September 30, 2008
Howard Lincoln is a Gigantic IdiotToday's paper had a cringe-inducing interview with Howard Lincoln, chairman and CEO of the Mariners, in which he clearly explains how he knows nothing about baseball and how the Mariners are doomed to mediocrity, at best, while he is in charge. Lincoln is not a baseball person; he's a lawyer who wound up running Nintendo, then moved over to the Mariners after Hiroshi Yamauchi, former president of Nintendo, became majority owner of the team. Lincoln is Yamauchi's Mariners factotum, who now serves, as he puts it, "at the pleasure of the board and Nintendo". I suppose I should appreciate Lincoln's "honesty" and "transparency" but instead I feel bad for my kids, who are likely never going to experience winning baseball in Seattle. Actually, I guess he reminds me of nothing so much as the current Bush administration, in his steadfast devotion to a failed strategy and his apparent belief that changing your mind indicates weakness. "When it comes to signing 33-year-old outfielders to big free agent contracts, you can't blink!"
The Mariners woes at least generated this great headline in the paper: 100 bleepin' losses! on the occasion of, well, their hundredth loss. On September 10 the Mariners had a record of 57-87 and needed to go 6-12 in their last 18 games to avoid 100 losses. They responded to this challenge by reeling off a 12-game losing streak, eventually finishing 61-101. To put this in perspective, even in the pretty grim early 1990s when I first moved to Seattle, they never lost 100 games; they hadn't sunk so low since 1983.
September 25, 2008
Why Do We Resent Each Other?At the Company Meeting last week, there was an interesting small subtext to Steve Ballmer's speech that I don't think anybody really picked up on.
It's a tradition that if you are in, say, the Office team, and somebody mentions "Office" at the Meeting, you cheer. Ballmer took note of this habit and then asked how come we don't cheer for other groups? At face value the question seems silly; the practice has always struck me as a benign gesture, sort of like a comedian getting cheers when they ask if there is anybody from Brooklyn here tonight. But Ballmer mentioned it twice, and I think what was really bothering him was something deeper, which I have also noticed.
What I have noticed is that it's not just that people don't cheer when the name of another group is mentioned; they seem to be actively sitting on their hands. This is most apparent during a demo of a product. The group whose product is being demoed is of course excited and/or nervous. But it seems like there are other people in the crowd (which, remember, is all Microsoft employees) who are actively rooting for the demo to go badly--as if that will "show them", even if it's unclear why that team is "them", and what it would really show. It's not just a single demo; they feel that way about the group as a whole.
This certainly was not the case way back when; there was friendly rivalry between Systems and Apps, but we (in Systems) certainly wanted Apps to do well, and were happy for them if their product was doing well. Even in the days of Windows NT vs. Windows 9x, which were a bit more antagonistic, when it came down to somebody suing to try to block the shipment of Windows 98, we all united as Microsoft to boo and hiss.
Now it seems different. I think there are people at Microsoft who are glad what Wii is outselling Xbox, who feel vindicated by the fact that Live Search's market share is not growing, who cackled under their breath when a demo at the Meeting popped up an error message. Understand: I have stated before, and still feel, that I don't understand WHY we are doing the Xbox and would be happier, as a shareholder, if we weren't doing it. But given that the decision has been made that we ARE doing it, I would certainly like to see them succeed, both because we would make more money, and also because I know people who work on Xbox, and they are certainly smart, hard-working people who deserve to achieve massive market success as much as anybody in Windows or Office. It's not a zero-sum game; Zune doing well doesn't take a bigger slice of the pie away from your team, it just makes the pie bigger.
I think this sense is what was really nagging at Ballmer, and I concur. It's fine to disagree with some business decisions we've made; but they've been made, and we should move forward as Microsoft, not as a bunch of infighting teams. In fact, I challenge you, if you work at Microsoft, to support other product groups. You don't have to cheer out loud, but don't jeer in silence either.
September 22, 2008
Fifteen Years at MicrosoftToday is my fifteen year anniversary at Microsoft. I will soon (at our group all-hands meeting on Friday, I presume) receive a 15-year anniversary award (it's the one on the left, with the orange highlight). Also, in honor of a tradition of murky origin, I brought in some apples from our backyard. Next month there is an evening event in Seattle for all 15-year people, and I also got a nice note from my manager. Nothing much else happens; there is no vacation accrual bump at 15 years (at 12 years you get 5 weeks, where I sit to this day). On my 10-year anniversary I received 10 shares of stock (and back then 15-year people got 15 shares), but that seems to have stopped. I don't mean to sound ungrateful: the service award is much nicer now and costs more than the value of 15 shares of stock, so I prefer it this way.
Since my "service award date" (the term of art around here) was adjusted to fix up the gap in my employment, September 22 has no historical connotation; nothing earth-shattering happened to me on September 22, 1993. We had just shipped NT 3.1 a couple of months before, and I was presumably cranking away on the IPX stack for NT 3.5. According to Wikipedia, September 22 seems to be a singularly unexciting day. Is is often the Autumnal Equinox and there are 100 days until the end of the year, but nothing really happened. The Battle of Zutphen? First issue of National Geographic? The South Atlantic Flash? The most notable person born on this day appears to be Tommy Lasorda (Happy 81st, Tommy).
I wonder how Microsoft HR calculates your adjusted start date. I worked at the House of Bill from March 5, 1990 to April 28, 2000, then started again on November 17, 2003. With PowerShell it is easy, if you avoid the "off by one" error:
PS C:\> [DateTime]"11/17/2003" - ([DateTime]"4/28/2000" - [DateTime]"3/5/1990" + 1)
Wednesday, September 22, 1993 11:59:59 PM
September 19, 2008
Vision Statements on the DeclineMicrosoft apparently has a new vision statement: "create seamless experiences that combine the power of the internet with the magic of software across a world of devices". I know this is true because I read it in the P-I--or anyway I read almost all of it there--evidently there is a bit of debate over the adjectives that modify the word "experiences"--some combination of "compelling" and "seamless" is generally used.
The only problem I have with this vision statement is that I don't like it at all...other than that it's fine.
Our initial vision statement was "A personal computer on every desk and in every home, running Microsoft software" (or words to that effect). Now that is a great vision statement, so good it's used (in a slightly varied form) on a website about writing vision statements, which describes them as "A vision statement is a vivid idealized description of a desired outcome that inspires, energizes and helps you create a mental picture of your target." It was certainly visionary in that you had to assume anybody who could really picture such a future back in 1978 or whatever was tripping on acid. Also, it set the focus for what Microsoft did for a long time--we had to go after both business and consumer users, and make the software so compelling that everybody needed it. Which we somewhat amazingly did.
At some point we updated our vision statement to be "Empower people through great software anytime, anyplace, and on any device." This is a weaker vision because it is more subjective. It doesn't really explain what "empower" means, and it's hard to know when you've reached it. I mean, there either is a computer on every desk or there isn't, but how do you know when people are sufficiently empowered? And when is your software "great"? Plus it describes more of a behavior then a result. Still if you throw out the chaff you are left with the "any device" part, which is arguably redundant with the "anytime, anyplace" part, and a bit broad, but does convey the essence of the vision udpate, which is "old vision + mobile = new vision". I would have preferred "A computer on every desk, in every home, and in every pocket running Microsoft software", but it more or less (with more less than more) told us what to do.
Now we have this godawful concoction about experiences, be they compelling, seamless, or plain vanilla. It suffers all the flaws of the second vision, in that it is too vague and subjective, and it also throws in some buzzwords for good measure. If you dip your WTF-sized strainer in this bubbling cauldron of muck, what emerges is "create seamless experiences". What is THAT supposed to mean? Here's a seamless experience I just had--I put an SD card in my Vista machine to try to upload them to a website, and it completely failed to do anything at all. It did so very seamlessly, I might add. Furthermore, I was completely unable to figure out how to make it recognize the thing (a scenario which had worked the day before), so it really was a case of a sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic (and also being indistinguishable from a kick in the crotch, which may have been the forgotten coda to Arthur C. Clarke's famous quote). It was also a compelling experience, in that I briefly felt compelled to toss my computer out the window. So I was batting 1.000 on the vision, but I didn't feel so hot about it. With this to guide us, our vision might get replaced with a future that looks like "a computer in every dumpster and a pissed-off user in every house, cursing Microsoft software".
So what do I think the vision statement should be? I like something that describes how often somebody interacts with Microsoft software. If we make the time frame short enough, we will have to cover all devices, because the person has to be within reach of a Microsoft device that often. Of course it has to involve the Internet, no duh.
So let's start with a vision statement like "Every person on earth will have an interaction with Microsoft software every TIME-PERIOD." I thought of throwing in an adjective to describe the experience, but that's not necessary; just as the notion of a computer on every desk and in every home implied that the computers must be earning their keep by doing something useful, we'll assume that if people keep having these interactions, it's because they are good ones. Therefore all that remains is to define TIME-PERIOD. Let's be bold here. Joe Dorkface in the video I linked to below seemed to be having an interaction about every ten minutes, so we need to go lower than that. Pondering the "world of devices" (computer/car/phone/watch/toaster/clothing/food/shelter/etc), I think one minute is a pretty good vision. Dude, have you ever REALLY looked at your hands? I can hear the color orange! OK, perfect.
"Every person on earth will have an interaction with Microsoft software every minute." There you have it. Now go make it happen.
If You Were at the Company Meeting, This Video is AmusingWatch this video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-AbGaKdCbs.
It looks familiar, right? Magneta Lane playing their cover of "Girl from Mars", same cubicle, same vomit green sweater, same pizza place, same girl behind the counter...but wait! Something is just a little different...
I do like this video and the other version. Sure there might be nobody who is actually going to live that lifestyle, but it still is an appealing vision and does a great job of branding...whatever it's branding this year.
September 15, 2008
The Votemaster is BackA sign that I've been blogging for a while: I can now link to entries from the last US presidential election. For example, I noticed recently that the Votemaster, who in 2004 ran a site tracking poll results by state, is doing it again this year. In 2004 the Votemaster was revealed to be Andrew Tanenbaum, author of several books on operating systems; I assume it is him again.
Tracking results by state is what you want, of course; national polls don't really matter because the election isn't decided by a national vote. An equivalent exists (as it often does) in baseball. Imagine if you spent all year looking at difference in total runs scored vs. allowed, but then the actual playoff results were based on this notion of grouping the runs for and against into 9-inning games. Looking at run differential for the league, you might conclude that Toronto was tied for second place, not 9 games back in the wild card race. It's the same thing with national polls vs. the per-state results that actually matter on election day.
If you look at the results for today it's almost a tie, with McCain ahead 270 to 268. It looks like, as in 2004, the race will come down to who can win Ohio. From this graph of votes vs. time we can see that Obama had a large lead throughout the summer, but has lost it in the last week.
September 08, 2008
"Shrek the Musical"The 5th Avenue Theatre is currently running previews of Shrek the Musical, which is hopefully bound for Broadway.
I saw it last week, and ran into Larry Osterman, who wrote a very positive review of the show. The show is definitely worth seeing--if only to see Lord Farquaad. It had its moments and certainly looked great, but you could say the same about the Tarzan musical that Disney put together, and that didn't do too well (although it did run a year on Broadway and is now planning a tour). Some of the scenes need work and the show has the same "problem" that the movie had--it's aimed at children (of course, for the movie, this wasn't much of a problem). People may pay $6 to go to a movie that invests a fair chunk of time mining the comic potential of misbehaving fairy-tale characters and flatulence, but will people pay $$$ to see it on Broadway? Even The Wedding Singer, which has basically the same plot as Shrek (if you squint a bit) and which had one of the funniest scenes I've ever seen anywhere, was somewhat of a flop on the Great White Way. Of course, the show is in previews for a reason, and they are busily working to improve it, so it could become rightfully awesome by the time it heads East.
One of the two girls playing the part of Young Fiona is Keaton Whittaker, who has done a lot of shows at Studio East. In fact, she was in the cast when I did I Never Saw Another Butterfly. Since I was in a show with Keaton and Keaton is in a show with Sutton Foster, that means my Sutton Foster "number" is only 2.