26 October 2006

Apple General Blogs

This is part 1 in my "Blogs I Read" series. I hope you find it useful. Infinite Loop - Ars Technica Staff - Feed I found Ars Technica before it had an RSS feed and it quickly earned a place on my bookmark bar. Infinite Loop is the Apple subsection or "journal" of their main site and they do a good job of finding interesting stuff Apple related. They put it best: "Infinite Loop is Ars Technica's journal devoted to Apple and Apple related ventures." My favorite part about their web site? Their tag line: "Serving the PC enthusiast for over 6 x 10^-2 centuries" Daring Fireball - John Gruber - Feed I really don't know where John came from, just that all of the sudden there was this guy who seemed to continuously have these very detailed and interesting Mac articles on his web site. That was a while back, now he's gone "pro" as a full-time blogger. His business model? Buy a shirt from him, and get full access to his daily links RSS feed for 1 year. I hope he's able to keep it up. His best post ever: Vacation, All I Ever Wanted in which he single handedly explains the joys of being a young Dad, the priceless nature of a single photo and the core reason all of us really need a bullet-proof backup system like Time Machine. FatBits - John Siracusa - Feed John Siracusa does excellent long form reporting of Apple and the Mac OS. Since we moved from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X he has done the most extensive analysis of each of the major OS releases. Even with months of experience with the OS seeds we get from Apple, John still seems to find plenty new and interesting. John's blog is a classic quality over frequency type of blog. Planet Tao of Mac - Various Authors - Feed This is a cool collection blog of many Mac users around the world. I like it because 1) I was asked to be a part of it. ;-) and 2) It helps me keep my thinking about Apple and the Mac OS in a more world wide view point rather than the US centric standard. Slashdot: Apple - Various Slashdot Users - Feed Slashdot's tag line is: "News for nerds, stuff that matters" and that pretty much sums it up. It's also kind of nice to get my daily dose of MS hate and Apple love in one place. ;-) Think Secret - Unknown - Feed There are many Apple rumor blogs, and they all seem to have about the same "quality". I just picked one. It's a never ending pass-time to guess about what Apple might do next. So this blog fills that need, if you have it.

24 October 2006

Out of the Best Books

I've been reading blogs for over 2 years now. That's not very much time, but enough to really appreciate the conversation that is the "blogosphere." I'm only now realizing that because of my time invested in reading blogs, I'm not getting to read the books that normally I'm able to enjoy. Additionally, since I started working at Microsoft as a teenager, I've never finished my college degree. Now it's time to focus in earnest on completing that bit of my education. (Sidenote: If you have any tips for attending college and working full-time, send 'em my way!) So, in order to make more time in my life, I'm going to unsubscribe from many of my favorite blogs, not because of the content quality, but simply because for this next season in my life, I can't afford that luxury. So the next few posts are going to be a little meta-meta while I blog about blogs. :-) I figure that if I'm not going to read these excellent blogs anymore, at least a few of my readers might enjoy reading them in my absence. Further, it will be interesting from a personal recording standpoint when I come back, to see how my interests have changed. My process for choosing which blogs I read has been roughly this:

  1. Someone I trust points me to a new blog or blog post.
  2. I read the post and then skim the rest of the current posts, if most of the posts look insightful, I subscribe.
  3. If the author posts multiple times each day, I'll often unsubscribe, unless the posts are very short and very interesting. This kind of rapid fire posting might be good for traffic, but the randomization doesn't help me focus or think deeply about the topic at hand.
  4. Generally, I tend toward long form posts, rather than short pithy stuff. Not that I don't enjoy cleverness, it's just that from my experience most worthwhile topics can't be reduced to a simple sound bite without severe data loss.
  5. There's always a risk that an author will have a few brilliant posts and then degrade into less meaningful writing. When I see this happen, I unsubscribe.
I use NewsFire to read blogs. It's simple, small and stays out of my way. In NewsFire I have a set of blogs in my "Interesting" group. This is my holding bin, the place where I put new blogs I've encountered, but are currently "on trial" to see if they graduate to a final resting place as one of my standard blogs. My typical pattern is to skim posts in NewsFire to see what I want to take time to read and fully digest the ideas. If I do, I open the post as a new tab in Safari. When I'm done, I close NewsFire and process the remaining pages open in Safari. So, I hope you enjoy the next few pointers. And if you are the author of a blog I mention, don't be sad, just remember, it's not a "good bye", it's just a "see you later." ;-)

23 October 2006

WWDC Sessions on iTunes

I just got this email from Apple: What can I say? Apple, you just made my day. (And pushed me that much closer to a Video iPod...) It looks like there's more content on the way. Did I mention since I attended the conference, all of this is "free"? It will be interesting to see if ADC members who didn't attend will be able to purchase this content. I sure hope so. Update: For a direct link to the iTunes area, click here

20 October 2006

$30,000 Apple Logo

A few months ago we got a bunch of Intel Mac minis (Intel Core Solo). We got 64 for automation and a some others for testers to use. When I saw the pile of boxes sitting in the hall to be recycled, I knew I had to save them. We piled them into my office knowing that there would be something I could do with them, but I just didn't know what or when. A few weeks later, it hit me. I opened up OmniGraffle and sketched out the plan:

The Plan
For those of you not experienced with pixel art, what you see above is the Apple logo. I might add that it's very hard to come up with something that will look like the Apple logo with so few pixels. Seriously, try it. Once I got something that looked good, I got Joe to come and help me out. It took a bit of effort, but with Joe's help and some double sided tape, we got it finished:
My Office Apple Logo
I like to think I have the most expensive non-Apple-assembled Apple logo in my Office. This week we got our shipment of an additional 64 Intel Mac minis (Intel Core Duo) for automation. Hmmm, more boxes...

19 October 2006


Jonathan Rentzsch is putting on a small developer conference called C4. For various reasons I'm not able to go, but oh how I want to. I'm SO glad it's going to be re-broadcast like Evening at Adler was. Any how, I just found out that one of our Office developers, namely Olof Hellman, is making the trek all the way from Redmond to Chicago for the conference! I'm so jealous. The good news is that he'll be blogging about it on our team blog, Mac Mojo, so if you haven't subscribed to the Official MacBU blog and are interested in C4, I'd subscribe to the blog just for Olof's guest posts while at the conference.

17 October 2006

New Sony Bravia Paint Ad

I've posted before about how much I liked the other Sony Bravia ad and this new water-based-paint explosion ad looked really interesting. Today Sony released it. Check it out here. I'm not impressed. It's an amazing amount of work, to be sure, but it seems like it's too fast and ends too abruptly. Maybe that's what they were going for, but what's up with the clown? There is a good part at the end when all the "colored rain" comes down in different shades, other than that, not very inspiring. I would have liked to see more slow motion paint movement as well as different music that is less agitating. On the other hand, maybe it's just me and everyone else will just love the whole thing. Since many asked last time about the clean up, here's what they have to say:

Our latest TV ad - featuring massive paint explosions - took 10 days and 250 people to film. Huge quantities of paint were needed to accomplish this, which had to be delivered in 1 tonne trucks and mixed on-site by 20 people. The effect was stunning, but afterwards a major clean-up operation was required to clear away all that paint! The cleaning took 5 days and 60 people. Thankfully, the use of a special water-based paint made it easy to scrape-up once the water had evaporated. Keeping everyone safe was also an important factor. A special kind of non-toxic paint was used that is safe enough to drink (it contains the same thickeners that are sometimes used in soups). It was also completely harmless to the skin.

Woz at Microsoft

One of the cool things about working at Microsoft is the constant stream of interesting guest speakers. Recently it was Steve Wozniak. It was facinating to listen to him speak about his love for technology. I had my trusty MacBook Pro and took down some notes and fun quotes. On chip design: "I played a game: how can you design it better than before. I wanted to see if I could design something with half as many parts." On wanting a computer: I told my Dad, "I'm going to have a computer." Dad said, "It costs as much as a house." I was stunned and quickly replied, "Then I'm going to get an apartment." About his microprocessor, "I couldn't afford one, but I could build it. I could always build something for free." Woz was giving away his Basic schematics, then when Jobs found out, he said, "Let's sell it." On Human Computer Interaction: "It's a lot easier to design a computer than make it acceptable to people in their lives." On Apple's rank in early computer magazines: "Apple was always at the top of the list, you know, alphabetical order." On the small business owners in the 70s and 80s: "They didn't want a computer, they wanted a solution." On childlike learning: "What's fun for kids can be fun for adults and that's my philosophy." Someone asked what excites you? His response: "Products done really well from the people point of view." "Steve jobs never programmed in his life." Someone asked if he had any regrets to which Woz replied: "Regrets about Apple, no. Regrets about my own life? Yes, I wish I would have put floating point in Basic, but I wanted to get it done quick."

02 October 2006

Using Scrum in MacBU

Today marks the official beginning of sprint number 2 for the Automation Team. Last month was our first attempt at a modified Scrum. I mention "modified Scrum" simply because of the cruel fact that I don't know everything there is to know about the Scrum Methodology. We just kind of picked out what made immediate sense and did it. It's a good change and we are learning. While our team is the first team in MacBU to be using this Agile process, hundreds of teams at Microsoft have had great success with it. We've had daily standup meetings for a long time, but this was the first time we actually did the product backlog and sprint backlog so I thought I'd record some of my personal reactions to the experience. There's a lot to like about what we've experienced so far, and as we figure out better how to apply this "Agile" stuff, I'm hopeful things will get even better. Here are some of my first impressions about the process: The backlog provides an awesome communication vehicle. Before the beginning of September the four of us on my team got together and generated a big long list of all the things we would like to do. We put all of this in OmniPlan, and then selected a subset that we would tackle in September. This did several very good things:

  1. It got us all excited about the ways our team could contribute to the overall success of the software products we produce.
  2. Helped us "get on the same page" with respect to the meaning of the individual items. You'd be surprised how different people can interpret even the shortest sentence!
  3. Allowed everyone on the team to see exactly what everyone else had to do.
  4. Allowed me, as a lead, to post the sprint backlog in the Lab for everyone to see. If folks wanted to see what we were working on, or how much progress we were making, it became very trivial. Perhaps low tech, but effective.
Developers are less randomized and more focused. Part of working on an internal team that builds software for folks sitting in the office next to you is that you get a lot of requests and lots of feedback. This is good, but the flip side is it can also lead to lots of interruptions and cause your efforts to be spread so thin that your effectiveness suffers. With our focus set in the Sprint backlog, new requests simply wait until the next sprint. All the devs get to remain heads down getting stuff done. Cross Team Collaboration Improves. With the sprint backlog in place, when someone or some team comes to us to ask us to "Do X" we can immediately respond, "That's a great idea, does it need to happen this sprint?" Almost always, it can wait, and this does two great things:
  1. It allows time for the customer to really think about the request. By the time the next sprint rolls around what was life-and-death-urgent is now better thought out and prioritized more realistically.
  2. It gets our "customers" in sync with our rhythm of delivery. The theme becomes, "Get your ideas in the next sprint's backlog, and you'll see some action on it in a month." All the lobbying for changes and design discussions about what goes in next will happen with the Product Backlog owner (me in this case) while the rest of the devs are uninterrupted.
High quality things get done! This seems maybe a bit silly, but at the end of the sprint, even if you way over estimated your production capability, (which we did) you have something to show for your efforts. Not just working software, but reasonable easy to understand metrics (like units of work per day) that everyone can understand when you need to explain why it will indeed take 3 weeks to deliver a high quality solution next sprint. Things get better now. One of the most interesting things about this whole process is how it elevates and exposes problems in the stuff you are doing. As you look at the backlog and compare your velocity of production to what you thought you could do, immediately you and everyone else begin to consider, "Why does this take so long?" On the last day of the sprint, (last Friday for us) we got together in the Cafeteria and took some time just to reflect on how things went, what slowed us down, and what can we do better. What's great about this is you remember what you were doing and then we add to the next Sprint items that will increase our velocity. As Henry Petroski has said in To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design, we learn more from our failures than our successes. But only if we pay attention to the failures and figure out what to do right the next time. This is so much better than waiting until we ship Office to have our "Post Mortem" to discuss how the release went. Problems are fresh, and fixing them right away have a good chance of paying off in the current product cycle. All in all, I'm very happy with how Scrum is working for our Team. For October, the Tools Team and Lab Team are joining us in testing out the Scrum process. I hope it works out for them, as well as it did for us. P.S. If this kind of software development stuff interests you, there's a great overview talk I recently found by Ken Schwaber which was produced as part of the Google Tech Talk series. I really enjoyed it. Lastly, if any of you have any sage advice for a Scrum Master in Training, I'd love to hear it.