turn it on, so I can connect via Terminal Services if I need it. So I had to walk my computer over to his office and label it as part of his move (he's one of the people who is getting a temporary office during the remodel).
I an earlier move I expressed a thought that I could pack my stuff in about half a moving box (at Microsoft you are given cardboard moving boxes to pack in). I think back then it actually took two boxes, but this time it took seven. In my defense, two of them were books that were left in my office by the previous occupant, which I am keeping because they can be put in the common team bookshelf we will have in our new space; and one of them was computer equipment (like my laptop docking station) which would normally have been moved for me, but in this case I had to put in storage. So it's really four boxes. I did throw a lot of stuff out (old conference badges, Monad specs, etc) and I do have more books of my own now that I am in Engineering Excellence, but I still have more than I need.
Which reminds me that my garage has about four boxes of stuff from my first career at Microsoft (like my Ship-It award and patent cubes) and I have been tasked by my wife with cutting that down to one box which will go in the attic. Purely for my own amusement, I may put some of the old junk, like coffee mugs, up on eBay. I'll let you know.
May 09, 2007
Article in MSDN MagazineI had an article printed in the current issue of MSDN Magazine. It's in their "End Bracket" section, which is a free-form essay. You can read my article here. What you will probably notice is that it is a reworking of a blog post here called Programming: Art and Engineering.
Because it is in MSDN Magazine, it is automatically translated into 11 other languages. So you can read my pithy insights in French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. You will notice that the title "End Bracket" only has a translation in two languages, French and Italian (the translations mean roughly "In Parentheses", which isn't bad).
Here is the first paragraph, in a mix of languages:
"À la fin de mes études universitaires, lembro-me de uma conversa com um colega de ciência da computação que ia trabalhar em um banco de investimentos. Er erklärte mir, er werde mit dem Softwaredesign zu tun haben, würde sich aber nicht mit der banalen Aufgabe des Programmierens abgeben müssen. Questo sarebbe stato il compito di un programmatore, evidentemente una specie meno evoluta. In other words, me. Viniendo de un entorno universitario en el que la capacidad de meterse en el código era de lo más prestigioso, me sentí un poco insultado."
If you can speak one of those languages, I'm curious on your feedback on the translation (the whole article, I mean). I read the French and thought it was a bit "off". It turns out there is an explanation, but I'll let people read it first.
May 06, 2007
A Baseball Story: Joe and Me (and Roger)Gather round everybody, because I'm going to tell a baseball story. Like all baseball stories, it is deep in the American vein, so deep in fact it is by no means a sports story, to paraphrase the late David Halberstam. It's the story of two baseball fans, Joe and Adam.
Joe is a longtime Red Sox season-ticket holder from New Hampshire. Yes, another long-suffering fan who was redeemed by Dave Roberts's steal and Bill Mueller's single and David Ortiz's home run and Curt Schilling's sock and Pedro Martinez's three-hitter and all the other improbable heroics that led to the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004.
Adam is me. I grew up in Montreal, following the Expos. When I was young the Expos were terrible, until they suddenly got good in 1979. Then they veered between good and terrible for a while, until in 1994 they found themselves with the best team in baseball. Then came the players' strike which wiped out the 1994 World Series and ultimately wiped out professional baseball in Montreal.
So what connects Joe and Adam?
As longtime readers may recall, last August I wrote about one of my favorite baseball pictures, taken just after Roger Clemens recorded his 20th strikeout in a baseball game on April 29, 1986. If you follow the link to that article, you will notice that I have removed the picture itself. I had originally included a version doctored up with pictures of the characters from Walt Kelly's Pogo, to avoid having my posting be the start of online circulation of the picture. At the time all I knew about the picture was that it had appeared in Sports Illustrated and had been taken by a fan, not a professional photographer; since I could not find it online I did not want to be the first to post an intact version. The picture had been featured in an article about the 20th anniversary of the game, which I had seen in my dentist's office; I went on eBay and bought a copy of that issue, and scanned the picture out of that.
Fast forward to last month, when I received a phone call from a man in New Hampshire named Joe Hickey. Who is Joe Hickey? Well, he's the Joe I discussed above. But more importantly, Joe Hickey is the person who took that photo of Clemens's 20th strikeout. He is the fan that Sports Illustrated had mentioned but not named, who stuck around until the end of the game and was there to take the historic picture, after all the professionals had left (there was a Boston Celtics playoff game and the NHL draft both taking place in Boston that night, and both indoors). He had been searching on the web and found my picture, and he was calling to see what was up.
It turned out that a few days before he called, he had sent me email, and had enlisted several of his friends to also send me email. For some unknown reason they had all been marked as spam by my spam filter and ignored by me, so when Joe called he was wondering what my motives were. In fact he had been nervous about calling me at all, but luckily in my original post I had given my list of why I thought the picture was so great, which at least indicated my appreciation for the game and the picture; this had helped convince Joe it was at least worth a try.
After a bit of verbal sparring it became clear that I was not trying to rip Joe off, and that Joe was not looking to sue me. Furthermore, as Tommy Lasorda said, inside every home team fan is an even bigger baseball fan, and we were both baseball fans. Surely if two people are baseball fans they can't really get upset at each other over something like this...and indeed Joe and I were soon reminiscing like we'd known each other forever. Joe had recently been to the Fenway park debut of Daisuke Matsuzaka, when the Mariners had beaten Boston behind a Felix Hernandez one-hitter. We talked for 45 minutes. At one point I connected the dots and realized that I WAS TALKING TO SOMEONE WHO HAD SEEN ROGER CLEMENS STRIKE OUT 20 PEOPLE, which I could scarcely believe.
(One other thing that Joe mentioned was that he was friends with Luis Tiant, Jr., the former Red Sox pitcher. That's right, El Tiante, Mr. "Possibly Linear B inscript." himself. In fact Tiant was one of the people cced on Joe's original email to me, so when I replied I was sending mail to Luis Tiant. And THAT'S something I never expected to be able to say.)
Joe explained that he had created limited edition framed prints of the picture in different sizes. The small and medium ones were sold out, but he still had some of the large ones left. He had been planning to not sell them until Roger Clemens entered the Hall of Fame, but Clemens kept pitching (and in fact this very day just announced he was un-retiring again). Part of the motivation for contacting me was concern that my showing the picture (even in its hacked-up form) might hurt sales of them. This made me feel extremely guilty about posting it before, which is why I took it down.
This is an official version of the picture from Joe, which shows the copyright correctly assigned to him, and which he authorized me to post:
You can see it's amazing for the all the reasons I listed in my original post. When I heard about the large frame prints, of course I had to buy one of them. I sent Joe a check and last Thursday the picture showed up. It looks fantastic. At that size you can see details like Steve Lyons, the center fielder, throwing up his arms in triumph. Also you can tell more clearly that the catcher is throwing the ball around the horn, starting with Wade Boggs at third, and not back to Clemens (which might somewhat explain Clemens's relaxed posture).
To assuage my residual guilt, let me put in a plug for Joe. You want a unique baseball memento that is NOT produced by a big corporation, but by a devoted fan and his wife? Then listen up.
The large framed pictures are 38 inches by 23 inches. Each of them is signed by Roger Clemens and also has extra information on the back including the box score, copy of the ticket stub, other photos from the game, a photo of Clemens signing the prints, and a copy of a letter from the Hall of Fame acknowledging receipt of a copy of the picture. I know there are a bunch of you Harvard/M.I.T. types out there who are Red Sox fans, and what better picture to hang in your den than this one, signed by the Rocket himself? It's a limited edition of 50 and Joe doesn't have a lot of them left. They aren't cheap, but who can put a price on something like this? Well, I can, if you email me and express your interest. I'll tell you what they cost and forward your email on to Joe if you want to buy one. On behalf of a fellow baseball fan, thank you!
May 02, 2007
Recycling ComputersI had a couple of old computers lying around. You can tell how old they are by what was pre-installed on them: one had Windows NT 4.0 and the other had Windows Me. Although they nominally had some value, I think computers that old are so worthless that if you donate them to a charity, they just wind up in a ditch somewhere in the third world, leeching toxins into the groundwater.
Meanwhile, it turns out that the city of Redmond offers free curb-side recycling of electronics (for more details, go to this page and then click on the "Electronics" link towards the bottom. Evidently they send it off to a company called Total Reclaim). Although I generally object to taking things that work and turning them back into their component atoms (it seems evolutionarily backwards, as I was just commenting to my parents this evening on the subject of what to do with a very old car), the recycling offers the hope that at least the metals will be removed and properly recycled. I checked it out and if you call them 24 hours ahead, you can recycle up to 5 items. I had the 2 computers plus 3 old printers (a 1996 HP LaserJet, a 1998 HP ColorJet, and some free POC printer that Dell sent us with one of our old computers). I took the hard drives out first; both machines had different, but equally difficult, steps you had to follow to 1) get the cover off 2) get the face plate off and 3) expose the screws holding the hard drives in. Some impressive dust bunnies in there also.
Here they are sitting on the curb, waiting for the axe to fall:
You notice how gosh-darn perky they look, especially the one on the right. It had been sitting in our garage for a couple of years while I wondered what to do with it. I'm reminded of the "When She Loved Me" scene in Toy Story 2 where Jessie finally gets fished out from under the bed, which I confess brought a tear to my eye. "Oh boy!" the computer is thinking, "Finally I will get to compute again! I wonder what my new owner will look like...they must have put me out on the curb so he or she can pick me up. Hmmm, it's getting dark...now it's pouring rain...well, I suppose I can dry up once I get inside. Oh look, here comes a big truck to get me! Now they are tossing me into a AAAGGGHHH OMG WTF HELP!!! [silence]..."