Saturday, June 28, 2008

two macs died in two days, nothing lost

Clustering happens, which in this case was unfortunate. First my MacBook Air got confused while I was moving files over to my new work computer. The login app was crashing on startup, looking a lot like the corrupt NetInfo DB bug discussed in several places on the web, but with 10.5 that couldn't be the problem. After wasting a couple of hours on the command line and not resolving it, I fell back to the trusty OS X archive install, where you reinstall OS X while preserving your accounts and settings. Worked like a charm and everything was fine. Huge kudos to Apple to keeping this feature solid in release after release of OS X.

This had just finished when I got a call that one of our home Macs was failing to boot and displaying a circle with a line through it. Uh-oh. After fsck and an archive install, it came back up but continued to act flakey. A bit more trouble shooting made clear that its drive is dying, although it was sort of working in target disk mode. Fortunately, Time Machine plus a Time Capsule had been doing their thing, so nothing was lost. Everything already restored to a different machine and busted machine waiting for a trip to the Apple store.

Yay, backups! One note, make sure you let Time Machine do the whole drive, not just the user's directory. If not for target disk mode working, I would have had to reinstall a ton of software.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

let us imagine you were a recruiter

I received an amusing blind approach from a recruiter today. Included below with certain details redacted:

Hello my name is [redacted] and I am from [redacted] in Boston. I am an IT Recruiter and I am working with one of my top clients in Boston which is looking for an OpenGL developer for an iPhone/game application. Please send me your updated Word formatted resume and also give me a call at [redacted] to discuss the opening if you are interested. If you are not interested and know someone who may be please forward my contact information along. I want to thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon.
Wow. Sending a spam email that demonstrates zero time spent investigating me is not the way to get me to send you a resume or help you find someone else, which is kind of silly given how many developers I know.

This was one of two recruiter emails I received today. The other one was also spam, but took things up a notch by arriving with several hundred email addresses that were supposed to be BCC-ed showing up. Is the tech job market once again hot enough to support such poor recruiting?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

learning from the mouse

Walking through Orlando Airport, it was fun watching how the main Orlando help desk and Disney personnel guide arriving visitors. As tired family after tired family stumbles into the baggage claim area, both the help desk and Disney employees with clipboards firmly but nicely engage with a "Can I help you?" followed by a very concise set of instructions and directions to the next stage in the arrival process. Clearly, if they waited for new arrivals to ask for help -- or spent excessive time with most guests -- there would be a massive backup at the help desk. By reaching out and providing guidance to nearly everyone, they catch most people who need help before the guests even know what to ask for and maintain a really high throughput. High volume and high touch customer support at the same time. I bet there are other businesses that could benefit from their approach.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Something else I like about the Kindle is that it allows me to read multiple books simultaneously, something I used to do prior to having a train commute and lots of travel. I'm liking the Kindle more and more as I use it. The question will be what happens once I can buy a good e-book reader from the iPhone App Store. I suspect I'll end up with as much of my data as possible on both devices and the use the iPhone for short reading sessions, Kindle for longer ones, but we'll see.

yes, hiring now (if not sooner)

The best part of the two weeks in London is that many of our opportunities have snapped into focus. We're going to be lean and scrappy, so if you are looking to write code to attack interesting engineering challenges with great people, drop me an email. To those of you who've already pinged me, thank you! I'm chewing through back emails as quickly as possible and will do my best to respond quickly.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

missing use case and the hidden media library

[Edit: Comments have pointed out that I almost had found all the pieces, as download delivery is available from the Media Library. Although maybe not from the UK, where I was. Apparently, you order it, then go to the media library for a download.]

Several people recommended Clay's new book on this trip. Here Comes Everybody was on my list, but with extra endorsements it moved to the front of the queue. Now that I have my Kindle, I'm trying to minimize my physical book purchases. Amazon's Whispernet -- their wireless delivery mechanism to Kindle -- only functions in the United States, but since Kindle is obviously targeted at travelers, there must be a "download to my computer and copy via USB"-option, right?


Now, in this case, I'll wait to get home and purchase the book then, but what if I was out of reading material and just grabbed it here? Lost opportunity for Amazon.

Speaking of Amazon, the link to Clay's book is Amazon Associate enabled, so in theory I get a small payment if you buy via that link. I hadn't used the associate links before and wanted to see their user-experience. Quite nice, although it has some bugs. Attempting to build an associate link to Kindle generated an empty page and the link generator failed to find the Kindle edition of the book. [Edit: the link is to the Kindle edition but I'm not sure why the link generator picked that one]

In clicking around trying to find a download option for the Kindle book, I discovered Amazon's "your media library", which I hadn't seen before. Is anybody using this? Does the web camera bar code reader work? It seems to aggregate your Amazon purchases, as well as any item that you click "I own this" when adjusting the recommendations. Odd to find a feature with a lot of work thrown into it just lurking on Amazon's site.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

and so it begins

I was in Brighton chatting with former coworkers and realized that I've now been working at EMI for three weeks. Three weeks of drinking from the fire-hose, talking to lots of talented folks, and coming up to speed as quickly as possible. Tomorrow I head home from England, tired, my first moleskin full of scrawled notes from meetings and discussions with my new coworkers.

Apologies to everyone in London who I missed on this trip. I didn't get out of the office much, although the few times I did led to discussions with smart people . Cory provided insights into variable pricing, tipping, and entitlement. Jan was a great devil's advocate about music discovery while John was -- as always -- generous with his experiences running Magnatune. Plus, dinner was delicious! I'm behind on email, but in catching up Salman Ahmad pointed out that I can't count, since I bought Junoon's Infiniti when he played at Stanford last year. Sorry!

This week in San Francisco, next in Los Angeles. Hope United gets me home on time.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

gmail psa

Apparently if you send an email to around 500 recipients and several bounce, gmail's automatic anti-spam provisions will kick in and you won't be able to send email for around 24 hours. In telling friends and colleagues about my move to EMI I, of course, triggered this limit. Fortunately, gmail is working again now.

Interesting user experience lesson, though. If you rely on a free service that has no human support, what happens when the algorithm generates a false positive and locks you out? If Google had a "Pay $20 for help" button, I would have happily done that to resolve the issue. Hell, I would have paid $100 to fix it. Wonder if they're leaving money on the table?

Monday, June 09, 2008

new job, not like the old job

Many key moments of my career have soundtracks.

  • Deciding to leave Lockheed Sanders, move to California, and help start Acclaim Coin-Op? Jane’s Addiction’s live album.
  • Finally crushing Armageddon’s game object memory leak? Veruca Salt’s "8 Arms to Hold You."
  • Road Rash’s threading crash bug and final Nintendo approval? Hole’s "Celebrity Skin."
  • Adding lists into Second Life’s scripting language? Rush’s "Vapor Trails."
I listen to music riding BART, walking to work, on airplanes, and while I write. I’ve spent countless hours programming with headphones on.

Despite this, I neither buy nor hear much new music. Since 2000, I’ve only purchased 5 albums. Three by Rush (enough of my friends are Rush fans, so somebody reminds me when they release a new album), Pearl Jam’s "Pearl Jam" (I read a Rolling Stone review in an airport), and REM’s Accelerate (best Terry Gross interview on "Fresh Air" in months.)

Why not? I hear lots of new music I like – anything from the first couple seasons of Alias would work – but I never hear new music in the right context to buy it. When I listen to radio, I’m listening to NPR to catch up on the news. The good local music stores are all gone. When I’m working, I want to hear music I like, so I have a very low threshold for experimentation. Coworker’s iTunes shares provide a hint at something new, but DRM and the hassles of being on the wrong computer – working on a desktop when my music is on my phone and laptop – keep me from jumping onto the iTunes Music Store to make a purchase.

Note that none of this lack of purchasing is because I’m just torrenting stuff. The problem is that connecting discovery of new music to the ability to own the music is completely jacked. Even when I knew I wanted something – Accelerate – I had the problem that I was traveling with my MacBook Air, so buying a CD was useless. I had never setup the iTMS on that computer and you would be amazed at how hard Apple has made that process. It’s like they don’t want to sell me music. Then, once I did remember all the passwords I needed, I couldn’t figure out whether the iTunes download was DRM free. So I went to Amazon, which was slightly easier and made it clear the download wasn’t broken via DRM.

It is incredibly frustrating. I want to be able to find new music. When I find new music, I’m happy to pay the artists for it. Once I own music, I want to be able to listen to it wherever I am. How hard can this be?

I’m about to find out. Two weeks ago, I joined EMI Music as SVP of Digital Strategy.

Why EMI? By hiring Douglas Merrill, EMI has demonstrated a commitment to capitalize on all the technology available to make the music experience better for artists and fans. At Linden, the most important changes I drove were blends of technology and licensing, so when Douglas asked me to join him at EMI, I jumped at the chance. Music touches everyone in the world and is uniquely part of our lives -- how could I not take this challenge?

Obviously, I have a lot to learn about music and EMI, so I’ll be spending time in London and Los Angeles. Moreover, I'll be reaching out to many of you for help as I figure out how to build the right team to generate sustained, ongoing innovation around music. (Want to work on these challenges? Let me know!)

And, yes, I will be definitely be blogging about it.

Oh, and what was I listening to when I decided to join EMI? REM’s Accelerate.

(OK, go back to waiting for Jobs' keynote now)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

good reads

I have a confession. I've never read the other Cory's novels. I'm as addicted to Boing Boing as the next person, appreciate his non-fiction work, read his short stories, and generally enjoy the conversations we've had. But "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" never grabbed me, so I've not read his novels.


Thoroughly enjoyed "Eastern Standard Tribe" (on the new Kindle, no less) on the flight over to London. Geeky, fast paced, perfect travel consumption for me. Now I'm about half-way through "Little Brother", which so far is heartbreaking and wonderful, despite (or because of) it being such a rant. When my daughter reads it in 4 or 5 years, I wonder if it will resonate because society has self-corrected or because we've gone even deeper into the rathole of fear. I certainly hope it is the former.

I'd write more, but I want to get back to "Little Brother." If you're on this blog, you'll want to go read it, too.

[Edit: Finished "Little Brother" later Sunday, resulting in being fairly tired on Monday. If anything, it got better as it went. Really enjoyed it.]

a new toy: the amazon kindle

I'm a pretty fast reader and spend a lot of time traveling, so I end up in the annoying situation of carrying multiple books to cover me for a complete trip. As a result, I've been keeping an eye on e-ink based portable readers, especially the Amazon Kindle. A friend from Linden recently got one and has been twittering her support, so I decided to take the plunge. Now that I've had it for a few weeks, I thought a review was in order.

First off, the ergonomics and build quality. It's ugly and feels cheap to me, especially when compared to -- say -- Apple products. It's supposed to snap into its book-like case, but mine sometimes pops out or pops the battery cover open instead. On the plus side, it is very light, which matters when you're curled up late at night reading in bed. I suspect this is something Amazon will improve on greatly with their 2.0 version.

The screen, on the other hand, is delightful. If you haven't seen an e-ink screen, it's a little hard to describe how nice it is to read off of. My only minor complaint is that the smallest test size isn't small enough. The screen has to flash to black, then white, between page changes, but I found that I stopped noticing that almost immediately. I've habitually read on both laptops and mobile devices and really do like the Kindle more -- although when iPhone gets an ebook application, I'm curious which one I'll spend more time reading on.

I've only purchased a couple of books from Amazon. The delivery is quick and easy, the selection good, but knowing that I'm getting a DRM-ed book that I can't use anywhere else is really annoying. I have, however, paid Baen books just about every way I could, including a $500 Andromeda membership to Baen's Universe, since between that and Baen's free library, I'm able to get nearly half of the science fiction books I own as bits. Bookmooch will be getting a lot of additional books in the next few months! None of the Baen books have DRM, so I'm much happier to pay to get bits. Plus, since their service tracks what I've purchased, I know that I can always recover the books if I lose them. To Amazon's credit, it's not like they're going to go out of business, so I suspect that the ease of purchasing may overcome some of my concerns. We'll see.

Kindle has great tools for annotating and highlighting material in books, which I've really enjoyed for books that I'm studying. In most situations, when you pull up your notes, there is a shortcut to then take you to the section in context.

One problem that's been really bugging me so far is that you can't organize books. Especially with series I'm rereading, I never remember which order the books are in and Kindle doesn't do anything to help me. I suspect this will be a software upgrade at some point. Another minor quirk is that if you drain the battery to zero, the Kindle does nothing, so it's easy to end up a little stumped the first time it happens. Most control inputs are incredibly high latency, so its easy to enter multiple commands before any get executed. Finally, annoying to not do charging via USB. It means I have an extra cable to carry around.

All-in-all, despite the quirks, I'm pleased with the purchase. I get to have hundreds of books with me all the time in a format that is very comfortable to read on. I'd much rather buy books as bits, so this should continue driving the ecosystem in that direction.

(Edit: almost forgot to mention Feedbooks. Great FAQ for getting piles of free books onto Kindle!)

a very late apoc wrap-up

For readers who haven't been following along -- or those I lost during the hiatus -- I spent January through June teaching at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication. More specifically, I co-taught the APOC cmgt 534 course with Professor Karen North and Clint Schaff. In addition, I gave a bi-monthly faculty lecture series on virtual worlds. It proved to be more fun -- but substantially more work -- than I expected. For a recap, you can follow APOC label.

The faculty lectures were the hardest to prep for. I generally had a solid turnout of Annenberg faculty, so it was a room of very smart people with lots of great questions. I decided before the first one to create entirely new presentations for each of lectures, which often require a bit of last minute scrambling. I managed to pull it off and the process really helped me to coalesce my own thoughts around virtual worlds, innovation, education, and the future.

The class was work but I really enjoyed learning from my fellow teachers and students. The APOC program brings together an amazing group and I expect we'll be hearing from all of them in the future.

Finally, my copious free time at Annenberg were spent with the Network Culture Project, let by Doug Thomas. The project brings together a great collection of research and ideas around virtual worlds. Going forward I'll remain an adjunct professor connected to the project and depending on where I'm spending my time over the next year, I'm sure I'll be spending at least some time Annenberg. My thanks to Doug, Larry Gross, and Annenberg dean Ernie Wilson who all worked hard to allow me to spend the semester teaching at USC.