A Day in the Life

A day in my life. Thoughts on leadership, management, startups, technology, software, concurrent development, etc... Basically the stuff I think about from 10am to 6pm.


Legoland California’s Master Builder competition

has finished with Jason Poland winning the competition and the job of a life-time. Congratulations to him. CNET has some great coverage of this. Here is a link to the page with the pictures. That page also contains links to several articles. Cool stuff.

Why many women bloggers don't put up contact info...

Hey Zig...this one is for you.

Robert Scoble often talks about why bloggers should make themselves accessible to their readers. (He has his phone number and email address on his blog.) This post is an example of why many women bloggers don’t.

I use Trillian to aggregate my IM accounts. One of the great things about the product is that it logs every IM interaction. So I went through my logs and I pulled out all the unsolicited IMs. Now I don’t mind work related questions from strangers. But unsolicited messages to just talk are not welcome. All of these came from Yahoo and I suspect it’s because Yahoo let’s people search for people. In particular the member page contains a dating type option and men may just assume that if they can find you...that you are interested.

I’m not.

Now some of these guys are probably just looking for some harmless conversation, so for those that still have an account, please don’t spam them. I’m just putting this up here as an example of what women have to put up with. I find it intrusive and sometimes down right offensive.

These are in chronological order. I've added comments to a few and you'll see the comments as bolded.


11/8/06 [15:09] windsurf510: good afternoon
11/8/06 [15:13] kgreenlee11: Do I know you?
11/8/06 [15:13] windsurf510: nope, just looking for a chat
11/8/06 [15:14] kgreenlee11: Okay, I'm working so good luck with that.
11/8/06 [15:14] windsurf510: bye


11/12/05 [21:15] mrniceguyinbayarea: hi there how are you


12/9/05 [09:42] aaron_the_baron12: Hey there I was looking at yahoo and i saw your page. anyway, you seem interesting ;)

I am.


12/12/05 [17:58] sweet_water33: hi there minor league baseball player in ca from seattle looking to meet or chat interested?

12/23/05 [18:50] sweet_water33: hi there minor league baseball player looking to meet up or chat interested?

1/21/06 [19:39] sweet_water33: hi there minor leauge baseball player from seattle in ca looking to meet up or chat interested?

This guy kept coming back. I wonder if he realized he was using the same line?


12/20/05 [11:02] dirty_daddy_2005: Hello there, miss

Hmmm, would I really want to talk to someone calling himself Dirty Daddy? I don’t think so.


12/24/05 [10:32] mast_high: hi kim [Offline Message (Fri Dec 23 23:04:52 2005)]
12/24/05 [10:32] mast_high: what is an evangelist? [Offline Message (Fri Dec 23 23:05:14 2005)]
12/24/05 [10:39] kgreenlee11: A technical evangelist spreads the message about a new technology. The idea of a technical evangelist was started at Apple and worked very well. Since then many companies have incorporated evangelists into their marketing program. Within a company evangelists bridge the knowledge gap between marketing and engineering and externally the evangelist teaches people about the new technology. One of the biggest barriers to adoption of new technology is helping people understand how the new technology will help them.

2/12/06 [13:28] mast_high: you have a lovely smile, kim

This guy started out strong and then blew it in a later session. My smile is lovely because my picture is from a $500 headshot with professional touchups. You get what you pay for.


1/8/06 [21:50] vampire9797: hey miss kim

Again...what is a name?


2/1/06 [17:11] clifford_clermont01: Hello my name is Clifford.. actually i was checking through members online at yahoo members people search. and i saw yours anyway i hope am not disturbing you..anyway how are u doing?

At least he was polite.


3/12/06 [14:30] sfsailboy510: hi there


3/19/06 [23:16] michael_co192: Hi I was checking out yahoo , i saw your ad.. anyway, you look interesting :P
3/19/06 [23:16] michael_co192: would you like to check out my picture and profile?

Thanks for the invitation but...no.


4/6/06 [21:26] cutypie103: hi there...i'm Alex, a 26 y.o. guy from San Fran...i was looking for profiles of women and found you...i've always fantasized about being a houseboy for a woman...my fantasy is to do house chores for you naked or jus be naked for your viewing pleasure...would you enjoy something like that?

This has to be the most offensive thing I’ve ever seen. Zig, this is the one I was telling you about.


4/17/06 [21:37] hellcruiser79: hi


4/21/06 [15:40] smith_kenneth5222: hi
4/21/06 [15:40] smith_kenneth5222: how are you doing ?
4/21/06 [15:40] smith_kenneth5222: how was your day
4/21/06 [15:40] smith_kenneth5222: are you there ?


4/27/2006 [14:20] gd4lifepapi61282: are you ablack women? Do you have a sister or famliy member name china


4/28/2006 [21:00] dadplusstwo: hi Kim
4/28/2006 [21:00] dadplusstwo: im Mark


5/10/06 [15:12] rohan4special1: hiii Kim
5/10/06 [15:12] rohan4special1: how are you


Okay guys, fess up. Does this happen to you?


Office 2007 Beta is available

You can find the Office 2007 beta here.

Prerelease documentation here.

Link to a prerelease book here.

And a look out below post here.


Update: Robert pointed out that if you're doing VSTO development you're going to have to wait for the new VSTO release.


Hey Microsoft! Wow me!

I’ve been thinking a lot about Microsoft these last few months. It seems like every single technology category has bloggers slamming some mistake Microsoft made...usually only from the perspective of that one sector. Here’s a slam from Geeks News Central about podcasting and Windows Media Player 11. Now granted it looks like Microsoft has missed an opportunity here, but common on, Microsoft is huge and it’s likely that podcasting was not identified as a market for their Media Player. And while there are some very vocal proponents of podcasting, the numbers I’ve seen so far aren’t showing that it’s really that big a market yet. So if you were deciding on whether to release a product or hold it to add new (potentially unplanned) functionality what would you do? Personally, I would ship and then go back through the product release cycle with the intention of getting a quick release out. (If the feature was identified as critical.) I think podcasting is an important new vehicle and to enhance Microsoft’s leap into the Internet, Microsoft must support it. But does Microsoft need to support it today?

I read this great article by Phil Wainewright and he really articulates a lot of my thoughts very well. Microsoft has the money and the people to make any undertaking revolutionary. Personally I prefer it when Microsoft doesn’t play the "me to" game, even though it’s kicked me in the butt in the past. While at Kaseworks (one of the first companies to have a code generator for Windows), one of our struggles was figuring out how to generate the code in a reusable way. As much as I hate to say it, Microsoft’s way was significantly better than Kaseworks’. (That and the fact that Microsoft had the compiler to put underneath it.) They didn’t evolve our methodology but revolutionized it. It helped put us out of business but it also helped an extremely large number of developers become more productive. That’s what I want to see from Microsoft. (It’s also what I want to see from Google and all the other big players with money and bright people.) Don’t follow. Lead. Beat the many headed hydra that you call a company into submission, make the teams talk to each other, and figure out how to build innovation into your processes so you can "stop missing the boat" and start wowing us.

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Digipede: Website changes and marketing thoughts...

I haven’t blogged too much technical stuff lately because I’ve been focused on our website. We’ve asked ourselves how we can help visitors to the Digipede site more easily find what they are looking for. A website for an emerging technology has to educate as well as provide a mechanism for the company to generate sales leads. We watch how people move through the site and make guesses as to what they are looking for. In that light we’ve made a good number of changes to the site with more in the works. I’ve summarized below several of our changes:

Landing Pages and Webcasts

We observed that people were clicking on our ads but not staying long or signing up for webcasts. So we tightened up the messaging on each of the landing pages to help people zero in on the ideas we think they are looking for. We also added the idea of ad echoing, which is to basically restate the words used in the ad. I had never heard of the concept before but it’s an interesting idea and we’re trying it out.

We also added a big fat webcast image link to almost every page on the site. We want people to sign-up for webcasts because after our blogs, webcasts are our best tool for having a conversation with prospects. After we made the changes to the landing pages and added the webcast button, we had an increase in the number of folks clicking through to the webcast page. (Cool)

But I want more of those folks to sign-up. So I ask myself, why aren’t more people signing up? One reason is probably the form, but we need the form for two reasons. The first is that our Live Meeting account is currently limited to 15 participants per webcast, so we have to control the number of attendees. The second reason is that we need to generate sales leads. As a small but growing company our website is the most cost effective way to get those leads.

I think a bigger reason that more folks aren’t signing up is the time the webcasts have been run at. So Dan and I put together a new schedule that offers varying times. (I will now be joining the webcast team! And finally beginning to do more of the evangelizing part of my job.) We are hoping by having times that work for the UK, US, Australia, and India we’ll see an increase in signups. We’ll be updating the webcast page so that visitors can select time and topic. Those changes will be up soon. It will be interesting to see whether we guessed right.

White Papers and Videos

We updated the white paper page to make it easier to identify how to link to the papers, added very short descriptions, and added video links. We also removed the form requiring registration for the papers. We have found that these changes have resulted in more white paper downloads (this is good) with the downside being the loss of sales leads (which is bad for us, but is it only bad for the short-term? We’ll have to wait and see.)

Case Studies

We revamped the case studies index page making it cleaner to look at and having it highlight our case study customers. And each of our case study pages is now easier to read through and pulls out quotes. We hired a marketing guy to rewrite all of this material in a way that both readers and scanners can easily find what they are looking for. We’ve also added .pdf files for each case study which is something I really like. I like to download things to read offline later. It will be interesting to see overtime how many other people do too.


Through-out this process we’ve been using the ideas described in Steve Krug’s book "Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability" and trying to help our visitors find what they are looking for.

Marketing is sooo not like development. There isn’t a compiler or profiler to tell me how things are working or if they are working at all. While there are quantifiable data points, much of it seems very subjective. We will continue to revamp the site with an eye towards making it easy for people to get the information they need and to help them take the next step in building a relationship with us. (Moving toward KISS.)

I want to thank the folks who read my comment on Kathy Sierra’s post "Can marketing be honest AND motivating? ". I had a few experienced marketing folks who went through the entire Digipede site and then sent me an email with their thoughts and suggestions. I LOVE THE INTERNET!!! This type of help is reflective of what makes the blogosphere such a great place to be.

If you have thoughts, ideas, questions about our site or products please feel free to contact me. Kim at Digipede dot Net. I would love to hear from you.

We can also send speakers (me) to locations that are within easy driving distance of Oakland, CA or has affordable flights. So if you represent a user group that would like to hear about grid computing and other technology related to grid computing I would be happy to talk to you about providing a presenation.

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Post office imponderable

Last week, on Thursday, I didn’t get any mail at my home. This happens from time to time but I can usually count on some junk mail in my box. Friday I didn’t get any mail either, so I called my neighbor across the street, (we always call each other when something odd is going on, Your power out? You getting mail? Do you smell smoke?) and asked him if he had been getting his mail. Yep. Being the great neighbor that he is he called me on Saturday when the mail guy flew past my house without stopping. So I went down to the street and waited for the mail carrier to come back up the other side so I could ask what was going on.

The mail carrier informed me that I had called and put a hold on my mail and then proceeded to tell me that I shouldn’t call in holds but that I should fill out a postcard. I informed the carrier that I had not called anything in and that I would like my mail. I’ve been waiting for a package and I’m really not happy that they screwed up. I told Mal about my conversation with the carrier and she informed me that our next door neighbor was out of town and it was likely that it was their mail which was supposed to be held.

So the post office probably wrote down the wrong house number and my neighbor’s box is full and mine is empty. I did call the post office on Saturday; I got the number from the carrier and the name of his manager who told him about the hold. I was supposed to get a call back today...but nothing. I also told the carrier that I want my mail. There better be a delivery today or I am going to be one very angry woman...and they won’t like me when I’m angry.....

Note: I am not threatening the post office but if I don’t have mail today I will be calling and raising a stink. A very stinky stink.

My first blog mugging....no harm no foul

I’ve been seeing a good bit of traffic coming from BlogShares which until recently I had never heard of or at the least I have no memory of every joining. Looking through their site apparently BlogShares is a stock market type deal for blogs. I’m not trading very high! :-)

It’s an interesting idea. This is not the type of game or service that I could image using because if I’m going to play around with anything that is stock market like, it will be the real stock market or a product like Inkling Markets, which can help companies track business trends and needs.

So thanks for the traffic and since I don’t remember ever actually registering, (I can’t login with either my personal or corporate email addresses) I’m not going to put your logo onto my blog. Sorry but I’m feeling a little mugged right now. But good luck BlogShares and happy trading.


Washington Mutual...what the???

Today I stopped by the Washington Mutual branch in Montclair and had a little bit of a...surprise isn’t the right word. I found myself pretty confused and wondering if I’d some how fallen into the twilight zone. I popped my card into the ATM, entered my code, and was planning on selecting the Deposit option but...there wasn’t one. I have NEVER seen an ATM not have a deposit option so I thought I was losing it. I checked the screen several times, carefully going through my options...and there definitely was no deposit. I spoke to the woman waiting behind me, told her why I was looking so confused, went over to the other ATM, and tried again. That one had a deposit and the woman confirmed that there was no deposit option on the other ATM. She did observe that the light was off around the envelope feeder and my guess is that either the envelope feeder was having problems or the bin was full, but wow. How about an error message next time? Something that says deposits aren’t available on that machine instead of nothing. That way I don’t have to feel so stupid.


Haas waiver exam results are in...

Well, I’ve been notified that I’ve passed both the statistics and math waiver exams. I have no idea how I passed the stats exam, but I’m not going to complain. I’ve already started online courses that would have also qualified as prerequisites and passing these tests takes the pressure off of the final grade for those classes. But I think in light of my low confidence in my current math acumen, actually completely the classes will be very valuable.

In truth, this whole math testing process has been a real blow to my ego. One of my college majors was in math for crying out loud. But if you don’t use the math, you lose it. And that is what happened. I was surprised at how much of my professional identity was based on the fact that I had once tested in the 98th percentile for mathematics skills (high school standards tests), achieved perfect scores on my math Regents exams (NY state high school equivalency tests for a special Regents diploma), graduated with a double major (computer science and math), and thought differential equations was fun. I had assumed that writing software for over 18 years would keep my “math” mind sharp. Nope.

My day to day activities don’t require very much number crunching and even when I need to do that, I have software that does the calculations for me. My verbal test scores had never been high early in my career and I had so little confidence in my writing skills back then that I avoided writing as if it was the plague. Yet, somehow, 19 years after college I took the GMAT and scored in the 96% for verbal. Scary. I had to take my SATs twice so that I could qualify for a scholarship that I needed. The funny thing is I was actually drunk for my first test. Not very responsible I know, but I was 18 and one of my closest friends was going into the Marines and we had a going away party the night before. My verbal scores were pretty high for that test and my math low, when I retook the exam sober my verbal was low and my math was high. Go figure.

I’ve read articles that talked about how we don’t really know ourselves and that we are not usually good at the things we think we’re good at. My recent testing spree has indicated that to be the case for me. And I don’t like it one bit!

Death of a friend...

A friend and teacher of mine died yesterday. I’m still trying to come to terms with it. She was only 55 and although she had had health problems she wasn’t sick now. But the other night she woke up with head pain. Fortunately she wasn’t alone and her husband rushed her to the hospital. It was a brain aneurysm and although the surgeons were able to stop the bleeding they could not drain all the blood and her brain died.

We had an odd relationship in that we each knew personal things about each other that few other people knew, yet we weren’t friends in the sense that we called or wrote each other. Mary visited the Bay Area a couple times a year for martial arts activities and would stay with a mutual friend down the street. So whenever she was in town I’d go down and visit. Not much. Just quick catch-up and how are you doing?

I had told Mary once that I would get my black belt and I always expected that she would be at my test. Life is so interesting. Whenever people I know die or have their lives altered in crazy ways, I wonder how they would have lived if they had known how close the end was. With Mary I know the answer. She embraced life and she lived it completely. A few years ago she married a man I know she’d been in love with for a long time but because of their personal situations and personal honor they were not able to act on those feelings until recently. I’m glad she had the last few years with Ernie. In the 10 years I’ve known her I’ve never seen her happier. She was a woman who gave so much to others that the greatest sadness I feel in her passing is not that she is gone but that she couldn’t have had more time to enjoy her new found happiness. The world has lost an incredible leader and teacher.

The suddenness of Mary’s death and the fact that I considered her my peer is now making me ask myself, “What would I do different?” What would you do different?

Grid Computing: Another great reference...

In my previous post about this week’s eBig presentation on HPC I mentioned an article you should read to be better prepared. I just stumbled across a very good presentation that I think you should also take a look at before Thursday. At Only4Gurus I found a presentation by Dr. Shirish Chinchalkar from Cornell Theory Center titled "HPC and Grid Computing". This presentation gives a very good overview of HPC, grid computing, and web services, and provides a video that shows HPC in action behind a spreadsheet.


Software: VS2003 crashing...no option but a virtual machine

Update to the previous post. I followed the steps below thinking that I could work around VS2003 crashing. But I can’t. I can’t get the project’s “Properties” dialog to open without crashing the IDE. So my only option now is to spend a bunch of time building a virtual machine and doing my development in there. This totally sucks.

1. I renamed the project directory by adding a “_save” to the end of it. So the project directory is now MonteCarloLibrary_save.

2. I opened the solution file, IComWorkerCPP.sln, in notepad. And removed the MonteCarloLibraryPS project references. Then saved and closed the file. The MonteCarloLibraryPS project was created when I created the MonteCarloLibrary project and will be automatically be added back in after I recreate the MonteCarloLibrary project.

What I deleted:
Project("{8BC9CEB8-8B4A-11D0-8D11-00A0C91BC942}") = "MonteCarloLibraryPS", "MonteCarloLibrary\MonteCarloLibraryPS.vcproj", "{BB98981D-A1A3-41D2-8A3A-FABBD8065DDB}"
ProjectSection(ProjectDependencies) = postProject

3. Reopened VS2003, and then opened the IComWorkerCPP.sln solution file. Recreated MonteCarloLibrary.

4. Went back out to my directory tree and copied my files from MonteCarloLibrary_save into the new MonteCarloLibrary directory. (Made sure to NOT copy the vcproj file!)

5. Back in VS2003 made sure to save everything and then back up the vcproj file. I’m using VSS for source control so I just checked everything in and kept it checked out....how I miss Perforce....

6. In VS2003 updated the MonteCarloLibrary project. Added the new files, reset the References. Saved and then archived again.

7. Ran a test build (did I get everything?). I missed adding the directory so that the compiler could find the digipede.framework.dll file for the #import call. Attempting to open the project results in a VS2003 crash.

8. Deal with crash, get the backed up vcproj file, reopen the solution. Cool, everything is back.

9. Problem....VS2003 keeps crashing when I try to open that project but this time the vcproj file is NOT truncated. hmmm. I save everything on my machine and reboot... rebooting doesn’t help.

10. I then went to VSS and grabbed an older vcproj file (the copy I saved before I added the files). I wanted to see if I could identify where the problem is occurring so this time, I’m going to add the files and then try to open the properties. Bamm. Down again.

11. I then got the vcproj file that was created by VS2003 when I added the MonteCarloLibrary project, I'm thinking that this will be the cleanest file. I am unable to open the "Properies" dialog without crashing VS2003. Since my job doesn't involve debugging Microsoft's code...I'm on to plan B.

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Software: VS2003 truncating vcproj files...

I’m building a Digipede sample application using unmanaged C++, COM, ATL, and the Digipede Network. It’s surprising how much I’ve forgotten about COM! And as I have been struggling with remembering I sooo don’t need my development environment wigging out on me. But VS2003 is wigging out.

After the release of VS2005, I hadn’t used VS2003 for anything more than for verifying that existing projects still built and ran. This is my first brand new project in VS2003 and I am experiencing an intermittent problem with changing my projects.

Most recently I added an existing header file and after hitting ‘OK’, VS2003 crashed. When I tried to open the solution again, the IDE put up a message saying that it was unable to open one of my project (vcproj) files. (The one that I added the file to.) Thinking that I was clever, I opened the bad vcproj file in notepad only to find that it was empty. Not only had the IDE crashed but the crash had truncated my project file. Not good. I now have to rebuild the entire project which is a waste of my time, but I’m also going to have to make sure that I archive (check into VSS) before I try to make any project changes.

The problem doesn’t seem to be the fact that I tried to add a file but that I tried to change the project. (I have also seen this happen when I had opened the project’s “Properties” Dialog.) I also suspect that this is a problem directly related to the fact that I have VS2003 and VS2005 both installed on the same machine. Microsoft is working on a service pack for VS2003 that I suspect will address this problem. But the service pack isn’t available until June.

If you are experiencing a similar problem I see two possible solutions:

1. Use a virtual machine that contains the VS2003 tools and do your development in there.
2. Backup the vcproj files often. Especially making sure you do that before you make ANY project changes that affect the vcproj file.

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Update on Haas stats waiver exam

I wrote on May 7th about Haas’ statistic waiver exam and wrote that I’d write Haas an email. Well, I wrote and sent an email on May 8th. I haven’t heard anything from them. Which seems strange to me. But...what the hell. I’ll find out on June 1st whether I’ve been accepted and if so, I’ll pursue this further. Unless that happens any further work will only be a waste of time and my time is precious. I do find it strange that a business school doesn’t take care of business. I’m speculating that since the program had over 700 applications last year and can only accept about 240, that this is a situation where the business doesn’t think it has to take care of the prospects. This is a classic business mistake although I don’t think it will be hurting Haas any time soon.

We don’t really know people...

I was just watching a PBS show on the Freemasons and their ideals intrigued me so I decided to do a little research. I ended up on a wiki page. And I read a bit about them. (Typical that they only allow men...which is a whole different subject.) For some reason the mention of the Order of the Eastern Star (OES) struck a memory so following the bread crumbs I wandered over there. In the See Also Section of that page is a link to Order of the Amaranth, of which I have heard quite a bit about. My Grandma Greenlee is a member.

"men must be Master Masons and women must have specific relationships to Masons."
- from the Wiki page

This suggests to me that my grandfather was a Mason. And I’m going to be writing a letter to my grandmother.

My grandparents have been a very important part of my life and my grandfather was the only consistent adult male. (My mother being married a large number of times.) He and I didn’t agree on a lot of subjects but we were close and here I find something that suggests that there were dimensions to him that I never guessed. I wasn’t able to attend his funeral but I understand that there were a large number of folks who did. I knew that he was very involved in community work, politics, and later in life, his church. But was he a Mason? I don’t know and I feel compelled to find out. Maybe my grandmother will actually write a letter back. (She never writes back or returns phone calls.)

One thing I regret about the life I’ve had to live, is that I didn’t get to know him better. I keep his picture on my dresser, along with pictures of my grandmother, my aunt Irene (deceased) and my uncle Speed. My grandfather was the most important man in my life and I looked up to him. In many ways I have tried to be like him. And I’ve conducted much of my life as if I would have to answer to him. I miss my grandfather. A lot.

Update: Yep. He was a member of Mt. Moriah Masonic Lodge #145 F&AM. It was in his obituary.

Grid Computing: eBig HPC session this week

On Thursday, May 18th Carol Thompson Eidt will be presenting on HPC application development. You can signup for the session on eBig. And to prepare for the session (by getting an overview of MPI and CCS) I recommend you read Built For Speed: Develop Turbocharged Apps For Windows Compute Cluster Server.

There are many differences between the Digipede approach and Microsoft’s HPC approach and the two different methodologies can work together on the same systems. Used together the methodologies provide you with an entire tool chest of solutions to the different types of computational problems grid computing and HPC computing target.

- Uses the Message Passing Interface (MPI)
- Can share data across processes on a cluster
- No .NET Framework class library available for MPI
- Can execute .NET code in serial
- Only runs on x64 processors, but can support both 32 bit and 64 bit applications

- Uses .NET to distribute objects via the Digipede Framework SDK
- Does not share data between objects, but doesn’t stop a developer from adding that functionality
- Complete support for .NET and COM
- Executes .NET code in parallel
- Runs on any Windows OS from Windows XP forward.

Both methodologies will distribute executables and provide a grid infrastructure. Like many tools they may look similar at first glance but when you start using them you’ll find that they are designed for different problems. You just need to understand what your HPC/grid needs are and then use the appropriate tool.

I haven’t developed anything on CCS, I’ve just been reading, so I’m really looking forward to Thursday’s presentation. If I learn anything new I'll write a post. See you there.

Amazon: More on blogging issue...

I posted last week about Amazon’s plogs and how it seems Amazon does understand the value of blogging. But I just read a post by Jim Minatel and he listed some areas he thinks Amazon should add blogging to and I agree. Here is his post "Scoble, Shel, and the Amazon CTO". Enjoy.

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Amazon: Plogs, blogs, and things I want...

I was just bouncing through my feeds and ablog recommended “Stumbling on Happiness” by Dan Gilbert. I wanted to know a little more about the book so I went to Amazon to find it and read what reviewers had to say. And there on my Amazon home page is this thing called a Plog. It looks like an aggregation of blog posts by authors whose books I’ve bought. This is interesting. I’m not sure how interesting, but I’ll give it a chance.

But I’m reminded of all the excitement a few months ago when Robert Scoble and Shel Israel went to Amazon to talk about why Amazon should blog. Here are some posts:

From Robert Scoble’s blog:

A little big of a dustup about our Amazon talk
Much ado about blogging (Scoble, you didn’t answer the question)

From Naked Conversation blog:

Three Seattle Talks

From Werner Vogel’s blog (Amazon CTO):

Naked Answers

I’ve always loved Amazon’s approach to community building and I make heavy use of the 1-Click button. They have always made it easy for me to choose books and make a purchase. I love that and I’m a loyal customer. And my initial take was that I’m okay if Amazon doesn’t want to have an official company blog. Vogel blogs and as a technologist that interests me far more than some generic Amazon blog.

After these exchanges I just assumed that Amazon saw no value in blogging and then today I got my first look at a Plog. It looks like a Plog is a way for authors, whose books Amazon knows I own, can distribute blog posts to their readers. Authors must have at least one book available from Amazon and join AmazonConnect. The idea is certainly interesting in that Amazon is once again showing me a little love by letting me know they’re thinking of me. Whether this service will interest me in the long-term depends on how interesting the author’s blog posts are. I think just because someone can write an interesting book doesn’t mean that they will be interesting everyday. It will take a little time for me to decide whether I like Plogs or not.

But in light of what happened between the author’s of “Naked Conversations” and Mr. Vogel, I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Vogel was leading them. As CTO he had to know that this service was in development. Mr. Vogel stated in his post that he was trying to expand their thinking.

“I wanted them abandon their fuzzy group hug approach, and counter me with hard arguments why they were right and I was wrong.”

My guess is that Mr. Vogel had already put a great deal of thought into where blogging fit into Amazon’s business model and that the results are Plogs.

By the way the book (“Stumbling on Happiness”) looks interesting and I’ve added it to my Wish List.

And if anyone from Amazon reads this post here are some things you can add to make it easier for me to buy things:

  • Lots of Sci-Fi/Fantasy fiction comes in series. Make it easy for me to know which books are in the series. You can do this by making a list, in the correct order, and with the purchase links. Also, I want a button that let’s me buy the series, this will take me to a page that lists all the titles, and let’s me unselect the ones I don’t want. I might read the first book in a series and want to buy the rest. (The hunting and searching isn’t fun for me. And remember, it’s not just fiction that comes in series or groups.)

  • I want to know when new books, in series that I like, are available. I want to sign up for emails that let me know when these new books will be available and I want to be able to preorder. I do get these sometimes but I don’t have any way to directly tell you what I’m interested in. I want that ability.

  • And that concludes my Amazon rant for the day....


    Business: When to add project management

    Scott Berkun runs a project management list and from time to time I respond to it. Since the responses are often only on the list and not on the blog, I decided that I would link to last week’s question and post my response.

    1. When is it time to create a dedicated manager or PM type role? Is it defined by the # of people you have?

    Short answer: when you actually need one, no.
    Long answer:

    The funny thing about startups is that there are no hard and fast rules that work every time. What you have to look at are the strengths and weaknesses of your current team and the over-all objectives of the company and each team member. Generally people are drawn to early stages startups because they either have a dream or they like the variety and pace (these are your serial entrepreneurs.)

    To decide whether it’s time to bring in a sixth person to act as manager or to convert one of your current players to a management role, depends on several factors which only you and your team can know.

    Only you know where your product is right now. Do you have a finished and tested product yet? Are you in alpha, beta, or live? How much buzz have you had? Where are you in letting the world know what you’ve got? How extensive is your network? How well do you understand you’re market and prospective customers?

    Only an individual knows what their career objectives and skills are. So is there anyone on the team who wants a more business oriented role? Does she have the experience already or is she going to have to learn on the job? Do you have time to let her learn? Would it be better to bring in another person who can focus on all the business stuff? Think about what your company needs to move to the next stage and make that happen. The quality of the team has more of an impact on the success of a startup than the quantity.

    At some point you’re going to need to make enough money to support all of you and you’ll want someone whose job is to focus on that. How can you get from where you are to where you need to be? And who do you need to get you there?

    What I’m guessing is that if you’re at the stage where you’re talking about financials and your current development model is working then you probably don’t need a PM but a business person. Someone who can take over all the marketing, financial, and planning responsibilities. That person can also act as a PM until you’re large enough to need someone in that role full-time or one of the engineers can take on the PM role. But someone has to worry about the money and it’s better to get that started sooner rather than later. It takes time to build up mindshare. As soon as you have something that can be talked about or demoed someone on your team has to be out there talking about it.

    2. How do you transition from a totally organic model to one with defined roles?

    Short answer: By preparing for it.
    Long answer:

    At a startup you all have to be equal but you each have your own areas of expertise and some people will be more equal than others in their defined areas. Each person has to be honest about that. At the startups I’ve worked at the first big danger point was around 40-50 people, when the water cooler conversations got too hard to have. That was when we had to look at adding formal processes to make sure that information was communicated and feedback gathered.

    In 1989 I was an entry level software engineer at a 40 person company. I used to eat lunch once a week with the president. He wasn’t grooming me, although he did teach me a lot, we had lunch together because we were the only people at the company who liked this one restaurant. His role and responsibilities were those of the president and mine those of an engineer. It takes all of those skills to make small companies succeed and we have to be able to use them as a team to get the greatest value from them. (I would also like to add that he used to also change the light bulbs and empty the garbage cans. Egoless leadership and a great role model.)

    If you and the team keep an open dialogue about what roles each of you is interested in playing then moving to the defined roles will be organic. You also have to be realistic about where the company, product, and personal really are in terms of the corporate objectives. If you can manage that then you can put off worrying about how to transition to defined roles, because it will just happen. I can’t recommend “Confronting Reality: Doing What Matters to Get Things Right” by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, enough because unless you really know where you stand you’re not in control of your business.

    3. Or do we even need to worry about this at all? Most of my peers think we're successful because of our lack of any management knowledge whatsoever.

    Short answer: Yes
    Long answer:

    If you don’t worry about the future of your company then it won’t have a future. At some point you’ll need to add the management layer. Only you’ll know when. But you don’t have to think of this management person in “an us against them” way or that the management person gets to make all the decisions. It’s just a role. Each person in a startup is important. Especially the founders, who are the company’s drivers and biggest fans.

    So in conclusion,

    1. Know where your company is and know where you want it to go.
    2. Be honest about everything.
    3. Talk and listen to each other.
    4. Ask yourself, “Is there a compelling business reason for doing this?”

    If you can do those things then the rest will be obvious, although not necessarily easier.

    Keith also has a really good point about having one person who can make quick decisions.

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    Software: CSS and HTML Table creator

    I found this web page that let’s you click buttons to define your table and it automatically builds the code for the CSS and shows you how to call it in the HTML. Saved me some time. HTML and CSS Table Border Style Wizard

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    The Devil is in the Details

    I applied to Haas Business School a few months ago. I’ve been thinking that it’s time to get a Masters and I wanted to focus on business. I’ve read so many business books and I’ve worked so hard to learn how to start and run a company that I thought it was time to get that official piece of paper that validates my experience. Today I took two waiver exams: statistics and college math. And I find myself very disappointed in Haas.

    Haas is supposed to be one of the top business schools in the country which suggests to me that they would practice good business techniques in attracting students/customers. I try very hard when putting together ANY material for customers/prospects to make sure that it is always as professional and “perfect” as I can make it. That means that I triple-check everything I write and if I’m worried about how it will be received, I ask someone to review it. My impression of Haas got a bit of a blow today when the first sentence of the first question left out a ‘that’. I didn’t think too much of it but I did file it away. It was later in the exam, after I saw one problem that looked like the test creators had used the wrong equation, when I started getting worried, and then a little later two answers had obvious typos:

    c) 0.6.37
    d) o.643

    Notice the extra period in c and the little ‘o’ in d? Not that big a deal I know, but this is Haas. Later in the exam was a section about stocks and returns, but in the answer sections to the associated questions the e) answer referenced mid-term exams and finals. What the hell?

    I’m pretty sure I failed the stat exam and, for me anyway, it wasn’t the typos, bad sentences, and general unproofed test that did it. I didn’t study probability enough and I hadn’t even looked at hypothetical formulas.

    I spent the time between tests walking around Haas and thinking about what I just saw. Really, what kind of impression am I supposed to take away from a test that Haas didn’t bother to proof? Right now I have zero confidence that Haas even knows what the correct answers are. But more importantly I’m worried that if I am accepted will Haas be a good investment? The Evening & Weekend MBA program will cost me $80,000, time away from my kids, and stress. On the plus side I’ll have increased my business network, padded out my knowledgebase, and I’ll have my MBA.

    Is the stats exam a reflection of the quality of a Haas MBA or is it an isolated incident? Someone certainly dropped the ball. I’ve had some offers from Haas grads to talk about their experiences there. I’m going to be taking them up on it. And I’ll be sending an email to the woman who interviewed me. I suspect that everyone will tell me what a great experience it was and how they learned so much.

    I may not get accepted and all my worrying about this will be for nothing. But if I am accepted I need to know that it will all be worth it.


    Digipede and Sun Grid

    An article just went up on CRN by Mario Morejon called "Review: Gridlock Alert for Sun Grid?" in which Mr. Morejon finds the Digipede Network easier to use than Sun Grid.

    Mr. Morejon's findings validate our programming model. The Digipede Framework SDK supports .NET 1.1/2.0 and COM, which means that you, the developer can add the power of grid computing right into your applications using the model and language you are already comfortable with. You don't have to figure out a new way of doing things; you just have to learn a new API.

    One other advantage is that the code you are distributing on the Digipede Network is packaged up as an object. Create a class object, set it up, and send it out. The object is returned to the main application and provides an easy and safe mechanism for returning results. If you read the recent article "The Race Is On to Debug Dual-Core Deadlocks" (registration required) you would know that the new dual-core machines are revealing a number of applications with multi-threading problems.

    Developing multi-threaded applications is a challenge mostly in that it requires every developer on the project to have a complete and clear picture of the threaded code and that code’s dependencies. While I was the lead on the Agent Server project at OnDisplay I had to help other engineers understand multi-threaded issues. It was a lot tougher than I would have thought and with some of the folks they never did get it. I think mainly the problem is that few engineers really understand what is going on when their application is running. They don’t really understand thread switching, priority, memory, stack, registers, etc...and as a result they don’t really know how to look at the problem.

    Because the Digipede Network is delivering objects around the network for computation, the developer is unable to access any memory in the main application. The executing code is encapsulated and all the dependencies must be sent along with it. When the results are returned to the main application they don’t come in all at once but serially via messages. Thereby, serializing parallelized computations. This provides the power of threading with significantly reduced risk. I'm not suggesting that grid objects replace threads, but I am suggesting that they provide a safe alternative.

    One other benefit from the developer's perspective is the idea the Sun has been promoting and that is the ability to easily scale your applications to thousands of machines. If you build grid computing into your applications all you have to do to improve scalability is add more machines to the grid infrastructure. You don't need to change the code. Yep, I really said, "You don't need to change the code."

    IT Manager
    In the article Mr. Morejon mentions a script and a Digipede job wizard. What he's talking about is distributing existing executables on the grid. Early on Digipede identified that one problem with many grid computing solutions was that they required a lot of script writing, command-line interfaces, and batch processes. (The user basically has to know how to write programs.) Digipede does provide a command-line application that can distribute your executables and scripts but we also built the Digipede Workbench. The Digipede Workbench (the job wizard) is an easy to use Windows application that let’s a non-engineering person easily define and create a job, which can then be started from the Digipede Workbench or saved and started externally using the command-line application.

    If you read much on grid computing you’ll read time and time again that grid computing is hard. Grid computing has been hard because most of the people and companies building the grid infrastructures are trying to be everything to everyone. The Digipede Network is built on .NET, designed specifically for the Window platforms, and targeted as an enterprise solution. We have simplified the problem space. In addition, we are an experienced Windows product development team so we built the product we wanted to use, with all the necessary bells and whistles. We also don't believe that using a product should require a team of consultants. We can provide consulting services, but one of our core beliefs is that companies should focus on their core business - not on their grid infrastructure and tools.


    Software: Big Business and Open Source

    I’ve been trying very hard to understand the value of open source. It seems to me that most open source projects are duds. They fail to generate interest and fade away. But some of them succeed beyond imagination and become the de facto industry standard. Others succeed so stupendously that service companies base their entire business model on them. For programmers who dedicate their time to open source projects, I see open source as a great way to learn, share, and establish a reputation. And for those who get paid to work on open source, it seems like a great way to make a living.

    But how can big business benefit from open source? We see big business trying to get into the game. With IBM buying Apache and Oracle trying to buy MySQL. We see Sun releasing Solaris as open source and Microsoft creating an open source group. To many programmers open source is cool and they believe - the way software should be written. There are many bloggers saying open source is the future. I think that open source has its place but that both types of software – closed and open – are needed.

    My concern about big businesses buying open source projects is two-fold. First, I'm concerned that sucking open source projects into a large company has the potential to destroy the community and slow down innovation. Like any merger the process needs to be handled very carefully and quite frankly most mergers fail. It seems IBM has done a great job with Apache, but who can say that other mergers will be so successful? My second concern is that people are building stuff for free and then when the project gets sold they get little or no compensation. How long can that model survive? Personally, I would resent putting a lot of time into a project and getting nothing back.

    Rather than buy open source projects I would rather see big business donate money to those projects that either directly or indirectly help their business. And then create open source hybrid projects in areas that the big business thinks complement and enhance their product lines. The big companies need to contribute any pieces the open source community can't (i.e. equipment or software) and provide paid personal to fill in the teams. This can create a win-win for everyone.

    What this does for big business:

    - Cost effectively creates value-add products and services around core product lines.
    - Great way to identify potential hires. The companies learn what the programmer's coding style is, how they work on a distributed team, what their work ethics is, communication skills, technical skills, etc... Just great visibility into potential hires.
    - Great place for employees to work on stuff that really interests them.
    - Cheaply test features and enhancements – if few people want to work on something then it's probably not worth the time.

    What programmers get:
    - Access to bleeding edge technologies.
    - Opportunity to contribute to the future direction of much used products.
    - Opportunity to make a name, show-off, and be seen. If this is done right the programmer will be able to name her price and position when looking for work.
    - Maybe a little cut???

    Microsoft will soon be releasing the source code for Power Toys for Visual Studio and I find myself looking forward to playing with the code. Much of my career has been spent working on development tools and the idea of expanding on an existing product line intrigues me.

    Is there a common ground between big business and open source? Any other pros or cons? I'm interested in your thoughts on this.

    Software: Dependable Software Development Schedules

    In April I responded to a post on Nima Dilmaghani’s blog entitled "Dependable Software Development Schedules", it was a pretty long response and since I rarely have luck with trackback I’ve included the link and my response here.

    Excerpt from Nima’s post:
    He talked about the inherent unpredictability of software projects and how the nature of them being creative works makes them unpredictable. He said... < link >

    My response:

    I disagree with this idea. Software projects can be predicted and there are defined methodologies that can help engineering teams establish real target dates.

    When developers miss their dates one of the biggest reasons is because they were not allowed to set the date they wanted. The teams around engineering need to be aware that the developers have a better idea of what they can do and in what time frame, than people who have never written a product. Another big reason for missed dates is feature creep. Experienced engineers will counter a new feature request with, "Well, if we add that then we’ll need to adjust the date x days or drop something. What do you want to do?" Inexperienced engineers will try to fit everything in and consequently miss the target date.

    I also think that the newer and less well documented a technology is, the harder it is for engineers to provide a good estimate for the delivery date. For example, if the developer is writing in a new language or with a new SDK, then estimated dates need to be pushed out to accommodate the learning curve and potential product design changes related to those new technologies.

    It takes strong engineering leadership to push back on the marketing, product management, and executive teams and say, "No, we can’t meet those dates with those features."

    In addition, annual release dates may not be a good decision from a business perspective. Each software vendor must understand their market space because if competitors are moving then so must you. Or if there is a significant market event that requires an update…hitting that could make or break a business. Developers in small software companies have to be responsive to the market because if they aren’t the business will fail and they will soon be looking for work.

    And yes I am a developer.


    Anyone have anything to add?


    Adoption: Letting go of the foster children

    I’ve been a foster parent for a few years now. We basically provide care through a private adoption agency so we always get newborns. Most people who I tell about this ask if it’s hard to let the babies go. So far I only had trouble once and that was when we were waiting to find out about our second son. I was in an emotionally vulnerable place and my mind knew that the infant would go to his forever family and I would continue to wait for my son, but my heart took over and I fell in love with him. I cried a lot when he left and thinking about him now chokes me up.

    Most of the time it’s just great to have the opportunity to throw a lot of love at a baby. Babies have that unique baby smell and their hair and skin is so soft. Babies as young as we get really don’t do much more than eat, sleep, and poop. But knowing how important it is for them to be touched and to feel another’s heartbeat is a great excuse to get some cuddling in. Especially now that my boys are getting so independent!

    This morning I was feeding JJ (our latest visitor) and it was so comforting and relaxing to me. I keep myself pretty busy and to have to slow down and look at a new life is really amazing. Who will he be? What will he do? Will he be happy with the new life his birth mom has chosen for him? I don’t know. But I thought about those things as I held him, talked to him, and watched him eat.

    The other reason why letting the babies go isn’t hard for me is that I often get to meet the new parents. As I’ve posted before their joy is breathtaking. We also stay in touch with some of the families. We become a part of the child’s adoption story and we always try to fill their beginnings with all the things we wanted for our children. Because both of my kids spent time in foster care I try to love the babies as I hope my children were loved. Maybe it’s a way for me to capture the time I missed with my kids. But I also think that of it as a gift to the new family.

    So, on the whole it’s not hard to love the children and then let them move on. I’m just grateful that I have the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life, even if it is for such a short amount of time.

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    Cool Yahoo Group Functionality

    I belong to the OnDisplay Yahoo group and I just made a very cool discovery. When I go to the group page I see on the left-hand menu a Members link. If I select Members I get the list of everyone in the group. This was cool all by itself but the member table also gives me people’s email address and let’s me know if their IM is active and let’s me directly start a session. Pretty cool.

    I have no idea if Google has anything similar. Anyone?

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