Monday, April 04, 2011

Robots

My significant other works in a bio research lab for the University of Washington. She sometimes uses a machine that she refers to as 'the robot'. I work at Amazon on AWS/S3. The closest thing I get to a robot is our soda dispensing machine. My office/desk needs a robot. hmmmm.....

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Coffee shops

I'll admit that I live in Seattle, a city lucky enough to have weathered the recession better than most. And yet, Seattle is the home of Microsoft. As such, I would expect to see mostly Windows laptops when I wander into coffee shops. Historically, this has been true. There were always a few trendy folk (or well of dorks, such as myself) with some for of Apple laptop, but they were the exception. The tide has been trending toward more and more Apple products though. Today, I was struck as I walked into my neighborhood coffee shop and counted 5 laptops, with not a single Windows machine in the bunch. Soon, there-after one laptop user left and was replaced by the lone Windows laptop in the shop.

Has Microsoft mind-share fallen this badly? I know that when I talk with co-workers, many of them have Macs at home (or Linux... I do manage a team of software developers after all). This is despite the fact that many of them are ex-Microsoft employees. Many of us use Windows at the office, but it is telling that given the choice, more and more people choose Mac. I realize that Seattle is its own little microcosm, but I fear that this does not bode well for Microsoft. How long before the average person's only 'computer' is an iPad or Android type device?

We are moving to a world where everything is on the web. You don't need a large hard-drive because you can archive everything into the cloud, or maybe store everything on a computer that sits in your closet, or (more likely) next to your TV. Near ubiquitous internet connectivity fundamentally changes the game. Web applications for all your core tasks fundamentally changes the game.

Microsoft is just like the other dinosaur industries mentioned in Innovator's Dilemma. The pillars upon which their business depends are eroding. I fear that soon they will discover that they will wake up and discover that even their precious enterprise market is no longer safe.

Time to start think about selling my remaining MSFT stock.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Where did he go?

I have spent much of the weekend working on some browser-based tools to access S3 and manage content stored there. In talking to a few people about what I was working on, I often described it relative to a typical blog. Eventually that lead me to look at my own blog and realize that it has been over a year since I posted. Ouch.

So what have I been doing? Lots! Work (Amazon/S3) keeps me very busy. The last year has seen us continue to grow and launch feature after feature after feature. My team is hiring like crazy as well. This summer I spent 2 weeks in Maine with my family, trying to keep my nephew from riding off the roads into the bushes. I spent the spring climbing mountains taking the WAC's Basic Climbing Class. (Highly recommended by the way.) When not out hiking/climbing, my weekends are often occupied with walking/jogging the dog and generally enjoying Seattle.

I spent New Year's down in the SF Bay area visiting a friend, and talking to people down there made me realize how much I really love living in Seattle. It helps that so many of the tech people I talked to down there also use AWS. It is hard to imagine a better place to be.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Books, Audio-Books, Bray, Stross, and some new decade thoughts

Tim Bray just wrote two entries that reference Charles Stross, far and away my favorite recent sci-fi author. He started with a reasonable review of "Saturn's Children", which is have slowly been working though as an audio-book. I've read a number of Stross's books in paperback, and happily introduced others to my addiction. Not since picking up Snow Crash, have I had such an experience with a new author. His stories are denser with contemplative ideas than many books on the non-fiction shelves. Saturn's children, to my mind, isn't his best, but that is heavily influenced by the fact that I am listening to it as an audio-book.

As audio-books go, the reading is incredibly good. I've listened to audio-books on long road-trips for years. Ever since since Nat and I read 'The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe' series to each other going to/from Burning Man, I've been an audio-book convert. The nature of the medium means that it is slower than reading. I don't have many moments that are opportune for an audio-book. I listen to pod-casts when walking the dog. Maybe if I had an iPod doc in the kitchen I'd listen more, but I usually have NPR on. I just haven't found a good habit/rhythm for audio-books.

Bray also discusses a recent essay from Mr Stross about the Google Books settlement. I haven't been following the Google Books settlement too carefully, assuming that old-media was just trying to hang on to their aging business model. Stross does a good job arguing why aspects of that business model are appropriate. He isn't arguing that things shouldn't change. He is asking how can we preserve some of the benefits of the old model. If information is free, then author's like Stross will have a damn hard time making enough money writing books to pay the bills.

I'm curious to see how this all transpires. I expect that how 'information' is priced and purchased, will continue to change dramatically. Very few things of real value are truly free. In the beginning, there were pay-walls. Then you have ads. Now they are collecting monetizable data on our behaviors. The latest evolution comes from services that make it cheap and valuable for individuals to generate content (ne twitter/gmail/search) while at the same time they are generating value by monitoring the content in aggregate. It is easy to see how smaller content (IM/email/blog-post) works in this formula. Large content, such as a short-story, or even a full-length book are more challenging. Giving it out for free doesn't compensate the author comparative to their effort. This seems similar to some of the arguemts I've been hearing about why Hulu will start charging for some shows. It is a simple value/reward problem. Do you value the content enough to justify spending your hard won cash for access? I know that I choose to buy content on regular basis, be it book, movie, or music.

The last 10 years has seen the rise of the iPod and iTunes along with their switch to DRM-free formats. It has seen the digital camera all but replace film for all but the most serious photography work, resulting in a proliferation of free content hosted online, dramatically changing the business models for stock photography. It has seen the rise of online access to video content, initially as a pay-to-download model, now in a mix of ad supported streaming and pay-per-view streaming. In 2000 everyone could self publish online, but few did. With the rise of blogging, then the social web, anyone with some internet access can claim their corner of the web, choosing to enlighten us all with their thoughts, artistry, or just entertain themselves and their friends.

What will the next 10 years bring

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lady GaGa vs Depeche Mode

My pop fascination with Lady Gaga has now been justified by a remix of Lady Gaga's Paparazzi with Depeche Mode's Just Can't Get Enough. DJs From Mars, I thank you.

p.s. DJs From Mars MySpace page has links to more videos for similar remixes.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

New Toy = NetBook EeePc 1005HA

Just got a new toy for our upcoming travels. I wanted something small to dump pictures onto, so I can label them while I still remember the details. I used to have a Fujitsu P2000 series that I used for this, but that poor Transmeta chip wasn't really holding up very well. So I bought a Asus EeePC 1005HA. The first one arrived with a busted wireless. Sent that back and am writing this post on its replacement.

Aside from spending all last night installing all the necessary updates (See previous post) I am rather liking the little blue beast. The keyboard is small, but usable. The screen is also small but usable. Google's Chrome browser appears to be a particularly good fit, at least with just a few tabs open.

I'm curious to try it out more. I've got a 2GB DIMM to install, which should help things. I've also tried Moblin a tiny bit. I'll report back more when I've had more time to play with the machine. I'm really rather excited about a machine that has enough batter for me to play around most of the evening without running out of juice. I just wish someone shipped a 10" screen with more pixels. 600 pixels tall is pretty damn small, especially if you are used to a laptop 900 pixels tall. Everything appears freakishly big on the netbook at first.

If only it supported the two-finger up/down scroll like my MacBook... I miss that every time I use a Windows laptop....

Dangerous Data Structures

We have been working on a particular component at work recently. The origins of this code go back to some of the very origins of the product. The code was written assuming a set of facts that no longer really holds true. My team has been patching it, trying to make it work with our new realities. We have come up with some pretty impressive hacks, but each fix has exposed new limitations of the code which we then need to try and patch.

What went wrong? Why was it so hard to fix the old code?

The problem was that the original code was using data-structures that didn't align with the new goals for the code. The core data-structure was of a rather neat design, but was also rather complicated. Both aspects deterred people from replacing it with something different. If the existing code was so complicated, the replacement (which must support more scenarios) must be more complicated, right?

I've seen this happen many times. Someone writes a neat bit of code, and later developers are nervous to replace it. Even though trying to retrofit new ideas on the old code is obviously painful, they would rather layer hack upon hack than rethink the original. This may not actually be true.

The worst cruft I have seen accumulate in 'legacy' code, happens when the original implementation used an inappropriate data-structure. Layer after layer of hack tries to pretend that the data is structured differently than it really is. This is one of those things that I think of when people talk about 'code smells'. This is one of the few times that a (partial) rewrite is in order.

It is critical that the data structures used are appropriate for the task at hand. Pick the wrong representation and now your code has to jump through hoops to do simple tasks. Pick the right data-structures and the code is clearer, and thus less buggy. With the right data-structure choice it is also easier to evolve the code, to add new features.

Just watch out for the day when those new features indicate that maybe you need to rethink your data-structures.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

If Microsoft cared about Customer Experience

I'm planning some upcoming travel, so I thought I'd try out a netbook. The first think I do on a new computer is download the latest patches. There is something seriously wrong with the fact that it is taking ~1hr to download and update a brand new computer. I realize that means my experience is about a fresh XP install, but since netbooks account for a significant percentage of laptops purchased today, I think my argument still holds. If so many people are buying these machines, doesn't Microsoft want a good customer experience? Instead, I get an insane list of updates. Why can't they ship a version of the OS that includes all these updates? That I need to waste hours updating, just so that I don't get a virus the first time I navigate to a random site with unscrupulous advertisers, is crazy. It just makes me want to try Linux. Have you seen the latest Moblin release? Apple understands this. When I bought a new MacBook latop last fall, I was up and running with the latest updates in minutes. The few updates I had to install were fast to download and quick to install.

Microsoft really doesn't seem to act like a company that cares about the customer experience. They care about the corporate experience... maybe. Amazon only just started delivering new laptops with Vista this summer! They are not the only company that kept away from Vista until they had no choice.

Microsoft is seriously at risk of loosing market share if they don't give customers a reason to want their products. I don't want Windows; I use it because it is the only OS with the apps I need. Meaning, Windows is the only platform with a good Exchange client, aka Outlook... If OSX really does get a good port of Outlook, I'd prefer that in a heart-beat. For home computing I use a Mac. I bought my parents a Mac. I think Microsoft is a lot closer to loosing a chunk of consumer market than they realize. I think Windows 7 is the last gasp before the consumer marked becomes fully commodetized. Soon after that the OS will stop really mattering.

Microsoft is dangerously like the steel-mills and mini-computer manufacturers profiled in Innovator's Dilemma, yet Balmer pretends that it is 1999. Sigh.