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Thursday 23 April 2015

First, a not-so-smart car:

I'm not sure what amused me more, the disproportionate tow truck or that the Smart Car driver parked in a rush-hour tow zone long enough for Streets & Sanitation to remove him.

Then, for everyone who takes his dog to work, there's this food truck:

I didn't pick anything up for Parker yet. ($2.50 per biscuit? Did I read that right?) But if it comes back, maybe.

Thursday 23 April 2015 13:44:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | Parker | Business#
Wednesday 22 April 2015

I had a mind-numbing email exchange with a large corporate IT department today.

One of our best customers has a problem: no one has been able to use our software since Friday. We’ve been troubleshooting this problem. But we haven’t been able to fully investigate the issue, despite tremendous effort. We think we've uncovered the main issue preventing us from fixing the main issue.

We couldn't connect to either their production or user-acceptance test (UAT) Web services from inside our office because (we thought) their IP whitelist (a list of Internet addresses allowed to connect to them) didn't have our office on it. We got in touch with one of their developers—let’s call him "Bugs"—and requested the change. He responded that he had forwarded the request to his network team and we should expect whitelisting in 2-3 weeks.

I responded that I would be happy to get anyone else at his company involved to see about resolving this matter more quickly. Anyone, for example, like the division president who happened to be visiting Chicago this week. Or the vice-president whose users couldn't connect. Bugs, in turn, set up a call with their network team for the next morning, India time. So on our 9:30pm call last night (8am for them), we got sufficient firepower from inside their organization to get whitelisted wiki-wiki.

This morning (US time), we again attempted to run our tests against their UAT environment, and again could not connect. We could, however, connect to their Production environment. So their network guys did something, we just couldn't tell what. At least we can start trying to reproduce the production issue.

I sent another email to Bugs: “We can reach Production but not UAT. We are able to hit {production URL}, but not able to hit {UAT URL}. We’re seeing an error message that there is no endpoint listening at {UAT URL}. Is UAT offline or in an unstable state?”

Bugs sent back a message from his network guys showing a screen shot of their whitelist. Sure enough, the network guys did their jobs; we were whitelisted to both environments.

I responded, “OK, but we still can’t connect to {UAT URL}. Is it possible the UAT environment is offline?”

Bugs chewed on his carrot for a moment and responded, “We have stopped the UAT environment.”

O___O

So now I’m weighing responses. I have “Would you please start the UAT environment?” as my opening sentence, but I’m stuck on how to proceed. Options include:

  1. “We anticipate a higher likelihood of successfully testing against it if it’s running."
  2. "Ah, so this is a PEBCAK problem after all. Please address the issue between your chair and keyboard and try the operation again."
  3. "Now you're just fucking with me."
  4. "I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you're looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my UAT environment go now, that will be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you."

At some point I just expect him to respond with, "A møøse bit my sister once," but I'm also fairly certain he has no demonstrable sense of humor.

Ah, an email just came in from his supervisor's supervisor. Apparently they're restarting the UAT environment. I will now resume my labors.

Update: Once we finally connected to the UAT environment, we got back an error message, clearly indicating that their environment is misconfigured. Not that we were suspicious of Bugs' insistence that nothing at all has changed on their end, but once we got this particular error message, we forwarded the details to his team with the suggestion that they check their logs too. It's just past 2am IST so we expect that nothing much will happen until later tonight.

Wednesday 22 April 2015 11:27:24 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Work#
Monday 20 April 2015

(Note: The developer in question does not work for my company.)

I'm looking at some code in one of the products I'm responsible for, and I just came across this.

// ReSharper disable once RedundantAssignment
Tuple<List<SomeChartData>, string> objReportdata = null;

Let's review the WTFs:

  1. The developer didn't understand ReSharper's admonition that the "= null" is completely useless, so he disabled the warning.
  2. The Tuple is actually the return value of the method. It doesn't even need to be declared as a variable; it can simply be returned to the caller.
  3. Why are we using a Tuple in the first place?
  4. Oh; the string part of the Tuple is the title of the chart. This is a code smell, but I haven't analyzed it deeply enough yet to figure out how to clean it up.
  5. Wait, so why a Tuple? Why don't we simply have a first-class data transfer object that has everything one needs for a chart?
  6. OK, so even with a Tuple, why are we declaring it with a List instead of an IEnumerable or ICollection? What business is it of the calling method what concrete object we use to return chart data?
  7. Despite repeated directions to read our sodding code standards document, he named the variable—which is useless, remember—with a forbidden Hungarian prefix and used what I'm going to call for the moment "humping camel case." I don't know what that camel is really doing, but I'm pretty sure "data" should be capitalized.

The entire method of 40 lines had too many WTFs in it so I simply had ReSharper re-write it for me. It's now 20 lines, avoids the second of two doubly-nested foreach loops, and uses named constants instead of magic numbers. And it still stinks.

</rant>

Monday 20 April 2015 15:26:10 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Work#
Friday 17 April 2015

New Republic's John Paul Rollert explains:

That a flight on Spirit will occasionally cost you less than $40 highlights for its defenders the airline’s essential promise: bargain basement ticket prices. “Offering our low fares requires doing some things that some people complain about,” [Spirit’s CEO, Ben] Baldanza wrote in an email to the Dallas Morning News last April, after the paper ran a story about the egregious number of complaints his company receives. “[H]owever, these reduce costs which gives our customers the lowest fares in the industry.” The contention is not unreasonable, it's merely disingenuous. Baldanza would have us believe that the frustration with Spirit is simply a matter of obtuse passengers confusing the constraints of a low-cost carrier with a wanton unwillingness to afford First Class frills. Most people, however, don’t expect artisanal mustard at McDonald's or concierge service at Save-a-Lot. The discontent is not a consequence of failing to meet ridiculous expectations, but flouting those that are entirely reasonable.

Success breeds admirers. In December, Delta announced that it was introducing five categories of service, including its answer to Spirit’s Bare Fare: Basic Economy. In addition to its precarious grammar, Basic Economy does not allow passengers to pick their seats, change their itineraries, or fly standby. The move is merely the most recent evidence that Spirit has become a trendsetter—arguably, the trendsetter—in the American airlines industry. But what trend is it exactly? Baldanza has repeatedly affirmed that Spirit is refining the art of offering affordable airfare, an effort which he qualifies as nothing less than an essentially democratic endeavor. He has a point, insofar that we live in a world where social mobility and simple mobility increasingly go hand-in-hand. Yet other low-cost carriers have long provided models of budget air travel without engendering nearly the angst of Spirit.

This seems like a familiar story. I mean that literally: didn't someone else run almost the same story a few months back?

Friday 17 April 2015 13:52:14 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | US | Business#
Friday 10 April 2015

The Inner Drive Extensible Architecture (IDEA) is now on NuGet.org. This means anyone, anywhere can download it and install it into their own .NET project.

I'll publish the Inner Drive Azure Tools at some point after I figure out a cool acronym.

This was actually forced on me by a new requirement to share the code with overseas partners. They would be unable to use the software I wrote for work if I hadn't done this.

Friday 10 April 2015 13:32:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cool links#
Tuesday 31 March 2015

...sort of. But that's not important right now. I'm just spiking some articles to read later:

OK, time for a vendor phone call...

Tuesday 31 March 2015 15:22:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | Religion | Business | Cool links#
Saturday 28 March 2015

One of the biggest perks of being a CTO is that I get to roll out really fun initiatives every so often. Our CEO has a Microsoft Surface 2, and he's had such success with it that we decided to make it our official laptop replacement.

I made one moderately-annoying error in rolling out Surface Pro 3 tablets to seven people who were waiting for laptops: I failed to give the less-technical users guidance on how to set up user accounts. We're fixing it, but we still have some confusion around the idea that multiple authentication providers can use the same account name. Think about it: Microsoft and Google will both allow you to set up accounts with a gmail.com email address, and even let you use that address as the user name; but they're separate accounts, and Microsoft has no way of knowing if you've changed your Google password. But users who always set up the same account name and password (please do not do this! Get a password manager instead) get into the habit of logging in to things the same way, and don't have the mental model of the difference between a username-password combination and an actual authenticated identity.

Despite the hiccup rolling them out, they've been a success. They have about a quarter the mass of a laptop but most of the power. For most users, who rarely create 50 MB presentations and who have never tried to debug a 50,000-line MVC application, even the entry-level Surface Pro 3 is more power than they'll ever use.

After having mine a little more than a week, I have to say it's my favorite tablet so far. First, it runs Windows 8 (and in July I'm upgrading to Windows 10). So it behaves exactly like my laptop. In fact, since I use my Microsoft ID to log into both my main laptop and my Surface, all my preferences and settings are synchronized (including WiFi passwords, I was surprised to discover), making it even easier to switch between them.

Second, the keyboard and stylus work better than I was expecting. I have an ASUS 700 with a keyboard attachment that I never use, principally because the keyboard, which functions as an extension battery, weighs almost as much as the tablet. But the Surface keyboard is light and makes sense as a cover. The stylus also gives me more control over routine point-and-click tasks than I've been able to achieve on my ASUS. I'm still not as proficient with it as I am with an ordinary mouse, but I'm getting there. I'd probably like it even more if I were a graphic artist.

I've got a couple of annoyances with the device, but nothing that's a deal-breaker. I may catalog them later. For now, I'm pretty satisfied with the thing, and I'm even happier that it lets me leave my laptop at my office most of the time. If only it could drive a pair of 24-inch monitors through DVI...then I could actually develop software on it.

Friday 27 March 2015 20:02:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cool links#
Wednesday 18 March 2015

Under the status update "...it's as though millions of llamas suddenly cried out and were suddenly silenced," one of my Facebook friends posted this sad news:

Maxis—the developer of SimCity, and a studio I’m comfortable calling one of the most influential of all time—is closing shop. The news was confirmed by designer Guillaume Pierre over Twitter.

“Well it was a fun 12 years,” wrote Pierre, “but it's time to turn off the lights and put the key under the door.”

Founded by Will Wright and Jeff Braun in 1987 to work on SimCity, Maxis’s Emeryville, Calif.-based studio took the simulation genre in every possible direction and every imaginable scale,from the whole SimEarth to tiny SimAnts. There were flubs—SimCopter and The Streets of SimCity come to mind—but in 2000, Wright and Maxis would create the best-selling PC game of all time: The Sims.

This doesn't mean the end of SimCity, but it may not be the best thing that ever happened to one of my favorite computer games. Of course, I haven't really played it in a while...

Wednesday 18 March 2015 14:22:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#
Tuesday 10 March 2015

Business lunch, business dinner, 8:30am call, 1:30pm call—and right now, six minutes to click "Send to Kindle:"

Time to get some water, plug in my Fitbit, and prep for my 1:30 call.

Tuesday 10 March 2015 12:58:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | US | Business | Weather | Work#
Wednesday 18 February 2015

Yesterday I found out that Weather Now, my demonstration app, got a mention on local TV in New Hampshire. Apparently it's now in newspapers as well.

Are the mentions driving traffic? Hard to tell. According to Google Analytics, the site had 1,957 unique visitors on Monday against an average of around 400. Yesterday that number fell to 760. But for the three days ending yesterday, 18% of the site's visitors came from New Hampshire and another 23% from Massachusetts and New York. So it is getting picked up.

But is anyone clicking the Donate button? Sadly, no.

(The donate link works for The Daily Parker, too. Hint, hint.)

Wednesday 18 February 2015 10:36:53 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business | Weather#
Tuesday 17 February 2015

Local Manchester, N.H., television station WMUR mentioned my weather application on the news last night:

There was only one place in the world colder than Mount Washington this morning: the south pole. The weather website wx now.com says the summit's temperature of 35 degrees below zero early this morning was the second coldest reported temperature on the entire planet.

I can't wait to see the Google analytics.

Tuesday 17 February 2015 13:50:19 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business | Weather#
Tuesday 10 February 2015

The Seattle Times catches up with the former Groupon CEO:

Mason, 34, became rich by trying to create the world’s biggest bargain bin. In 2008, he transformed an online service devoted to social causes into Groupon, which offered steep discounts on everything from restaurant meals to hot-air balloon flights if enough people bought them. By late 2011, Groupon had become an Internet sensation valued at $13 billion in an initial public offering of stock that turned Mason into a billionaire.

Things unraveled quickly as Groupon battled copycat services from hundreds of rivals, including Amazon.com and Google, and the thrill of the deal faded for many consumers. By early 2013, Groupon’s stock had plunged nearly 80 percent below its IPO price of $20, triggering Mason’s firing. The collapse shrunk the value of Mason’s stake in Groupon from $1.5 billion to about $228 million.

Without sounding bitter, Mason looks back on Groupon as a “stupid, boring idea that just happened to resonate.” He no longer dwells on what went wrong at the company.

“I Google it from time to time, but I have moved on,” Mason says.

I've previously commented on Groupon around their IPO, which I scoffed at. But hey, I didn't have millions to burn at the time, so I stayed away.

Tuesday 10 February 2015 09:27:52 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business#
Monday 9 February 2015

I remember, when I was a kid, how much I loved going to Radio Shack. When I was about 7, my dad got me a 50-in-1 kit that had electronic components like resistors and capacitors, and little wires you could use to connect the components. I made things that buzzed and flashed, even a thing that changed an 8-bar LED into different numbers, and somehow remained completely immune to the principles of electronic engineering the kit intended to impart.

I also had a TRS-80 Model I, with the enormous 16K (yes, K) expansion pack and 250 bps cassette interface. So to some extent, I owe my entire career to the start I got from a Radio Shack product.

Sadly, RadioShack filed Chapter 11 last week, and will be closing all of its stores in the next couple of weeks. It never made the transition from being a hobby shop during its heyday in the 1980s.

I can't say that I'll miss what RadioShack became, but I feel a little nostalgic about the RadioShack I knew 35 years ago. Sic transit.

Monday 9 February 2015 11:51:47 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business#
Thursday 22 January 2015

The Economist has a new Big Mac Index out today, reflecting the gyrations in currency exchange rates that will (I hope) make my trip to Berlin next month a lot less expensive:

The Economist whipped up the Big Mac index in 1986 as a bun-loving way of explaining currencies’ relative values. It is based on the theory of purchasing-power parity, which posits that over the long run, currencies should adjust so that a basket of identical goods costs the same everywhere. We fill our basket with just one item: the Big Mac, which is made to the same recipe in almost all countries (India’s Maharaja Mac, a chicken sandwich, is an exception). Buying a Big Mac in Denmark, for example, costs $5.38 at market exchange rates compared with $4.79 in America, so our index suggests the Danish krone is 12% overvalued (see chart). No wonder Denmark’s central bank cut rates this week.

On average, Americans abroad get more burger for their buck than they did last summer. Relatively beefy growth in America has helped to fatten the greenback. Elsewhere, however, central bankers are still trying to add sauce to their economies, in part by encouraging their currencies to fall. In Japan, for instance, a belt-busting bond-buying scheme has caused the yen to waste away. The expectation that the European Central Bank would serve up a hearty dose of QE seems to have prompted Switzerland’s stomach-turning scrapping of the franc’s peg to the euro. Last week a Swiss Big Mac cost $6.38, but now it gobbles up $7.54.

Yes, they really super-sized the food and burger puns this year...

Thursday 22 January 2015 12:38:11 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business | Travel#
Friday 16 January 2015

I'm taking a quick trip to New York this weekend so The Daily Parker may be a little quiet. Here's what I'll be reading about on the flights:

One more bug to fix before I can do a test deployment...

Friday 16 January 2015 09:35:54 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | US | World | Business#
Sunday 21 December 2014

Just in time for Christmas travel, I got three links from one Daily Parker reader over the last 24 hours:

And yes, today is cloudy. Again.

Sunday 21 December 2014 09:00:58 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US | Business | Security | Writing#
Thursday 18 December 2014

The trouble with holiday parties on Wednesday is that you have to function on Thursday. So, to spare my brain from having to do anything other than the work-related things its already got to do, here are things I will read later:

All for now.

Thursday 18 December 2014 12:36:35 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | US | World | Business | Travel | Weather#
Wednesday 17 December 2014

After 38 years of publication, Dr. Dobbs is shutting down:

Why would a well-known site, dearly loved by its readers and coming off a year of record page views, be sunset by its owner?

In one word, revenue. Four years ago, when I came to Dr. Dobb's, we had healthy profits and revenue, almost all of it from advertising. Despite our excellent growth on the editorial side, our revenue declined such that today it's barely 30% of what it was when I started. While some of this drop is undoubtedly due to turnover in our sales staff, even if the staff had been stable and executed perfectly, revenue would be much the same and future prospects would surely point to upcoming losses. This is because in the last 18 months, there has been a marked shift in how vendors value website advertising. They've come to realize that website ads tend to be less effective than they once were.

So rather than continue with Dr. Dobb's until it actually loses money, [our owners] decided to sunset the site — a sudden end to remarkably robust and wondrous journey that began 38 years ago.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Dr. Dobb's was the best source of information about C/C++ programming, bar none. I've read the magazine and the website off and on for about 30 years. I'm sad to see it go.

Wednesday 17 December 2014 11:49:50 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Software | Business#
Monday 8 December 2014

Chris Hughes responds to accusations that he killed The New Republic:

At the heart of the conflict of the past few days is a divergent view on how the New Republic — and journalism more broadly — will survive. In one view, it is a “public trust” and not a business. It is something greater than a commercial enterprise, ineffable, an ideal that cannot be touched. Financially, it would be a charity. There is much experimentation in nonprofit journalism – ProPublica and the Texas Tribune are proving the model — and that may be the right path for certain institutions. At the New Republic, I believe we owe it to ourselves and to this institution to aim to become a sustainable business and not position ourselves to rely on the largesse of an unpredictable few. Our success is not guaranteed, but I think it’s critical to try.

For anyone who loves what makes the New Republic special — the valuable journalism that pours forth on its digital and print pages — and believes there ought to be more outlets committed to quality journalism rather than fewer, the current choice is clear: Either walk away mourning a certain death or set to work building its future. That means we have to embrace some change.

So, if that's what he sees as the heart of the conflict, and if he really believes the journalistic heavyweights who fled his bracing changes, then it's hard to see how this gets resolved. Writing in the same Washington Post as Hughes, journalist Dana Milbank corrects Hughes' mistakes:

Hughes is no idiot (he reads Balzac in French), but as a businessman he turned out to be a lost boy. When he took over in 2012, he fired the magazine’s business staff, hiring instead a Harvard friend with no media experience. He had no interest in the work needed to woo advertisers. He redesigned the website himself; it looked good but didn’t work well. He tried to eliminate landline phones, seeing no reason why reporters might need them. And his spending spree caused annual losses to swell from $1 million when he bought the struggling magazine (he was its fifth owner in a decade) to $5 million.

While his mistakes are excusable, his childish impatience is not. After David Bradley bought the Atlantic in 1999 he made plenty of mistakes – but he kept the long view and ultimately made that grand old institution a leader in digital innovation. By contrast, Hughes became bored with journalism, occupying himself with the latest phones and the prospect of creating new apps; his visits to Washington headquarters became infrequent. He announced a “New Republic Fund” to invest in “early-stage technology companies.”

The final blow: bringing in former Yahoo News general manager Guy Vidra (who once worked on the business staff of the Post) to be CEO, a man dedicated to “re-imagining TNR as a vertically integrated digital media company.”

Megan McArdle and Lucia Moses also have thoughts about Hughes, none particularly flattering.

I'm much more interested in where the former TNR editors wind up than continuing with TNR. But I'll keep reading it for the next few weeks, just to see. It may not be entirely dead yet; it may just be pining for the fjords.

Monday 8 December 2014 21:40:06 CET (UTC+01:00)  |  | US | Business#
Friday 5 December 2014

After Jack Conte got an ass-kicking by the Internet this week, he and Nataly Dawn posted two links to their defenders, who I think are correct:

As a tour manager, I have settled shows and handled finances for bands big and small. Some of these bands played the smallest and shittiest venues in the country, and some of them played arenas and the main stage at large festivals. I have slept on people's couches and had bands with big enough budgets to put their crew up at the Ritz. I have read a lot of the rebuttals regarding Pomplamoose and Jack Conte's article, and I have yet to hear from someone that is actually qualified to talk about life on the road. (Fuck you, Lefsetz). It is because of my experience that I feel entitled to say to the nay-sayers: Shut the fuck up.

They could have gone out on the road without a crew; lots of bands do that. But I have never in my life seen a band that headlines mid-level venues go on tour without at least a small crew. I am not talking about the band that goes out for a week to play shitty bar gigs up and down the West Coast. I am talking about an actual tour, where you have to take care of advancing, payroll, settling with promoters, babysitting support acts, and whatever else the day might throw at you. If you happened to be one of the people that thought the crew and band members were too much of an expense, then you likely have no clue what it's like to be on a tour — in which case I say shut the fuck up.

Writer Ari Herstand was more polite, but agrees:

Why did this surprise so many people, aside from the fact that there seemed to be a few expenses that were a bit high? It’s that the old guard is losing their power and prominence. They feel tall standing on these indie bands’ shoulders, chastising them, explaining how they could have done it better. But the thing is, Pomplamoose, and every other band growing up in the digital era, doesn’t need to be told how to ‘do it better.’ They’re figuring out what works for them. And what works for them won’t work for anyone else. Every band’s situation is personal and specific.

The real problem is, the major label system has a very cookie cutter formula for launching a career. They believe it takes at least $500,000 to break an artist. And when anyone challenges this formula (and actually starts to see some success) the old guard gets scared. However, the major label failure rate is 98%. Sure, the 2% become superstars, but what about the others? Instead of going for the lottery, craft a career that sustains. That makes sense for you.

Pomplamoose doesn’t need your approval. They and are making a fine, middle class income. They don’t need to be superstars to call themselves a success.

I'm on Conte's side here. Lots of people hate others' success more than their own failures. Conte's blog post attracted them the way picnics attract ants, and to similar effect.

Friday 5 December 2014 13:54:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business#

One of my favorite publications, the century-old New Republic, died today:

There was a telling moment at the New Republic’s centennial celebration last month in the stately Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium. New CEO Guy Vidra, recently appointed by owner (and Facebook co-founder) Chris Hughes, took the podium to discuss the magazine’s challenges and opportunities in a digital age, just as any modern-day media mogul would do. When he referenced the name of The New Republic’s top editor, however, he mispronounced it: “Frank FOY-er,” he said.

[Thursday] afternoon, a shower of memos sprung from New Republic e-mail accounts, announcing a significant shakeup, as first reported by Politico’s Dylan Byers: Foer was out as editor-in-chief, to be replaced by Gabriel Snyder of Bloomberg Media, and formerly editor of Atlantic Wire and Gawker. In his memo, Vidra wrote of his new top editor, “He is committed – as am I – to The New Republic’s mission of impact, influence and persuasion, but understands that fulfilling that mission in today’s media landscape requires new forms,” reads the memo. “He truly reflects the ‘straddle generation’ of journalists and editors who remain deeply rooted in the qualities of traditional journalism – having worked with brands such as the New York Observer and The Atlantic – but also understands what it takes to create content that will travel across all platforms. We believe he is the right person to help us to maintain the core DNA of The New Republic, while propelling us forward to the 21st century.”

This morning, the excrement hit the ventilator as 30 editors and writers resigned:

The resignations were prompted by Thursday's big shakeup. Longtime editor Franklin Foer and literary editor Leon Wieseltier each announced that they were leaving their posts amid some sweeping changes at the century-old magazine.

On Friday morning, ahead of a scheduled 10 a.m. ET staff meeting, 10 contributing editors, including New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait and The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza, submitted their resignations to Hughes.

"Dear Mr. Hughes, We are contributing editors of the New Republic, and our commitment to 
the venerable principles of the magazine requires us now to resign," they wrote. "
Please remove our names from the masthead."

Lizza later tweeted a list of further resignations, which included senior editors such as Jonathan Cohn, Julia Ioffe and Alec MacGillis.

Julia Ioffe, whose reporting on Ukraine was unparalleled, posted on Facebook:

The narrative you're going to see Chris and Guy put out there is that I and the rest of my colleagues who quit today were dinosaurs, who think that the Internet is scary and that Buzzfeed is a slur. Don't believe them. The staff at TNR has always been faithful to the magazine's founding mission to experiment, and nowhere have I been so encouraged to do so. There was no opposition in the editorial ranks to expanding TNR's web presence, to innovating digitally. Many were even board for going monthly. We're not afraid of change. We have always embraced it.

As for the health of long-form journalism, well, the pieces that often did the best online were the deeply reported, carefully edited and fact-checked, and beautifully written. Those were the pieces that got the most clicks.

Also, TNR's digital media editor Hillary Kelly resigned today. From her honeymoon. In Africa. Consider that.

But enough polemics about the cowardly, hostile way Frank and Leon and the rest of us were treated. We've done some incredible work in the last 2.5 years and I'm proud of every day I ever worked there. I loved The New Republic, and, more than that, I love my colleagues. They are exceptional, earth-movingly good people. I will miss working with them every day.

So, since everyone I read at New Republic has quit, there's really no more need for me to subscribe.

This is a sad day in American journalism. Hughes' destruction of the magazine reminds me of Ecclesiastes: "Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child."

Update: Former TNR writer Andrew Sullivan has more.

Friday 5 December 2014 11:33:35 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business | Writing#
Tuesday 2 December 2014

Pomplamoose front-man and Patreon CEO Jack Conte published a blog post last week discussing the economics of touring musicians. I commented here, both as a fan of Conte's and as a supporter of Pomplamoose (including through Patreon).

Within a few days, music critic Bob Lefsetz accused Conte of fabricating his figures, and also of concealing his role with Patreon. Master click-bater Mark Teo piled on, Conte responded, and it's now a standard Internet catfight.

I don't see the ethical problem here. I do see that musicians and other artists who make it, unless they vault over the middle, hard-working part of their career right into multi-millions, often get accused of selling out.

More later, when I'm not about to board a flight...

Tuesday 2 December 2014 09:35:51 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | Blogs | Business#
Wednesday 12 November 2014

The Redmond giant stunned the software development world this week by opening up several core technologies, including the entire .NET platform, to the public:

We are building a .NET Core CLR for Windows, Mac and Linux and it will be both open source and it will be supported by Microsoft. It'll all happen at https://github.com/dotnet.

Much of the .NET Core Framework 4.6 and its Reference Source source is going on GitHub. It's being relicensed under the MIT license, so Mono (and you!) can use that source code in their .NET implementations.

Dr. Dobbs is impressed (as am I):

Of these platforms, Linux is clearly the most important. Today, Microsoft earns much of its (record) profits from enterprise software packages (SQL Server, SharePoint, Exchange, etc.). By running .NET on Linux, it now has the ability to run those apps on a significant majority of server platforms. Except for Solaris sites, all enterprises will be able to run the applications without having to add in the cost of Microsoft Server licenses.

But perhaps more important than the pure server benefit is the cloud aspect. VMs on the cloud, especially the public cloud, are principally Linux-based. Windows VMs are available, too, but at consistently higher pricing. With this move, .NET apps can now run anywhere on the cloud — or said another way, between servers and the cloud, the apps can run anywhere IT is operating.

The big winners of all this goodness are C# developers. In theory, .NET portability favors all .NET languages equally, but it's no secret that C# is the first among equals. (It is, in fact, the only language that Xamarin supports currently.) Microsoft has been an excellent steward of the language, evolving it intelligently and remarkably cleanly. Among developers who use it regularly, it is uniformly well liked, which distinguishes it from most of the other major development languages today, where an appreciation that borders on ambivalence is the more common experience.

The big loser is certainly Java. Java's stock in trade has been its longstanding ability to run without modification or recompilation on all major platforms. In this valuable trait, it has had no major competition. If Microsoft's port of .NET provides a multi-platform experience that is as smooth and seamless as Java, then the JVM will have some very serious competition.

Once I'm done with the deliverable that's due tomorrow, I may download the .NET Framework and take a look. I'll also spin up an Azure VM and play around with Visual Studio 2015 before the end of the week.

Wednesday 12 November 2014 17:27:27 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Software | Business | Cloud | Cool links | Work#
Tuesday 21 October 2014

After getting pounded by Uber and Lyft, Hailo has pulled out of its North American markets:

Tom Barr, co-chief executive and president, said Hailo would concentrate on markets in Europe and Asia and enhanced products such as payment technology and a "concierge" service.

"In the next phase of our growth, we have decided to put all of our energy and resources into these areas," Barr said in a statement to AFP on Wednesday.

"We have therefore decided to end our operations in North America, where the astronomical marketing spend required to compete is making profitability for any one player almost impossible."

On the ground, it appeared that Hailo simply wasn't very helpful. The few times I've used it in Chicago, I've had long waits as 3, 4, or more drivers refused (or ignored) the hail and about the same number of empty cabs went by after someone accepted.

In a note to subscribers, Hailo said its last day of operations in Chicago will be Saturday.

I have now downloaded Uber to my phone...

Tuesday 21 October 2014 13:33:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Business | Travel#
Tuesday 9 September 2014

West Monroe Partners (my employer, who have no editorial control over this blog, nor do they endorse anything I write here) has a thriving mergers and acquisitions practice. In order to provide appropriate advice to our private equity clients, we perform "diligences," which are thorough investigations of a company's strengths and weaknesses. Almost always, the target companies have technology assets that we evaluate as part of the diligence. Which is why I'm up at the crack of dawn in a hotel outside Phoenix.

Obviously I can't disclose anything about a diligence effort, or what kind of transaction is contemplated, or even what industry the company is in. In fact, sometimes I won't even know who the target is until I get there, as is the case today. So I am able to say nothing more about today's work than I'm in Arizona.

Still, the work is really interesting. We get pretty deep into the target's processes, methodologies, even sometimes their actual code and infrastructure. As a technology professional, it gives me exposure to different ways of doing things, especially what works and what doesn't. And it gets me out of the house for a day or two.

Of course, this will slow down posting a bit this week...

Tuesday 9 September 2014 06:38:02 MST (UTC-07:00)  |  | Software | Business | Travel | Work#
Thursday 21 August 2014

Philip Shorer on the Atlantic's CityLab blog argues for a 4-day work week:

Beyond working more efficiently, a four-day workweek appears to improve morale and well-being. The president of the UK Faculty of Public Health told the Daily Mail that a four-day workweek could help lower blood pressure and increase mental health among employees. Jay Love of Slingshot SEO saw his employee-retention rate shoot up when he phased in three-day weekends. Following this line of thought, TreeHouse, an online education platform, implemented a four-day week to attract workers, which has contributed to the company's growth.

In this scenario, employees still work 40-hour weeks, but they do so over the course of four days rather than five. This arrangement still sounds sub-optimal, though, as working at full capacity for 10 hours is more demanding than doing so for eight. Despite that, the employees at Stephens’s company still preferred 40 hours in four days to 40 hours in five days. They might be even happier—and work even better—if they worked fewer hours in addition to fewer days.

Of course, counting travel, as a consultant I frequently do four 10-hour days followed by an 8-hour day. Cutting one of those out might be a good thing.

Thursday 21 August 2014 16:01:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Business#
Tuesday 19 August 2014

I had planned to write today about aviation weather radar, being an accidental landlord in Chicago, or the latest plan to replace a burned-down grocery in my old neighborhood. Instead, I'm going to gush a little about my new phone.

I've used a Windows HTC-8 for almost two years now, and I've been frustrated with it nearly the whole time. Today, while waiting out a thunderstorm at the local T-Mobile store, I decided to pick up a Samsung S5.

Instead of complaining about the HTC-8, I'll link to a comparison, and then list these things that made me giddy earlier today:

  • I have all the applications I've been missing again.
  • Android has a new, combined inbox for email they didn't have before, so I still get all my mail in one place. (This was the best feature of the Windows 8 phone.)
  • Wi-Fi calling.
  • Combined SMS and Google Hangouts.
  • An app to archive SMS. I've lost all my SMS messages for the past two years because Windows 8 doesn't have any way of extracting them.
  • Google Maps.

I could go on, and no doubt I will, but it's late in the day and I have to play with my phone some more.

Tuesday 19 August 2014 17:00:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cool links#
Tuesday 15 July 2014

Microsoft veteran Raymond Chen explains why Ctrl-F doesn't "find" in Outlook, like it does in every other modern application across the universe:

It's a widespread convention that the Ctrl+F keyboard shortcut initiates a Find operation. Word does it, Excel does it, Wordpad does it, Notepad does it, Internet Explorer does it. But Outlook doesn't. Why doesn't Outlook get with the program?

Rewind to 1995.

The mail team was hard at work on their mail client, known as Exchange (code name Capone, in keeping with all the Chicago-related code names from that era). Back in those days, the Ctrl+F keyboard shortcut did indeed call up the Find dialog, in accordance with convention.

And then a bug report came in from a beta tester who wanted Ctrl+F to forward rather than find, because he had become accustomed to that keyboard shortcut from the email program he used before Exchange.

I'll let Chen give you the punchline.

Tuesday 15 July 2014 17:13:10 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Software | Business#
Friday 11 July 2014

I have to dash off to a meeting in a few minutes, then to Wrigley. So this is more of a note to myself.

Lucene.NET will be coming to Weather Now, I hope in a few weeks. This will massively improve its piss-poor searching, and allow me to do a few other things as well given Lucene's amazing search capabilities.

Unfortunately, Weather Now ranks third in development priorities behind my employer and my long-suffering freelance client. At least it kind of runs itself these days.

Friday 11 July 2014 12:44:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Business | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Thursday 10 July 2014

Imagine you're sitting on your front stoop, strumming your guitar, and Eric Clapton comes out of nowhere to give you some pointers.

That's about what happened to me today. Earlier this week, Jon Skeet (described by Scott Hanselman as "the world's greatest living programmer) noticed something I posted on the IANA Time Zone list, and asked me about the Inner Drive Time Zone library.

So I sent him the package.

And this afternoon, he sent me a benchmark that he wrote for it. Just like that.

Of course, the benchmark showed that my stuff was about 10% as fast as the Noda Time library, an open-source project he curates. So, having a couple of hours for "personal development time" available, I optimized it.

The specific details of the optimization are not that interesting, but I managed to more than double the library's performance by changing about ten lines of code. (It's now 20% as fast as Noda.) Along the way I exchanged about 10 emails with Skeet, because he kept making really crack suggestions and giving me valuable feedback about both my design and his.

That was cool.

Thursday 10 July 2014 17:52:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Business | Astronomy#
Friday 4 July 2014

Embattled clothing retailer American Apparel tweeted an Independence Day ad yesterday showing a stylized photo of the 1986 Challenger explosion with the hashtags "#smoke" and "#clouds." (I will not post the image here.)

Shortly after, they tweeted a heartfelt apology blaming the child that somehow they put in charge of social media. Unfortunately, they also have a child, Ryan Holiday (born in June 1987), running their entire marketing department, who threw his social media flunky under the bus to cover his own ignorance and ineptitude. The apology reads as follows:

We deeply apologize for today's Tumblr post of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The image was re-blogged in error by one of our social media employees who was born after the tragedy and was unaware of the event. We sincerely regret the insensitivity of that selection and the post has been deleted.

So, Ryan Holiday is an asshat (which one could infer from his writings), and obviously running with scissors in his current job. Note to Ryan: don't blame your subordinates in public for your own screw-up, especially when the purported cause of that person's mistake is a characteristic you share. And note John Luttell (interim CEO of American Apparel): Cleaning up Dov Charney's brand damage should begin with replacing your marketing director.

I wish, I really wish, more Americans knew something about history.

Friday 4 July 2014 09:21:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Business#
Thursday 3 July 2014

Last night I got an email from Microsoft saying the Windows Azure subscription that I got through work was disabled because it had run out of credits.

Some context:

  • The Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) gives developers access to all of Microsoft's software development projects, along with a monthly credit to use Windows Azure that can go as high as $150. Because West Monroe Partners wants to make sure all of us have the right tools, we get the subscriptions with the $150 credit.
  • I activated my MSDN subscription a year ago, and so far have used only $7.25 of Azure services.
  • Yesterday I spun up a JDK 7.2 virtual machine (VM), which, at 33c per hour, was unlikely to bust my Azure credit limit. Plus, I shut it down when I was done, having used only 2 hours of computing time.

Here's what I missed when I spun up the VM:

(Click on it to see full-size.)

Even at full size you probably didn't notice the little warning box lower-right that says, in 9-point type, "You selected an image that has special pricing information. Learn more." You also probably didn't realize that the special pricing image means Microsoft will disable your Azure account if you don't give them money once you spin up this VM.

I'll skip to the end. Here is the relevant part of the message I sent to Microsoft Customer Support after I resolved the ensuing hilarity:

All right, now that I’ve managed to re-enable my subscription after wasting an hour of my life, I have four serious complaints.

Complaint #1: Shutting down an entire Azure subscription without warning because it has a 34c balance—thirty four U.S. cents—is unacceptable.

Complaint #2: The Azure account portal (account.windowsazure.com) does not work with Microsoft Internet Explorer 11. The login session does not propagate to the dialog box that takes billing information. I had to make the change using Google Chrome.

Complaint #3: The Azure account, but not the subscription, already had payment information available. Yet the portal prevented me from merely applying the existing payment information to the new subscription at the “remove spending limit” dialog box.

Complaint #4: If, despite all common sense and reason, a change to the subscription could result in the subscription being disabled without notice, a very small “Pricing Information” note is insufficient warning. The portal should have an unambiguous, impossible-to-miss step in the virtual machine configuration dialog box.

Is this looking a gift horse in the mouth? No. This is a benefit Microsoft provides developers so we developers can learn their products and sell them. So the horse isn't exactly a gift; it's a demonstrator. And for a few hours last night, mine wouldn't leave his stall.

Thursday 3 July 2014 09:47:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Windows Azure#
Saturday 14 June 2014

Everyone outside the U.S. use chip-and-PIN credit cards. That we still use magnetic strips explains how the U.S. accounted for half of all fraudulent transactions worldwide in 2012. Come October 2015, we'll get to the worldwide standard:

The switch will cost retailers hundreds of millions of dollars. But credit card companies have pushed for the change for years. Beginning in October 2015, they will start leaning harder on banks and merchants by shifting the legal liability for fraud to the party with the least-sophisticated technology. That will be a powerful incentive for retailers to upgrade their systems.

Those of us who travel internationally for business are already used to the difference between American readers and those used in much of the rest of the world—and the accompanying inconveniences. Many automated machines, which are common at petrol stations and supermarkets, do not accept American swipe-and-sign cards at all. And tell a European cashier that you want to sign for a transaction and you will often be met with a bemused look. For those Americans who don't yet have chip-and-pin cards (and that's most of us, since few banks offered them before last year), the coming change will eliminate that awkwardness once and for all. The bottom line for business travellers: if you're not already using a pin with your credit cards, get used to the idea—and start thinking of a good one.

Yes, one of the annoyances of traveling abroad right now is that when I present my chip-and-sign card overseas, I still have to sign a little chit. My bank says they'll switch to PIN with my next card, coming soon.

Saturday 14 June 2014 10:26:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Business | Travel#
Thursday 12 June 2014

We've been using Microsoft Azure virtual machines for development for a while. This means we run our Visual Studio instances in the cloud up on special virtual machines that have nothing on them except the bare minimum required for writing software. This keeps different projects separate from each other, and also speeds up network access, which is useful for network-intensive applications.

We started noticing, however, that going to MSDN or Google or other big sites became...challenging. All of these sites started acting as if our VMs were located in Brazil, when we knew perfectly well that they were in Virginia. Microsoft has finally explained the problem:

IPv4 address space has been fully assigned in the United States, meaning there is no additional IPv4 address space available. This requires Microsoft to use the IPv4 address space available to us globally for the addressing of new services. The result is that we will have to use IPv4 address space assigned to a non-US region to address services which may be in a US region. It is not possible to transfer registration because the IP space is allocated to the registration authorities by Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.

At times your service may appear to be hosted in a non-US location.

It is important to note that the IP address registration authority does not equate to IP address physical location (i.e., you can have an IP address registered in Brazil but allocated to a device or service physically located in Virginia). Thus when you deploy to a U.S. region, your service is still hosted in U.S. and your customer data will remain in the U.S.

In other words, Microsoft's cloud service is so popular that they have run out of addresses to assign to it. Microsoft, it should be noted, has tens of millions of IPv4 addresses available. (Of course, IPv4 has only 4.2 trillion possible addresses, though fully 43 billion are in private IP ranges.)

Thursday 12 June 2014 10:49:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Monday 9 June 2014

When I set up the appointment for Comcast to come out and install a new internet connection at IDTWHQ, I explained to them that (a) I have a satellite dish and (b) my building has common cable. In fact, they needed the building's account number to set up the service.

So when the installer got here at 11:45 (still between 8 and noon, at least) and noticed that (a) I have a satellite dish and (b) my building has common cable, he explained that he couldn't actually install my new Internet service because, it turns out, (a) I have a satellite dish and (b) my building has common cable, so they have to run a new coaxial cable through my wall.

They can send the drilling team out as early as June 26th, which is unfortunately during my first week at my new job.

In other words, I might have to suffer with this crap:

...for another three weeks.

And people wonder why American internet service is the worst in the OECD.

Monday 9 June 2014 12:33:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#
Thursday 5 June 2014

Long-time readers know I rarely post directly about my personal life, but this one is kind of big.

After nearly three years, I'm moving from 10th Magnitude to take a new position as a .NET Architect with West Monroe Partners. I've learned a lot working with 10th, and I wish everyone there the best in the future.

I'll have more to say about this in the coming weeks. I'm excited about the change, and looking forward to some totally new challenges with WMP.

Thursday 5 June 2014 13:34:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business | Work#
Wednesday 4 June 2014

Yesterday I mentioned three things that weren't connected except they all ended recently. This morning Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rosenthal has an op-ed about one of them:

HomeMade Pizza Co. was in the right business and exactly the wrong place.

We consumers indeed are buying more fresh prepared meals to eat at home or elsewhere, like the take-and-bake pizzas HomeMade hawked from 1997 until its abrupt closing Friday. These kinds of meals have become a $26 billion business in this country and are growing at a healthy clip.

But we're not buying most of those grab-and-go meals at stand-alone storefront operations, where costs for an operator like HomeMade, which had more than 20 outlets when it shut down, include the lease and utilities, and whatever it takes to let potential customers know that it's there and why it's worth a visit.

The fresh pre-prepared food business is proving a boon to food/drug stores, where almost three-quarters of these meals are being sold, according to NPD Group. Savvy supermarket operators are offering an expanding array of menu items, increasingly going beyond heat-and-serve home-style meals. Some have added restaurant-quality entrees, various cuisines and occasionally palate-challenging fare.

While you're chewing on that, here's another passing: the Cubs are ending their 90-year relationship with radio station WGN:

The team tomorrow will reportedly announce a new seven-year agreement with WBBM-AM/780 to air the team's games beginning in 2015, ending a run with WGN-AM/720 that dates back to 1924.

"The economic terms just don't make sense for us,” WGN Radio President Jimmy de Castro told media columnist Robert Feder. “So it's really not us saying we don't want them anymore. It's the Cubs saying that the economics they need are much greater than what we think they're worth or what we'll pay. They chose to go another way economically and made a decision to move on.”

Sic transit gloria etuli.

Wednesday 4 June 2014 09:42:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cubs | Business#
Monday 2 June 2014

This is overdue, but I'm very happy about it:

When Santa Barbara startup FindTheBest (FTB) was sued by a patent troll called Lumen View last year, it vowed to fight back rather than pay up the $50,000 licensing fee Lumen was asking for. Company CEO Kevin O'Connor made it personal, pledging $1 million of his own money to fight the legal battle.

Now the judge overseeing the case has ruled (PDF) that it's Lumen View, not FindTheBest, that should have to pay [FTB's $200,000 legal] expenses. In a first-of-its-kind implementation of new fee-shifting rules mandated by the Supreme Court, US District Judge Denise Cote found that the Lumen View lawsuit was a "prototypical exceptional case."

These guys are extortionists, and I am overjoyed that the law finally recognizes them as such. FTB has a pending appeal on a RICO action against Lumen, which the district court denied. That would be even sweeter.

Monday 2 June 2014 17:57:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Business#
Monday 26 May 2014

A couple weeks ago I read a Snopes article about how Atari may have buried millions of E.T. game cartridges in New Mexico. After reading it, I found a copy of Zap! The rise and fall of Atari, on which much of the article was based.

The book was fascinating. Author Scott Cohen describes the meteoric rise of the company from Nolan Bushnell's Pong game until the company's self-inflicted and fatal shot to the head on 7 December 1982. Since Cohen wrote it in late 1983, the story ends a few months before the company did. But Atari had already been measured twice by that point, so no one reading the book when it came out would have any doubt about its prospects.

It always astounds me how companies keep making the same mistakes. Societies do too; but one can explain the timescale of human idiocy (usually 75-125 years) because people who would have known better tend to die eventually. Companies can flame out in just a few years.

Take Atari. In short, the company died because management—in particular CEO Ray Kassar—made a series of horrible decisions and ignored the lessons from their consequences. The initial growth and success of the company after Kassar took over was impressive, but it happened despite management, not because of it. The company's future sales required continuous development of new games, but management thought creating software wasn't any different than building cars.

At one point, four of Atari's top engineers, the guys creating the products Atari needed to sell, asked for commissions on the millions of game cartridges that people bought. In other words, they wanted recognition for their successes. Kassar responded, "You are no more important to that game than the guy on the assembly line who puts it together." The engineers quit and formed Activision, which then ate Atari's lunch.

With massive turnover in engineering, a game console that had not been upgraded in six years, over-saturation of the game cartridge market, poorly-reviewed products, and direct competition from technically superior products like personal computers, one would think management would notice the problem. Nope. On 7 December 1982, Atari announced disappointing earnings and precipitated the video game crash that left none of the original players standing.

The book concludes with a description of Silicon Valley as the new Detroit:

Silicon Valley is no longer the place for development and technology that it was. Now it's a meat market. What is happening to the Valley happened to Detroit, except there it was spread out over forty years. There are more companies in the Valley now than before, but it's not the hot spot it was. More companies are thinking about moving to the Midwest, since "cheap" labor down South is no longer cheap. Much of Silicon Valley will probably end up in Detroit, where all those auto workers are standing around with nothing to do.

So, not all of the book is accurate... It was a good read, though.

Monday 26 May 2014 12:54:51 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Business#
Monday 19 May 2014

The deployment, I mean. Everything works, at least on the browsers I've used to test it. I ran the deployment three times in Test first, starting from a copy of the Production database each time, so I was as confident as I could be when I finally ran it against the Production database itself. And, I made sure I can swap everything back to the old version in about 15 minutes.

Also, I snuck away to shoot publicity photos for Spectralia again, same as last year. I'll have some up by the end of the week, after the director has seen them.

Sunday 18 May 2014 21:36:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography | Business | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Sunday 18 May 2014

I have a totally-no-boring software deployment today. This is not optimal.

Sunday 18 May 2014 09:57:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Business | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Monday 12 May 2014

Snopes just republished the legend of the E.T. game cartridges in light of the actual burial site being dug up recently. Forgetting for a moment the legend itself, the background story was a description of how Warner management killed Atari:

In 1982, Warner Communications could honestly claim to own a goose that laid golden eggs. Its money-producing fowl was called Atari, a video game company it purchased for $28 million in 1976 which had since burgeoned into a $2 billion concern. In the early 1980s Atari owned 80% of the video game market, it accounted for 70% of Warner's operating profits, and in the fourth quarter of 1982 the Wall Street "whisper number" concerning Atari's expected Atari symbol earnings predicted a 50% increase over the previous year.

The goose died at 3:04 P.M. EST on 7 December 1982, when Atari reported only a 10% to 15% increase in expected earnings, not the 50% figure so many people had been counting on. By the end of the following day Warner stock had plummeted to two-thirds of its previous value, and Warner closed out the quarter with its profits down a mind-boggling 56%. (Even worse, a minor scandal erupted when it was revealed that Atari's president and CEO had sold 5,000 shares of Warner stock a mere 23 minutes before announcing Atari's disappointing sales figures.) Atari racked up over half a billion dollars ($536 million) in losses in 1983, and by the end of 1984 Warner had sold the company.

What accounted for the sudden death of Warner's prized goose? A number of interrelated factors brought about its fatal illness...

The factors Snopes summarized highlight how acquisitions by incompatible companies can go wrong, among other things.

Monday 12 May 2014 17:30:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#

I'm uploading a couple of fixes to Inner-Drive.com right now, so I have a few minutes to read things people have sent me. It takes a while to deploy the site fully, because the Inner Drive Extensible Architecture™ documentation (reg.req.) is quite large—about 3,000 HTML pages. I'd like to web-deploy the changes, but the way Azure cloud services work, any changes deployed that way get overwritten as soon as the instance reboots.

All of the changes to Inner-Drive.com are under the hood. In fact, I didn't change anything at all in the website. But I made a bunch of changes to the Azure support classes, including a much better approach to logging inspired by a conversation I had with my colleague Igor Popirov a couple of weeks ago. I'll go into more details later, but suffice it to say, there are some people who can give you more ideas in one sentence than you can get in a year of reading blogs, and he's one of them.

So, while sitting here at my remote office waiting for bits to upload, I encountered these things:

  • The bartender's iPod played "Bette Davis Eyes" which immediately sent me back to this.
  • Andrew Sullivan pointed me (and everyone else who reads his blog) towards the ultimate Boomer fantasy, the live-foreverists. (At some point in the near future I'm going to write about how much X-ers hate picking up after both Boomers and Millennials, and how this fits right in. Just, not right now.)
  • Slate's Jamelle Bouie belives Wisconsin's voter rights decision is a win for our cause. ("Our" in this case includes those who believe retail voter fraud is so rare as to be a laughable excuse for denying a sizable portion of the population their voting rights, especially when the people denied voting rights tend to be the exact people who Republicans would prefer not to vote.)

OK, the software is deployed, and I need to walk Parker now. Maybe I'll read all these things after Game of Thrones.

Sunday 11 May 2014 21:15:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | Software | Business | Windows Azure#
Thursday 8 May 2014

I may come back to these again:

Publishing the Inner Drive Extensible Architecture™ to NuGet is still coming up...just not this weekend.

Thursday 8 May 2014 12:52:22 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | World | Blogs | Business#
Friday 2 May 2014

The Inner Drive Extensible Architecture™ is about to get wider distribution.

After 11 years of development, I think it's finally ready for wider distribution. And, who knows, maybe I'll make a couple of bucks.

I've updated the pricing structure and the license agreement, and in the next week or so (after some additional testing), I'm going to release it to NuGet.

That doesn't make it free; that makes it available. (Actually, I am making it free for development and testing, but I'm charging for commercial production use.)

I'll have more to say on this once it's released.

Thursday 1 May 2014 19:16:24 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Business#
Wednesday 2 April 2014

Crains reports this morning that a local Chicago technology start-up (not mine) has just gotten a ton of money:

Bswift LLC, a healthcare-benefits software firm, has received $51 million from a private-equity fund to keep up with torrid growth.

The Chicago-based company has been growing at more than 40 percent annually for the past four years and is enjoying a surge in demand, in part because of the Affordable Care Act. Bswift's technology is used by companies to provide comparison shopping, enrollment and administration of health insurance benefits. It also operates insurance exchanges for private and public markets.

Bswift's business is exploding. Headcount at the firm, which is based in the West Loop, has soared to more than 300 from 165 a year ago. A year ago, the company had expected to hire 100 people over three years.

“We've added 45 people since the beginning of the year,” [Bswift CEO Rich] Gallun said. “We'll be over 400 by the end of the year.”

Wow. And whoa. And woe.

That's really good news for Bswift's owners and stakeholders. I'm concerned what it's like to work there, though. Managing any growth taxes the abilities of any manager or business owner. Growing staff by 5% every month—they've added 45 employees this year alone—has to be a strain.

I'm curious what it's like over there right now, and how they're managing the growth. With this infusion of cash, they're going to have a lot of pressure to grow even faster. How will they maintain their culture? How will they manage quality and delivery? What do their clients think?

Wednesday 2 April 2014 08:31:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Business#
Tuesday 1 April 2014

Microsoft has partnered with Lotus Formula 1 Racing to create a series of ads about Microsoft Azure:

Neowin reports:

The new ad, which has been running for the past few days on many U.S. TV networks and has been posted on YouTube, attempts to show how the Lotus Formula 1 racing team uses a number of Microsoft cloud services such as Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics to collect and analyze data from 200 sensors on the car. The ad's main them is that the cloud products offer the Lotus team a way to better understand how the F1 vehicle runs on each track and, therefore, give them an edge in winning races.

The new TV commercial comes even as rumors hit the Internet that Microsoft is planning to rebrand its Windows Azure cloud website hosting service to Microsoft Azure, in order to better reflect the fact that it can use software not made by the company like Linux.

The "rumors" are true, by the way. The service is now called Microsoft Azure.

Tuesday 1 April 2014 12:34:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Windows Azure#
Wednesday 19 March 2014

The repercussions from Monday's data-recovery debacle continued through yesterday.

By the time business started Tuesday morning, I had restored the client's application and database to the state it had at the moment of the upgrade, and I'd entered most of their appointments, including all of them through tomorrow (Thursday). When the client started their day, everything seemed to be all right, except for one thing I also didn't know about their business: some of their customers pay them based on the appointment ID, which is nothing more than a SQL IDENTITY column in the database.

If you know how databases work, you know that IDENTITY columns are officially non-deterministic. In this specific case, the column increments by one every time it adds a row, but also in this specific case, I didn't re-enter the data in the same order it was originally entered, since I prioritized the earlier appointments.

We've gotten through the problem now, and the client no longer want to put my head on a spike, so I will now take a moment for an after-action review that might help other software developers in the future.

First, the things I did right:

  • When I deployed the upgrade Saturday, I preserved the state of the database and application at exactly that moment.
  • All of the data in the system, every field of it, was audited. It was trivially easy to produce a report of every change made to the system from roll-out Saturday afternoon through roll-back Monday night.
  • When I rolled back the upgrade Monday night, I preserved the state of the upgraded database and application at exactly that moment.
  • When the client first noticed the problem, I dropped everything else and worked out a plan with them. The plan centered around getting their business back up first, and then dealing with the technology.
  • Their customers were completely back to normal at the start of business Tuesday.
  • The application runs on Windows Azure, which made preserving the old application state not only easy, but possible.

So what should I have done better?

  • My biggest error was overconfidence in my ability to roll back the upgrade. No matter what other errors I made, this was the root of all of them.
  • The second major error was not testing the UI on Internet Explorer 8. Mitigating this was the fact that neither I nor my client was aware that the bulk of their customers used IE8. However, given that people using IE8 were totally unable to use the application, even if the numbers of customers using IE8 was very small, the large impact should have put IE8 near the top of my regression test checklist.
  • Instead of spending a couple of hours re-entering data, I should have written a script to do it.
  • I have always regretted (though never more than today) publicizing the appointments IDENTITY column to the end user, because it's normal they'd use this ID for business purposes. This illustrates the danger—not just the sloppy design—of using a single database field for two purposes. Any future version of the application will have an OrderID field that is not a database plumbing field.

All in all, the good things outweighed the bad, and I may get back in my client's good graces when I roll out the next update. You know, the one that works on IE8, but still solves the looming problem of the platform's age.

Wednesday 19 March 2014 09:59:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Business | Cloud | Windows Azure#
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David Braverman is the Chief Technology Officer of Holden International in Chicago, and the creator of Weather Now. Parker is the most adorable dog on the planet, 80% of the time.
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