January 31, 2007
I realize some might be surprised that a Microsoft guy likes Google stuff (or would say it publicly anyway), but I love Google Mobile. You can use SMS to get info like phone numbers, stock prices, or currency rates. Totally sweet and very quick.
January 30, 2007
Hurray! Windows Vista (and Office 2007) are finally available to real people (not that business people aren't real too...) Most people will get Vista with a new PC, but if you're dying to get it now, you can buy and download a copy from Windows Marketplace. This is the first time we've sold Windows or Office online via download. Pretty cool. Check it out!
The Stanford's men's basketball cracked the Top 25 coming in at #23 after this week's amazing upset of (formerly) #3 UCLA and (formerly) #25 USC. The team was expected to have a mediocre season this year, so their relative success has been a pleasant surprise.
Of course, making this even more sweet for me is how the UW Huskies are tanking this year. Not that I need to gloat at work, but it shuts up a lot of Dawgs at the office...
I just finished reading The Change Function: Why Some Technologies Take Off and Others Crash and Burn. The author, Pip Coburn, used to run the technology group of UBS Investment Research.
Drawing from his experience, Coburn makes a pretty simple premise. The likelihood of success for a given technology is a function of the user crisis vs. the total perceived pain of adoption. Stated another way, for a technology (or any product or service really) to succeed, it must address some problem or crisis the customer knows they have and the customer must think the pain of the solution is less than the pain of the problem. Coburn asserts this is a user-centric way of viewing problems, and that this user-centric is the only way to succeed because the user/customer is ultimately in charge of his/her behavior and purchases.
This idea seems obvious when stated so clearly, yet it's not difficult to think of examples of failures in this way, even in the products I've developed. Coburn cites many examples of the supplier-centric view where some technologist has a cool idea that they think users will latch onto once the price is right or once the users "get it".
For instance, he points to the entertainment PC, like Microsoft's Media Center PC, as a supplier-centric invention that does not address a user crisis (e.g. "I need to have an all-in-one entertainment center on my TV") and fails to address the perceived pain of adoption ("You want me to put an expensive PC in my living room?! One more complicated thing to manage?!") Fortunately (for Microsoft), Coburn agrees that sometimes you need to (or can) create a user crisis or appeal to some deeper crisis (e.g. iPod appealing to the user desire to fit in and be cool vs. the need to carry an MP3 player), so maybe there's hope yet.
By way of counter example, he points to Netflix as a venture that found a good user crisis (hatred of late fees, limited in-store video selection, pain of returning videos) and a low perceived pain of adoption (log on, order, get stuff in the mail, drop it back in the mail.) As a long-time Netflix user, I'd have to agree.
I've found myself applying this pattern to our planning for future versions of IE. I've been asking everyone involved about what real crisis each feature is meant to address and how users will perceive the pain of adoption. While we've always tried to apply these ideas implicitly, it's already been helpful to apply them explicitly.
The book is an easy read with only a few key points and lots of good examples. I highly recommend it.
January 23, 2007
What did I do? With two months before the Mercer Island Half-Marathon, I'm starting to freak a bit and am worrying about the upcoming race.
The lousy weather we've had lately has made it difficult to get a lot of running in (it was even hard to walk), and work/kids have made it hard to get to the gym. I've been riding my bike indoors on a trainer a bunch, which should help my cardio (and which let me finish watching the The West Wing Season 7 - I'm sad that's the last set). However, I really need to get some run time in.
I did manage to get out for a six mile run this weekend (tying my longest run to date); I ran some hill sprints at the end for a little strength workout too. I felt pretty good through the run, although my legs are definitely sore today. My pulse is still way too high though.
I kind of wish I'd picked the 8K run instead, but since I've committed to the half-marathon, I'll keep aiming for it, but I'm spooked. I'm definitely going to need to turn it up if I'm going to finish this thing.
January 18, 2007
Our raccoon came back this evening, knocking at our sliding door. We haven't seen him for a long while (maybe years), but he's been knocking on the doors a bunch recently.
Andrew (9): "Why does the raccoon knock?"
Michael (6): "Because he's knock-turnal." [Big grin, waiting for a laugh.]
A funny, scientifically correct pun. Scary.
Andrew (9): "Could I have an iPod? Maybe an iPod Nano?"
Us (two Microsoft employees): "Well, maybe for your birthday we can get you a Zune."
Andrew [confused]: "An iPod Zune?"
Um, I think we still have a long way to go on Zune awareness...
January 13, 2007
Michael (6) just said, "Daddy, you're my hero." Sure, it was just because I picked him up and helped him get another jar of his favorite jam out of the pantry, but it made my day. It's good to be a dad. (Of course I have no illusions about my place in the world.)
January 11, 2007
Yesterday I got mail from one of the zillion or so vice-presidents at Microsoft with Yet-Another-Idea-for-IE. He had a pretty complex idea to make it possible to use the keyboard to initiate a search and return the results in a new tab.
I replied with the keyboard shortcuts already in IE7 that do this (proving that not even Microsoft VPs - or especially VPs - don't read our docs. This also illustrates why we don't normally let VPs design stuff.). Anyway, here are the shortcuts:
I use this all the time.
While I'm at it, here are a few other favorites
This isn't rocket science, but it makes my daily browsing a lot more efficient. There are lots more here in the "IE7 Quick Reference Sheet" that Seth McLaughlin, one of our star interns, put together last summer.
The Seattle area completely falls apart when the first snowflake hits the ground, as evidenced by yesterday's storm. Having grown up in Minnesota, land of 10,000 blizzards, I'm continually stunned by this.
In December 1990, a few months after I moved here, I had my first encounter with this. It started snowing in the morning, but we all stayed at work and didn't think anything of it. By 4:00pm, there was eight inches of snow on the ground and reports were coming in that people couldn't get out of Microsoft. Traffic around the area was at a standstill with people abandoning their cars on roads and bridges (sounds familiar). A bunch of my friends stayed the night at work. We walked down to the local Safeway and rented videos, which we watched in a big tele-conference room used for our collaboration with IBM on OS/2. About halfway through Caddyshack or whatever it was we were watching, we realized we were beaming the movie to IBM office in Boca Raton. Fortunately, it was probably 2:00am there... We walked down to the Fred Meyer (local chain store like Target), bought tire chains, and crawled home the next day.
Anyway, things haven't gotten better in the last sixteen years in this regard. I think the region has something like six plows with rubber-edged plow blades (so they don't knock the reflector turtle things off the road), and they don't use salt on the roads because of the cost and increased corrosion. On top of that, Seattle drivers lose their minds in the snow.
In Minnesota, an armada of plows with sharpened steel fangs and spewing great jets of metal-eating salt beats back the snow and ice relentlessly, rendering all but the worst blizzards a minor inconvenience. (On the other hand, virtually every car in Minnesota more than a few years old has rust holes on the bottom.) And, of course, Minnesotans are mentally prepared for snow and experienced since their first driver's ed class in handling snow (we used to do doughnuts with our cars in the snowy high school parking lot - fun stuff). The snow tires we all had didn't hurt either.
In the Seattle area's defense, however, I will say that there are a few important differences that makes snow in Seattle tougher. First, it's almost never very cold for long, so the snow thaws during the day and re-freezes at night. Bad. Second, I think the roads are more crowned than most, sloping off to handle the rain that we get. This makes it easy to slide off the road and hard for plows to really scrape the ground clean. Finally and perhaps most important, it's hilly here. Icy roads in flat Minnesota simply don't have the same impact as the hilly ice rinks we get here. It's amazing to watch a big four-wheel drive SUVs sliding backwards down hills.
Still, I think most the region's snow pain is avoidable. More plows, a little salt, and a few more IQ points among the drivers would go a long way.
Wow, what a winter it's been so far. Yesterday, we had another arctic blast come through Seattle, the second of the season on top of our big windstorm. Of course, this storm had the good manners to hit during the evening rush hour, snarling traffic for hours.
Michelle and I had the added concern of having to pick the kids up from school. Normally, this is not challenging since they both go to school reasonably close to work, but when it took Michelle twenty minutes just to get out of the garage of her building because traffic leaving Microsoft was so bad, I knew we were in for it.
I decided to head off on foot instead, leaving my car safely in the Microsoft garage. It was amazing to see the cars slipping and sliding. Even though there was only about two inches of snow, the temperature outside was just right to turn everything into ice on the roadway. Even on relatively shallow grades, two-wheel-drive cars were struggling.
I walked to Andrew's school and picked him up - on time I might add, although there were plenty of other kids who were still stuck there. He and I walked home together and had a nice chat. It was actually a pleasant evening for a walk, although I may have ruined my leather shoes. I walked about four miles total.
After 2.5 hours trying to get the few blocks to Michael's school, Michelle had to ditch her car at the bottom of a big hill that she couldn't get up and walked home the last half mile in her three inch heels. We all arrived home at exactly the same time coincidently. She wasn't very happy...
Once the three of us were home, I got into our 4WD truck and went back to get Michael. There were still about a dozen kids at school, even though it was an hour past the after-school care normally closed. I really appreciate the professionalism of the after-school care teachers in both schools. They were calm and matter-of-fact about the whole thing, ready to spend the night if needed.
However, I was disappointed that the cellphone network melted down. Everyone was stuck in their cars calling the network was simply overrun. It was almost impossible to get a call through; text messages seemed to fare a little better.
So, today, school was closed, and most of us at Microsoft worked from home. School is closed again tomorrow too. I can't remember a year when the kids had so many days off of school. I hope this winter isn't a sign of things to come. An inconvenient truth indeed.
January 1, 2007
Another year gone by. Amazing. 2006 was a pretty good year for me - STP, sailing in Desolation Sound, some nice trips (like Las Vegas for MIX06, New Zealand, Indonesia, Disneyland, and Whistler, of course, shipping IE7 and Windows Vista.
Still, I wasn't as diligent about working out after STP as I'd hoped, I didn't take nearly enough photos (the STOMP load-in time-lapse not withstanding), and I didn't feel like I was hitting on all cylinders at work as much as I'd like.
So, as always, I'm optimistic about making the new year even better. The half-marathon coming up should kick-start my work out efforts. I'm also doing my annual office cleaning right now (whether it needs it or not...) and paving my last XPSP2 laptop for Vista now, so I'll be ready to hit the ground running tomorrow.
Anyway, I hope you all have a great 2007!