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Monthly Archives: June 2003
John Porcaro and I are talking more now than we ever did when we both worked at sun… heh.
But he talks about how he wants to do more talking to customers, and not talking about them. Which got me thinking….
Have you ever stopped to think about how you got to where you are? For some reason, I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.
I spent most of my career at Sun talking to customers. When I came to Apple, I was already a Macintosh user (I bought my first Mac when the 512Ke was state of the art, before the MacPlus came out with a SCSI port….) from my days at National Semiconductor. One of the reasons I went to Apple was I was going to be able to start up a support environment, and I saw that as an opportunity to change Apple’s “we have no bugs, call your dealer for support” culture. Remember (if you can), we’re talking about the days when a IIsi was fast (at one point, my primary testing box for supporting A/UX was a II/SI running 8 megs of RAM. these days, my keyboard is faster than that…)
After a while, Apple started changing, not for the better. A couple of days before a vacation, we had a re-org, and we all got called into a conference room to meet the new bosses. We were told not to worry, our group was staying in Campbell, not going to Austin with some of the other support crew. I went on vacation, came back to find my job was moving to Austin. I made it clear my chair was, I wasn’t, and that I didn’t appreciate being lied to. I was told nobody had ever said we weren’t moving (by the person who’d said we weren’t), and that bad attitudes weren’t appreciated at Apple.
I took the hint, and found a new job — in the group that got to support the people in austin doing the support I used to do. That ended up in (name your favorite re-orged name enterprise solution, server solutions, server marketing, or apple business systems; it’s charter, basically, to sell into enterprise.
Out of that organization came another product, the Macintosh Application Environent (MAE). Laurie had started a mailing list for the Sharks on an internal Apple box in her part of the world, and I’d started one on the Giants (I was still a baseball fan in those days), as well as minor league baseball, since I’d really fallen for the San Jose Giants. Every so often I’d suggest we do mailing lists for products, but since we didn’t do support of end users (Austin did), it wasn’t considered part of our charter. MAE was different, however, and we felt it was one of those products that’d really be tough for Austin to support successfully.
We came up with the idea of creating mailng lists — not to support Apple Customers, but to allow Apple customers to talk to each other and talk to each other, and we felt they’d be able to help support each other, and keep them off the (very expensive) telephone call to Austin. Since we didn’t do support, we couldn’t call it a support list, and we made it clear Apple was an observer, not a participant. Today, it’d be considered a virtual community of some sort, but back then, that term wasn’t coined).
And Apple’s official mailing list system was born, sitting on my desktop machine (Medraut.apple.com. bonus points for figuring out the name). Later it moved to its own box as abs.apple.com (apple business systems), then solutions.apple.com (still couldn’t use the word support!). We moved from 68xxx to PowerPC, Sun kept growing the Sparc sun-4′s and eventually shut down the sun-3 line, and MAE came to a logical end, while A/UX died with the 68000 chip and was replaced with, well, nothing for a while, and then A/IX, since by that time, Sculley was gone, Spindler was in, and Spindler was partnering with IBM.
Apple’s struggles continued. In 1996, Guy Kawasaki started Evangelist, a way to rally the faithful around Apple, a followon to his earlier semper-fi (1995, I think), an attempt to reconnect with apple developers. he wrote, I ran the plumbing. There’s at least one book just writing about Apple at that time and what went on behind the scenes, and how Guy worked his butt off to save Apple from itself, and IMHO, I think there’s a 50-50 chance it wouldn’t have lived long enough to get to Gil Amelio without Guy’s energy and charisma and salesmanship. But I’m not writing that book as long as I work there… I like my job. (grin)
In 1995, both Laurie and I saw Apple as being in some trouble, so we took the plunge, and spent a couple of thousand dollars and had the internet installed in the house (a 56K leased line — remember, this was way before DSL). Plaidworks was born, mostly to be home for our personal internet stuff that currently lived on Apple hardware, back when that was fairly typical and low-key. We’ve had IP in the den ever since.
By then, my little on-the-side list server was running lists for people all over the company, and my primary job (webmastering and content geeking the server group’s web site) was increasingly difficult. it was decided the lists really needed to be a corporate resource, so my job got split in half, I went with the mail list part over to the IS world, soon thereafter Gil Amelio buys NeXT, Steve purges Amelio, and in March of 1997 my old group (and the Apple Network Server) is blown up and fades to dust. I was pretty much the only survivor from that group (although much to my amusement, in the last year, a bunch of them have returned to Apple in new roles, including people who now are part of the client group I do most of my work for these days…)
Always, I was looking for ways to help encourage Apple and Apple’s customers to talk — especially back in the days when Apple was falling apart.
And even today, I still have that goal — that and making sure Apple has a corporate infrastructure capable of letting me move to Oregon and continue working for apple via telecommuting without significant limitation (and then convincing my bosses to let me do it….). And turning back to John’s blog a sec, and looking around the net in general, it seems that some form of “connecting with the customer” is starting to turn into a key deliverable. Most companies will screw it up badly, too. Me, I’ve been trying to build it into the system for years, where I could — most of my life’s been aimed at connecting the tech side of a company with its customers and acting as translator, with a foot in both camps. Hopefully, i’ve given mine a bit of a head start…
it’s funny, but about two months after I wrote my first web site, I realized we’d need e-mail systems to really communicate with people, because the web is just too passive. But e-mail has its own flaws, and with spam strangling it, there’s a need to grow beyond e-mail as well as fix it. And that’s something I’ve been working on for a while.
Of course, I can’t talk about that yet….
No, this isn’t an advance leak of Disney’s movie based on the It’s a Small World right (check boing boing for that!), but a quiet reminder that it really is a small world here in High Tech…
Turns out that Microsoft Blogger John Porcaro is a fellow ex-Sun dude. I was there in 85-89, he was there until 1990. I still have, here in my office, the little lucite block I got the day Sun went public… As far as we can tell, we never interacted with each other, but it’s c00l running into a little piece of your history by suprise, especially here in the blogger world. Brings up fun memories…
The time I spent at Sun was a fascinating time, not just a small company growing and going public, but it was a time where the industry was really starting to change the larger world around it. I started working with a group that was supporting third party developers who were porting NFS, YP/NIS and XDR/RPC to non-Sun platforms. (for those of you who think SOAP and XML/RPC are new adn unique, go take a look at XDR/RPC — things are a lot more sophisticated today, but the basic concepts and challenges are amazingly similar). NFS was one of the first serious attempts to open up a protocol and let others use it, rather than lock it down and hide it away — Sun understood that it needed to be endemic to succeed, took the chance, and it worked. In many ways, a precursor of some of the open source movement today.
The first vendors to sign up for NFS were Gould and their Firebreather box, and the Mt. Xinu folks. That meant I got to work with Ed Gould a bit, which was, for a fairly young and earnest unix geek, a real thrill.
Later on, I moved over to Sun’s support world, where I spent time on the phones. Really gives you a perspective on the customer view vs. the engineering view, and it really made me aware of and an evangelist of the customer wherever I’ve worked — IMHO, every engineer and coder should be required to spend a couple of weeks answering support calls, except most of them couldn’t handle it. But it’d make for better products.
As support, I became somewhat of an admin specialist, and did most of the support of sendmail, uucp and similar stuff. This was back when ethernet was new and most networking was by modem, and SunOS fit on an 80 meg hard drive (yes! megs. not gigs! with room for your home directory!). By the end of my life at Sun, I got involved in a stealth project to get a neat new product shipped, a box that became known as the Sun/4-260 — sun’s first generation Sparc chip, and the first time (to my knowledge) that an OS shifted processors, since prior to that, Sun’s were 68xxx boxes.
I ended up leaving Sun because, like many support organizations, it let the support budget get squeezed, and there were too many calls, too many hours, and too few engineers, and I got tired of the grind. Besides, this company called Apple was starting up its first real support organization, for a product called A/UX, and were looking for someone to come in to help create the organization. They ended up hiring my boss at sun to manage the beast, and I came across as the senior geek and 2nd lieutenant, of the group that ended up being the core of what eventually moved to Austin and became Apple’s support universe down there….
Ever wonder how life would be different if you’d made different decisions in your life? What if I’d stayed at Sun? There have been days when life at Apple looked dark that I considered looking to go back (my boss who moved to Apple eventually did, and is now in Colorado way up the food chain), but to be honest, the one time I came *this* close to leaving Apple, during the darkest years of the Spindler era, was to go to SGI. But the position just didn’t feel right for me and I just wasn’t quite ready to give up on Apple (even though it seemed everyone else had, even inside Apple), so I stayed.
Not a bad decision, in retrospect, but at the time, most folks who knew what was going on thought I was an idiot…
And now you look at Sun, and it’s in some pretty rough times. I’m rooting for it to turn it around, but will it? I’m not convinced.
The Devils won game 5, as I expected, but honestly, somewhat more decisively than I expected. Neither goalie looked good, the Devils fed off the crowd and took advantage of having last change, and the Ducks just didn’t look sharp.
Not surprisingly, the first goal went to the Ducks, on a clean faceoff win by Oates. We’ve seen THAT before. New Jersey is just in deep trouble in the left face-off circle of the offensive zone without Niewyndyk.
Now we go back to Anaheim. New jersey is going to be desperate, and knows how to win in pressure situations. Anaheim has the home crowd and last change advantage. I expect another tough fight, with Anaheim winning.
Then off to game 7 in New Jersey, and who knows? The Devils have shown Anaheim they’ll have trouble there, but Anaheim still can beat them on the road.
New Jersey is the more tired team, but Anaheim lacks the experience.
Paul Kariya is still missing in action. Hello, Paul? Now’s a good time to break out and not depend on Steve Thomas to win games.
too close to call the series at this point. And both teams have earned respect in it. great hockey, for the four of us watching it.
I was a little worried there, but the Ducks have tied the series 2-2, so the Stanley cup final is going at least six games. Two straight overtime games, tonight’s win 1-0, and now the ducks have the momentum going back to New Jersey.
Those folks who’ve turned off (ABC ratings are lower for hockey’s final round than Arena Football) are missing some intense hockey. Low scoring doesn’t imply bad, but some folks think so. I’m impressed with both teams.
Watching post game interviews tells us where this series is going: the Ducks are talking about chemistry, about special things happening in the locker room. the Devils look broken, look beaten. Talk about regrouping.
Right now, New Jersey’s advantage is two games at home. But they have to be thinking they can’t win in Anaheim, so they have to think about sweeping games 5 and 7. Anaheim hasn’t won in New Jersey, but goes into game 5 thinking all it needs is one game in the swamp, and they’ve won two straight.
I think this one probably goes 7 — New Jersey wins game 5, and anaheim at home in six. And after that? crapshoot. But emotion and momentum are goin the Ducks way, so they have to be considered a slight favorite right now. But until they break serve, it’s far from over.
So — who turned the calendar to June while I wasn’t looking?
It sure seems like it ought to be mid-April or something like that, but what the heck. I’ve had two weekends in a row that didn’t turn into extended work days, which means I’m finally feeling like I’m making progress on stuff here at home again. The back yard is beginning to look like someone lives here (and cares). Another weekend, and the worst of it will be done.
One of the things we’ve been talking through is the redesign of the backyard. it’s gonig to require removing a lot of concrete (ditto the front: when they turned this into a rental, they took the expedient way out adn simply laid concrete everywhere. Great, if you want to park four cars in your front yard. not great, if you want to plant things). While the concrete’s not going anywhere soon, we can landscape the areas where we have dirt, at least to some degree.
The main areas we can landscape are the back corner, where we’ve already put the veggie beds in, and the center of the yard (which, when we moved in, contained a mostly-broken hot tub, a huge, ugly, invasive Mulberry tree that needed massive maintenance but was too low to comfortably walk under, and all other areas had been covere dwith plastic and river rock. That area is going to be landscaped as a mini-orchard, with five trees, a water feature (to be designed), and a pathway from the main patio to the hot tub (new and currently with a minor annoying leak) which sits on the concrete pad the old, rusting garden shed used.
Two of the trees (an Improved Meyer Lemon and a Washington navel) that I gave Laurie for Valentine’s day are now in and doing fine — one was a ten, the other a fifteen gallon. We decided to trip up to the tree nursery to get some ideas on what we wanted to do for the other three, and perhaps get them in, since they’re a feature that’ll take the longest to mature, and the sooner the better.
Imagine our dismay when we say the “going out of business” signs on the place. The stock had been picked over to a good degree, but worse, it was clear they’d cut back on irrigation — everything was stressed and I just wasn’t happy, so we left without buying anything. Time to find other alternatives. sigh. but we did pick up some ideas on what we wanted to do. One of the trees is going to be an asian pear (probably a Shisieki or similar strain), and we both want a good apricot, but it needs to be self-fertile. We looked at a pluot (a genetic mix of an apricot and plum that’s starting to be grown here in california), but they require a plum to fertilize, and the plums they use aren’t self-fertile. Down that road lies madness. We’re undecided about the third, but either a self-fertile (and maybe heritage) Apple, although we also like the idea of a white nectarine…
Got one of the veggie beds in, with the squash, pumpkins and tomatoes. Laurie’s got about six varieties this year, including a couple of antiques. Of couse, I don’t eat raw tomato, which makes growing that many even more amusing, but she makes sure they don’t go to waste… The other bed is almost ready, needs tilling, and then everything else can go in. Maybe thursday.
Sunday was work in the garage day, attempting to get enough space in the workshop to use it as a workshop. Progress was made, but…. today was finally doing something about the bikes — always in the way, but never really easy to get at. Tehy’re now in a rack, which is on wheels so I can just haul the whole thing out and stick it somewhere while I’m working. Of course, I built the rack 3′ wide, and the access to the back yard only gives me 32″, so the obvious answer of stuffing them in the back while I’m using the workshop has a minor flaw in it. next time, I’ll figure that out BEFORE I build the frame. but I’ve already come up with ideas to improve the rack, and it’s good enough for now…
At least now I can start getting the bikes ready for the summer, too…