Eric Richards' place of techno (as in technology) happiness, rants, and corporate love.

Browsing Posts published in January, 2007

Most excellent: Windows Live Dev : Live Search Web Service and SDK Released .

After writing an InfoPath form with logic to lookup book information from the Amazon XML services, I’ve become enamored with using services to fill in the gamps of info for what I have or what I’m doing.

The Live team is moving so fast right now it’s hard to keep up!

Two things got me thinking about my first job out of college: (1) retouching my resume and (2) scanning through the compiled list of experiences Microsoft has put together for people to use as a basis of having a full-career path at Microsoft.

One of those is “start-up.” Now, you could consider getting a Version One product built from scratch and out the door a “start-up” experience at Microsoft. It made me think of my time as EPOS Corporation, and some of the more interesting experiences there.

When I started, EPOS had sort of three arms: Ampex production-floor monitoring, government contracts, and general consulting. I didn’t have secret clearance so I ended up in consulting. Eventually, the Ampex product turned into general plastics-injection monitoring and I ended up there, through-out my fine two-year tour of duty. During that time, EPOS also grew into an early distributor and developer of voice-response systems (“Press 2 to… yada-yada.”), which eventually became its core business before being acquired.

Today, I was thinking of three experiences that kind of cover my turns of employment at EPOS:

  1. Going to the International Paper Mill Company plant in Selma, Alabama to get their fiber-optic network repaired. Like any paper mill, that placed reeked so much that I carried the stink home with me in my suit.
  2. Royally pissing off some of our key Ethyl plastics injection molding customer in St. Petersburg, FL. More below..
  3. Drilling into the chasis of a plastics injection machine to mount a transducer, sick as a dog… somewhere in Massachusetts. You know how McCoy on Star Trek would always remind Kirk that he was a Doctor? I was putting my weight into that drill, grumbling, “I’m a developer, dammit, not an electrician!”

The second experience was interesting. Ethyl was adopting more and more of EPOS’ hardware and software to monitor their floor machines (producing things like Polaroid camera bodies and such). Two of the plant managers sat down to talk to me about the features they wanted to see in the future versions of the software.

As they explained to me what they wanted, my engineer brain was panicking. These were features very specific to the ins and outs of how they ran their particular plant. We were in the middle of trying to produce a one-size fits all monitoring system. Oh, no, visions of one-off code and #ifdefs and busted builds for Ampex because of Ethyl features started clouding my mind and I probably fuzzed out for a little bit.

When I was given a chance to comment, I said, “Well, you know, whatever we do has to be applicable to all of our customers.”

Very reasonable response, yes, quite so, said the panicky code-reviewer thoughts in my head.

“Well,” one of the managers said, leaning in and giving me a dead-serious-frozen-one-to-one-look, “we’re your customers, and we’re sitting in front of you right now.”


I found out soon afterwards that my boss was told that I was no longer welcome at the plant (my work expected to be told of some sort of scandalous event vs. me just pissing the customer off by not properly acknowledging them and their ideas as important).

In the long run I saved the plant’s bacon somehow… either helping them fix their IBM Microchannel PC (microchannel… that was the death-nail to the adage, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.”) or perhaps phoning in remotely to fix something. I was welcomed back with open arms and went onwards to design and implement a quality-control system that we installed there. Oh, wait, I remember: I helped them have a flashy walk-through of how much the system was improving things when the Ethyl brass visited.

So that was my gentle yet shocking introduction to letting your engineering process override your customer relations. What I thought was an innocent statement of fact torqued them up and put me on the blacklist for a while. We incorporated their feedback and it was good. We didn’t do everything they wanted, but even then you could export files into some other tool and do the rest of what you wanted.

Listen to your customers. Especially when they are right in front of you.

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More of a reference for me to find proper USB drives later should I need to use ReadyBoost: Is your flash drive fast enough for Vista’s ReadyBoost? | Ed Bott’s Microsoft Report |

Today’s a sick day for me – I’ve got a bug that makes me feel like I’ve had my head and shoulders hammered on with a ballpean hammer. Usually I do something fun or over-exerting to earn such misery.

Anyway, I keep a list of “Sick Day” movies to easily select from when all I can muster is sprawling on the couch. Today, I started off with a more business DVD title that I just loved: In the Line of Fire by Jerry Weissman .

It’s meant to be a companion to the book of the same title. I borrowed it from the Microsoft library. I highly recommend watching a copy if you can. Mr. Weissman goes through clips of various people (mostly politicians) confronted with difficult questions and how the person either excels or fumbles at handling the question, the questioner, and any follow-up to the question that navigates the conversation to the speaker’s key agenda.

An opening explanation I really enjoyed was setting the context around why people ask hard questions. Mr. Weissman explained it’s usually because you’re asking your audience to change or accept a change that you’re pushing as part of your agenda. You’re trying to get people from their current Point A to your desired Point B. People are resistant to change and one of their reactions is to “kick the tires” of anything different they are considering.

You are the tire.

Mr. Weissman’s clarity and brevity is great. I’m enthused to look into his other book, Presenting to Win.

Wow, who expected that? Netflix announced a plan to let subscribers view content on their computer free, the free hours based on the subscriber’s monthly account fee. I noticed this last night via Hacking Netflix when they posted:  Hacking NetFlix Breaking Netflix Launches Watch Now Downloads.

Nice. No extra fee was the killing grace. Brilliant.

And in Netflix’ announcement they called out that their long term strategy is to have such content viewable on any device, including the big HD screen. That will hopefully address the concerns of people who don’t watch shows on their PC (me) and the Mac fanboys. And fangrrrls.

If they can create a Netflix media server service that lets me connect to it through my aging Buffalo LinkTheater or other uPnP media device that would be great. And I’ll reiterate that I’d love to be able to download items in my Netflix queue to my Xbox to watch. That should be a secure device.

Also, they have to figure a way to download / buffer the DVD / HD quality media even if I don’t have a super-fast net connection. I’m poking along with average DSL speeds.

All in time, I imagine.

In the meantime, I’m quite happy to continue being a Netflix subscriber. I’m just waiting for that “Watch Now” tab to appear…

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This past year, I knew it was time to move on from my current position to another position in Microsoft. It was the right thing to do. As part of that, I wrote my resume from scratch for informationals across the Microsoft campus for people I didn’t know who were open enough to have me drop by.

I decided to put a public version of it up: Eric Richards (EricRi) Resume.

What did I learn?

  1. I’m still not a very good resume writer. I’m wordy. I admire people who have worked developing software as long as I have (16 years, whew!) and can still write an appropriate one-page resume.
  2. I’ve done a lot over the years, justifying the gray in my beard.
  3. I’m very proud of my time working at EPOS, which was a crazy start-up environment company that was always cash-short. I learned an incredible amount there… good and bad.
  4. At EPOS, I met with customers regularly. At Intel, I met with customers regularly. At Microsoft… only on rare occassions have I met with customers directly. That’s worth changing.
  5. There’s no way to sum up all the cool stuff I’ve had my hands in. I comfort myself in remembering that most application developers get their hands deep into really cool code and really cool situations.

I always tell people on my team to keep their resume up-to-date, usually after their yearly review. You never know. Anyway, I’m going to take my own advice and do my best not only to keep the resume up to date, but also to craft it over and over to be more precise and more brief.

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I’m a map geek.

I’m in the slow process of finding various interesting map blogs, like the Streets & Trips Space.

Here’s a real interesting entry for all map geeks using any map software and scowling at the screen, saying “That’s just wrong!”:

Streets & Trips Space Fastest Way to Improve the Map Data.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the old Streets & Trips for the PocketPC has been discontinued. In its place: Windows Live Search for mobile beta. You need a live connection, which I don’t always have, so having an offline cache is always nice.

I enjoy Dr. Skube’s column in the Sunday Seattle Times (Jobs section). Her writing on difficult work situations is exceptionally practical and appeals to my inner Epictetus.

She has a book coming out in February that I look forward to checking out.

Now, I only wish some of that practicality could be applied to her website design and implementation: music? Disabling right-click? Humph. While a safe-for-work website it certainly is an irritating-for-work website.

More: Daneen Skube, PhD – Business Consulting and Counseling

Two problems I’ve noticed switching to Google’s new Blogger:

  1. Doesn’t work with Word 2007′s blog interface. I know we worked long and hard with the Google guys to ensure that Word 2007′s blogging feature would continue to work when the new Blogger was released. It doesn’t. I’m asking around on this. Work-around: I continue to use Windows Live Writer, which was updated a couple of times to continue working with the new Blogger.
  2. Outlook 2007, when it consumes the Atom feed, displays all the dates as the same (1/1/2006). The XML has the correct dates, but somewhere from Atom 0.3 and the Atom being used now, the date is not getting detected. Chad is asking around on that. Work-around: an RSS feed is now published along-side the Atom feed. Use the RSS feed instead.