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Friday, March 31, 2006
I know where I want to go...are we there yet?
On the Creation of a Microsoft Clock

The Ballmer brainwashing quote has already gotten a bunch of attention, but I'm interested in the interview for a different reason than most folks:
[Ballmer] It's going to take an innovative proposition. In five years are people really going to carry two devices? One device that is their communication device, one device that is music? There's going to be a lot of opportunities to get back in that game. We want to be in that game. Expect to see announcements from us in that area in the next 12 months.

Yet another "just you wait, we're going to totally change the rules of the game in n months" quote coming out of Microsoft. This one is just promising "announcements," at least, but it's part of a freakish, masochistic cycle that MS just can't seem to escape. They're pushing out a lot of good software and ideas these days, but there's something in the Redmond water coolers that compels management to make big predictions about how soon things will happen, and how earth-shattering the impact of those things will be. In print. Repeatedly.

So in recognition Microsoft's continuing commitment to trounce its competitors in any and all arenas, approximately 12 months from any given intervew date -- in the face of a history of apparently insurmountable odds, no less -- idle curiousity dictates that I start tracking this phenomenon.

When I get a few spare hours I'll put together some code to track and display the data in some exciting, Web 2.0 fashion, but before that I'll have to ask for the assistance of my loyal readers: if you come across any quotes...or rather when you come across quotes where an MS exec notes that the company will do something, release something, and/or 0wnz0r some market in a specific number of months, pass them along to me. And let your friends know, while you're at it -- the more data there is, the more fun there is for everyone.

del.icio.us or technorati tagging the articles with "msclock" would be ideal, but if you're old school you can just email them to me.

Technorati Tagging:    

Thursday, March 30, 2006
Second 'verse, same as the first...
Being Some Notes on Life

First Life
Genetics will out, it appears. My 15 month old daughter spent much of yesterday evening dancing in a goofy and uncoordinated fashion to the music of the Pixies and Johnny Cash, and then trying to grab the beer out of my hand between songs. I didn't think she'd get there until some point in high school, at least.

Second Life
After a significant amount of prodding I've finally gotten around to checking out Second Life. Initial thoughts:
  1. It's nice to see that there were other geeks writing up notes and diagrams as they read Snow Crash, too.
  2. My Second Life is eerily reminiscent of my First Life. To pick three items:
    • No matter what I try, my hair looks way geeky.
    • Having more and/or better memory would probably make Life run a lot more smoothly.
    • My conversations with unfamiliar people tend to trail off into awkward silence.

  3. I'm still trying to find enough hours to fit everything into my First Life.

Interesting, though. Fat bandwidth and improved graphics hardware/software are making [non-deterministic? open objective? experiential?] online environments more worthwhile -- i.e. less like text-based chatrooms filled with stiff, bizarrely placed "avatars" jerking from place to place. (Sorry Hive7, for the moment you still fall into this unfortunate category.)

With the technology to capture, describe, and render the more subtle elements of offline communication (both verbal and non-verbal) still looking some ways off, will a programmable gesture-based language start to fill that gap? Has it happened already?

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Monday, March 27, 2006
Talk Amongst Yourselves...
...after reading something from Don Marti and something from Tom Evslin. Just for the fun of it, you might also spend some time thinking about the similarities, differences, and overlap between power, influence, and authority.

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Friday, March 17, 2006
Agile Business: just to be clear...
Since Scoble linked to it, this short post on an HP printer firmware development group getting a 3.4x productivity increase through Agile is likely to get some attention.

I'm in the process of writing about how even a Methodology skeptic can have lots of positive things to say about Agile...but even so, it worries me when I see stuff that appears to promise that Agile (or pretty much anything) will get rid of your gambling debts, quit smoking, be a friend, be a companion, and be the only product you will ever need.

I worry about seeing stuff like this because I have a (perhaps cynical) belief that some people will see these numbers and say something like: "Wow! We've got 45 projects that need to be done in the next 90 days, and right now we're on track to only complete 1/3 of them...if we implement Agile processes and get a 3.4x increase in productivity, we'll be able to get them all done plus some other shit, too! Alfred -- bring me the Bat-phone!" And 90 days later there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth, because Agile processes did not magically add more hours to the day, nor reduce the scope of those 45 projects.

Looking at the few HP numbers provided, the biggest points made are that were made were that the cycle duration decreased from 9 months to 2 months and that the amount of work in progress descreased 5x. And that, to me, doesn't sound like Agile worked some magic -- it sounds like HP did the smart thing: the didn't try to work on everything at once, they figured out what the most important things for the company were right then, and they focused on getting those things done. Less work in progress at any given point in time -- about 1/5 what they used to have -- but the things that they are working on get done in...oddly enough, about 1/5 the time that it used to take.

And just to be clear: that's an incredibly good thing and a huge achievement...it's just not magic. It's an achievement that comes from the company as a whole being willing and able to make some really hard decisions about what's really important to their business.

Our regularly scheduled Agile series will resume shortly.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Lunchtime Musings: playsh
playsh, which is described as "a narrative-driven "object navigation" client, operating primarily on the semantic level, casting your hacking environment as a high-level, shell-based, social prototyping laboratory, a playground for recombinant network toys" is pretty retro-MUD-alicious, but it just doesn't measure up when compared to the classic: doom as a system administration tool.

Technorati experiment:
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Micro Persuasion: Institutional Power Declining, Forrester Says
Steve Rubel's post on a new Forrester Research report. Very interesting, but "institutional power declining" seems to me like a debateable take-away. Check the logos in The Many forms Of Social Computing and consider how many of them either are Institutions or have been acquired by Institutions within the last year or two.

I'd propose something like "institutions realizing that they need to change the way that they exercise their power." Hmmmm...maybe it'd actually be more accurate to suggest that a lot of people are sitting down, pulling out their dictionaries, and spending some time thinking about the simiarities, differences, and overlap between power, influence, and authority.

Technorati experiment:
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Agile Business: The One True List
Being the first part of...oh, I don't know...probably two or three posts over the next couple of weeks on the topic of "Agile" being worthwhile even if it is a "Software Development Methodology," and also why it's not really a development Methodology so much as it's a business Methodology.

Matt has already posted a couple of times on Return Path's adoption of an agile methodology in a variety of areas, so it's probably time for me to weigh in. Here it is:

Overall, I've been happy with we've gotten out of using this methodology.

Now before people start rummaging through my basement in search of Whitney-sized cocoons, let me make a statement for the record: in many cases the phrase "did I tell you that we've adopted a new software development methodology?" still makes me as uncomfortable as phrases like "hey, did I tell you that I got syphilis last weekend?" and "no, no, it's totally not a cult -- why don't you come by the compound tonight so that the Leader can explain it all to you?"

Has everyone processed that statement and continued reading down to this sentence before sending me a "you can't be serious about buying into some bullshit capital-M Methodology" email? No, I didn't think so. Oh, well, don't worry about it. I expected those emails, you punks.

Anyway, why don't you all sit down, make yourselves comfortable, and read on. Here -- do you want a cup of this excellent Kool Aid? Let me tell you about this "one true list" deal...

The One True List of Things to Do
This is a big factor for me. Huge, actually. I'm sure that many of you, whether or not you work in technology, are familiar with the corporate ritual of "the splitting of the list." In the case of software development it usually works something like this:

After reviewing the list of projects that need to get done and the technical resources available to work on projects, a company finds that there's no possible way to get everything on that list done. So the project list is split into two sub-lists, with separate business people responsible for the tasks on each of the new lists. Those people, in turn, then split their lists in sub-lists, delegating responsibility for each resulting list to a different person; the process continues until you have approximately 214 business people holding short but critical-to-them to-do lists -- and 98% of those people are justifiably pissed off because they can't understand why the fuck tech can't accomplish the two simple things that are on their to-do list in a timely fashion. Great.

Following an agile approach you can avoid a lot of this: you have one list of stuff that you're going to be working on for the next few weeks. I'll happily admit that doing this isn't as easy as saying it, and that we (Return Path) are still spending a reasonable chunk of time making sure that the list is and remains the one true list, but having a defined <shudder>methodology</shudder> actually helps here. You've got a process that everyone can understand. For lack of a better metaphor, you've set your rules of engagement, and everyone can either accept those rules or get gunned down like dogs in the street. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

This does mean that you've got a potentially difficult meeting every couple of weeks, where the people with juice need to agree on what's going to get done and what's not, but...well, at the end of that meeting you've come to some sort of agreement; as conflict-averse as I am, I'd much rather have a heated argument leading to (sometimes grudging) consensus about what needs to be done than have smiles, flowers, and puppy dogs leading to N different understandings of the priorities.

And now we come to the part of the post that I probably shouldn't write. I really want to be able to take at least partial credit for "Engineering productivity [being] way up," but there's a dirty little secret hidden in the agile approach.

You see, even if you're putting in a lot of time and effort to do the agile thing effectively, your Engineering folks probably aren't accomplishing much more than they would be otherwise. It may seem like more is getting done, but that's because a strange and wonderful thing has happened: your newfound agility hasn't added more people to your team, or more hours to the day, it's just helped you spend more time on the things that you as a company have decided are the big concerns for you right now. Interesting, huh?

More anon. And one of the issues to follow in a later post is addressing the issue of "we've been doing the agile thing, okay, and it sucks ass in cases where the scope of the project falls outside of an (iteration|release), so you can bite me, agile boy," so you just keep your pants on and don't send me email about that one, okay?

Eh. Who am I kidding? Go ahead and send those emails. Punks.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Lunchtime Musings: Broadband Wall Math
Between a whole slew of recent posts on Techdirt (many linked from this one that appeared yesterday) and this Telephony Online article that I just came across yesterday, I've had broadband on the brain of late. [ You don't have to read all the linked posts, but at least check out the TO article. ]

Now anybody who's been keeping any eye on my del.icio.us bookmarks and recent posts will already know that I'm a little bitter regarding the amount of money that I have to pay for a pidding little 1.5Mbit/sec downstream "broadband" connection. Reading the TO article linked above, however, just about put me over the edge.

As you'll know from having already read through the article [you've read it now, right?], BellSouth’s Chief Architect Henry Kafka estimated that an average broadband user consumes about 2 gigbytes of data per month, which costs BellSouth about $1. At this point you might want to take a look at BellSouth's DSL pricing plans...the base price for 1.5Mbit downstream is $32.95/mo and for 3.0Mbit down it's $37.95.

So if we assume that our hypothetical, average 2GB-consuming user is likely signed up for something around this range, we can say that this guy is paying about $35/mo for something that costs BellSouth $1/mo. Now I'll happily accept that BellSouth has a lot of other costs to factor in there, but those are still pretty nice numbers to plug into your spreadsheet if you're BellSouth.

But we've opened up another interesting question here: if our average Joe is paying for, say, 1.5Mbit/sec downstream (or a "best effort" at that) and only downloading about 2GB/month, isn't he actually under-utilizing the bandwidth that he's getting from BellSouth? I'm glad you asked. Let's do some quick wall math:

So yes...Joe is using less than one half of one percent of the pipe that (in theory) BellSouth has allocated for him. Now I'll grant that 24/7 usage at full theoretical capacity would be a ridiculous thing to expect, but these numbers do seem to indicate that an "average" or even a "heavy" broadband user is consuming far, far less bandwidth than an all-you-can-eat contract allows them to.

Next Question: How did we get to this point? And that too is interesting...if you go back to that BellSouth pricing page, you'll notice that the packages offered are "fast," "faster," "even faster," and "fastest," rather than "some data," "lots of data," "a crapload of data," and "do you really need that much porn?"

It seems that many bandwidth providers, like consumers, have considered bandwidth almost exclusively as an issue of speed rather than volume. If you equate "internet access" to "viewing Web pages," then that works well enough: more bandwidth equals faster access to a bunch of relatively small files. Unfortunately for providers, however, that was only the first step; if you can download small things really fast, then downloading big things pretty fast becomes appealing, and downloading really big things becomes tolerable...the issue changes from "how fast" to "how much."

BellSouth and friends are just now really internalizing the fact that the phrase "you can access the internet at 3 megabits per second" can be accurately restated as "you can download 949 gigabytes of data per month."

Final Question: So what -- where do we go from here? And that one I can't answer. Maybe all-you-can-eat has to go away. Maybe the price of Internet access in the United States has to go even further up. Maybe we as a nation have to decide that our data infrastructure is critical to our development in coming years and make sure that the backbone companies are actually delivering the infrastructure improvements that we've already paid $200,000,000,000 for. Maybe this is why I avoid doing math...it pretty much always ends up upsetting me...

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