New House, New Job

Doing a bit of time travel here, but it is worth noting that in 2013 I…

  • Left my Silicon Valley job, friends, aircraft and lifestyle behind
  • Moved to Detroit, Michigan
  • Joined the largest company I’ve ever worked for in a new-to-me industry
  • Sold my old town home
  • Bought a new home
  • Endured the worst winter that Michigan has seen in nearly 130 years

So, there’s all that happening in a single yearly post.

Droid X Gingerbread Update: from First to Worst in one Download

Motorola Droid XMy day job is spent getting technology products and services made, shipped and into consumer hands as quickly and efficiently as possible. With such a job comes pressures to release things that aren’t quite ready or have known issues in order to secure time-to-market or competitive advantages. I sometimes have to put a companies best interests ahead of the consumer, even if I worry about the outcome. I state all of this up front so that people will have a clearer view into my thoughts on the process of software updates and the need to just ship something.

However, given everything I just said I am here to say that the latest Gingerbread release of Android (2.3.3 for those keeping score at home) on the Motorola Droid X is an unconditional and complete failure. Very few software updates in recent memory have done so much harm to a well respected product, to so many people in such a short period of time.  Don’t just take my word for it, go look at the US forums for the Droid X and see just how many people are having issues.  It isn’t just a few upset customers, it is thousands of them.

What makes this entire process all the more terrible is that Motorola had an early access program for select users to allow them to “soak test” the release before the general public got it.  Instead, it seems that the early access folks had only 48 hours or so with the update before Motorola and Verizon pushed this mess out into the world.  Worse still, many of these folks were reporting issues and asking to slow the roll out until at least some of the problems were fixed.  That didn’t happen, and now the Motorola employees on the forum have gone silent or suggested that the customers are simply not understanding the new update.

I am now left with a previously fantastic phone that reboots at least once a day, a battery that runs down in 7 hours, no working phone service if I dare turn on WiFi, a confused GPS sensor and an uglier user interface than I thought was possible to have.  Worse, because this new update is “better” than the previous Froyo release, there is no root access and thus no way to copy off the system log files or take screenshots to prove that all of this bad behavior is happening.  Bravo Motorola, you’ve turned my once useful phone into an expensive, defective paperweight.

I have certainly learned my lesson from this exercise. The next time I buy a phone I will make sure that it is fully unlocked, fully modifiable by the user and completely supported by the manufacturer rather than hoping that support folks will step in and do “the right thing” to help customers out.  Shame on me, indeed.

Simple Idea, Difficult Execution

Suck Meter patch

I found a post from Techcrunch today that neatly summarized a process that I’ve used for many years but didn’t put into concise words: Make Products that Suck Less.

I have been through the new or improve a product process so many times that all of the advice listed seems old hat, but it bears repeating and sharing in these modern times. It seems that you can’t turn the corner in a store (or online if that’s your thing) without running into a product, while initially interesting or attractive, that is utterly terrible in its function and form.  I should know as I too have fallen victim to some of the crimes outlined in the story post.

Item number one on the list is It only takes one person to make your product suck. Truer words have seldom been spoken. Just recently a client that shall remain nameless decided to make the entire process of getting their product hard for users to understand because someone in another part of the company thought it might be hard to get it done right.  Let that sink in for a moment. You have money, you want to give it to this company for their oh-so-cool-new-shiny thing. The company wants to sell it to you, but someone decides that it would be easier for them or their team to simply not do the work, thus making the process of getting said product many times more difficult. Thus, if you, the customer, really want the product you must now wade through suck to get to it.

Item five is another favorite of mine, Customers demand sucky products. Not on purpose (at least not all of the time) but people will often ask for things that make no practical sense in a product and refuse to buy a product if it doesn’t include these features. Again, a unamed employer once held focus groups and polled industry analysts about what features they would want in the next version of the product. The ideas came pouring in and many of them were truly, completely awful. The kind of awful that if you built it into the product you would never be able to sell it without returns. After months of study, data collection, internal discussions and executive consultation nearly every outside feature idea was eliminated from the product plan.

I’ve often wondered how a freshly minted product manager (or PM in the tech world) is expected to be successful when they start a new job, given that they often don’t know the political back story of a company nor the history of a product and its customers. The kernels of information in this Techcrunch story should be required reading for such product owner folks, or anyone else who wants to ship a succesful product.  I don’t profess to be an expert at making products but I have created a fair share of them. I can say this safely: if possible, a product will suck more often than it won’t, and that just shouldn’t be the way it works.

On Flying, Firefights and Fleeing

Just over a week has passed since I was RIF’d from my most recent job at AMD.  It is taking some getting used to waking up in the morning with no structured day or firm place to go.  On the plus side, I am using substantially less fuel than I was just a few weeks ago, so that must be good I guess.  In the meantime I continue to look around for what my next gig will be.

Next on the list of things to be worried about is my flying or lack thereof.  I’m at a point in my training where I must complete a written test before I can get any closer to getting my pilot’s license.  It’s a bear, since it is an array of questions, numbers, arithmetic and other stuff that I have to know cold before I go in and take the test.  I’m getting better, but rote memorization has never been my strong point.

Finally, I’ve used my abundance of spare time to go around the house and fix just about everything that is doable by myself.  With that complete I’ve spent a lot of time visiting Liberty City (in GTA4) and Turkfrackistan (in BF: Bad Company).  Sadly, neither of these locations helps me either exercise, meet women or get a tan.  I do get to meet new and interesting people, then shoot them, so it does have some perks.

the 86 file

Just Another Week in Texas

Getting stuffed into an airplane like sardines in a can.  Sweltering heat and humidity during the day with little respite at night.  Eating enough bar-b-que’d animals to cause a meat coma. Encountering more trucks than the entire population of some small countries.  Bouffant hair.  Strange looks from the country folk when driving a minivan.  Lots of NASCAR loving yahoos.  A crazy amount of turnpikes and toll roads.  Gas prices below $3.40 a gallon.  The worst B.O. ever on the cramped plane ride home.

What else could all of this be but a trip to Texas?

Texas

Screaming Childeren Make Any Flight Longer

I took one of the last flights home last night from Austin. As is AA’s custom, they placed two rows of children around me on this journey. Normally I just put in the headphones and deal with the problem, however on this flight some of the children decided they needed to be rowdy and play up and down the aisles during most of the flight. This left me and most of the passengers near the front of the plane (no business class for me) to be forever vigilant about our arms, elbows, and any items we had on our trays.

What really made this flight tough (at 3 1/2 hours long) was not just the playing kids (and by playing I mean obnoxious running around, tearing papers and pulling things off trays) but the screaming kids that simply wouldn’t pipe down no matter what their mothers offered them. If ever there was a advertisement for why birth control is needed, this flight was it.

I must restate my request that some airline flights should really be reserved for business people, or at least give us the option to pay a bit more to keep the kids off some routes. By the end of the flight I wanted to see how much it would cost to fly myself home as I really didn’t like the torture that I received from this flight.

AA MD-82 Jet

Thoughts on CES and Such

I have just about recovered from the ordeal that is getting ready for, staging, shipping, demonstrating, and tearing down a full show load out for CES.  I can’t say that I enjoyed it, or that I’d volunteer to do as much work again, but I’m glad its all done.

Severe pain came from the logistics of getting people (namely me) and equipment (some 80+ boxes of it) to and from the show.  As the largest single event in Las Vegas, CES is uniquely positioned to stress out every part of the infrastructure needed to travel, house, transport, and sustain a group of nearly 200,000 people for a week.  As much as I dislike the driving situation in the Bay Area, I now have to thank Las Vegas and their elegant street construction planning for reminding me of how much fun driving 5 MPH for an hour can be.

I now get to start planning for the next series of events, customer contacts, and traveling.  One can only hope that things go smoother the next time around.  A little less smoky smell and a lot more sleep per day can’t hurt, either.

The "Fun" That is Windows Media Center and Xbox 360

Recently I went through a setup related exercise for work where I needed to get a Windows Media Center PC to talk to a Media Center Extender. An extender in Microsoft’s view is a device that attaches to a TV and enables interacting with a Media Center UI without the PC actually having to be in the same room as the TV. There have been a few of these devices shipping for a couple of years so I thought this would be a cakewalk. Boy was I wrong, really wrong.

I spend nearly two hours hooking up the Media Center PCs to my home network, getting them to see each other, display on the TV, then share content amongst themselves. Once that got done I added the Xbox 360 as my “extender” and had it talk to both Media Centers, as well as my home server PC. And next thing I knew another three hours was gone. I had very little to show for this time warp, other than a lot of cabling, noisy boxes, and a rather sore backside (me with the hardwood floors and all). In the end, I did get music, photos, and video up and running on the Xbox 360, but only from one Media Center PC at a time.

It seems that the Xbox 360 can only talk to one version of Media Center at a time. Trying to get two of them to cooperate, both an XP and the Vista version, met with utter failure or a host of “go to this web site, download some stuff, then come back and try again” messages. It was painful and I think I know why no one tries this at home. If I had to buy this stuff on my own I certainly would have taken it back for a refund by now.

It all works now, and I’m on my way to understanding how the different boxes work (or don’t) together. But my quick lessons are: one Media Center is all you need, sharing is tough, and PC’s don’t always love TV displays. Oh, and that the Xbox 360 is the noisiest thing I’ve ever heard in the living room.

Xbox 360