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October 30, 2006

Level 1 Evaluations

We Engineering Excellencers were in some training last week and one of the topics that came up was the effectiveness of Level 1 evaluations.

To backtrack a bit after that snappy opener: in the world of Human Performance Technology, when you deliver a solution of some sort--be it to the knowledge, tools, motivation, etc. of the group you are helping--you will usually evaluate the results. There is a taxonomy of evaluations that has developed:

  • Level 1: Reaction
  • Level 2: Learning
  • Level 3: Behavior
  • Level 4: Results

Level 1 is the form they give you at the end of a class, where you rate the course and the instructor; level 2 is giving you a test at the end of the class, to see what skills you have acquired; level 3 is determining if you have changed how you perform on the job as a result; and level 4 is evaluating if your actual business results have improved.

The goal of a performance intervention is to improve your level 4 score; HPT is based on improving business results (there are a couple of higher levels that have been proposed, level 5 being Return on Investment (ROI) and level 6 being making-the-world-a-better-place-ism, but the "core 4" are the most commonly discussed). However, in many cases if an evaluation is done it is level 1 or perhaps level 2; these can both be done during the training/etc, rather than coming back later. Level 1 can be pretty generic questions ("the instructor was knowledgeable about the material") so it is easier to do.

In our courses we do level 1 evaluations with an occasional bit of level 2, although nobody "passes" or "fails" our classes. We are working to do level 3 evaluations. Anyway, during this training the claim was made that level 1 evaluation had no correlation with increased knowledge (a guy named Richard Clark at USC is the main researcher cited here). That is, whether people feel good about a class and an instructor has no bearing on whether people actual come away with better skills (let alone better job performance or business results). A well-liked instructor may teach well or badly, a disliked one may be effective or ineffective; it's random. The best predictor of whether a class will like an instructor is whether or not he/she brings them donuts on the last day.

I was interested in this because when I was at Princeton there was a book published every year in which student ratings of professors were tabulated. My father, being a professor, was against these things, since he felt they turned teaching into a popularity contest. Some of that feeling rubbed off on me (although I confess to consulting the Princeton guide when looking for electives), so it was heartening to hear that it was all bogus. I was also of course interested because I am now the subject of such evaluations, although they don't have much direct bearing on my annual review. I do try to take classes on public speaking and improve my teaching skills in other ways (and to be safe, I bring donuts on the last day of our week-long courses).

When this point was brought up in my class I opened up my big yap and said, if this is really true then why do we do level 1 evaluations at all? Not surprisingly I was opposed by most of the people in the room, who said that of course level 1 evaluations had merit. But I mostly respectfully disagree ("mostly" because there was one point made that if people went away from our courses hating the instructor they would tell their friends not to sign up. But these are Microsoft employees we are talking about; hopefully if we do a good job of improving their level 2, 3, and 4 performance then they will forgive us for level 1 failings). If you believe the studies (which people were not disputing) then level 1 evaluations are misleading and the results should be ignored. I really do think it is one of those cases where something is so counterintuitive that nobody will believe it until Malcolm Gladwell writes about it.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:26 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 29, 2006

Microsoft's Annual Giving Campaign

Microsoft's Annual Giving campaign concluded last Friday. At the Company Meeting they announced that Microsoft had given $2.5 billion in charitable contributions since 1983. It sounds like that number includes everything, so it's employee giving, plus matching, plus computer labs and whatnot that we've donated. Still that's a lot. I've also heard we are the #1 company in per-capita employee giving.

I don't think much about the giving campaign either way; I've always had a small chunk taken out of my paycheck and given out to various charities I'm involved with. If you don't have any specific charity you want to donate to, Microsoft encourages you to choose the United Way. Bill Gates's mother was heavily involved with the United Way of King County, and wound up chairing the board of United Way International. I always thought Microsoft's commitment to charitable giving was something to be proud of, and more evidence that Bill Gates was brought up right.

This year, there has been more emphasis than usual on encouraging employees to give. I actually didn't really notice it at first; our hallways and Inboxes are full of various entreaties, and it didn't jump out at me that more of them than usual were about Annual Giving. But the comments on a Mini-Microsoft article have turned into a bitchfest about pleas for Annual Giving. Which made me realize that yes, there had been more nudging this year. If I were cynical I would say that managers are actually being evaluated on the percentage of people in their groups who contribute.

I used to wonder why charitable organizations (Princeton University being the one I was exposed to) cared more about percentage participation than dollar totals. Isn't it better to have 10% give $10 than to have 75% give $1? But at Princeton, anyway, it was explained that people with deep pockets (older alumni, specifically) do notice the percentage numbers for the younger classes, and if they feel the younger classes are committed to giving, they will open up their checkbooks for some serious lucre. I don't see an exact analogous way that Microsoft could pump up its participation numbers, except perhaps as a recruiting device to charity-minded recruits, but still I think there is value in a high percentage.

I would like to see Microsoft change one thing. As I recall, when I started Microsoft had annual matching limits, something like $1000 to educational institutions and $1000 to other charities. Then they rolled those all together into a single $10,000 yearly limit, which then became $12,000. But I really think Microsoft should boost that way up. Would it be so terrible to make it $100,000? I mean, how many employees would really take advantage of that? Yes, it would be the Mini-annoying partners, so it might be perceived as the rich getting richer, but really it's the rich giving more of their money away for a good cause. Microsoft has the cash; might as well spend it in a way that helps with recruiting and does good at the same time.

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

October 27, 2006

Using Our Stuff: Mandate or Choice?

When I was a kid, we once visited a friend of my father's who lived in Detroit. We were in the parking lot of a store and I noticed something funny: every single car was American. My father's friend explained that if you drove a foreign car it would get scratched with keys, bumped into when parked, etc. so everybody bought American.

This was the early 1980s and the American car market was getting hit pretty hard by imports. And if you've read Rivethead (and if you haven't, what's stopping you?) you might not be surprised that a typical auto worker didn't have an enlightened view of offshoring (if indeed there is such a view). Still, having such a monoculture in Detroit meant that people who actually built cars had very little exposure to the competitors who were beating them in the rest of the country. Plus, while it may have been satisfying for auto executives to look around and see their entire town driving the local product, it didn't mean much because it was a forced choice. It would have been much more impressive if foreign auto ownership was as tolerated as it was in the rest of the country and people STILL chose to drive American cars.

Here's another example: someone I know works for a jeans company, and they are specifically disallowed from wearing competitor's jeans to work. I have the same reaction: it might be nice to see everybody wearing your product, but wouldn't it be better to let people wear whatever they wanted, and treat employees wearing your competitor's jeans as a sign that you needed to improve your own product? Especially since, as with Detroit cars, your employees can buy your own stuff cheaper, so they are making a very active decision to wear (or drive) something else.

I think of this because sometimes there is a vibe that goes around Microsoft that we should use our own products instead of competitors. That is, we should all use live.com instead of Google, we should use Internet Explorer instead of Firefox, we should use Windows Mobile phones instead of others, we shouldn't buy iPods, and so on. And this is not just at work: the feeling is that we should do this in our personal life also.

(I should clarify that I have never heard this stated as official policy: Microsoft allows people to run Firefox at work, our DHCP servers will hand out an address to a Linux box (which they may not be able to detect, actually), you can connect to google.com from corpnet as easily as to live.com, and so on. So it's not an official policy like at the jeans company. But it is a buzz you pick up in the air sometimes.)

My feeling on this, if you haven't guessed, is that it is a bunch of hooey. At home I used both Firefox and IE, and both google and live; we own several iPods, and my wife has a Mac. What of it? The reason these are used is because they are better (or were better when we began using them) and I haven't found the incentive to switch. In this I think I represent a typical consumer, and therefore if I do switch, it's a real victory, not an artificial one.

Now, there are several things I do because I am a Microsoft employee. For one thing, if there is any work-related reason to use a particular product, I will. If Microsoft wants us to beta-test a client application, or put us on alpha versions of Exchange 2007, I'm more than happy to go along. I also try out our stuff more often than I probably would if I didn't work here; a little while ago I decided to try a beta of Internet Explorer 7, and the copy of Firefox on my work machine is now gathering electronic dust.

That's an honestly-earned win for IE. And that's the kind of win we should be targeting, not a forced switch just because.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:46 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

October 25, 2006

More Corpnet Coolness

Yet another reason to get a job here...I was trying to remember an article I had read somewhere, featuring Steve Ballmer talking to another executive about interviewing. I knew it was in a business magazine some time in the 1990s, but that was basically it. So, I just sent a quick email off to the library, and they forwarded it to the Microsoft archives team, where the ever-helpful Amy dug up the reference -- even though I had misremembered just enough information to make it tricky.

Amy pointed out that she had found the information on Factiva, a search tool for magazines and newspapers that goes back the early 1990s. Try doing that on the public Internet. Microsoft has a corporate subcription to Factiva. We also have one for the ACM. And the IEEE. And the Wall Street Journal. And Directions on Microsoft. And a bunch of other stuff. So put down that apple pie, go get a CS degree, and come work here.

Posted by AdamBa at 11:29 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 23, 2006

Pizza and Performance

The other day, I went to Pizza Hut to pick up some pizzas. We had ordered online and they were supposed to be ready at 5:45, so that's when I showed up. To make a long story short, I finally got my pizzas at 6:30.

OK, now to take that abruptly shortened story and turn it back into the long story it so richly deserves to be...first I'll talk about my group at Microsoft for a bit. In Engineering Excellence today, we are primarily a training organization. We prepare and teach classes for internal audiences at Microsoft.

However, our goal is to become a Human Performance Technology consulting group. What is HPT, you say? Well, it's basically anything to do with how an organization delivers on its desired results. The key is to analyze the current performance of the organization (the "is"), then figure out the desired performance (the "should"). If you compare the "is" and the "should" you come up with a gap, which you then work to address.

To aid in addressing this, we subscribe to a theory that gaps can be classified into six boxes. The six boxes are expectations, tools, compensation, knowledge, capacity, and motivation (those are the terms we use; others may use slightly different ones, such as here at sixboxes.com, and there are also HTP theories using different numbers of boxes). If the gap is, say, a problem with expectations, then adding to knowledge or motivation is not going to help.

Also, typically when you have an internal team like ours and they get asked for help by a team that is in trouble, the team will be asking for training. Training addresses only one of the six boxes (knowledge), so it may be ineffective in remedying the actual gap. But training is what most groups (such as ours) mostly do, and it's what teams mostly ask for. The goal of a good HPT consultant is to step back, find out the real "is" and "should", analyze the gap, figure out which of the six boxes need to be mitigated, and then address those appropriately.

So what does this have to do with Pizza Hut? Well, in the old days when I was waiting for my pizza which the workers were unable to find, I would have likely been cursing them under my breath and questioning their abilities and likely thinking they needed training in something--better olive slicing or whatever. In other words, I would have been acting like a typical team that notices a problem. And you might say about Engineering Excellence, "Pshaw, all that HPT stuff is hooey, you're just a training group that's putting on airs." But I have to say that having been exposed to HPT theory, I really did look at Pizza Hut in a different way.

The employees certainly seemed motivated; they were working hard to crank out the pizza (one exception was the woman in the back who was folding pizza boxes--she looked a little grumpy). I don't know about their compensation, but it didn't appear to be affecting their work in a visible way. They certainly had the expectation set on them to produce pizza on time, and the customers (like me) milling around waiting for their pies helped reinforce that. They seemed to have the capacity--the right number of people working there, the ovens cooking fast enough. And I think each person had the requisite skills to do their job.

The problem seemed to be the process. In particular, what was happening was that as pizzas came out of the oven (which is one of those continuous thingies), they had trouble figuring out which order they were associated with. Literally they would be gathered around looking at a freshly-cooked pizza, trying to determine if it was a hand-tossed veggie or a thin-crust supreme. Then they would get it wrong, hand out the wrong pizza to somebody, then when the rightful owner showed up they would need to make it again, which delayed him and got them behind, and then they had to struggle to catch up, and in the hurry they messed up more orders, etc.

Geary Rummler, a grey eminence of performance consulting, says, "If you put a good performer in a bad process, the bad process will win every time." And that is what was happening. They had a bad process for matching up pizzas and orders, and it was overcoming all the motivation, compensation, knowledge, capacity and expectation that they had working in your favor.

So the next time your pizza is late, don't automatically blame the employees. And if you manage a pizza place, don't automatically assume that more employee training will fix it. You need to slow down, survey the situation, and order a full HPT workup. Stat.

Posted by AdamBa at 06:24 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

October 21, 2006

Barriers: Jersey vs. Pennsylvania

You may have heard of a Jersey barrier; it's that concrete thing used on highways, shaped in a special way to minimize damage to cars and tip them back upright instead of flipping them over. If you go to this excellent Jersey barrier history (maintained by noted misc.transport.road'ster Scott Kozel) he describes the history of them, and also some other types (like the higher F barrier). I had heard it was first used on the New Jersey Turnpike; who knows.

I was reading about the Fort Pitt Bridge and Tunnel Rehabilitation in Pittsburgh, which was completed in 2003. They discuss a problem that occurs when you drive on bridges that use Jersey barriers as their outer railing; from a normal car they block your view at any angle below level, so you can't see things that are lower than the bridge. The two Seattle floating bridges, for example, have this problem (luckily since they are so low on the water you still have a pretty good view). It turns that for this renovation in Pittsburgh, they developed the new "Pennsylvania barrier" which fixes that problem (they also used lane rentals for the project--very progressive). It has a lower concrete part (32 inches high) topped with an upper 18 inches of super thick-n-sturdy steel railing. I'm sure the name was a bit of a joke on Jersey barriers, but perhaps it foresees an era in which different states battle it out for barrier supremacy.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike/Interstate 95 Interchange Project includes twinning the bridge over the Delaware, that is, over the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border. I wonder what kind of barriers they will use?

Posted by AdamBa at 11:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 17, 2006

Wikipedia, Mini-Microsoft, Etc.

I thought this was sort of funny. In a comment on Mini-Microsoft, someone quoted the Mini-Microsoft Wikipedia entry as an authoritative source. The topic being discussed was whether Microsoft could be fixed and the effect Mini-Microsoft could have. The commenter wrote, "I am not a Microsoftie so I don't know if the views expressed on this blog have had any effect on day-to-day processes and procedures but according to wikipedia it has already inspired some changes such as the employee review process" and then quoted the Wikipedia page about the review change: "Mini-Microsoft is widely credited with inspiring this change, although this has never been confirmed".

I think the stuff on the Wikipedia page is pretty accurate (since I wrote it), but it's interesting that someone arguing with blog commenters cites the Wikipedia page as a trusted reference. The Wikipedia page is arguably EASIER to modify than Mini's comment stream, since Mini has to approve comments whereas Wiki edits happen right away (although they can also be made to unhappen by anybody, whereas only Mini can delete a comment). It's a curious dynamic that someone who wanted to bolster their argument in a blog could first tweak up the relevant Wikipedia page and then say "See, it says it right here!" Proving once again that there are things Wikipedia is good for, and things it is not good for.

The Wikipedia page for Mini has not attracted the bevy of activity that I hoped it would when I created it (although that article currently has an impressive 109 spam comments on it). It just shows that history is written by the winners. Meaning: what you here about on the web is all the stuff that goes viral and gets massive attention. You know about that video with the guy dancing and the girl who pretended to be that other girl and that person on myspace. You don't hear about the vast majority that remain at the end of the long tail. For example, Cory Lidle's page was created slightly over a year ago. If you look at the edit history, it had 51 edits before he died, with a cluster after he was traded on July 30; it's had 810 edits in the past week. It lingered in relative obscurity until suddenly something (unfortunately something tragic in this case) happened. Of course Lidle's page was getting more action than Mini's beforehand. Mini might be more important to me, but as Lucy Van Pelt once asked, "Has he ever been on a baseball card?"

Posted by AdamBa at 03:14 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 13, 2006

Co-Opting Mini?

At the Microsoft Company Meeting last month, Lisa Brummel announced that she was going to start an internal blog (as I recall it will be called "Inside MS", but I could be wrong). It would be the blog that she would read and comment on, and it would allow anonymous comments. She explained that the goal was to take the discussion that currently takes place on Mini-Microsoft, and move it inside Microsoft so outsiders can't see it (she didn't explain it in quite those words, but that was the subtext of what she actually said).

This is interesting, but I'm not expecting to be too interested in this blog. This is not to knock Lisa for doing it; in fact part of the reason I'm not that curious about it is because Lisa is so open internally--doing interviews, town halls, answering email, etc.--that I already know a lot about her plans. Or at least, I know a lot about what she says on certain issues, and I don't expect she will be dramatically more open on her blog. For example, one question where I would be interested in her true feelings would be, "If tomorrow you found out the identify of Mini-Microsoft, would you want to fire him?" I'm sure she has a personal opinion, but the answer she would give would be something like, "Any termination of an employee has to be handled on a case-by-case basis, and in any case it would be inappropriate for me to comment on a specific individual ahead of time." Which is the answer she should be giving, but it doesn't mean I need to hear that answer.

But there are two main reasons why I don't think her blog will be that interesting as a discussion forum:

  1. Although executives may think of Mini-Microsoft as a place where Microsoft employees go to post their review scores, it is actually a serious discussion of the company. This discussion obviously includes current employees, but former and prospective employees also play a valuable part. And so do customers and other people with an opinion. Inside of Microsoft, you would only have the current employees, and the conversation would be much poorer for that fact (as a minor note, there would also be the question of whether people really trusted the anonymity, although I would).
  2. Mini-Microsoft has turned into a community. Meaning that every post gets at least 100 comments, and it's the first place many employees AND outsiders go to discuss happenings at Microsoft. Furthermore it's a well-performing community--look how quickly the "every employee at level X for time Y got review score Z" rumor got shot down. Would the internal Microsoft part of this community move over to a different blog? Probably not, just because...well, because it's hard to move communities. Robert Scoble discussed this Microsoft nearsightedness in a post about Google's acquisition of YouTube. He quotes Steve Ballmer asking if YouTube's technology is really worth $1.6 billion. As Scoble points out, this misses the point. He comments that you could probably reproduce YouTube's technology for one hundred million dollars. Heck, you could probably reproduce YouTube's technology for one hundred thousand dollars. But you couldn't reproduce the community for one hundred thousand dollars, or even possibly for one hundred million dollars. So Microsoft can certainly put up an internal blog for Lisa Brummel, and even guarantee anonymity. That doesn't mean that the Mini-Microsoft community will move over there.

Posted by AdamBa at 11:00 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 10, 2006

Microsoft Charity Auction

Microsoft is having an online auction as part of the annual giving campaign. Among the items available are 9 Zunes, which you will receive a week ahead of the official release. They are offering 3 white, 3 brown, and 3 black. If we take people's bidding as an indication of color preference, then white is the least popular (average high bid when I checked was $305), black is the most popular ($358) and brown is in the middle ($340). I like the brown one myself, since it's the most unusual.

Another item up for bid is Raymond Chen offering to link to your website from his blog (currently this is bid up higher than the Zunes). He comments that this will probably be worth about 2000 hits. On this site I usually get 4000 or so visits a day, so it's probably not worth bidding on. Sudden thought: should I offer a link from me as an auction item? Would anybody pay to get me to link to their site?

As an aside, this is the 500th post on this blog. At first I thought that maybe I should reserve that post for something special. Then I thought maybe I should have it be a post that just said "This is the 500th post." Finally I decide that it would be most appropriate to have the 500th post be whatever inane thing I happened to throw up that day. QED.

Posted by AdamBa at 08:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 08, 2006

Off to See the Woz

"He is unlike any other being in Shadow or reality. He is the Master of Arms for Amber...Can you understand a man who, for almost every day of a lifetime like that, has spent time dwelling with weapons, tactics, strategies? Because you see him in a tiny kingdom, commanding a small militia, with a well-pruned orchard in his back yard, do not be deceived. All that there is of military science thunders in his head. He has often journeyed from shadow to shadow, witnessing variation after variation on the same battle, with but slightly altered circumstances, in order to test his theories of warfare. He has commanded armies so vast that you could watch them march by day after day and see no end to the columns."
- From The Guns of Avalon by Roger Zelazny

Last Friday I went to see Steve Wozniak talk at Microsoft. This was by far the most overcrowded talk I have been to. The room had approximately 185 seats and 20 minutes before it started every seat was taken. I would estimate there were 75 people standing or sitting in the aisle by the time it started; I don't know if they turned people away. It was also the only talk I've been to where the speaker received a standing ovation before the talk began.

Woz could accurately be described as a "great big bear of a man" (in fact he reminded me of the Plugger in the third cartoon in this Comics Curmudgeon post, except picture him soldering a chip to a board instead of threading a needle). He was in town promoting his new book iWoz. His talk, delivered without notes or slides, was a somewhat unfocused history of his life in technology. From glancing at the book, it appears to be much the same. But who cares!! It's Woz, fer crackin' ice, he could be reading a dictionary and it would still be worth listening to. He is not blessed with a silver tongue, but he's funny, he has some great stories, and he was present at the creation.

His recurring theme was simplicity; he always tried to do designs with fewer chips, and relentlessly re-designed his work to achieve this goal. Along the way he met Steve Jobs (who he described as someone who would "go around with bare feet and eat seeds out of bags"). Woz had a good laugh line about Jobs, which he used several times: he designs some cool new thing and shows it to Jobs, and Jobs replies, "Why don't you sell it?" Which of course they did.

He did not directly discuss his relationship with Jobs, but it's obviously had its ups and downs over the years. Someone asked a question about the badge 1 vs. 2 controversy at Apple (Wozniak was given badge #1 and Jobs was given badge #2, and supposedly then schemed to get badge #0). Woz's point was that the design for the computer (his contribution) came before Apple the company (Jobs's contribution) so he deserved badge #1. There was a slight overtone as he told this story which indicated he felt it was not just the order of events, but also the relative importance of them, that made him the deserved owner of badge #1. In any case he is obviously secure and contented enough not to worry too much about their past history or begrudge Jobs his greater public recognition (especially since he has greater GEEK recognition).

Talking about Apple, he said that they had always tried for "fanciful" designs, which is as good a term as any. He felt that if HP (for whom he worked when he did the original design, and who declined to productize it several times) had done the Apple I, they would have botched it by not being fanciful. He also said that he was still proud that "Apple has done things a litle simpler and has not designed a bunch of crap."

He wound up speaking for about 50 minutes, before abruptly interrupting his history (Apple had been founded but had not yet gone public) to say that his speaking time was up and he would take questions. He received a 15-second standing ovation at the end.

Although I don't usually succumb to such fanboy tendencies, I bought a copy of his book and stood in a long line to have him sign it. Somebody in front of me told Woz, "In high school I had a schematic of the Apple II on my bedroom wall!" Luckily he was talking to the 0.000001% of the population who would respond positively to this comment, rather than dump a drink on his head. In fact Woz was impressed (he said that he had had a schematic of the Data General Nova on his wall) and rewarded him with a business card. I thought at that moment that a business card from Woz would be cool. Later, thanks to Robert Scoble, I found out that it's made of etched metal and also that Woz said one had sold on eBay for $500 (actually, one just sold today for $560).

When it was my turn to talk to Woz, I asked him what he thought of the Apple II clone market. The PC market exploded due to clones, so I was curious if he appreciated the same effect for Apple back in the day (one summer in high school I ran a BBS with my friends Val and Avi on Val's "Rama II", a clone so junky we had to stick Lego pieces under the keyboard to make it work, but the thing did run). Woz said that he did not like the clones; when I asked about them helping build the market, he said there were not enough of them to matter (which could be true). I understand that as the engineer whose design was being ripped off he might be more annoyed than, say, Jobs the businessman (although Jobs's inner chakras may have had their spin rate addled by the metaphysical wrongness of the clones).

I also asked Woz what he thought of today's hackers. He was a notorious "prankster", but some of his pranks are the kinds of things that people go to jail for now (like stealing long distance). Was he worried that today's pranksters would become tomorrow's inmates, rather than tomorrow's hardware designers? His reply was "I hope not" and the book was intended to help prevent this. I pointed out that I was wearing my EFF t-shirt (by coincidence) and he shook my hand and said he had helped found the EFF (Did he? Let me check Wikipedia...nothing there...hang on, edited at 16:35, 6 October 2006 by PoppaBear...waitjesadagboneminute). I was hoping that my shirt would earn me a business card, and even considered asking for one, but I figured he would view that as tacky (and since he knew they were being flipped for $500, he presumably would have said no anyway). Well, whatever. I don't have a business card I can cut a steak with, but I have a signed book, and my memory of meeting a legend.

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

October 07, 2006

The Yankees Lose! The Yankees Lose!

Now I can enjoy the playoffs. This proves once again that the Curse of A-Rod is real--that no team with Alex Rodriguez can win the World Series. Not just because he went 1-for-14 in the series; it's because he has offended the baseball gods and they are meting out their punishment. If Steinbrenner realizes this and dumps him, then the Yankees could easily win next year given all the talent they have. They only owe him $67 million for the last 4 years of his contract, and I'm sure would be willing to eat at least $15 million to remove the Curse; so any team that traded for him would be getting a good-hitting, bad-fielding third baseman for $13 million a year. Surely some team where the postseason is not an issue, that just wants to improve from 70 to 80 wins or something, would want that? Or put him back at short. Or even DH. $13 million is a lot for a DH (it's twice what David Ortiz makes) but it's less than Jim Thome, who has only slightly better numbers.

Speaking of which, you know the Mariners really weren't that terrible. They went 78-84, which is the same as the Marlins, and people were ga-gaing over them until the last week of the season. Unfortunately, given their management's stated theory of how to win (develop promising young players, then trade them for veterans on the wrong side of 30), this may be about as good as it gets around here.

Posted by AdamBa at 06:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 06, 2006

"Imagine the Magic": Where Are They Now?

The two pictures are the winners (for 1995 and 1996) of a contest Microsoft used to run called "Imagine the Magic". They asked kids age 6-11 to submit essays on "what the coolest computer could do." The winners received an all-expenses paid trip to Redmond to get a tour of Microsoft and meet with Bill Gates.

The first picture shows the 1995 winners, identified (in a recent Micronews "From the Archives" piece) as Lee Flinchbaugh, Matthew Gaalswyk, Brian Margolis, Ben Harris, Jessica Jones, and Jennifer Paul. The second picture is from this article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, which identifies the 1996 winners and their home states: Hope Pomele of Hawaii, Brianna Pellicane of New Jersey, Victor Sriqui of Maryland, Brody Pav of Florida, Maryellen Cooley of Washington, and Joe Hemerly of Pennsylvania (and here is a Microsoft PressPass article that specifically identifies their hometowns and ages: respectively, Honolulu and 9, East Brunswick and 9, Bethesda and 10, Largo and 6, Spokane and 7, and Maytown and 11).

I got to thinking about this and realized that students who were 6-11 in 1995 and 1996 would be roughly 16 to 22 years old now. In other words, they would be nearing the end of high school or in college: the age when people nowadays tend to have personal websites with no fear of revealing details about themselves. I'm always curious about the kind of electronic imprint that people leave. Ten years ago these kids made headlines for their interest in computers; what can we find out about what this otherwise unrelated collection of people is up to now?

With the 1995 crew, it's harder because they don't list hometowns, and also a few of them have common names. There's no doubt that this is Lee Flinchbaugh, since he mentions "When I was much younger, in 3rd grade, I won a national contest called Imagine the Magic. I wrote an essay on what I thought the coolest computer should be able to do, and was flown out to Washington to meet with Bill Gates for my efforts". Lee is majoring in Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State. I suspect that the Mathew Gaalswyk on this list of members of the Oklahoma State math club is the same person; he is the only person with that name to have left any tracks on the web, and hey, it's the math club. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a Brian, Ben, Jessica or Jennifer who appeared to be the right one.

The 1996 crew is a bit easier to find (except for Joe Hemerly), but none of them specifically discuss their trip to Redmond. Hope Pomele was a third-grader in the spring of 1996; thus it's reasonable to think she is the same person identified as a high-school junior in the fall of 2003, and was also the Vice Chairperson of he Hawaii State Student Council. Couldn't find anything on what she did after high school, however. Brianna Pellicane was 9 in the spring of 1996 and there's a woman on myspace with the same name who claims to be 19 and from East Brunswick, although she doesn't seem to mention Bill anywhere (I won't link to her myspace account for fear of being arrested). She's currently a freshman at Wake Forest. Victor Sriqui, given that he was 10 in 1996 and from Maryland, is probably the person mentioned here in the fall of 2003 as a senior on the 2003 Walt Whitman high football team (which went 10-0). No record of him in college. Brody Pav is undoubtedly the one shown in the picture in this article about an investment club run by homeschool kids (which was crushing the market), but nothing else (at age 6, his cool computer "would make yucky food taste better by injecting kids' favorite flavors into it - it would create Bubble Gum Broccoli and Nacho Spinach"). Maryellen Cooley shows up at age 15 at Hoopfest 2004. She also has a myspace account; as with Brianna (and, I suspect, most girls who are into technology when they are young), she seems to have veered away from computers. And, like many people you can't quite track down, she's rumored to be in Canada.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 02, 2006

Microsoft's Corporate Network as Recruiting Device

I remain convinced that the main challenge for Microsoft is recruiting. If we can hire the people we need we will succeed, and if we don't we will fail. Same notion for retaining people once we hire them.

So, we need to hype the benefits of working at Microsoft. We've got pre-owned office supplies and free t-shirts and printers that scan. But there's something else we have available for employees. It's the fabulous repository of information that is the Microsoft corporate network, affectionately known as "corpnet".

Consider what you can access once you get your blue badge:

  • Video recordings of talks from Research, Engineering Excellence, the Enterprise Computing Series, the EE/TWC Forum, etc.
  • Think Week papers going back to 2004.
  • The library, with all of its online journals, book summaries, e-books, and who knows what else.
  • Toolbox, that ever-surprising repository of huddled code masses yearning to breathe free.
  • All those internal blogs you've been reading about on Mini-Microsoft (yes, Steven Sinofsky is still posting and knocking 'em out of the park).
  • All the famous videos...the "Behind the Technology" VH-1 spoof, Bob Muglia in "American Coder", Brian Valentine's takeoff on Molson Canadian, Steve Ballmer hopping around on his toes, "Developer Fear Factor", "We Share Your Pain", and the list goes on.
  • And that really secret confidential thing about [censored] and [can't say that in public] and [sorry, NDA only!]. You get the idea.

I'm tellin' ya, the corpnet is the place to be. If it sounds good, grab your resume and head on over. We've got a network tap waiting just for you!

Posted by AdamBa at 09:29 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack