Monday, September 29, 2008

Years back onto my life

I think it was  great move to leave my last job.

Having less simultaneous projects is doing wonders for my stress level--at one time I was leading ten simultaneous projects. Now I only work on one project.

My friends have noticed that I am far more relaxed.

Making Video Game Piracy Obsolete

Video game piracy, and intellectual property piracy is one of the most polarizing and complex issues that I have faced. People hold strong opinions on piracy that are all over the spectrum. There are people who want to see pirates thrown in jail and all their assets seized. There are people who believe that piracy is every person's God given right. There are those who pirate as a means of trying before they buy.

What's interesting is that on both sides of the argument are claims that the other side is wrong. Instead of fighting with each other, why not cooperate? Most people who use pirated games don't want to steal, and well, I don't know about game sellers, they seem to really hate pirates. But I think they should learn to love them.

There are a ton of questions that people have difficulty answering when it comes to piracy:

Is piracy stealing?
Is piracy morally wrong?
Is piracy worse than shoplifting?
Is piracy ever justifiable?
Is expending energy answering these questions a waste of time?

I don't know the answer to any but the last question and I say yes to that.

The more interesting questions to me is: why do people pirate and how can its damaging effects be minimized? Let me ask an even better question: can piracy be beneficial to the gaming industry?

My top three answers to the first question are piracy is fast , piracy is free, and piracy is safe. My answer to the last question, I will answer way at the end, so MONKEYSHINES bookmarking in effect--skip down to the red MONKEYSHINES to get to the answer. But first, I will discuss why I believe piracy is so prolific and how its destructive effects can be minimized.

Consider Ubuntu Linux. I can download the entire contents of a CD for Ubuntu Linux in a few minutes with Bittorrent. The speed with which I can get content via that protocol makes it a superior and preferable option to any other form of distribution. Pirates use the same protocol to distribute content. They do it because it is the most efficient means available. If something better were to come along, they would adopt it immediately. There is a lot one can learn from pirates.

“If it's free, I want it.” -- a buddy of mine from college. That buddy ended up having an apartment full of crap, but he has an interesting point. Free, as a price point is difficult to beat. In the current paradigm of video game commerce, a pirate can easily get a game that is better than the one they could buy at a store for free.

It's safe. There is virtually no perceived risk in piracy. Not counting computer viruses or litigation, there isn't much of a risk involved in software piracy. If you don't like it, you delete it and you go about your business. There are two interesting effects of this risk free environment: people try out new products at will, and it creates a really good picture of what kinds of products people like.

Compare piracy with buying a software 'the right way'.

Retail purchases of games requires some form of waiting, either waiting for the game to be delivered via the mail or making a trip to a B&M store. Take my own situation for example. I live within 2 miles of one of a Target and within 5 miles of a Best Buy and a Gamestop. Getting to a store and back isn't a big deal. If I really want a game now, I can probably get one within 15 minutes. 15 minutes that I would need to spend going to and from a store in my car to pick up a game. 15 minutes that I could have spent doing any number of other things just so I could pick up a game. Compare that to getting a game online, I can just pick something out and let my computer do the work while I'm off doing whatever it is that I do.

Buying games through retail is expensive. It's expensive not only in terms of time, but also money. Some games sell for as much as $60. That's half a week of food for my wife and me. That's a tank of gas. That's two rounds of golf at my local golf course. All of those things are what I'm comparing your product to when I decide whether I'm going to buy it. Is your product comparable to going out to dinner with friends? The $60 price point is something I would need to really think about, and I'd probably get by butt kicked by my wife if I bought a $60 game without telling her. For $30, I can pick that up without getting my butt kicked.

Price points become important when you consider the risks of buying a game. If you pay $60 for a game that sucks, well you just wasted $60. I don't know of a retailer that will accept a return on a game. They learned that a lot of people return video games. Why? The two reasons that seem obvious are: 1) the game sucks, or 2) the customer is tired of it. In both cases the customer did not feel that they received sufficient value for their money.

Anti piracy advocates always talk about how the people who make the games work hard. Customers work equally as hard for their money and they don't want to feel ripped off and cheated. Sound familiar? Just because you work hard to create a product doesn't mean that you are entitled to sales. If I plow sand, it's going to be a lot of work. When it comes time to harvest the fruits of my work there isn't going to be much. Is it anyone else's fault that I picked a poor spot to farm?

So, what is the problem? Piracy is able to compete with the traditional retail paradigm by ways of speed, risk, and price. By pirating software, people are able to enjoy the same experiences without any of the negative effects of the traditional retail experience.

The only way to eliminate the effects of piracy is to make it obsolete, or better yet, make it work for you. I propose the following plan to make compete with piracy on the basis of speed, risk, and value.

1. Compete on the basis of speed. Digital distribution is the way of the future. Look at Steam. They are doing a lot of things right. Steam is my preferred point of purchase for video games because they mitigate many of the downsides of purchasing video games. Digital distribution is competing directly with piracy in terms of speed.
Printing physical media is a waste of resources and a wasteful practice. Instead of treating your products like a physical good, treat it exclusively as a license. When a person purchases a license treat it as a key to use your product. Look at how Steam and most MMOs work. You can download the software through the publisher's site easily and quickly. You just need an account in good standing to play the game.

It costs way less to distribute digitally than it does to manufacture a physical product and distribute that physical product via traditional logistics. It is also, largely unnecessary.

2. Mitigate the risk of purchasing your product. Take a minute to look at how video game publishers work. Let's face facts and admit that most video game purchases are regrettable.

Why is this? I think the biggest reason is because games are pushed out to market before they reach an acceptable level of maturity. Add to this the level of support that people receive after they purchase a game, typically zero, and it is easy to see why people feel cheated or ripped off when they make the mistake of buying a game.

Instead of abandoning your customer with your incomplete mess of a game, why not stand by your work? Are you in the business of deceiving people into buying your product and then ditching them once you have cash in hand or are you in the business of creating and selling a high quality experience to your customers? If your customers feel that you are trying to rip them off, there are many potential customers who will not hesitate to rip you off instead.

Do the right thing, if you sell crap, buck up and take responsibility for your bad product. If you feel entitled to your customer's money because they were unfortunate enough to believe your marketing and you treat them as such, do you think that the same people will hesitate to feel entitled to receive everything you ever did or will create for free because they paid for a piece of incomplete and malfunctioning garbage? Pirates aren't the only ones who feel entitled to the fruits of others' hard work.

Respect your customer and they will respect you. Look at Blizzard. Nobody will accuse them of selling crap. They can't meet a deadline to save their lives, but their work is excellent. They are the pinnacle of video game developers. People do not hesitate to purchase Blizzard products. When Diablo III hits the shelves there will be people lining up to buy it. Yes, people will want to pirate it too, but the vast majority of them will want to buy it because Blizzard will...

3. Make the gaming experience for the purchased product vastly better than the experience that a pirated product can give. A few ways in which this can be accommodated are to provide an enhanced online experience--people with pirated products will be hesitant to use use a game maker's servers with a pirated product. If they aren't, well you know where to send the bill. Look at the MMO games that have a subscription based model, piracy isn't a big problem with them, because running a pirated product isn't very useful. It's actually in a subscription based service's best interest to allow people to distribute their products on their own. It reduces the bandwidth load...more on that later.

I think the software developing world could learn a lot from Blizzard. They don't sell any product until it reaches their high standards. They continue to offer a fantastic online experience with their titles well after their products sell. Look at Starcraft, it has been on the market for 10 years. During that time, its use has shifted focus from the single player game on the online gameplay, which is provided by Blizzard for no additional charge.

Providing the server for no additional charge makes sense in my opinion. The game seller can control who uses their product online. By controlling the online game, the game seller can control who uses it, i.e., keep the pirates out. They can also provide a better experience than the pirated version.

I believe that too many game publishers are spending too many resources trying to make game piracy impossible. I'm going to let you guys in on a little secret, it is a loser's game. Most game security professionals will tell you that at best you can hope to make it difficult enough for the pirated version to only be ubiquitous after the game launches. Instead of spending resources trying to fight a losing battle, why not use your enemies' forces to work for you.


The million dollar question is how to turn what some claim is destroying the video game industry into something that helps it. The key is simple, provide a better experience through the purchased product than a pirated version can deliver. That is to say, give the person you call a pirate a compelling reason to become the person you call a customer.

Instead of calculating a pirated copy as a potential loss of purchase, why not treat it as a potential sale? Instead of turning a list of pirates over to legal, why not turn that list over to sales? There is no way to 'win' with a lawyer, it's just a degree of loss.

Instead of turning them into martyrs and your peers into monsters, turn the people who have tried your product out a chance to become paying customers. You don't need Ricky Roma to come in and schmooze someone into a sale, they know your product. Even better than knowing your product, they already have it, anything you gain from them is pure profit.

Engineer the product so it isn't all that challenging to be 'pirated' as a product that is inferior to what the purchased version can deliver. Online multiplayer is just an example, another strategy that can work is to provide extra downloadable content at no extra charge to paying customers. Engineer the product so that 'pirating' it is not much different than distributing a good demo. It wasn't long ago that companies like id and Blizzard offered rich playable demos of games like Doom, Quake, and Warcraft. I don't know what ever happened to those franchises, but I do know that we played the crap out of them in college and spread the word about how awesome those games are.

What else is piracy good for? Market research. Torrent numbers on certain notorious web sites based in Scandinavian countries don't need to be insulting. They're performing a few services to the content producing community. They are showing what people are interested in. The more people who torrent a title is pretty significant. Yes it doesn't directly translate into sales, but it does show what people want when cost is not a factor. That's information that is ripe for the taking. If you read the threads about the games, you can see what people honestly think about the games. They didn't pay anything for it, so they aren't going to be nearly as hostile or angry as a disappointed paying customer.

Lastly, learn to live with piracy. It's going to happen and no matter what technical and legal means are used to try and stop it altogether, there will be some who will take it as a challenge to defeat those countermeasures. Make it easy on yourselves, develop strategies to use piracy to your benefit, and then you can focus on the things that you really want to focus on.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lawyer files class action lawsuit over Spore DRM

This could be an important lawsuit. Kotaku is reporting that California attorney Alan Himmelfarb filed a class action law suit over the Spore DRM. The filings can be read here.

I really don't understand why content companies like EA and Sony feel entitled to take control over their customer's computers without fully disclosing their intent upfront. DRM does not need to be secretive, actually it's better for everyone if it is transparent.

Maybe I'm still bitter about NCAA Football 2009 being a horrible game, but I'd like to see EA made into an example.

Brooks Brothers Sale: 25% off entire purchase

I get a lot of people asking me what the logo is on the snazzy polo shirts that I wear. It's the Brooks Brothers logo.

I'm a big fan of Brooks Brothers' clothes, they are extremely well made and durable.

From time to time, Brooks Brothers offers sales on entire orders. They're really a good deal, from 9/24-9/28, Brooks Brothers is offering a 25% off sale on orders with the friends and family coupon code of : friend64.

These codes work with the regular 2-for and 3-for deals. For example: Brooks Brothers offers their golden fleece polo shirts for the price of $99 for two shirts, regularly $59 each. With the coupon code, 2 shirts will set you back $75, or about $37.50 each.

Pro Tip: If you want people to do something, try to make it easy

Here's my tip of the day: If you want people to do something, simplify whatever it is that you want them to do and provide good simple instructions for them.

Every point in doing something for someone else that requires thought is what I call a 'screw it opportunity'. That's an opportunity for someone to say 'screw it' and not do whatever it is that you want them to do.

Make it simple and make it thoughtless, and it will get done.

Good Read: How the Swedes Solved Their Financial Crisis

The New York Times has an excellent article that describes how Sweden dealt with a similar financial crisis to what we're facing today in America.

When the people of Sweden bailed out their struggling financial institutions, they mandated that they first write down their bad debt. The people also took equity in those institutions.

I have very little faith that our executive administration can execute a bailout without getting a bunch of friends rich. We, the people of the United States, should be outraged that our administration is proposing that we just throw money at the problem without imposing change.

Deregulation has failed. Giving money to a system that fails without changing it is just feeding fuel to another failure fire. I don't know what is required to make our financial systems work. Is it regulation?

If action needs to be taken now, what I would like to see is that we come to an agreement that the cost of a bailout is the recipients of the bailouts get to agree to whatever terms the congress comes up with, whether it be regulation, giving equity to the government, whatever. Additionally, I would love to impose a restriction on the recipients of the bailouts from using lobbyists and making campaign contributions.

That's just my thought.

Unisys CEO Pushed out by Investors

Valleywag is reporting that Joseph McGrath will be stepping down, up?, from the helm of Unisys.

I've never worked for Unisys and I don't know much about McGrath, but my next door neighbor was a security guard at one of their facilities for many years. Besides keeping the outside world safe from paper printouts, my neighbor had the unpleasant, yet steady, task of escorting laid off employees out of their half vacant building.

My neighbor's facility turned from a once bustling beehive of activity into a veritable ghost town.

He said that a lot of people who saw themselves as lifers got to take a walk with him. "Anyone with an ounce of common sense could see the writing on the wall. The smart ones left, but there were some who kept their head in the sand and stayed." I don't think there is such a thing as a lifer in information technology anymore.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wario Land Video: This is how you promote a game

Nintendo has really outdone themselves with this video. I'm a sucker for Wario games and Wario Land looks to be a good one.

Nintendo is still the only company that really makes good use of the Wiimote controller. The other games just aren't on par. I expect that Nintendo will do some crazy things with Wario Land.

The video has me really psyched.

The Boss Honeypot

A friend of mine was explaining a situation she is having with her manager. My friend works in IT operations for a company and her boss is causing her lots of problems.

My friend is responsible for keeping her company's computer services up. There are a ton of them, and a lot of them are only needed at certain times. There's a pretty complex system of dependencies between services. The wisdom behind designing such a spider's web of dependencies is, well, idiotic, but that isn't my friend's fault.

My friend's manager is completely unaware of what services are necessary for the company to do business. What he does like to do is view all the services through an administrative control panel. He also likes to turn certain services off and on from time to time because, well I don't know he just does. He's been asked not to, but the siren song of the switches must be too great for him.

The result of this is his employees get paged at 3AM when a batch job fails or they get a pile of email failures in their inbox first thing in the morning. Either way, the ops people are traversing that spider web to find out what's failing.

The ops people have taken some preemptive action. There are cron jobs that notify them when their manager uses administrative rights on the system. That's cut down on many of their manager caused outages.

I'd suggest that they take it one step further and create a honeypot for him. Create an administrative user interface that looks identical to the real one. It reports information like the real one, but the switches for the manager are fake. He can flip them all he wants and it won't take the systems down. That little trick would do wonders for their uptime percentage numbers.

Activision Suing Filesharers a la the RIAA?

Wired's Game Life is reporting, that Edge Online and Game Politics are reporting that Activision-Blizzard is suing people for copyright violations.

Game Politics has been kind enough to list known settlements with the titles that are named in the court documents(below). It's interesting to note that each of the defendants are unrepresented by counsel.
  • Shawn Guse of Federal Way, Washington. Guse, unrepresented by counsel, agreed to pay Activision $100,000 (CoD 3 Wii, CoD 3 Xbox 360) to settle the case. Read the Guse settlement.
  • Chris Hyman of Abbeville, South Carolina. Hyman, also unrepresented, agreed to pay Activision $25,000 to settle the case. (CoD3 Wii, Tony Hawk's Project 8, Xbox 360). Read the Hyman settlement.
  • George Laflin of New Jersey. Laflin, apparently the only defendant who had an attorney, agreed to pay Activision $100,000 (CoD 3 Xbox 360). Read the Laflin settlement.
  • Maryanne Leach of Northome, Minnesota. Leach, with no attorney, agreed to pay Activision $1,000. Read the Leach settlement.
  • Kenneth Madden of York, South Carolina agreed to pay Activision $100,000 (CoD 3 Wii, Cod 2 The Big Red One PS2, Tony Hawk's Project 8, Xbox 360). He too was unrepresented. Read the Madden settlement.
  • James R. Strickland, aka Ryan Strickland of New York State; case is still active (CoD3 Xbox 360). Read the Strickland complaint.

My thoughts on this? Well, don't steal. That concludes my thoughts on pirates.

What I find interesting is the amounts that are being settled. $100,000? Are these run of the mill The Pirate Bay people who were unlucky and dumb enough to get caught, or are did these people do more to enable others to pirate the titles?

Stealing is wrong, but shaking people down for $100 large is pretty crazy too. How are these damages being calculated? How are they justified? Are these people acting out of fear instead of making good decisions with the input of legal counsel?

Explain it however you want. If people want to make the argument that taking content from the Internet is the same as stealing a game from a store shouldn't the punishment for the two actions be the same? If not, shouldn't they be similar? In my opinion, a fair dollar amount to stealing a title would be in the neighborhood of 2 to 5 times the full retail price of the property. Anything more than that is ridiculous.

People, I have a purchased copy of COD 3 for the Wii that I played for about an hour. I'd gladly give it away free rather than see someone destroy their financial future.

Details are scarce about what the people are accused of. The defendants are bound by their agreements not to talk, so it's difficult to get an idea of who Activision is going after.

I think this is a dangerous PR move on Activision's part. Taking individuals down for $100,000 is not going to win them many friends. Activision has a lot to lose, especially now that they merged with Blizzard.

If Activision's tactics are as ham handed and clumsy as the RIAA's, Activision is likely to cause themselves more harm in bad PR than they will ever recoup by shaking people down.

With the information that is known, it is difficult to know what Activision's intentions are: are they trying to destroy people whom they believe stole from them, or are they trying to protect their property? Without clear information, people are going to assume the worst of Activision and the response is not going to be favorable.

Please do not comment with your view of whether file piracy is justified, wrong, etc. I don't need a flame war, thank you.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Dragon's Lair Walkthrough on Youtube

This is pretty sweet. It's a walkthrough of the game Dragon's Lair. I remember Dragon's Lair from my childhood. I saw it for the first time at Great America in Gurnee, Illinois. It stood out for two reasons: 1) it was the first video game I saw that cost $.50 2) is it looked freakin' awesome.

Technically Dragon's Lair was more of an interactive movie than a traditional video game. The player would watch an animated scene and woule either press the correct button, or get to watch the hero, Dirk, suffer a horrible fate. For the low low price of $.50 I got to watch Dirk suffer three times straight.

Watch the annotated commands and see how many you'd guess to hit at the correct timing. This game was a quarters vacuum.

Carbon Nanotube Supercapacitors

Carbon nanotubes are awesome. Supercapacitors are awesome. When you put the two together you get awesomeness, Nanotube Supercapacitors.

Physorg is reporting: research by post-doctoral Researcher Jiyoung Oh and Research Scientist Mikhail “Mike” Kozlov at UT Dallas’ NanoTech Institute offers tantalizing insights into a new, lightweight, reliable means of delivering power via the mighty supercapacitor.

What does this mean? A supercapacitor is like a battery, except it doesn't store electricity through a chemical process. Instead it holds the a charge between two surfaces. Traditional Capacitors store a charge between two metal surfaces, called plates.

At the scale of a Nanotube many of these surfaces can be packaged together in a small area to create extremely high energy density. 

The exciting prospect of supercapacitors is the potential for using them as a replacement for conventional chemical batteries. Supercapacitors are advantageous to chemical batteries for many reasons: fast charging time, efficiency, weight, functional longevity, and enviromental impact are several of the advantages that supercapacitors hold over conventional batteries.

Of the applications that hold promise for supercapacitors, the use in electric and hybrid vehicles is likely to get the most attention. 

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Palin's Hacked Yahoo Account Reveals Bad Judgement By Palin

Some of the initial questions that arose from the breach of Sarah Palin's pseudo-official Yahoo! email accounts revolved around the infiltrators. I think that's really unimportant, people's email accounts get broken into all the time and nobody does anything about it. Wasting FBI and Secret Service time on this incident is, well, a waste of FBI and Secret Service time on something that isn't very important. 

What is important is what this incident says about Sarah Palin. 

The most relevant takeaway of this event to me as a citizen is, why is a government official using a free personal email account to conduct state business? If elected to office, would she continue to use a free Yahoo account? Would she use it to conduct official White House business? Matters of national security? Is available? 

These are very important questions.

Let's break the issues down. Should a state officials use free personal email accounts? I believe that it all depends on way that the accounts are used. For personal communications, I believe that everyone is free to do whatever they want with their email if it is personal.

Where I do take exception is when those accounts are used for communications that are in the interest of the state, or the people of the state.Let's look at the two accounts in question: and Both of these addresses have the title gov, short for Governor, in them. Was  or unavailable? Why include your official title in the address? Is the address meant to be strictly for personal communications? or is it for state business as well? 

Consider the following paragraphs from the Washington Post:

Palin also routinely does government business from a Yahoo address,, rather than her secure official state e-mail address, according to documents already made public.

"Whoops!" Palin aide Frank Bailey wrote, after addressing an e-mail to the governor's official state address. "Frank, This is not the Governor's personal account," a secretary reminded him.

It seems clear that Palin was using a free Yahoo email account to communicate official state business. There are some who believe that Palin followed the lead of the allegations made that Carl Rove conducted his best dirty work by using email that is hosted on mail servers owned by the RNC.

Two things: first Carl Rove is a genius if not an evil genius, if you're going to follow his example, it might be best to consult with world class technical advisors. Rove allegedly used email servers that were controlled by people he knew, not by a public corporation. It is much easier to make data disappear(allegedly) if you can destroy it yourself; Secondly: if she truly did create these accounts with the intent to use them to conduct covert communications I would question the integrity, judgement, technical sophistication, and intelligence  of Sarah Palin for the following reasons:

  • Integrity: if this is an attempt at covert communication, then her integrity must come into question. For what legitimate purpose could she be using an unofficial email address to conduct business that pertains to her office and the business of the state?
  • Judgement: this goes along the lines of integrity. It's a poor choice of email account names. At the very minimum it creates the appearance of improper communications. How can she not see this as the wrong thing to do?
  • Technical Sophistication: as covert communication goes this is the move of an amateur. If the purpose of the email addresses was to conduct business outside the visibility of others, she failed and failed big. 
  • Intelligence: If she isn't lacking in judgement and integrity, she certainly is lacking in intelligence. She's either corrupt, or she's a moron. In either case, I would call to question her suitability as the President of the United States.
As much as I hate blaming the victim for the crime. I can't say that Palin used good judgement in using those Yahoo accounts.

Question: Would it be fair for Sarah Palin to pick up the tab for all the forensic investigation that's being done on this incident? That's her legacy right? That's why rape victims in Alaska need to pay for the rape kits?

The last issue that I call into question is the disabling or deletion of these email accounts. Both accounts are no longer active. I don't know what was done to the accounts to make them inactive. Is this an attempt at covering up the accounts?

Investigators have requested email from those accounts. IANAL, but that appears to be an attempt at destroying evidence. If Palin is responsible for the deletion of those accounts, I am forced to believe that she lacks the integrity, judgement, and/or intelligence to lead our nation. 

Let's not mince words. McCain is not a healthy man. His chances of surviving the first term are not good. McCain's choice of vice president is important. That person may very well assume the office. It disturbs me that McCain would select someone who is continually showing herself to be unfit for any form of public office, let alone the highest office in the country.
Bad choice McCain.

EDIT: Here's some further reading at ABC News.

Wired's Threat Level is reporting that someone claiming to be the hacker who opened her email address explains how he did it. He also said that he read all the emails and did not find anything that was incriminating, as he had hoped.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Palin's Personal Email Account Hacked, Leaked To Internet?

This could be a death blow to the McCain Palin ticket. Gawker is reporting that the Yahoo email address,, that Sarah Palin allegedly used to conduct public business was hacked. 

Details of what is currently known about can be found here:

This could be huge. In my IANAL opinion, Palin exercised very poor judgement using a yahoo address to conduct state business and treaded on very questionable legal grounds. The state can afford mail servers, and I presume Alaska has them. Palin is accountable to the people of Alaska, and she should exclusively use the state's email servers to conduct state business.

It is widely reported that Palin used the Yahoo address to avoid subpeonas.

I have to assume that the person(s) who hacked the account downloaded the contents and will redistribute them over the Internet. If there is any evidence of Palin's involvement in illegal activity, expect to hear about it soon.

It would not surprise me if she resigned from the campaign and resigned her office to spend more time with her family.

EDIT: Wired's Threat Level is also picking up the story:

gg nextmap

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sarah Palin becomes just another politician

Yael T. Abouhalkah wrote a succinct editorial in the Kansas City Star that takes the position that Sarah Palin isn't any different from the other politicians, in Sarah Palin becomes just another politician

Abouhalkah cites "Palin's refusal to cooperate with a bipartisan investigation of her role in the firing Alaska's public safety commissioner" as a reason to believe that Palin isn't the corruption fighting maverick outsider that the McCain campaign is trying to paint her.

For more information on the incident, The Washington post has a good article here on Palin's refusal to cooperate with investigators along with some other interesting notes about her tenure as governor.

A maverick outsider, who is going to shake up Washington. I don't think we've tried that yet...wait wasn't that the same label that the Republicans painted George W. Bush. The more I learn about her, the more the comparison fits. 

Bonus content: The AP is reporting that Palin says "Thanks" but doesn't say no-Thanks when that wasteful earmarked federal money builds a $600 million bridge to her home town of Wasilla.

Drill Baby...Oh Crap!

This graphic, which I picked up from, which, in turn picked it up from Architecture 2030, puts the projected positive impact of offshore drilling into perspective. Offshore drilling will not bring back the halcyon days of sub $1.00 a gallon gasoline.

The US's energy situation is, in my opinion, the single most important issue that we face as a nation. If we can achieve energy independence through alternative energy and reducing the domestic demand for petroleum, the US would not need to involve itself in the business of foreign oil producing nations for the sake of securing the nation's energy needs.

I like the addiction metaphor for America's situation with oil. We crave it like a junky craves their fix. 

I think back to college when a friend of mine, who was one of the most addicted smokers I've ever known would suffer nicotine withdrawal. One time in particular, my friend came into the room that we were hanging out in frantically. He asked if any of us had any cigarettes. None of us did. I offered him one of my cigars.

Plan B kicked in, he went straight for the ashtrays and picked out a few cigarettes that had a bit of tobacco left in them and he smoked them.

Most people who have been addicted to something have a similar story. Addiction makes people do stupid things. 

Breaking an addiction is painful and challenging. Most addictions are to things that are unnecessary. Our energy situation is not that simple. 

The solution that I want to see is to provide superior alternatives to fossil fuels. That's the only way that clean energy will gain popular support. The new energy must be cheaper, cleaner, safer and more readily available than our current supply.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Office Prank Stories: The Banana Boot

Gizmodo has a call for prank stories, which jogged my memory about some of the workplace pranks that I was a party to.

I'm no Peter Van Der Linden, but I've played a good joke or two in my time. Below are a few of my favorites that I can think of off the top of my head.

Back when I was a teen I used to work at a sewage treatment plant with a bunch of other like aged youths. One of them was Matt. Matt had the type of personality that just begged to be pranked. Matt had an almost comical ability to mess up even the most trivial task. I've never met another person who was more deprived of common sense as Matt. If you didn't spell out exactly how to do a job Matt would, almost geniusly, find a way to screw it up.

Take for example the time Matt was tasked with painting the inside of a small building. On the plant there were a ton of small 10' x 10'ish brick buildings. From time to time, we'd paint the inside of the buildings. 

For the rest of the crew, and I would hope everyone else, if you're given a bucket of yellow paint and told to paint the inside of a building and there are yellow walls, you would paint the yellow walls.

Matt, interpreted the instructions a little differently. Matt would paint the walls. He would also paint the light switches, the doors, the lights, the electrical outlets, and the windows. I don't get it. At what point of painting the inside of this building do any of these items before, I don't know, asking someone if they want it painted seem like a good idea?

It wasn't just on the job site that Matt could mess up. On his way to paint a fence, Matt thought it would be a good idea to swing his paint bucket like a lunch pail. About every ten or fifteen feet on the walkway was a pancake sized splash of white paint. Again, at what point does one think to himself that swinging a bucket full of paint is a good idea or at what point does one not notice the sound of splattering paint as he walks?

Little snafus weren't the only thing that Matt was good at. The one time that he was allowed to operate the bobcat to load sand was the first, and hopefully last and only, time that someone at the plant managed to drive the bobcat on top of the 8 foot high pile of sand. Let me explain this a little bit. To load a skid loader with sand, one needs to pitch the front bucket down and move the loader forward.

If the bucket isn't pitched down enough the whole loader will start to climb the pile. The correct thing for the operator to do is to back up, adjust the pitch of the bucket, and try again. Having the machine climb is not a subtle experience. I had it happen to me the first time I used it, and it got my attention. The only thing that happened for me was the front wheels moved up the slope about six inches, I stopped and tried again until I got it right.

Matt had a different learning experience, he didn't stop going when the bobcat started to lurch back at an uncomfortable angle. He gunned it and drove the bobcat full bore until it was teetering dangerously at the apex of the sand pile.  

At this point Matt had to be rescued carefully by everyone else. He really was a danger to himself operating heavy machinery.

At this point you may be feeling some sympathy for Matt. After all, he's probably got something wrong with him. Maybe there was. There had to be. 

Why would we play a prank on poor Matt? Well, Matt used to play pranks on everyone else with wet willies and novelty hot and sour candies, so we regularly returned the favor. The Banana Boot was the prank that really got Matt worked up the most. 

Matt used to leave his work boots in the locker room overnight. They were easy to spot. They were the only boots that were so worn at the ankles that they flopped over on their sides. I don't know how one would wear out boots like that. I would venture to guess that Matt must have worn them without tying his shoe laces. 

Either that, or the fact that he never really walked, it was more of a shuffle. Matt would have a hard time sneaking up on someone because the sound of his boots scraping on pavement was a sure giveaway. 

One night, after Matt had left and left his boots in the locker room, one of the guys left an unpeeled banana in the toe of one of Matt's boots.

I was not part of this and it was probably a good thing because, as oblivious as he might have been, my uncontrolled hysterical laughter would be a sure tipoff to him that something was up.

Instead we were all treated to watching Matt go through his morning ritual of putting his work boots on. Since I was not privy to the joke, I wasn't able to enjoy the exact look on Matt's face when he put on his banana'd boot. 

I did get to see him shuffle faster than I'd ever seen him chasing the guy who did put a banana in his boot.

G.W. Bush In A Dress, Palin Doesn't Pass The Smell Test?

The New York Times has an excellent article about Sarah Palin's questionable behavior in Alaska, Once Elected, [Sarah] Palin Hired Friends and Lashed Foes.
Interviews show that Ms. Palin runs an administration that puts a premium on loyalty and secrecy. The governor and her top officials sometimes use personal e-mail accounts for state business; dozens of e-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that her staff members studied whether that could allow them to circumvent subpoenas seeking public records.
Who does this sound like? Is she trying to hide something? Why conduct state business with a personal email address?

Consider another couple of quotes from the Times article:
As she assembled her cabinet and made other state appointments, those with insider credentials were now on the outs. But a new pattern became clear. She surrounded herself with people she has known since grade school and members of her church.
So when there was a vacancy at the top of the State Division of Agriculture, she appointed a high school classmate, Franci Havemeister, to the $95,000-a-year directorship. A former real estate agent, Ms. Havemeister cited her childhood love of cows as a qualification for running the roughly $2 million agency.
Harriet Miers? Browny? Regent University class of 1985? One of the countless other embarrassingly unqualified appointees? 

Imagine if you will the Palin Administration, a cabinet of Palin's friends from her basketball team. Why not appoint members of the choir in the Justice Department?

I used to work at a company that had a born again evangelical vice president.  This guy made a habit of hiring straight from his evangelical church. This was a really bad idea because the people he hired were unqualified and overwhelmed by their roles. I can't imagine how awkward it must have been for this guy to go to church and face his hires after he had to fire them for incompetence. 

At least Sarah Palin keeps an open mind, right? Nope.
[I]n 1995, Ms. Palin, then a city councilwoman, told colleagues that she had noticed the book “Daddy’s Roommate” on the shelves and that it did not belong there, according to Ms. Chase and Mr. Stein. Ms. Chase read the book, which helps children understand homosexuality, and said it was inoffensive; she suggested that Ms. Palin read it.

“Sarah said she didn’t need to read that stuff,” Ms. Chase said. “It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library and she didn’t even read it.”

“I’m still proud of Sarah,” she added, “but she scares the bejeebers out of me.”

That's the type of Solomon-like judgement and open mindedness that I look for in a leader. The more I read of Palin the more I think she is the Bush to McCain's Cheney. I really encourage all Palin supporters to educate themselves about this woman before supporting her.

Agility Isn't Just About Development; Hostile Business Users Are Participants Too

A friend, asked me to write about when 'agile' teams do not enjoy such a good relationship with their business users. His team is trying to be agile, and for the most part their development team is doing all the right things when it comes to developing. Their stress point is the relationship and interactions the development team has with their business users.

My friend describes their primary business user as an uncooperative blamer. That is a tough situation. I've been in a similar one myself and it can be unpleasant.

I don't know enough about my friend's situation to make specific recommendations to help the situation, but I do have some less specific recommendations for dealing with difficult customers.

One thing to keep in mind with projects, the customer, i.e., the business user, is important. Did I say important? They are essential. They are the reason that the project is funded. It is their needs that the project is trying to satisfy. The customer defines the project's success. Without them, the project automatically fails.

Sometimes it is easy for the customers to lose sight of the fact that, as developers, we're trying to help the them. One would think that the business users would want to help their developers to help them, but I don't think that business users always see developers as their helpers. 

If there is a disconnect between development and the business, there's a problem. A dysfunctional organization will ignore the problem and try to operate with a system that is missing a key element to the project. If your project has this type of disconnect, your project is failing. Ignoring it is creating a social debt with credit card interest. You can pay the bill now, or suffer its wrath down the road. 

Developers, and technical people, don't have the best reputation for being socially endearing people. As a group, we can be arrogant, harsh, and difficult to work with. In my experience working with developers, I know very few people who typify those traits, but we all have our moments. Those exceptional personalities are the ones that people tend to remember, also.

When dealing with customers who are uncooperative or have harsh personalities it is natural for many people to withdraw and exclude the conflicting party from participation. Most people avoid conflict, and they'd rather live without it. Although, they probably know that this is not going to solve the problem, many people prefer this to dealing with what they see as an inevitable conflict.

In practice, I see a lot of project teams minimize their contact with their business users. They will meet with the customer to get their requirements, go into a cave for six months to do development, and then take their punishment when the finished product disappoints their customer.

This is a bad practice. To state the obvious, shutting someone out to avoid a conflict is really deferring the conflict to another time. It also makes meeting your customers needs much more difficult and stressful than it needs to be.

It is important to understand and accept that the conflict will happen. 
Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.
--Sun Tzu, The Art of War
If the conflict is destined to happen, it is prudent to let it happen on as many terms as you can name as possible, i.e. when, where, how, and with whom. Instead of waiting for user acceptance testing for the customer chastise your team, why not deal with the conflict earlier at a less volatile time? 

Timing is very important. Unlike comedy however, when dealing with conflict, timing isn't...
everything. Planning is important too. Most important to the planning is defining a goal. Try to objectively define what is lacking for the project to succeed. If your customer won't participate in defining success for the project, your goal might be that the team needs to be able to be more interactive with the customer to meet the customer's needs. If this is difficult, it is advisable to bring an impartial person from the outside in to help review your goals and your plan.

Try to pick a time and place that works for everyone. If that is not possible, make a sacrifice and alter your schedule to deal with the customers. Try to meet in person if possible. Location is important too, if there isn't a good location at your facility, consider taking the meeting offsite. Try to find a location that is less formal and more relaxing.

When you do meet to deal with the situation, make sure that you and your team relax. Take in a few deep breaths and walk around the building--it helps.

Choice of wording is very important when dealing with conflict. People get emotionally involved in these things and it is best to use non-confrontational language. This can especially be the case when starting sentences with the word "you".  Using you makes the statement personal. State your side and keep it impersonal.

One technique that I like is stating the situation and asking for feedback on all parties for suggestions on how to resolve the situation. For example: "I want to provide the best solution I can for your team. To do this well I need feedback on my work and clarification on the requirements. I do not believe that your team is giving me the feedback that I need to provide your tools."  

Try to understand the other side's situation. Explain your our situation in terms of providing service, e.g.,: "I want to provide a product that best meets your needs. In order to do that I need to be able to regularly get feedback on our project from you to better meet your needs." 

Give everyone an opportunity to contribute and don't lay blame on people. If cause or blame needs to be stated, lay blame on circumstances or a situation. You need not be confrontational to deal with conflict. Confronting an issue isn't about being right or wrong. A single person doesn't 'win' a confrontation, but people can lose. It isn't one 'side' that loses either, everyone loses.

Listen to the other people. Most people are reasonable, even if they don't act that way. They may not cooperate because they don't believe that they have anything to gain from it. Look for ways that you can help them and they will develop an interest in helping you help them. Demonstrate to your customer that there is value for them in helping you, and they will do what they can to help you.

If dealing with the customer directly in a non-confrontation manner doesn't work, well then it might be time to get out the old org chart and escalate. At this point, at least the people on your team have taken the initiative to perform a good faith effort to resolve the issue. Again, it is probably best to explain the conflict in non-confrontational terms and look for solutions that will accommodate each group's needs.

Assuming your customer is on board with participating, include them as much as possible. Invite them to the standups, the planning meetings and the retrospectives. Solicit feedback from them as early and as often as is valuable to them. Respect their time though and let them know that their presence is appreciated, but it is understood if they have other commitments.

If your team and your users can resolve your conflicts, your project is going to enjoy a much better chance and success. By involving the customer frequently for feedback the development team and the customer can focus on creating a product that meets the customer's needs. Isn't that really the reason why we do projects? Don't avoid the problem, take care of it tactfully and move on with the reason you go to work every day.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Can DRM be a Good Thing? Can it save PC Gaming?

EA's use of the SecureROM DRM in spore is creating quite a ruckus

The more I think about the issue, the more I believe that game piracy is a red herring. If it isn't, it should be. If you're in the sales business focus on bringing in money it isn't worth the effort to try and get money out of people who refuse to pay.

I believe that the real purpose for implementing a strict 3 install limit on Spore has more to do with increasing purchases per customer than eliminating piracy. From a business perspective, it does make sense. Focus on the people who pay. Instead of providing outstanding value or service, it appears that EA is just trying to shamelessly milk their paying customers for all they are worth. If it helps the balance sheet it must be the right thing to do.

Before I go further let me say that I believe that the future of gaming and the future of intellectual property sales requires good DRM. DRM is only a tool, it is neither good nor bad. With good DRM that is implemented intelligently, the trade of intellectual property can transcend the traditional retail model.

The retail model isn't very good for selling intellectual property. Games, music, movies, books, etc really are intellectual property. If given a choice of listening to a CD and listening to an mp3 of the same music, most people wouldn't care or would prefer the mp3. There isn't much value added to having a CD. 

This is more so the case with PC games. PC games under the retail model require physical media. That physical media must be delivered from a factory, to a retailer, and then to the home of the consumer. The physical media that contains games is only good until the game is installed on the the PC. After that it's effectively worthless. There are some games that want the physical media to be in the system's drive to start, but that's a decision that is put in place as a security measure.

I really don't like physical media for intellectual property. Physical media is perishable and fragile. Optical media(CDs and DVDs) do not perform as well hard drives. 

On the PC platform, where games typically are stored on the hard drive of the PC, piracy is very easy. Some people claim that piracy is killing the PC gaming industry. I would argue that Piracy is killing the PC gaming industry because pirates have a much better distribution system than the traditional retail model based on physical media. 

For people who sell games the goal is simple. Make a product that many people want to buy. That is the most important thing.  

With a digital product, content providers worry, rightfully so, about piracy. Nobody wants to see their work that they made with the intent of making money go out to a bunch of people who didn't pay for it.  To combat this, content providers try to stop piracy by making piracy impossible or making piracy dangerous. Those are bad goals. They are expensive and they can hurt progress towards the ultimate goal. 

Making piracy dangerous, or scaring people into not pirating intellectual property, can be achieved by finding people who pirate software and using the legal system to punish those people. I think it's a loser's game. It's expensive to hire the people who can build a case against pirates. Also, threatening individuals with lawyers is a public relations nightmare. There's no way that taking people to court will recoup legal costs and damages, not to mention lost sales.

When calculating lost sales, don't just count the pirate's copy. There are people who are turned off by heavy handed legal tactics. The way that the RIAA shakes people down and threatens them with financial ruin makes me want to never support them, and there are others who feel the same way. Because of the RIAA's tactics many people do not support them by buying or using their products. I'm not much of a music listener anymore, so it doesn't bother me. 

Making piracy impossible is another bad idea. It's an arms race and it isn't cheap. Lately, it would seem that publishers are using DRM software to restrict usage of their products. Whether it is to prevent piracy or not, I can't say. Assuming it is, it's still a bad idea if the DRM reduces the quality of the product.

Ironically, by reducing the quality of a product many software publishers are putting their own products at a competitive disadvantage to the pirated version of their software. There are people who will buy a product and then get a pirated copy because it works better than their purchased copy. That's a pretty amazing thing.

People want to pay for the game, but they don't care for the publisher's distribution system and/or their restrictions.

I don't believe that it needs to be this way though. The solution to the problem, ironically, is what many of us consider to be the problem, DRM.

Digital Rights Management, or DRM, is a system that protects intellectual property. DRM has a bad reputation. I believe that most of this is due to the way that various DRM solutions are implemented. 

It is important to separate the concept of DRM with the implementations of DRM. Having software that is secretly installed on peoples' computers that causes the computer to malfunction when trying to copy intellectual property, is an implementation of DRM. I also believe it's not a very good or effective system of DRM.

DRM is conceptually only a tool. DRM is a switch that either allows the DRM protected content to be used or not at the content provider's discression. The controversy surrounding DRM is how it is used. I believe that DRM does not need to be bad though. It can actually be used for a lot of good.

The Steam content delivery platform is the best platform I've seen for content. The things I like about Steam are as follows:
  1. Steam ties their games to an account that works on any computer. If I have five computers and one Steam account I can download all of the games I purchased through Steam any time on all of those computers. I may, however, only use Steam on only one of those computers at any given time, i.e., I can't run a Steam game on one computer and have my wife run another Steam game on another computer at the same time.
  2. Steam distributes their software via a download. It's a lot faster than going to a retail store or having a traditional game mailed to my house. I also don't have a box filled with ads to throw out or a DVD to keep track of.
  3. Steam displays a metacritic review score of their products. Customers have the tools available to make an informed purchasing decision.
  4. Steam has its own social networking features that span beyond single games. I can meet up in Team Fortress 2 with the friends I made playing Day Of Defeat Source.
  5. Steam offers their products at a reasonable price. 
  6. Steam has the ability to offer free demos for a limited period of time, say a weekend. This is a very savvy way to increase sales.
  7. Along that line, with Steam's DRM they have the ability to give invitations to their customers for demos. I was able to send a friend of mine a guest pass for Team Fortress 2. From a marketing perspective think how powerful this tool is, the content provider is giving their customers a tool to provide word of mouth advertising for their products.
Steam can provide these features because of DRM. The DRM enables Steam to control whether their content runs or not. Steam uses this power benevolently.

By using DRM as a tool to provide better service to their customers, they are able to compete with piracy head on. Games delivered through Steam can easily offer a superior product to a pirated version that can be delivered just as quickly as a torrent.

If game publishers want to maximize their sales they need to stop thinking about their products as retail goods. They are intellectual properties. If the games are distributed as intellectual property, it can be performed without the costs and difficulties that come with retail goods. By exclusively distributing games online the manufacturing stage of development is eliminated. Logistics and shipping aren't a consideration either. Digital distribution is a more efficient vehicle to deliver content.

Steam's model can be improved though. The biggest criticism of purely DRM managed and digitally distributed software over traditional media distributed software is resaleability. With a traditionally purchased game that is distributed via DVD the purchaser of the game can sell it.

Game publishers are reluctant to make resale of their games easy. I'm sure they see every resale as a sale they didn't get. If a system like Steam were set up with a resale market place that is safe and easy there would be no reason to stay with the traditional system.

Instead of seeing resale as a threat I believe that game publishers would be better served looking at it as a feature and competitive advantage. Their customers will appreciate it and I believe they will prefer to pay money to legitimately purchase their games instead of downloading a pirated copy.

With good DRM a new paradigm of game sales and marketing is possible. I wish that more publishers would get on board with adopting this model in a way that enhances the video game buying experience. 

I Learned Why Agile Teams Like to Estimate In Points And Not Hours

I must admit that the first time I had heard of people estimating units of work in points for iteration planning I was confused. Why use points when we have units of time that we can all relate to? 

Points are used by many agile teams in lieu of hours to cleverly avoid a cycle of forecasting a precise number of hours to complete units of work. There is a tremendous psychological advantage of not planning in hours. Planning in hours brings too much baggage of accountability. The purpose of planning is finding an appropriate amount of work to perform within an iteration.

An iteration can be anything, but usually from a week to six weeks. The sweet spots for iterations, I hear, tend to be in the two to four week period. The purpose of planning is defining the amount of work that could be completed in that iteration. That's it. We're trying to define what we can do and then we're going to do it. 

So, why not use hours? Iterations could be measured in hours. Hours or other units of time seem perfect. That's how work is estimated in the world. Velocity is measured as distance divided by time. What better unit to use for time than time?

That was my thinking before I learned that the reason points are so common is because hours and days are very visible outside of the project team. Iteration planning begins to look a lot like forecasting. After learning what happens when C level managers stumble across iteration plans, we found out how much time it takes to explain that they aren't meant to be accurate forecasts, and then to explain that point again.

Allocating work for an iteration plan is a difficult concept for many people to understand.

Let's define agility as a set of practices that are meant to focus the efforts of stakeholders towards achieving the goals of the project and not participating in wasteful activities, such as unnecessary meetings, forecasting, administrative waste, etc.

Forecasting is expensive. If people are expected to be accountable for their forecasts, the forecasts will be safe. The effort that is spent in forecasting and answering to the forecasting is significant. At one job, every team member was expected to use 10% of their time for forecasting. It's worse for team leaders and project managers.

Forecasting encourages poor performance. The easist way to meet your forecasts is to forecast conservatively, i.e. to sandbag. If forecasting is treated like a big deal and failing to meet one's forecasts is treated more harshly than doing less work, people will sandbag.

What purpose does conventional forecasting serve? Essentially it is a tool for people to plan and track progress. Finance/accounting people like hours because they can convert that into their native language, costs or money. With forecasting they can allocate funds for a project and then the project leaders can be accountable for delivering within budget.

Forecasts are for planning budgets and iteration planning is for scheduling tasks. Two similar activities, but they are also very different. In iteration planning terms like SWAG and ROM are used, some wild ahem guess and rough order of magnitude. Those terms are there to let the planners feel more comfortable with providing input. Non-time units are used to help this even more. 

Why? Because when Jeff over in finance stumbles across an iteration plan his first thought is, "oh I wonder how we're doing and will want to compare the actuals with the forecast". If Jeff sees enough to become concerned, he's going to start calling meetings and asking questions. This will take resources away from the project.

Jeff doesn't know about agility. Jeff doesn't want to learn about it. Jeff knows money and accounting and he knows there will be hell to pay if development overruns their budget.

This meeting will invariably involve a conversation about how iteration planning is not forecasting, it's just designating units of work that will be done within a set unit of time, whereas forecasting is designating units of time that it will take to complete a set unit of work. They are very different, yet easily convertable on paper and prone to getting people very excited and spawning more meetings and more administrative overhead.

This is exactly the type of meeting that will bury an agile project. Instead of working on the project, the team members are answering Jeff's questions because Jeff saw something that looks like a forecast.

I think points are too close to hours and I think that numbers are too easy to confuse with tangible units of time. I don't have a great solution, but at the very least I'd recommend using a nonsensical unit. Glimzarks sound good. Instead of estimating in days, estimate in glimzarks. A glimzark is really 20 minutes. 3 Glimzarks to an hour. Don't worry about the conversions or using them in planning, to the team they can be hours, but only within closed doors. Swear everyone to secrecy to not disclose that a glimzark is a unit of work that can be converted to a unit of time.

Outside of the team, a glimzark is a unit of work. Any number of glimzarks is clearly labeled glimzark to avoid confusing iteration plans with forecasts. The factor of 3 is used to make it not appear easily convertible to hours.

Hopefully this clever trick will keep people like Jeff from assuming that an iteration plan is a good barometer for a project's health. 

Is this really Sarah Palin's Blog?

I can't tell if this is real or not. It's either a brilliant parody or not. 

It doesn't pass the smell test for me. I say brilliant parody. 

If I'm wrong and this is her blog, I'm very scared. 

What is this? Sarah palin

Below is a quote from her post on Matt Damon, it's entitled Matt Damon? More Like Matt Demon![am i rite?] 

I guess I shouldn't be surprised by this.  Matt Demon is one of those east-coast abortion and science lovers that are ruining this country.   First off, Matt Demon, it would make an AWESOME Disney movie and we are already in talks with there people to get this movie made.  The mom from Everybody Loves Raymond is going to play me (I think Jamie Lee Curtis would actually be better at playing me, but she is a stupid liberel) and Tom Selleck is going to be Todd.  I don't want to give the plot of the movie away but I can promise that it is going to have lots of comedy and jokes.  Second, Matt Demon, why don't you try and make realistic action movies like Red Dawn instead of all those totally fake Jason Born movies (as governor of Alaska I live with the reality that the Soviet Union and Cuba could attack at anytime- something Matt Demon doesn't have to worry about). 

I mean, really, where do you get off Matt Demon?  Instead of hating America why don't you just go to Afganistan and try to live there and that way people will never have to here about your stupid ideas.  I hate you so much!!!!1!!  You are the worst movie star ever and I hope you and Ben Affleck get a stupid disease and have STUPID LIVES with your muscles and boyish good looks and your carisma! 

Oh, what's the use...I have to admit to all of you that Matt's comments REALLY hurt me.  I can take it when my two-faced friends in Alaska say that they might not vote for me (to you 'ladies'- don't be surprised if your husbands end up taking an unplanned trip to Cuba when I am VP), but this is Matt Damon we are talking about.  I know that he is a liberel and hates me but I was really hoping that if I was Vice President he and I could hang out, maybe have a couple of drinks, listen to some music.   Nothing inappropriate (don't worry- Todd!  You are the only one for me!), just two friends spending some time together, but I guess that isn't possible now :(    

Please, please be a joke. 

EDIT: Oh--This site is a work of satire and is not affiliated with Sarah Palin in any way.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

From Valleyway: Good advice on how to avoid getting your job outsourced

Here's a nice piece of advice from Valleywag. If you're worried about you job being sent offshore, then stop telecommuting.

Telecommuting is kind of a proof of concept for offshoring. People who telecommute give an excellent baseline for the viability of sending a role overseas.

I'm not a huge fan of telecommuting. It is awesome to spend the day, pug in lap, working from home, but it isn't the same as going in to the office. 

For a long time I've preferred face to face conversations over email and telephone conversations. I couldn't put my finger over why I prefer them, but I think the biggest advantages I see in them are the opportunities to get on the same page with the other participants, we're all in the same room and we all can see each other. We can read body language. It's also difficult to blow each other off.

As a group leader I can't measure how much I prefer leading team members who are in the office over people who are located offsite. At my last company, we had a very good communication infrastructure. There were ample phone lines, conference rooms, teleconference rooms, etc. With those tools, communications to offsite people were far more challenging than they are in person.

My one offsite team member could shut me out any time he wanted. He was a terrible performer. I had to meet with him every other day and push him to get a one line code change into production. It took six weeks for him to write one line of code and promote it to production.

I did whatever I could, short of writing that line of code. When all was said and done I probably spend 40+ hours leading a guy to make, test, and promote a change that I could have probably completed myself in 4 hours.

At the time I was leading ten projects and that one project caused me more stress than any other. We delivered the project on time, but it could have been delivered about a month sooner had another engineer been put on it.

Several of my other projects had team members who the company had conveniently labeled as threshold, or poor performers. The big difference between them and Mr. Offsite is I could sit down with them every day. Those projects all finished on time, and within a reasonable amount of time.

The benefit I had leading those guys is I would visit them every day. I tried not to micromanage, but I sat down with them and asked how things were going, asked if there is anything that they needed, and asked how they were doing. Any opportunity I could find to help them, I did it. 

When they had difficulty with some technical pieces I sat down with them and worked it out with them the same way one of my mentors did it with me. I didn't presume to know exactly how it should be done and dictate it to them. That gets them over one hurdle, instead I lead them through how to find the resources to learn how to do the technical pieces. 

By going through a discovery process with a team member I'm elevating their perception of themselves. As the technical leader I'm not acting like the person with all the answers, instead I'm saying I'm a person who can find the answers. And I show them how I do it. They may learn how to solve that one problem, but what I hope they learn is how to find a solution for their challenges.

In addition to giving technical guidance, I asked my team members for their opinions and encouraged them to give their input into projects. I tried to make the projects their projects. I was just the leader, they were doing the work. I wanted them to feel good about it.

The other big benefit in sitting down with them face to face is they knew I wasn't going anywhere and they would have to meet with me. They couldn't tune me out they had to face me. I did my best to make these meetings pleasant, but I also made sure that they knew that they would be held accountable for their progress.

But probably the biggest benefit of sitting with the local guys is I could see that they were in the office working. I could see what they were doing, and I could see that they were making progress. I didn't need to rely on what they told me. The offsite guy, he was in a black hole for all I knew. I could go a couple days without hearing from him or being able to contact him. The longer the no contact periods were, the more stress I would feel. 

The results of meeting with the team members this way were great. The team members contributed to their projects and the projects were successfully delivered on time.

The two threshold local guys still have jobs at the company. The other guy's contract was not renewed.

There's value in face time that is easy to overlook. 

When you telecommute, you make yourself an offsite employee. When you telecommute, you give up face time for that day. You also take away one of your biggest competitive advantages over the offsite workers.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Today's Challenge

Breathe in and count to 5

Hold it and count to ten

Exhale and count to 5


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Excellent Read, Excellent Listen

Fresh Air last night featured a great interview with Thomas Friedman. Friedman spoke about the current state of energy in the world including John McCain's and Barak Obama's energy policies.

I feel very strongly about energy. The sooner we can rid ourselves of petroleum the better.

Please listen to this interview. 

Fifteen Points Will Be Awarded To Chrome

In my earlier impression of Chrome I noted that it was lacking the Quicktime plugin that is required to listen to my voicemail messages online. 

I can say that no longer. The voicemail messages work in Chrome now. Awesome.

For this, I award Chrome fifteen points.

9/8/2008: David Hussman Speaks at the Twin Cities Java User Group

David Hussman gave a presentation last night at the Twin Cities Java User Group. The topic was Architecture and Agility Are Not Mutually Exclusive. If you haven't heard David Hussman speak I recommend that you do. David will be presenting at the October 10-12 No Fluff Just Stuff Twin Cities Software Symposium, which, in my opinion, is an excellent opportunity for us to take a weekend and exchange ideas on software development.

Hussman is one of my favorite agile speakers, he promotes making processes work to fit the people. I don't want to put words into his mouth, but the takeaways I get from his presentations are to focus on the people and let everything else evolve around them. He says that processes should be descriptive and not prescriptive, that is document what you are doing and work with it and evolve it into the process that you want.

Don't come up with abstract processes that may not have any resemblence to what you are doing and try to force a team to do that.
A perfect example of that was when I worked for a company that was working to become CMMI certified. Part of the CMMI process was to document the processes. One of the features that was touted about CMMI is that ulike [that silly fad] ISO 9000, (you hear the chuckles from the crowd and presenter), these processes are actually used. There would be ample documentation about how to do every aspect of our jobs. Just like the military, we'd have Standard Operating Procedures, SOPs, for every facet of our duties. Instead of miring in paralysis by analysis we'd already have a prescriptive guide for how to do our jobs. Awesome.

Being the simp that I am. I believed that the words that that company's managers had had meanings and I tried to follow the procedures that were documented. I read the Software Engineering Process documentation that was written by our lone project manager. I read the standard operating procedures whenever I was uncertain about what I should do in a situation. I quickly realized that all of the documentation had been written by the same project manager.

This is the project manager who was best known for asking developers how much time could they save if they reduced the quality of the product. From many of my peers and my vantage point, she didn't know the first thing about developing software. But now we came to find that she literally wrote the rule book for how to do it.

For the time that I was there I had a manager who thrived on conflict. He would love to find these processes that don't work and make a call to the person responsible. I don't know if he was more interested in pointing out someone's failures to them or if he just wanted to make sure that things that were broken didn't stay that way. Regardless, with the CMMI work, he was able to make lots of calls.

What came of this experience? Well, the company became something like CMMI Level 3 or 4 certified, but the documentation and 'the process' was mostly ignored. Why wouldn't it be? It was all written by the one person who wasn't busy developing software and there was a disconnect between her values as a project manager and the collective values of the software developers. The net result is a tremendous amount of waste.
The story above is a prescriptive set of procedures that were written by someone who didn't 'get it'. Hussman 'gets it' when it comes to documenting process.

Another point that I've heard him make a few times now is his challenge of the construction paradigm that we follow when we partake in software development projects. The construction paradigm is essentially what we follow by doing a waterfall project with clear roles for architects, engineers, project managers, the customer, and builders. It seems to make sense. The metaphor, conceptually works. The architect provides the vision, the engineers make sure that the vision will work, the builders make it, the project manager tracks it, and the customer decides how correct it is and pays for it. We, as people, have done projects like this for years.

I had a laugh this morning at Caribou when I was talking to my coterie of early risers. One is the head of facilities for a local university and the other is a retire electrician. I asked them the same question that David Hussman asked about the construction paradigm. How often are projects delivered that are complete, on time, and under budget. The answer is almost never under normal circumstances. Between these two guys is close to 70 years of collective building experience.

Granted, the current golden child of project management in the twin cities, the 35W bridge is going to be built well ahead of the 'due date'. The reason that it will is because building it is a priority, and an early completion date is accommodatable through a generous budget and massive incentives.

If we want to use that model for our other projects, be prepared to grow the budget significantly to firm up the schedule.

The last point that I took from the presentation was Hussman's message that a project isn't just the developers and it isn't just the developers and the architects. The project involves a community of stakeholders. One exercise that he showed is a Venn diagram showing the people who build, the people who name value, and the people who track the project. A successful project isn't just a dialogue between a project manager and a developer. It isn't a dialogue between an architect and a developer.

To be successful to all parties with an interest, a project must be an open conversation for the people involved.