Archive for June, 2006

Sneak Peak: Vista MicroDLM

Want to download Vista, but don't want to suffer from broken links 3GB into the download? Try the following MicroDLM:

Click the install button, run the installer, and it'll detect that you've done so. Once installed, it'll show you download progress right on the page, like iTunes in a box. Just a sneak peak at the magic we've got working for us under the hood; expect more fun soon. -quinthar

Engineering is not Innovation, Bangkok Style

For an extra 60 Baht, the taxi driver will take the elevated toll road to the Bangkok international airport. Quicker, smoother, and well worth the $1.50. Along the way, however, I'm struck by what appears to be a second, uncompleted toll road running along side. Some years ago, massive construction began on the first incarnation of the road, but was abandoned for reasons unknown. Through some colossal feat of mismanagement, dozens of cement and rebar pylons were built at an epic scale - at I'm sure astonishing expense - only to be left forgotten as a second, nearly identical toll road was constructed along the exact same route. It would appear that someone took the old software engineering adage "plan to throw one away" to heart. But software engineering is not civil engineering. Indeed, if "engineering" is the practice of applying known techniques to predictable problems with high levels of repeatability, using that to word to describe innovative software development exercise is wishful thinking. Innovative software is no more "engineered" than your mom's home cooking. In each case, the ingredients available, the appetites of the customers, the time constraints, kitchen supplies, extra hands - everything is volatile right up to the point of being served (and even after). No, innovation cannot be engineered. It can only be inspired and nurtured. And to the degree it can be done at all, innovation management is more about directing the firehose than watering a garden. Which brings me back to the discarded roadway littered across Bangkok. Someone on that project screwed up, and I doubt it was the engineers. Rather, the project leaders mistakenly thought they were executing on a predictable engineering project, when in fact they were embarking on an innovative exercise in Thai financing and politics. And from an engineering perspective, it was a remarkable success. But this wasn't the real challenge, and thus millions of taxpayer dollars produced nothing more than a crumbling monument to innovation mismanagement. So the question that every manager needs to ponder is: am I managing engineering? Or am I managing innovation? Because the two are not the same thing, and the tech landscape is littered with countless examples of one that was mistaken for the other.

Midnight Train

I've tried to keep all of my posts biz-related, but there's one Thailand story that needs to be told, what a friend of mine calls a "Life Story." Nothing big, but one of those things you'll never forget, and something to tell the grandkids. We're on our way up to Bangkok from Krabi, Thailand, nearing the end of our trip, and getting a last week in of work before we head back to the states. We're getting out of town right as monsoon season starts, and I'm telling you, those Vietnam movies that seem unrealistic where it's just raining like somebody's pouring water from a bucket. .. they're legit. We're about ready to get onto our ghetto train, and the air is simply turning into water. Tom and I are carrying our laptops, and scared out of our minds that our most important assets are short-circuiting as we run to the sleeper car. We make it in the train right as it starts to leave the station. An old Thai lady is sitting in my seat smiling. David tells me not to go aggro or cause an awkward scene. . .so I don't. One constant of this trip, wherever we go, whatever we are doing is that we have our laptops out and are incessantly looking for AC power to plug in. We have a power-strip, and don't hesitate to lay it out anywhere and everybody plug in. On this train, I have power-finding duty. Walking up and down the train, I make it to the cargo area where I'm abruptly confronted by the conductor half naked in a towel, like he just took a shower, with shaving cream on his face yelling at me to get out (in Thai of course). Ummm, who's driving the train?. . . . nevermind, don't want to know the answer. No outlet, no power, nothing, nada. Meanwhile, Tom, our resident Aussie-DJ, software dev, and DIY electrical engineer is trying to take apart the lights in the train to turn into a power source. The police walking up and down the train look at us in a way that says, "Do you really want to spend the night in a Thai jail?" Finally, I make my way to the other end of the train, where there is a diner car. After ultra-cheap meals all throughout Thailand, I was actually upset with the menu prices, almost a $1.50. But all of a sudden it got real quiet, I see this glowing light in the corner, and a soothing catholic choir sounding background noise of awwhhhhhhh (you know the sound I'm talking about). There it was, the AC outlet. Now forget about the glowing and the religious moment I had there, this outlet is tucked away in a place in this diner car people don't go, and this outlet is GHET - TOE, looking shady, like if you plug into it, the train will derail or something. Nahhh. . .it will be fine. I get the guys, we make our way to the diner car. We order some food as a sign of supporting the local diner car economy. There are 4 police officers in the diner car and a lot of people that look at us somewhat suspiciously as the only farangs (aka, white-boys) that made it to this side of the train. We're eating, looking around, trying to figure out how to get us some power. . . Breakthrough. David has the idea that we buy everybody in the diner car including the police and staff, a round of beers. At only $0.50 or so a beer, it's really no skin off our backs, and if it gets us power to work for the rest of the night, then it's *way* worth it. So the locals were very pleased with the generous farang outsiders and the general mood in the diner car warms up precipitously. The police were the first to pop the tops and start guzzling. Suddenly a screeching, chalkboard-scratching sound starts squealing from the stereo they have set up in the diner car, like some RIAA-induced "You are a pirate, we have jacked your music up, so that you will no longer be a pirate and conform". Let me tell you, that anti-piracy crap doesn't work in Thailand. They make their way through the scratches like nothing happened. But we had to do something, and this could be our opportunity to hit a couple birds with one stone. We offer up Tom, our resident Aussie-DJ (new Swoosh team member) for DJ services-they call him DJ Asbestos back in Australia. He lights up his laptop, plugs the stereo into his audio out, and starts getting this train rocking and rolling. Now, this isn't entirely new for us, we've pulled out DJ Asbestos in a number of occasions during this trip to enhance the nightlife and barter with the locals. This was no different. The moment he lit his laptop up, we quickly whipped out the power strip, laid it on the side of the car, we all plugged in, and we were on our way to a productive Swoosh evening. The locals were rocking, Tom was able to get his software development on after setting up a long playlist, David was cranking on some code, though harassed by an old-drunk thai man who was a bit scary, and I was jamming on our new site layout. The old man was getting pretty aggressive, so we tried to mollify him with a couple more beers. . . no luck. When the locals guessed that he was going to be the buzz kill, the police escorted him back to his seat. A few local thai girls were into the tunes and into this strange scene, were practicing their english with us "I think you are beautiful". . . "My heart pounds for you", weird . No, they weren't lady-boys, and no we weren't interested, but they were good looking and yeah, it was cool to be rock stars, at least for a night. The night got a bit more underway, and one of the diner employees just started emptying beers into buckets of ice, and just made the rounds back and forth throughout the diner car. Even when we were inundated with one of the deadly plagues, thousands of 2 inch flying ants get sucked into our car, this guy keeps pouring. He kept filling them up, 10 straws in each of them, making the rounds while we hammered away on our keyboards. As we split through the remote jungles of Thailand, we filled the locals with good cheer, filled the air with good tunes, good fun, and one hell of a Life Story. - chief swoosher