My 2016 in Review

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Well, I sucked at writing blog posts in 2016. I'm actually cheating now and back-dating this post by a day so there's an entry in 2016. I did think about writing a lot of posts since it was an interesting year. Here's a quick recap, as much for my future reference as anything else.

We started powerboating in earnest this year. Michelle and I were sailors before we had kids, but last year we tried cruising powerboats and really enjoyed it. We chartered again in February and decided we could even enjoy winter cruising, so in June we bit the bullet and bought a 47 foot Selene trawler. After some refitting and renaming her Tonic (her former name was Eric K), we cruised her up into Canada as far as Princess Louisa Inlet (really stunning). We spent most weekends aboard through the summer and fall and look forward to more cruising. Since we're only a few years from being empty nesters, we're also using this boat to see if we could realistically downsize and live aboard. Stay tuned on that front.

Tonic in Princess Louisa Inlet
Tonic in Princess Louisa Inlet

Andrew (19) scouting ahead as we cruise in Canada.
Andrew (19) scouting ahead as we cruise in Canada.


I also continued to race sailboats with my buddies this year aboard the J-24 Rajun' Cajun. We moved from racing in the Lake Washington J-24 fleet to the much less competitive (and more fun) Duck Dodge races in Lake Union. We've been racing together for so many years that we've lost count, but this was the first year I drove the boat for a few races (since our skipper Rico was out cruising on his new boat). We didn't do as well as usual, but it was fun and a good learning experience (except the part where I hit another boat, causing a bunch of damage to their outboard...)
Rajun Cajun sailing with sails backlit by the sun


Aside from boating, we had a quick trip in June to Chicago for my cousin Eric's wedding. It was a fun occasion and great to see family from all over the country in one place.

Me photobombing Eric and Melodie while Andrew (19) looks on. Michael (16) is on his phone, as usual.
Tony photobombing Eric and Melodie


Three generations of Chor boys and Michelle
Me, my dad, Andrew (19), my brother Ives, Michelle, and Michael (16)


Michael turned 16 this summer and got his drivers license. I'm not sure who is more nervous, Michelle and I or Michael (although he is a good driver). Oddly (at least to me), Andrew (19) never got his license. He's gotten back into rock climbing in a big way when he's not playing PC video games with his friends online or telling me everything is my fault.
Michael (16) focused on his driving


Andrew (19) finished his first year at Evergreen State College. He decided to take some time off, so he's working at a nearby ramen restaurant now. We also had our first drink together in Canada, where the drinking age is 19. It was fun to hang out in a pub near the marina we were in and shoot pool together.
Andrew (19) shooting pool


I started going to JabX Kickboxing, a nearby gym, in November of last year. I was a mess when I started; I couldn't even get through the ten minute warm-up. Here's me lying the on the ground after my first warm-up.
Me lying on the ground at JabX

Despite the inauspicious start, I kept it up all year, going most weekday mornings at 6:00am for the hour-long workout. I'm much stronger now. I also lost about twenty pounds and two inches off my pant size.

I got called to jury duty again, just a little over a year from my last time. This time I had a civil trial involving a slip-and-fall outside a local grocery store. Although the plaintiff was severely injured and was really sadly impacted by his injuries, we found in favor of the defendant. Despite the inconvenience of being on jury duty again, I thought it was interesting to see a civil case and contrast that with the criminal case from the year before.


On the work front, I completed my third year at Amazon. I continued to lead the Detail Page team (we make the shopping pages that have the information about each product like the picture, title, price, reviews, etc.) and added the Shopping Experience Platform team (we build the user interface framework and key API platform for Amazon's shopping experience as well as ensuring the site is great for customers with disabilities.) Despite whatever reputation Amazon has for being a bad place to work, I still really love it there. A big part of my team is in Bangalore, so I went there three times this year. On one trip, I ran into a bandh (protests), trapping us at the hotel for two days and forcing us to leave the office early one day. Fortunately, we had fun on other trips. I got to catch a performance at the Hard Rock Cafe by a local band, Agam, that two of my teammates were in. The Hard Rock staff apologized about the high cover price saying there was a "famous Indian band" playing; we told them we knew the band. They were skeptical until our friends came down to welcome us. It was cool to see the crowd all singing their songs. They're really good and worth checking out.



I also finally left the airport in Dubai and spent a little time exploring there with some of my colleagues. We checked out the Burj Khalifa, hung out with some friends from Beijing, shopped around the old areas of Dubai, and went dune bashing in the desert (where our 4x4 got stuck and had to be rescued). Here I am in the desert, waiting for help. The Facebook caption contest returned themes Dune, Star Wars, Lawrence of Arabia, lost golf balls, new Amazon offices, and how generally dumb I was to wear black into the desert.
Me standing in the desert with a black shirt on my head

Of course, I was most happy to find the "pork room" in the Burj Khalifa, a big deal in a Muslim country.
Pork room sign with Arabic writing

In the new year I'll be starting a new job in the same division, leading the new Shopping OS team. I'll keep the platform parts of my current team and add more platformy parts. We'll be building the next generation of Amazon's shopping application platform. It should be interesting, but I'll miss the detail page part of my team.


Personally, I learned to enjoy my life more. I stopped commenting on politics on Facebook. It was no fun and frankly kind of stressful to get into those kinds of discussions with friends, especially in such a contentious year. I was also reminded that our time on earth is precious. Two of my former teammates lost their spouses unexpectedly and a teammate on a partner team suddenly passed away. They were all younger than I am and were apparently healthy. We need to really enjoy every day.

Here's to enjoying every day of 2017!

Leaving Microsoft

Today will be my last day at Microsoft. I've been at the company for 23 years, coming straight out of college. I'm incredibly grateful to this company that I still love, but it was time to try something new, to get a different perspective. Starting Monday, I'll be at Amazon, where I'll be the director of their product details page. It will be a big change (and a much longer commute), but I'm really excited.

Still, I'm finding that I'm pretty emotional about leaving. Being at Microsoft is a huge part of my identity and my life. I've worked at Microsoft longer than anything I've ever done. It'll take a while to get accustomed to a new way of thinking.

Here's the mail I sent announcing the change.

Subject: Farewell

It's become painfully clear that my bid to become the new CEO of Microsoft will not be successful, so today is my last day at Microsoft.

A few highlights from the past 23 years:
1990 Shocked to learn Microsoft shipped software with known bugs. More shocked to discover a big part of my job would be to pick which ones.
1991 Made the only known hole-in-one during Golf 1.0 testing (my first product). It didn't help my review score.
1993 Surfed the Internet for the first time in the Microsoft Library. Didn't get what the fuss was about.
1997 Learned to do The Hustle at a ship party. Grateful that cellphone cameras hadn't been invented yet.
1999 Spent six months addressing Y2K bugs in Works Suite. Saved the world from calamity.
2000 Hit my lifetime net worth high point. Oh well.
2003 Got my hands covered in blue ink minutes before a demo to BillG. Managed to not get him inky too.
2004 Pilloried in blog comments after jokingly claiming we invented pop-up blocking in IE6 on Windows XP SP2. Learned that including smiley face in a blog post is no protection against trolls.
2006 Was called "cute" by a prominent blogger. Faith in the Internet restored.
2007 Testified before the DOJ and EU on the same day. Lowlight was the French official jumping out of his chair yelling, "Aha! I caught you!" during my talk.
2008 Moved to Beijing. Delighted to find I was expected to sing and drink (sometimes at the same time) as part of my job.
2010 Had a 1:1 lunch with BillG. His hands got covered in Big Mac special sauce, and he couldn't figure out why. Felt secret sense of schadenfreude.
2011 Moved back from Beijing. Missed the office tea lady with my daily fresh fruit and pot of tea, but clean air was a big plus.
2012 Started surfing online porn professionally for Bing SafeSearch. Surprised to find this is not as cool as it sounds.
2013 Learning how hard it is to say farewell to an amazing company, brilliant colleagues, and good friends.

Thanks to all my teammates, past and present, for making me look good (or less bad, at least!) Thanks to my managers and mentors for your patience and guidance. Thanks to you all for a lifetime of great memories.

Q: What will you do next?
A: I will be the director (like a PUM) for Amazon's product details page.

Q: Will you still be in Seattle?
A: Yes.

Q: Why are you leaving?
A: I've never worked anywhere else as a fulltime employee. I realized I would regret not ever having a different perspective.

Q: How can we keep in touch?
A: Facebook, LinkedIn, my blog (kind of), email, WeChat/微信 (ID: F218828), Pinterest, Foursquare

Q: What is the best way to cook bacon?
A: In the oven.

Reflections on Apple in My Life

With the untimely passing of Steve Jobs this week, like many people, I reflected on how I've been impacted by his contributions. I never met Steve or even saw him in person, but Apple and Steve Jobs definitely played a big role in my life.

My first programming class was summer school after 7th grade (1981?). We had Apple II computers with black-and-white 9" monitors and 110 baud teletype terminals connected to MECC (Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium). The Apples would overheat, so we'd have to open them up and fan them with their lids, but I didn't care. They were pretty magical. Over the next few summers, I improved my Applesoft BASIC programming and learned 6502 Assembly. (I didn't realize the Applesoft BASIC came from Microsoft and was an amalgamation of the two names.)

300px-Apple_II_tranparent_800We eventually bought an Apple II+ with 48K of RAM, two floppy drives, an Amdek color monitor, and an Epson dot matrix printer. (This was in addition to the TRS-80 Model III we had first; we were definitely the first house of anyone I knew with two computers at home.) My friends and I pirated a lot of software (LockSmith is your friend) and played a lot of games like Loderunner, Choplifter, Castle Wolfenstein, and especially Wizardry.

I moved on to teaching Apple programming at home for $25 for five one hour lessons (maybe it was five two hour lesson); this was big money at the time since I was in ninth grade or something. I also wrote an Apple II database program for my school district to keep track of all of the padlock combinations for the lockers; as a result, I could open pretty much any lock in our school district. I got paid in stacks of floppy disks for this. I also got to borrow the first hard drive I ever saw -- a VCR-sized 5MB Winchester (I think); it was partitioned as something like two hundred floppy drives since the OS couldn't support big volumes.

At Stanford, I was a diehard Mac guy, with my Mac Plus with two 800K floppy drives (I eventually upgraded to a Mac SE with a 40MB aftermarket hard drive -- hot stuff.) I also worked at MicroDisc, the computer department of the Stanford Bookstore. At the time, we were the largest Apple reseller in the world. Senior year, I would borrow the new Mac Portable from the store on weekends. I would work on my programming projects at Denny's, drinking their bottomless coffee for hours. Most people hadn't seen a portable computer before, so I was definitely a trendsetter for the now-ubiquitous laptop-in-coffee shop scene.

MacworksI took this Mac experience to my first job Microsoft where I worked on Works for Macintosh 3.0 and 4.0. (I think my name is on one of the mailing labels on the box shot to the right.) I had a nice Mac IIci on my desk, but our developers had the screaming-fast (then) Mac IIfx machines. (I remember being amazed that the MacIIfx basically had two Apple IIs inside just to monitor the ADB ports. We'd come a long way...)

My team also ran the Mac lab where we got to see all of the new Mac hardware before they released. Back then, we had a lot of Macs around Microsoft. Every printer room had Apple Laserwriters as well as HP printers, and a lot of people used Word and Excel for Mac instead of on Windows 3.0 since the Mac versions were better.

I also worked on Microsoft Bookshelf for Mac a few years later. (Much) more recently, I got back into the Apple scene with my team's Bing for iPad project, the first Microsoft iPad application.

Of course, even when I wasn't working directly on Apple products, Apple affected me a great deal. There's no question in my mind that Apple helped make Microsoft better by providing a great competitor. They had (and have) a different approach to making products that we envied, even when they weren't making as much money as we were (things have changed).

So, thanks, Steve, for all you've done for me and my life over the last thirty years. RIP.

Microsoft Campus After 9/11

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Like many of us, I think, it's hard to believe it's been ten years since the attacks of 9/11. We got a frantic wake-up call from our friend Steph to go turn on our TV and watch the news because some "crazy shit was going on". We saw the first tower billowing smoke and then watched in horror to see the second plane crash into the other tower. It's still stunning to think about.

I went into the office to make sure all of my team was accounted for (we had people travelling to the East Coast at the time). It was really scary since no one knew if there were other attacks coming, and Microsoft was a relatively high profile US target. Michelle didn't want me to go, and in introspect, I probably should have stayed home with my family. Fortunately, of course, we were OK, and all of the Microsoft employees were safe.

Security on campus changed after 9/11. We've always had cardkeys, but after 9/11 it was mandatory that we wear them visibly, and we stopped being able to receive personal packages at work. These have relaxed a little in the intervening years. However, we still have the required parking permits on our cars that started after 9/11.

Pretty quickly after 9/11, flags went up everywhere, including at our Redmond West campus. Hopefully, we never have occasion to fly the flag like this again.





Bing on Xbox!

Last week at the gaming industry's E3 Expo, Microsoft announced a bunch of cool stuff coming up for the Xbox including one of the projects I've been working on -- Bing on Xbox!

You'll be able to simply say a movie or TV show you want to watch, a song you want to hear, or a game you want to play, and Bing for Xbox will find it for you across different content providers like Hulu, Netflix, and Zune, bringing you all the results in one place; today you'd have to search each of the apps separately. (Of course, if you don't have a Kinect, you can type it out.) So, you just say "Xbox, Bing Batman" to find games, movies, TV shows, and music related to Batman.

Here's a sample of what the search results page might look like if you said, "Xbox, Bing X-Men".


Here's the video of Xbox Live VP Marc Whitten describing the functionality. I love all of the Bing logos everywhere!

If you have an Xbox at home today and log into Xbox Live, you may see an ad describing this upcoming service too. I was pleasantly surprised to see this.

Bingbox ad1

If you select the panel, you get a little more info:

bingbox ad2

You can then click to see a video of the the feature in action. (I'll see if I can find and post a copy of that video).

I'm proud of the work we've done to get this far and looking forward to getting it out. It was exciting to do the announcement and finally be able to talk about our work a little more publicly!

Bing for iPad is #1!!

Yesterday, my new team released Microsoft’s first major app for iPad – Bing for iPad. The response has been better than anything I can remember. Overnight, the app is already the #1 free app for iPad and the reviews have been insanely great. You can see my colleagues Zach (the dude who really lead our effort) and Stefan (our killer PR guy) demoing the product in this video.

I wish I could take credit for how great this app is, but it was already almost done when I joined the group. It’s perhaps a good reminder that often, the best thing a manager can do is stay out of the way…

Go get it now!

Our #1 spot in the Apple App Store:
Bing for iPad in the #1 slot for Top Free iPad Apps

Some reviews:
Title: “Bing for iPad Rocks”
Best quote: “Bing for iPad is so delish I could lick the screen.”
Title:”Bing’s Beautiful iPad app blows Google’s out of the water”
Best quote: “We can quickly see this app becoming a go-to portal for the web on your iPad”
Title:”Bing launches a killer iPad App”
Best quote:”The user experience is highly intuitive”
Title: “Bing’s flair for visual search comes to the iPad”
Best quote:” The app amplifies Bing’s strengths, namely its visual and design aspects”
Title: ”Microsoft releases bing search app tailored specifically to the iPad”
Best quote:”brings an arsenal of goodies”
Title: “Bing for iPad arrives – Win for Microsoft”
Best quote: “The app’s trends page is most impressive”

Baidu blogging in English (and English sites about the Chinese Internet)

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Baidu, the largest search engine in China, has started an English language blog called Baidu Beat ( to comment on Internet trends in China, expanding on their top queries ( Here’s a link to a good recent post on top internet phenomenon.

If you’re interested, other good English-language sites that comment on the Chinese internet industry and trends are chinaSmack, China Hush, and TechRice. TechRice has a good list of other China tech news sources too.

20 Years at Microsoft

Today is my 20th anniversary at Microsoft. I never thought I'd be at one company so long (although my dad was a lifer at 3M.) Even during most of senior year, I had not really thought about Seattle a potential place to live or about Microsoft as a potential employer. I had, however, designed the perfect job in my mind so when I learned about the Program Manager role at Microsoft, I knew I wanted it.

I thought I blew it at the job fair though. After I left my resume with the guy at the table, I took two Microsoft pens they were giving away. He noted, "That's odd. Everyone is taking pens. These pencils are great too." I replied immediately, "We're Stanford students. We don't make mistakes." and walked off. I thought for sure my arrogance would kill the deal, but later that week I received an invitation to fly up to Seattle and interview. (It turns out that kind of "confidence" is a desirable trait at Microsoft.) The rest, of course, is history.

I feel very fortunate to have found a job I love so much right out of college. One of the many great things about Microsoft is that you can do very diverse things without having to switch companies. Among other things, I shipped perhaps the first really video intensive game for Windows 3.0 (Golf for Windows 1.0 -- I hit the only hole-in-one during testing), worked on the first new English dictionary in the last 20-30 years (Encarta World English Dictionary), was grilled by the US Department of Justice and the European Union anti-trust dudes -- on the same day, ran a very profitable $200mm business (Works), helped secure and revive Internet Explorer, spoken in front of huge crowds around the world on topics from digital imaging to computer security to internet standards to search, and now have the opportunity to live and work in China and deal with issues like Internet censorship. It's been exciting and challenging every step of the way.

More important, I've learned a ton from my managers, peers, and reports. It really is a privilege to be surrounded by some of the smartest, most creative, most passionate people in the world. There's no way this experience would have been even one-tenth as much fun without these people. I'm a bit surprised every day that the company pays me to do something I love so much.

Things have changed a lot in twenty years. Microsoft had just passed 5,000 employees and had its first year with revenues over $1 billion. (Today we have around 100,000 employees and earn around $60 billion in revenue - nice to see the 60x growth in revenue on 20x growth in headcount.) The first computers on my desk were an IBM PS/2 Model 30 (10 mhz 80286) and a Mac IIci (25 mhz 68030). Microsoft had just shipped Windows 3.0. There was no Internet (not really), mobile phones were just coming out (and were huge), and CD-ROMs were just on the horizon.

Sometimes people tell me how lucky I was to work in the "old Microsoft" and opine how much cooler it must have been then when everything in the industry was new. It was fun, to be sure, but I think today is even better. A lot of the great ideas we had back then were limited by the constraints of the hardware, memory, network, computing power, screen resolution, cost, etc. and even more by the readiness of people and companies to be a part of a digital world. Today, of course, we have computers in our pockets, nearly ubiquitous wireless connectivity, insane storage and computation available to us, and a population comfortable and reliant on technology. Today, virtually the only thing limiting what we can do is our imagination and ability to execute. Now is the time we can finally do really cool stuff.

In commemoration of my service anniversary, Microsoft gave me a ridiculously huge crystal. It's the big brother of the five, ten, and fifteen year crystals (although I never got those since they introduced them after I reached those milestones.)

Here's the huge box on my conference table. That's a 19" monitor on the table for size reference.
Big brown cardboard box on a round conference table with a flat panel display. The box is almost as long as the diameter of the table.  

The crystal comes well packed. There's a base in the box too plus some cards and other stuff.
The box with the top removed. A huge crystal lies in the box with cut foam around it.

Here are my five year (the clock), fifteen year (the stock certificate), and twenty year (the huge crystal) awards side-by-side, in order. (The ten year one looks just like the fifteen year one, so I don't keep it in my office.) Today, all of the awards are progressively larger crystals.
A small gold clock, a silver Microsoft stock certificate, and a tall clear crystal with an orange band across the middle.

Included in the box is a card from Steve Ballmer thanking me for my service. It was kind of him to pen such a personal note after twenty years...
"Twenty years marks a milestone that few at Microsoft have reached. We would like to take this opportunity to honor your exceptional commitment and recognize your extraordinary efforts over the years. Your contributions and passion have been essential to Microsoft's success. Congratulations on reaching this important, and rare, milestone in your Microsoft career. Our sincerest thanks for all you do. All our best, <signed> Steven A. Balmer"

Anyway, it's been a hell of a ride so far. I'm sure the future will be as much fun (if not more).

Is Google Copying Bing's Homepage Images?

Someone sent me some screenshots that look like Google is trying out a new feature that allows users to customize their homepage background image. (Sites like Bing or Google often try features out with a % of their users before releasing them into general use. Because these trials are somewhat random, it's hard to force it to happen. As a result, I haven't actually seen these features in action and can't categorically state that these are real images, but the source is credible.)

Here you can see the "Change background image" link they added in the bottom-left corner. (n.b. I added the bigger version to make it easier to read.)
Google homepage with "Change background image" link.

If you click the link, you get this dialog box asking if you want to upload from your computer, from Picasa Web, or a public gallery.
HTML dialog box over a dimmed background, asking user to select a background image.

Here's what you see if you click "Public Gallery".
HTML dialog box over a dimmed Google homepage, asking user to select a background image from the public gallery.

Here's the Google homepage with a custom background image. You can see the "Remove background image" link in the bottom-left.Google homepage with a green leaf photo in the background.

Maybe I'm biased because I work on Bing for Microsoft, but I think this looks like a bad copy of our custom homepage images. While I'm sure some users would like to upload their own photos to be the background, I think the best part of the Bing homepage is getting a lovely surprise everyday with interesting questions and links about the image. I wonder if Google is a getting a little spooked by Bing; they seem to copying a lot of our features lately.

Here's the much more attractive (IMHO) Bing homepage for comparison.
Bing homepage image