Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Microsoft, JBoss link up

The deal doesn't mean Microsoft is softening its hard-line stance toward open-source development or becoming a Java enthusiast, Platform Technology Strategy Director Bill Hilf insisted. But with a significant number of JBoss customers deploying on Microsoft's platform, it's in both vendors' interests to ensure those deployments go smoothly, executives from the two companies said.

I guess only the JBoss and Microsoft guys really know the motivations behind this relationship but it sure is interesting. I wonder how much visibility the optimizations will have in open source software.

The article goes on to say that "JBoss...estimates that half its customers run its JBoss Enterprise Middleware System on Microsoft's Windows Server." I guess I'm surprised at how many customers are running JBoss on Windows Server. Or, I'm surprised that I'm surprised... I've only had about five years of J2EE experience and it's always been deployed on Solaris or Linux. My impression, shaped by senior managers, is that Windows Server is not reliable or secure enough to run a production environment. Either this is naive or a lot of JBoss customers aren't running in production environments (probably the former). I'm curious about other perspectives.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


A good friend of mine started in the MBA program at the University of Colorado - Denver last week. We talked about how all the classrooms are wi-fi enabled, how everyone takes notes on their laptops, how you can search the web for topics or people that you're discussing right at that moment, or how you can blow off the discussion and just surf or IM. Certainly none of this is a surprise to me but it's definitely different than when I last attended a college lecture.

What did surprise me is the rules for taking exams. Apparently they shut down wi-fi access (but if you're enterprising you may be able to find an unsecured access point). And they will allow laptops on some exams. But on other exams students get a few pieces of paper and a calculator only. The most surprising rule to me was that they don't allow cell phones in the exam. Apparently students have taken photos of the exam, emailed them to friends, and then received text messages with the answers! Man, if these students put in half the effort to studying that they do in coming up with nefarious cheating methods...

It reminded me of my favorite cheating incident while I was an undergrad at CU-Boulder. I was finishing up my first CS programming course (Pascal!!!), and it was the last assignment, which is to say that it was the toughest yet and we had to put a lot more time in at the lab. We also had the choice of working with one or two other students in a group. My professor for the course was an engineer at Ball Aerospace in Boulder and I guess he wrote embedded software for satellite systems. Anyway, at the end of one of the last classes of the semester, the professor called up a group of three guys. I was sitting in the front row and heard the whole thing (picture an angry professor/engineer and three stunned 19 year-olds):

"Did you guys write the program that printed this output?" (holding up the printouts)
--- silent nodding ---
"There is no way that your program could've created this output."
--- edgy silence ---
"So here's the deal... one of you gets an 'F' for the semester. You guys go and decide who and come back and tell me."


The temptation at the time was to pull scrap printouts from the recycle bin at the lab. I don't know if that's what they did, but if so, it obviously wasn't very smart (think about why they're in the recycle bin).

My other reflection on cheating is that I was most exposed to it in natural science courses that were part of the pre-Med track. I really resented students that spouted off constantly in Chemistry lab or BioChem lab about how they sat in on a surgery or rode in the ambulance, etc. then would copy lab assignments at the last minute... In fact, the cutthroat atmosphere was what ultimately drove me away from natural sciences and the pre-health track; well, that and an honest C+ in Chemistry. Looking back, and also giving a nod to close friends who became doctors, I'm confident that the medical school pipeline eventually weeded out those hacks.

Monday, September 19, 2005

For Posterity

This album really made an impression on me and I just thought I'd share... Dusk by The The.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

CU-Boulder Ranked 11th Best Public University In World

A new survey of the world's top universities cited in the Sept. 8 issue of The Economist ranks the University of Colorado at Boulder as the 11th best public university.

It's nice to see my alma mater get some positive recognition that it deserves.

You might ask how this ranking is reconciled with some of CU-Boulder's more notorious rankings in the past. I think the answer is pretty simple. One ranking is faculty-side while the other is student-side. The intersection is the opportunity to either take advantage of a world-class education or squander it; the institution won't hold your hand. I believe that this experience closely models life after college. And isn't that why we make such an investment in our college education; to find an avenue of pursuit in life and be prepared for it?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Colorado Avalanche Camp Opens

In case you hadn't heard, the NHL is back! The Avs opened camp this week. The NHL will have a new look this year and if you've ever been remotely interested in hockey this is a great year to start getting into it. Chances are that your hometown team has as much of a shot to win the Stanley Cup as any other team (well, ok, the Red Wings and Stars don't have a chance...)

I personally celebrated the return of the NHL with a goal in our men's league championship game victory. It capped a personal best five-game scoring streak. That's not bad for a guy who grew up playing goalie. And thanks to Scott McNealy, I get to play at a pretty nice rink.

So why does this year have so much potential to be more exciting than years past?
A few reasons:
  1. A salary cap has been put in place that forced a lot of teams to shuffle their lineups. Many superstars have switched teams. The financial playing field has been leveled significantly for small market and Canadian teams.

  2. Sidney Crosby, the most highly touted player to come out of the Canadian major junior leagues since Mario Lemieux (think Wayne Gretzky or (gasp) LeBron James). Interestingly, Crosby lives with Mario and will be playing on a line with Mario in Pittsburgh this year.

  3. New rules designed to open up the game and increase scoring. I'm taking a wait-and-see approach to this. I think the shootout will be huge. I like that ties are gone and fans have to leave the rink happy or sad. In truth, I wished that the owners would remove some seats and put in place international-sized ice sheets. The impact to revenue would be significant but I think we'd finally see truly awesome hockey. Anyway, maybe we'll get to see Peter Forsberg play hockey instead of football (sigh).

  4. Players will be more involved in marketing campaigns. Players will be more recognizable like they are in the other three sports. Rumors are going around that goalies will be able to customize their uniforms like their masks, and possibly sell advertising on their jerseys. All this coming from the "aw shucks" league or "I got lucky on that last goal. I'm just trying to work hard and take it one game at a time." ZZZZZZ zzzzzzz ZZZZZZZZZ zzzzzzzz.
And finally, the true reason to get excited again is the Stanley Cup will find its way back to its familiar, comfortable home in beautiful Colorado. I can't wait to see my third Stanley Cup parade.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Office Space

Scene from our office break room today: VP of Operations, Manager of Customer Support, Software Engineer (me).

I walked in to grab a plastic spoon. The drawer with the spoons was empty so I grabbed a new box from the cupboard, grabbed a bunch from the box and put them in the drawer, then took my spoon.

The Manager of Customer Support laughed. Just before, she noticed the spoons were gone, took out the box, grabbed one spoon and put the box back.

And just before that, the VP of Operations looked for a spoon, couldn't find one, and made due.

In other words:

The VP of Operations recognized the problem and redefined it as non-mission critical.

The Manager of Customer Support reproduced the problem, immediately discovered a work-around for the person experiencing the problem and passed it on to an Engineer for further examination.

The Software Engineer reproduced the problem and implemented a relatively short-term solution because, well, a better solution like purchasing non-disposable silverware would probably be too time consuming and costly. And anyway, he probably won't have to deal with the problem again very soon. In fact, one could almost argue this is a marginal use case as forks work in almost any situation. And if the forks and spoons both run out..? Well who wants to work for a company that lets that happen?! I bet Google doesn't have that problem.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Driver's Seat

The best driving advice I ever heard was given by Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the Car Talk guys. They gave advice on how to set your sideview mirrors to eliminate your car's blindspot. In other words, when you're changing lanes, you can simply trust your mirrors completely without having to glance over your shoulder. I implemented their solution about a year ago and I love how it works. I really can't believe they didn't teach this in Driver's Ed. back in the day, and the more I happen to drive other people's cars, the more I see that not many people use this really handy piece of advice.

So here's how it works: picture a car coming up behind you that will pass you either on the right or the left. Ideally you want your mirrors arranged so that, as the car moves out of range of your rearview mirror, it moves into range of one of the sideview mirrors. In other words, you can always see a part of the passing car; at least the tail-end of it or the very front bumper. As the car passes, it will move out of range of the sideview mirror and into range of your peripheral and forward looking vision.

So here's how to configure your mirrors for this to work: sit in your driver's seat (I'll assume an American car with the steering wheel on the left). Tip your head the left so that it bumps right up against the driver's side window. With your head tilted and looking into the driver's side mirror, adjust the mirror so that you can just barely see the backend of your car. That will seem to be adjusted pretty far out when you sit upright. Now for the passenger side. You basically do the same thing, but it's a little trickier. You may have to sit in your driver's seat where the controls are and estimate the correct position, imagining what the angle would look like. Or you can sit in the passenger seat, but imagine tilting your head all the way over from the driver's seat. You may have to tweak this side a little as you go.

It doesn't seem right at first. The mirrors seem spread too far apart and you can't see directly behind you in either sideview mirror. In fact, you may have to sell the system on your spouse if you share cars... But give it a chance for about a week. Test it out by watching closely cars coming up and passing you. It absolutely works.

Monday, September 05, 2005


Finished Winning by Jack Welch. It's a sweeping, no b.s. business management book that covers everything from leadership, change, competition, strategy, mergers, etc. to managing your own career. Not surprisingly, the book's anecdotes are set in the context of huge corporations but its messages are certainly applicable to very small companies with tens of employees. The book is written in "Welch's optimistic, no excuses, get-it-done mind-set" and it's a refreshing, quick read for anyone that's a student of Business.

Here are some points that I really took away from the book:

Winning in business is a good thing. Winning businesses create economic opportunity for families, they create revenue for governments, and they create opportunity for people to give back to their communities.

Differentiation, or the 20-70-10 rule. This is a process by which managers differentiate their people into 3 categories: top 20%, middle 70%, and bottom 10%. The top 20% are treated like all-stars. They should be showered with bonuses, stock, training, perks, whatever. They're treated like the best. However, the middle 70% may be your most important chunk of workers because they're your majority. They should be managed with training, positive feedback, and thoughtful goal setting. People in this category should be moved around to test their leadership skills. People are cultivated and moved up from the middle 70%. Then there's the bottom 10% that makes this system seem cruel - they have to go. Welch's point here is that if expectations and goals are clearly communicated and the person is still not performing acceptably, it's better for everyone, including that person, to move on. It's likely that person will go onto other pursuits and will most likely be happier in a position they're performing well in. I think this makes a lot of sense. Of course, this entire system is based around a formal review process and setting clear-cut expectations.

Acid Tests for assessing people for a job. The first test is for integrity, the second for intelligence, and the third is maturity. He also goes on to explain the 4-E (and 1-P) framework: positive energy, ability to energize others, edge (courage to make yes-or-no decisions), execute (ability to get the job done), and passion.

"Create effective mechanisms - read: money, recognition, and training - to motivate and retain. ... People need to get differentiated rewards and recognition to be motivated. And companies need to deliver both for retention. It's that simple."

"Spend plenty up front, and put the best, hungriest, and most passionate people in leadership roles. ... One thing is for sure: new businesses with limited resources and good-enough people stay small."

And finally, regarding work-life balance: "Outside of work, clarify what you want from life. At work, clarify what your boss wants, and understand that, if you want to get ahead, what he or she wants comes first. You can eventually get what you both want, but the arrangement will be negotiated in that context."