June 29, 2006
I'm proud to announce that we released the beta 3 release of IE7. We fixed a ton of bugs, incorporated changes based on beta feedback, and continued to improve our security. You can read more about the release on the IE blog and get the new version here.
There's a bunch of news coming out about it already. I did an interview with CNET yesterday that was posted today as well. They didn't quote me out of context too much... :)
This week we had our traditional bbq at Bill Gates' home for our interns. As the company has grown, this event has become more exclusive. It used to be that all of the interns and mentors went plus senior managers, etc. Now, it's a subset of the interns (not exactly sure of which subset) plus VPs & general managers (not sure how I got invited; I think it's because our awesome recruiters like me...) Anyway, it's probably been 6-7 years since I"ve been to Bill's house for this event.
Boy, the interns look young. I'm almost twice their age, but they're still as smart as ever. If we get these guys to come full time, we'll be in good shape for the future. I really enjoyed talking to them, especially, the young woman who thought I was an intern too...
We didn't really spend time in the house. You come in and go down this long staircase to get from the entrance to the backyard where the event was. As everyone walked down the stairs, you could see them peeking into the rooms, theater, etc. to check out this famous home; it really is lovely. I understand this was the public side of the house, and that there is a more private area as well (which I haven't seen of course).
Bill came out and was chatting with the interns. As usual the "donut" formed around Bill with interns listening, some trying to sound smart, others just taking it all in. Smaller donuts formed around some of the better known execs as well, while other execs milled around talking to each other.
Anyway, it was a beautiful night on the lawn on the shores of Lake Washington.
June 25, 2006
As part of my panic preparation for the Seattle-to-Portland (STP) ride in a few weeks, I did a 70 mile ride today with Bruce, Todd, Clint, and Whitney. We followed the Flying Wheels 70 mile route (the longer version of the ride Bruce and I did last week.)
This was easily the hardest ride I've ever done for several reasons. First, it's the longest (albeit by about five miles) and was very hilly. Bruce sold me a bill of goods; the extra twenty miles were supposed to be a flat loop around a valley. Instead, big hills (I swear I'll kill the next person who says, "this is the last hill!"). Second, we were hauling ass. All of my colleagues are in far better shape than I am, so our average speed was even faster than last week's fast ride. What's more, when I dropped out of the line, I had to work 30% harder to keep up since drafting is such a big help. Finally, it was really warm today (high 80's), easily the warmest weather I've ridden in.
The result was major cramping at a few points (including one very exciting locked up leg) and a sore everything. I feel good for having finished though and just hope I can walk tommorow (I feel OK right now.) I clearly need to drink more fluid; I thought I was drinking enough, but I didn't need to pee the whole five hours, so I understand that means I need to drink more. I also learned that I can't start at a sprint. As soon as we started, we hammered at 22-23 mph and then hit a huge hill. I was dizzy by the top and really considered quitting there, less than ten miles into the ride. Fortunately, once I hit my stride it got better. Finally, I learned that I hate really sweet stuff when I'm hot and thirsty. I had energy drink in my bottles; they were almost unbearable until I cut them with water I bought along the way. I also hated the Hooah! energy bar I ate along the way. I'm sure it was quite tasty, but it seemed cloying during the ride. Everyone else said it was a hard ride too (harder than the first day of STP and about the same as the second said Todd), so I didn't feel quite as stupid. Some of the others cramped too (including Clint, who I heard screaming behind me as he jumped off his bike with locked legs.) Misery loves company, as he pointed out later.
There were a few highlights of course. Much of the ride through the Sammamish River Valley was lovely, and it was nice to enjoy it with my friends. I also love the new gloves and shorts I picked up this week. My hands and butt felt much better than last week, despite the longer distance. I also was amused by the turnout of stupid drivers who feel the need to yell obscenities and insults at cyclists as they drive by. Interestingly, they seemed to be centered in a five mile radius around Duvall, a rural town near Seattle. I've never had a problem with drivers before, but today at least four or five people decided it was important to share their views with us. I guess they're mad because their jetskis and dirt bikes were broken or something.
I also discovered how cool it is to break the speed limit on a bike. I hit 42 mph in a 35 zone going down a big hill. There was something a bit heady about the whole thing; of course, I was terrified I'd be road pizza if I hit even a pebble, but it was super fun.
Anyway, I haven't decided if today's ride gives me more or less confidence for STP. Glad to know it was as hard as it gets for STP, but I'm not really excited to repeat the experience soon. Guess I'll have to keep working out so STP is easiier.
Thi s weekend we had the kind of glorious weather that makes Seattle heavan in the summer (and the memory of which keeps us going through the dark and rainy winter months.) Summer also means two things to me: our the Farm and pastis.
We picked up our first bag from the Root Connection, the coop farm we belong to and that I've mentioned several times before. (Actually, they started two weeks ago, but we missed the pickups for reasons lost to time. Sweet and tender carrots, lettuce that tastes like more than water, and other real veggies. Delish.
Now, it's Sunday evening and still pretty warm in the house -- really too warm for whisky unless I ice it down. I'm not really morally opposed to that, but it's unnecessary since I can enjoy my pastis again. Pastis is an anise flavored liqueur popular in the south of France that I developed a taste for two years ago. I love how it magically turns from clear to cloudy with the addition of water and the cold, refreshing taste. If only the air smelled like the ocean and lavender, I'd be back in France.
Life is good.
As usual, the boys had their baths tonight -- first Michael (5) and then Andrew (8). After Andrew got out of the tub, Michael walked up to him non-chalantly, looked him in the eye, and said, "I peed in the tub" and walked away.
Michelle and I couldn't stop laughing long enough to reprimand him.
June 24, 2006
I know everyone has already linked to this, but it's so cool I wanted to make sure everyone saw it. Some guys at the University of Toronto have built a cool desktop UI prototype based on more physical, real-world interaction.
I have lots of reservations about how useful it would be as is. There are a lot of risks and pitfalls building user interfaces that too literally mimic real world metaphors. The limitations of the computer interaction model prevent the metaphors from really feeling the way users might expect; it's also silly to not take advantage of the properties of the computer to advantage the user and reduce some of the problems in the real world (note, the BumpTop stuff does actually do a reasonable job of this.)
Still, there are lots of neat ideas here, and I can't deny the beauty and fun factor this prototype demonstrate (very important too). Judge for yourself. (BTW, it's cool to see TabletPCs getting used this way.)
June 21, 2006
Michelle sent me this fun Flash animation. Check it out! (Looks like there's a bunch of other stuff worth checking out there too.)
June 20, 2006
The last few weeks have been bad for my exercise routine between my trip to New Zealand, family travel, Strategy Conference, and the Business Problems class. I did a few runs in there, but largely, I fell off the exercise wagon. With only four weeks or so until my crazy 200+ mile Seattle-to-Portland (STP) bike ride, I started to freak out a bit.
This weekend I decided it was time to get serious and get back on the bike. So, I went on a fifty mile ride Saturday with Bruce. Now, fifty miles is a good long ride for me, but this ride was especially tough. First, it's been four+ weeks since I've been on a bike. Second, the ride we took from Marymoor Park in Redmond to Carnation and back was pretty hilly (we did the Flying Wheels fifty mile loop). But most of all, I let my Ironman-finishing, somewhat sadistic friend Bruce dictate the pace of the ride. Instead of my typical 15-17 mph in the flats, we were doing 19-21. Even drafting behind Bruce, I was working hard. The hills were especially brutal, sapping my remaining energy. My back and neck were super sore and tired by the end of the ride, and my rear end wasn't super happy about sitting on a post for four hours.
Still, it was a fun ride. I'm happy that I felt pretty good the next day (and could walk). My gear feels pretty good now (although gloves with more pad would be welcome). I just need to put in a bunch more miles in the next few weeks.
This morning the kids were both still sleeping, so I decided to play some music to get them up. I started up the very cool Windows Media Player 11 beta, launched Urge (an online service partnership between Microsoft and MTV), and clicked the first album link I saw -- American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson.
As Since You've Been Gone started blaring out of my speakers, I hear Michael (5) start screaming from his bedroom, "I hate this music!!!!" His screaming becomes more hysterical until he's sobbing and bursting out in tears. I killed the music immediately and had to go console him. It took him a few minutes to pull himself back together.
Making children cry is not a recipe for success or creating passionate users. Kelly, you're a big meanie.
June 16, 2006
One of my group mates had to leave early from the business problems class I attended this week. He mentioned there was a big company announcement at 1:30pm that day he had to help set up (he is the head of our corporate events team), but he wouldn't tell us any details when asked. So, of course, two of us started IMing around to our contacts who might know something about it (Bill's speech writer, PR guys, etc.) but everyone was uncharacteristically tight-lipped. (We're not consistently good about keeping secrets, especially a few hours before an announcement.) So, we had a good time trying to guess what the deal was. We all took a break from the class to watch the webcast.
I can't say I'm surprised that Bill is leaving. We've known this day would come for a long time. I agree with Bill's statement that we're better positioned than ever for this from a leadership perspective. In particular Ray Ozzie has been a great addition to the company; I really like his insight and style so far. (Although I wish he kept his blog up to date...)
Honestly, despite all the amazing things I think Bill accomplished in technology, I suspect history will remember him for the work the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will do. He and Melinda have an unprecendented opportunity to really make a huge difference. I can't wait to see what they do. I'm glad Bill will be focusing his energy on the Foundation's great work.
Still, I found myself getting a bit emotional during the press conference. Microsoft really is Bill's company. I'm proud of what we've accomplished under him and am sad to see him go. Personally, obviously Microsoft has been one of the major influences on my life, forming the framework of my last sixteen years and shaping who I am. It's natural, I think for me to associate a lot of the goodness in my life with Bill and the work he's done. Steve Ballmer is great too, but I didn't really meet him until last week at Strategy Conference. I have "Bill stories" going back throughout my career. This change is even more poignant since I just saw Bill last week, so his presence is fairly immediate for me.
I'm glad that the transition will be an orderly, thoughtful exit. We'll be fine without Bill, but we won't be the same. Should be interesting to see...
The class I took this week was a residential class where we stayed at a hotel for the three days. This week we were at the Willows Lodge in Woodinville, Washington (about 15-20 minutes north of Microsoft campus). I've been to the restaurants at Willows Lodge before (the excellent Barking Frog and the legendary Herb Farm), but I've never stayed at the hotel before.
It was great.
The rooms are swish and lovely; each has a fireplace, huge tub, high thread count sheets, a computer w/ flat panel, and super nice decor. It's like the Salish Lodge (where we held Strategy Conference) but more modern and hip -- a luxury NW resort.
I did, however, find some minor annoyances. While the lighting was very nice, there were switches all over the room and no master way to turn them off, so I had to run around the room turning off a dozen lights before I could leave. (I love the stick-the-card-in-the-switch thing that many hotels in other countries use to toggle room power). Also, the shower had a pretty cool faucet where you set the desired temperature using up and down buttons, watching the LCD display and then hit the on/off switch. While this satisfied my inner geek, it was just inconvenient. I don't need to know this level of precision (102 or 103 degrees?) nor do I want to press and hold anything. (There's probably a long blog post coming about the usability of water faucets.)
Still, these things were trivial and didn't diminish the experience much. If you're visiting the Seattle area and need to be near Microsoft or want to be in our local wine country (Woodinville has a bunch of good wineries), I highly recommend Willows Lodge.
I just finished another good three day class at work. This class was the final class in a set of three and was meant to be the application of the first two. My fellow students were other mid level managers who were identified by their management as having some potential for more development.
Like virtually every such gathering, we started with a "get to know each other" exercise, but this one was actually useful. We sat in a circle. The first person had to pick an adjective that sort of described them and started with the first letter of their first name, saying both together (i.e. 'Tea-drinking Tom" was the first person). The next person said "Tea-drinking Tom" and then said their own adjective and name, "Snow-shoeing Scott" and so on. (I was "Talisker Tony".) Unlike other intro drills, everyone paid rapt attention so they didn't screw up in front of the others (we're a little competitive too which helped.) As it turns out, it's very important to see the person's face when you hear the name (not sure why). Invariably, people ran into trouble remembering the names of the people near them, especially the one immediately before. Still, it was a great exercise and one that helped keep the names in our brains.
The class itself was a lot like the Strategy Conference I attended last week; we broke out into groups and discussed a business problem (what rules/guidance/limits should Microsoft place on Microsoft employees blogging, if any) and then presented it at the end. The topic was controversial and difficult because it's easy for a blogger to create a PR controversy or leak sensitive information, but they generate a lot of value for our customers and the company by their very free nature. I think we had a reasonable compromise solution and will try to get it implemented (I can't disclose the plan just yet.)
Anyway, like Strat Conference, it was good to work with other senior leaders from around the company. I liked my group and hope to stay in touch. It was a bit unusual to do two of these back-to-back though. I think I would have gotten more out of it if I had more time between them. It was just a fluke that this happened. Oh well.
June 12, 2006
Kathy Sierra, author of the fantastic "Creating Passionate Users" blog just wrote a post about how out-of-context surprises like the bud vase in the new VW Beetle can delight users. She listed a bunch of neat examples of this, so imagine my surprise when my talk at Webstock was one of the examples! Now, it's too bad that a nice Microsoft guy at a web conference is a surprise, but I appreciate the recognition.
Context: A Microsoft guy giving a conference presentation
Delightful Out-of-Context Surprise: He's a Really Nice Guy! With kids even!
Tony Chor was a highlight for many of us at Webstock, myself included, who weren't expecting someone quite so fun, down-to-earth, approachable, and, well, cute. Then again every employee of Microsoft I've actually talked to seems to be a Really Nice Person.
(For the record, Kathy was great in her talk. She was intelligent, witty, and charming, keeping the audience rapt even though she was the last speaker of the conference.)
I went with my friends Malcolm and Reed to Scotch and Cigar Night at the Seattle Yacht Club last Saturday. It was a beautiful evening for the event; we enjoyed four different whiskies (Macallan 18, Lagavulin 16, Talisker 10, and Cragganmore 12 year) and a nice selection of cigars (the details of which were lost in the smoke and the haze). The company was good, the steak dinner was delightful, and the wines were nice. A fine evening indeed.
There was just too much of it. Turns out that drinking too much scotch and smoking too many cigars makes for a rough Sunday morning. While I certainly enjoyed the whisky, I think the cigars put me over into the bad zone. They always seem to multiply the effect of whatever I've been drinking. One cigar is normally my limit, so of course, I had two. As usual, I felt like an ashtray in the morning. Too bad. I really do like cigars, but the effects are so horrendous that I only have a few a year.
As far as tasting notes go, I loved all four whiskies. I've already blogged about my new found love for Lagavulin as well as my long standing affection for Macallan. (The Macallan 18 is a real winner -- rich, sherried, and delicious.) I've had the Talisker a few times recently and really like the peaty, salty island flavor; it's not as pronounced as Lagavulin (and certainly not as much as Laphroiag) but it's definitely beefier than Macallan. The Cragganmore was relatively new to me. It was lovely also -- malty, clean, and medium bodied. It wasn't a great whisky with the cigars (it got outmuscled), but I think it would be lovely on it's own.
So, as with all things, cigars and scotch are to be enjoyed in moderation.
Last week I had the privilege of attending one of the regular Microsoft Strategy Conferences. This three day classes/working session is meant for senior functional leaders/directors from across the company to get together, learn more about how to form strategy, discuss some of the big challenges facing Microsoft, and make contacts outside of their normal group.
The thing that makes Strategy Conference unique compared to other MS classes is the access to execs. We had half a dozen or so vice-presidents there, some who I interact with regularly like Christopher Payne (Windows Live Search) and others who I'd never met like Jane Boulware (Central Marketing Group). What's more, we got serious quality time with Steve Balmer and Bill Gates - rare for even our execs. It was great to have unstructured, very open conversations with Bill, Steve, and other execs and gave me new insights to the things that are on their minds (and things that they are less concerned about.)
I feel especially fortunate because my breakout group was super. We had attorneys, researcher from Microsoft Research, marketers, business managers, and other product people working well together and having fun. Blair Westlake was the VP assigned to our group; I'd never met him before. It was fascinating to learn about the economics of the TV industry (Blair runs our media partnership efforts and was the Chairman of Universal's TV and Networks group).
Although there were one or two people I met who make me wonder "Really? You're the best your team has to offer?" I was once again impressed with the talent and passion of my peers and leaders. I learned a ton about what's going on in the company, got new perspectives on problems I've been thinking about, and had a lot of fun.
While the three days were pretty packed, I really enjoyed it. I appreciate the fact the company really invests in our employees through training and access. The conference recharged my faith and commitment to Microsoft and gives me more optimism than ever that we have great people leading the company forward.
June 5, 2006
After having spent time in New Zealand and Disneyland in the last ten days, I am once again reminded that Americans are fat. Not just a little pudgy. Fat. Fat. Fat.
Every population has a distribution, but my God, there are a lot of incredibly huge Americans; what's more criminal is that there are literally tons of fat American kids. To heck with bird flu, AIDS, and lung cancer. Obesity is an American problem of seemingly epidemic proportions, one which we'll all wind up paying for through higher insurance rates and taxes (and airline fuel bills, etc.).
I have some theories about how this is all the government's fault, with all of the subsidies on corn and other agricultural commodities driving the price of calories to nothing, but at the end of the day, people control what they put their pie holes and how much they exercise.
I just got back from a quick weekend trip with the boys to Disneyland. A bunch of my fraternity brothers (I am a Kappa Alpha) and I got together with our families to play at Disneyland and California Adventure. We also met more So Cal brothers at a bbq hosted by one of the families. It was great to see these guys; they are truly special to me. It's amazing to see all the kids too; I think we had something like eighteen kids ranging from six months to fourteen years old. They all got along and played like they'd known each for years, even though we came from California, Texas, Oregon, and Washington for the event. I hope we all get together again soon.
As Michael (5) said, "Disneyland sucks. I like Disneyworld better." It's true. Disneyland was fun for a weekend, but it really doesn't compare to Disneyworld with the huge array of choices it offers. The guys did enjoy the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and some of the other stuff, but they're not really into thrill rides, so that limited our choices a bunch. Games, climbing stuff, and geeky hands-on stuff like Innoventions seem more their speed, although Andrew (8) did succomb to the desire to look cool in front of Derek, a new 10-11 year old friend, and rode the swinging/sliding gondolas on the Sun Wheel (a huge ferris wheel). These cars swing so much that the thrill riding parents didn't go on, and even I'll-ride-anything Derek said he didn't want to go on it again. Andrew toughed it out, although he looked a bit queasy when he got off.
I did notice that we got scolded a lot more at the park ("we ask the kids wear a shirt", "please don't let your children sit on the railing", etc.) In the zillion times I've been to Disney parks, I've never had so many "cast members" wag a finger at us. It was kind of a downer really.
To make the trip even more exciting, I was solo parenting. With my recent and upcoming travels and classes taking me out of the house a bunch, Michelle deserved a weekend sans kids and me plus this was mostly about my college buddies, so I offered to take the kids alone. By and large this was OK, especially since we almost always had other parents with us to help. The guys were pretty well behaved, so it turned out to be OK.
Finally, we stayed at the Anabella Hotel; I had planned to stay a the Grand Californian Hotel, a Disney hotel in the park that we've stayed at before, but I messed up and couldn't get reservations. The Anabella was located conveniently, about a half-mile walk to Downtown Disney. However, this "hotel" isn't exactly the Four Seasons. It's really a nice-ish motel, not the "luxury hotel" with "elegantly designed Anaheim deluxe accomodations" and "lavish features". I can't remember the last time I've stayed in a hotel anywhere in the world that didn't have broadband (I admit, I don't have a very representative sampling of hotels...); horrors -- I had to use dial-up to check in on some stupid issue at work. Anyway, the hotel got the job done, but I'm confident the Anabella won't make my short list of must-stay hotels.
Anyway, it was a nice boys weekend away. It was super great to see my old friends and their families. Back to the salt mines tomorrow...