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August 2006

Cubicle Wars


Dave Thielen, CEO of Windward Reports and author of the excellent books "No Bugs!" and "12 Simple Secrets of Microsoft Management" has posted a very funny video on his web site called "Cubicle Wars" which is presumably what programmers focus on when they save so much time using his reporting tool.

I thought it was very clever way to show how Windward Reports saves people time.  (Disclaimer, no Windward Reports is not open source.)  The producers of the video are Barats and Bareta who have produced a number of humorous musical videos.

AlwaysOn Conference


The AlwaysOn Conference kicked off at Stanford today.  I got in after midnight from OSCON in Portland and only got about 5 hours sleep, so maybe it was just me, but the first couple of sessions started out a bit slow.  But by mid-morning things were kicking into high gear and the afternoon sessions were excellent.  The t-shirt to suit ratio is the completely inverse of OSCON, but the panels were still very good, and focused on the business issues around Web 2.0, software as a services, open source, intellectural property, venture capital trends and so on.  If you're looking for hot new startups in the valley, or lessons from the big guns, this is the place.

I particularly enjoyed a panel led by Kara Swisher of the Wall Street Journal on user-generated content featuring Web 2.0 poster child YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley along with Michael Robertson of (and previously as well as two suits from Yahoo and Sony.  I don't know if its a generational issue or just some level of defensiveness from the old guard, but its clear that Hurley and Robertson understand the power and legitimacy of a user community in a way that the others don't. On the other hand, the newcomers have no reason to be defensive.  Heck, YouTube is delivering 60% of the streaming video in the US and they've been in operation for less than a year.  (Needless to say, YouTube uses MySQL to achieve massive scalability, as do most of the big Web 2.0 companies.)

AlwaysOn also recognized the Top 100 Private companies including such prominent MySQL users as Airgo Networks, Amp'd Mobile, Aruba Networks, CafePress, CollabNet, Comergent Technologies, FaceBook, GraceNote, IronPort Systems, LindenLabs, Narus, Netli, Ombiture, Orb Networks, PhotoBucket, RazorGator, Sling Media, SourceFire, SugarCRM, Technorati, TellMe Networks, Vocera Communications, Zappos, Zantaz, Zimbra and others.  In fact, in researching this, we realized that the majority of AO100 companies are all running MySQL.  That appears to be one of the common dimensions for achieving high-end scale-out, whether you're Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Craigslist or the next big thing.  (And MySQL was a winner also.)

OSCON Preview


Well today is Monday, so this must be OSCON.  Actually, it's just been pre-conference tutorials so far, but MySQL was well represented with tutorials by Brian Aker and Jay Pipes on MySQL 5.1 in Depth and Maximum Velocity MySQL respectively.  And a group of us had dinner at a local Greek restaurant, which was fun.  Since MySQL employees are quite distributed, it's nice to get a group together at a conference.  We have speakers here at OSCON from Seattle, Australia, Sweden, Finland and Germany.  And since this is a technical conference, these are all hardcore talks by real developers; no marketing fluff. 

Tuesday is the second tutorial day and also introduces the O'Reilly Radar executive briefing day run by Matt Asay and Tim O'Reilly.  There are also plenty of talks by MySQL Developers and Community gurus throughout the OSCON schedule including:

In addition, here are a few other talks by MySQL Users and Partners that look interesting:

Also, don't forget that there's a MySQL Party Tuesday at 5:30 - 7:30 pm at the DoubleTree Hotel Cantina Bar where you can meet all of the above folks and pick up a MySQL T-Shirt and drink beer.  And there's also a MySQL BOF (Birds-of-a-Feather) Thursday 8:00 pm for even more time with MySQL experts!

Sony Vaio UX Micro PC


In my ongoing quest obsession to find a decent handheld computer that you can type on, I was intrigued by the latest announcement from Sony for their new Vaio UX180P Micro PC. That is, until I tried it out.  The Vaio UX has all the right specs on paper: it weighs just 1.2 pounds, has a 4.5" Super VGA screen with 1024 x 600 resolution, a 1.2 GHZ Intel Solo Core CPU, a 30 gig hard drive, built-in wifi, bluetooth and Cingular EDGE wireless access, a biometric fingerprint reader (no joke!), USB port, headphone / microphone jacks, two --yes, two!-- digital cameras front and back, a slide-out keyboard and an optional docking station.  It even looks cool.  Unfortunately, after you use it for 30 10 minutes, you're gonna want to hurl this thing across the room.  And at $1,800 that's an expensive outburst.

I give Sony props on two fronts.  First of all, they really did build something worthy of being called a "Micro PC"; it's a technology tour-de-force cramming so many features into such a small package.  Secondly, they didn't call it a UMPC.  But from a usability perspective, the Vaio UX is a dud.  The mouse-like thing for positioning the cursor is on the right hand side; the mouse buttons are on the left requiring a split brain operation to navigate anything.  Because it's got a slide-out keyboard, you can't touch type; instead you have to hold the unit in your hands and type with your thumbs.  But since the unit is 5.19 inches wide, that's easier said than done; its certainly harder to do than on a Palm Treo or Blackberry.  And while the screen resolution is sharp, it feels like you're reading 6 point mousetype which will have you reaching for the zoom button or Ibuprofen or both.  The battery power is an unimpressive 2.5 - 4.5 hours, which means you won't even get a full flight's worth of work flying from San Francisco to Chicago.  And because it's running Windows XP, forget about instant-on unless you want to drain the batteries even faster.

While Sony says the Vaio UX 180 will fit in a jacket pocket, I can only imagine what kind of ugly leisure suit from the 1970's they might be talking about.  While you can't tell from the pictures, once you pick up the Vaio UX, you notice it has two bulges on the back, presumably holding the battery and the hard drive. But even if you could get this thing into a jacket pocket, it seems unlikely you'd ever get it back out again without ripping the jacket or breaking the antenna, or both.  This thing deserves a special design award for ugliness; it should be part of some $18,000 Pentagon pork-barrel catalog or a long lost Star Trek episode.  Or both.

My prediction is that there will be a grand total of 50 of these sold, all to Engadget readers who are ready to compromise overall usability in order to surf the web at a decent speed while sitting on the toilet or at a funeral or somewhere else where a laptop doesn't really fit.  The browsing experience is considerably faster and better than the Nokia 770 given the extra CPU horsepower and the wider screen.  But it's also 5 times more expensive than the Nokia 770 and neither one of these puppies is really ready for a mainstream audience. 

The problem here is not really Sony's.  Lets call a spade a spade.  The problem is Windows.  I don't think anyone is going to deliver a usable handheld device that people can surf the web, do email and still get a decent user interface and battery life if it's shackled to Windows.  Windows was designed to be a desktop operating system and for those with long memories, it's not even that good for laptops.  (Aside: how long did it take Microsoft to get hibernate to work right?  It still doesn't work reliably on laptops with more than 1 Gig of memory!) 

I hope to God Apple someone will design a lightweight portable device that's under 1 pound, has a keyboard you can type on and does away completely with the mouse. Include a couple of decent, light weight apps for internet browsing, email, word processing and spreadsheets and I'm happy.  How hard can it be?  Psion launched the Series 5 PDA with a clamshell design, a good keyboard and ten hours of battery life over nine years ago. 

The Coolest Car I Won't Buy


Admittedly, this is way off topic for this blog, but the recently unveiled Tesla Roadster strikes me as an awesome feat of engineering.  They've married the ultra lightweight Lotus convertible chassis with a high performance electric motor & drive train along with a few thousand lithium ion batteries (the kind used in laptops) to deliver a politically correct and wicked cool electric sportscar. It gets Ferrari-like performance, goes 130 mph, runs on pennies per mile and has a range of 250 miles. Heck, it even has an ipod interface.  The only downside: it's going to costs close to $100K.  If it had luggage space, I might be able to rationalize it.  For the money-is-no-object crowd, this car will be unmatched.  But for the rest of the world, it will likely be more practical to buy a Lotus Elise, a Porsche Boxster and four thousand gallons of high-test fuel. 

Still, I expect these will be more common than Toyota Prius's on Sand Hill road in 2007.  The Tesla Roadster is undeniably cool and I hope it will influence car makers world wide.  This could be the shape of things to come.

Oscon & Always On


Next week has two excellent tech conferences going on and I'll be splitting my time between both as well as trying to get my normal job done.  I'll be at Oscon in Portland Monday and Tuesday and then at the AlwaysOn Network conference at Stanford Wednesday and Thursday.  It's a shame the events aren't spread out further.  We have quite a few developers heading to Oscon including folks from engineering as well as our Community team.  And we'll have a few of the business folks at AlwaysOn. 

Matt Asay, chief business dude over at Alfresco has organized an executive briefing day known as O'Reilly Radar at Oscon which will be held on Tuesday July 25.  Matt created the OSBC Conference which has been a great venue focusing on the business side of open source.  Now with the executive briefing day, I think it will be the perfect blend of business and technology.  If you've felt like OSCON was too geeky and LinuxWorld too much of a vendor fest, then this may be the right event for you. 

Both conferences should have plenty of open source, Web 2.0 content as well as lots of MySQL users in attendance. 


We'll be having a reception Tuesday evening at Oscon at the DoubleTree hotel, Cantina restaurant from 5:30 pm - 7:30 pm.  There will be beer, t-shirts, books, and many prominent MySQL developers in attendance. 

This Took Ten Years?


I must admit, I am a fickle browser user.  Much to the chagrin of colleagues, I often end up using IE as a browser on Windows.  My rationale is, that for good or for bad, it's what's used by the majority of users and so I try to make sure that the site looks good in IE.  However, I also occasionally run Firefox and Opera, which until recently have been the only way to have a half-way decent tabbed browsing system.  Not only is Opera fast, it's introduced a number of innovative features including their "rewind" and "fast forward" buttons shown above, which enable you to navigate quickly back and forward on a site.  I'm not sure why it took ten years for someone to figure this out, but I'm glad Opera did.  Presumably Microsoft will "invent" this feature in their next release.

Jigsaw runs MySQL


Jigsaw is an interesting new company that has started to pop up on a lot of people's radar lately.  You can think of Jigsaw as "social networking 2.0" for professionals.  It's got a very specific focus: business contacts. And even though that might sound narrow, their ambition is huge: develop a worldwide database of contacts at every business organization on the planet.  Think about it.  How useful would it be to have a universal directory of business contacts that was always up-to-date?  Pretty darned useful.

As with other Web 2.0 companies, Jigsaw gets really interesting as it deals with scale.  Managing a few hundred thousand or million contacts is not that hard a problem.  But as you start to add zeros to the numbers, then it becomes a seriously hard problem.  Luckily, they have a smart team of engineers and investors behind them.  Ed Komo, previously from Hotwire, has led the development effort to update the Jigsaw platform including a migration to MySQL.  The result was a performance improvement ranging from 150% - 200% with some extreme queries that used to take 90 seconds now done in 5 seconds.  Scalability has been the biggest win, with improvements of 200 - 300%.  While these are great stats and a vote of confidence for MySQL, I think Ed and his team get the real credit. 

Jigsaw has been growing rapidly, moving up the Alexa ranks and adding ten thousand new customers per month.  Where the top end of growth will end is anyone's guess. And that's why scalability is so important.

Negotiating with Microsoft


There's been some interesting reports lately on how open source software is eating into the traditional license and maintenance fees of the closed source legacy vendors.  Not only is open source a viable alternative to many closed source offerings, but just the fact that you're looking at open source is enough of a threat to some vendors that they will sometimes discount up to 80%.  Just put up a Linux poster and wear a MySQL t-shirt and you'll get your costs down.  Or better yet, start moving to open source where it makes sense, especially new web-based applications. 

It's Not What You Say...


One of our managers at MySQL recommended the book "It's Not What You Say... It's What You Do" to me as something that he's used in managing teams.  While there's nothing here specifically about open source, the book provides a good "back to basics" approach to management.  Forget the big strategic initiatives in a company, the radical pronouncements of being customer-centric or sigma-six-oriented or whatever the latest buzzword is among management gurus.  The key questions are: Did you set goals?  Was there buy-in?  How much did you follow up? 

My own management style is not perfect, but I try to be very straightforward and objective.  I sit down with my direct reports at the beginning of every quarter and we set 8-10 goals that will matter to the business.  Sometimes there other things people want to work on and there may be more detail that the individual manager will use in managing their own teams.  Sometimes I'll agree to having some items in a "time permitting" category which means I don't really mind if it doesn't get done.  I follow up through the quarter, make sure things are tracking towards completion and determine if anything needs to change.

At the end of the quarter it is a simple exercise of "How did you do?"  If the goal setting is done right, there's not a lot of ambiguity.  The objective either got accomplished or it didn't.  As a manager, I expect my direct reports are getting 8, 9 or 10 out of 10.  If they're getting less, then I have to micro-manage them, and that's not fun for either one of us. 

When setting goals, I try to make sure they are SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

The goals have to be in people's direct area of responsibility and they are ideally formulated in an objective quantifiable manner so that there is no confusion.  You need to think ahead about the outcome you want and how you will know if it was achieved. 

Here are a couple of useful links: