The Future of Engineering Software

Finished up in Seattle (be back there next week) and am now in Scottsdale for a conference on the future of engineering software (COFES). Listening to John Koza from Stanford discuss genetic programming. This conference is always interesting and despite the rain (yes, its raining in the desert!), it promises to be again this year. Always a unique mix of users, vendors and analysts/media…all at the fringe of the engineering profession.

Platform versus apps

Attending a Microsoft conference this week on the future of their platform. I thought this was going to be at the MSFT campus, but it turns out that its just at the hotel were we’re all staying because there are too many attendees.

It’s been very interesting and I’ve reconfirmed my belief that despite what some may think, MSFT is a company firmly commited to product excellence. This is not so much a comment on their product quality as it is on their never-ending quest to push the state of the art in a cost effective ownership model.

As a partner, it requires us to be continually on the cutting edge as well, since what was great new stuff in our apps a release ago is all of the sudden in the platform. I don’t consider this to be as insidious as many of my ISV colleagues…rather it’s good for the customer. Much like Walmart drives cost out of the supply chain to deliver every day low prices to its customers, Microsoft drives innovation into its partner ecosystem to deliver increased application value to its customers. And the same way that Walmart is considered a hero and a villain, Microsoft also plays both roles. The lesson for ISVs is clear: get ready to run if you want to partner with MSFT. If you can stay ahead, you’ll reap great rewards…if you fall behind you’ll soon find your apps in the platform.

Off to Seattle

Leaving for Seattle tomorrow morning. It will be my first visit to the Microsoft campus and I have to say I’m interested to see what it will be like. After 3 days there, I’m off to Scottsdale for a 3 day “Conference on the Future of Engineering Software”. I’ve been going to this “conference” for the past few years and its always interested to see what everyone brings. The speakers are always interesting and the private meetings are even better, so who knows what will turn up.

Last year I met with a guy that had developed a really cool decision support tool based on Baeysian statistics. It basically allowed groups of people to “vote” on what they thought about a particualr decision and the confidence they had in that knowledge, and then would filter out someone who was BSing. Pretty interesting stuff. Can’t wait to see what turns up this year.

Too busy

This blogging every day thing has turned out to be more of a problem than I thought it would be. Its not that I don’t have anything to blog about, but this past week was filled with too many 15 hour days. The new ownership of my company has made everyone feel under the gun as we try to make sure we’re not seen as the one slacking off if there should need to be a slight “reduction in forice”. So after working 10 hours in the office in meetings all day, I found myself needing to work another 5-6 hours at home ach night just to keep up with the volume of email, voicemail and all the tasks I get assigned in those damn meetings!

As the subtitle says, its no wonder we’re in a jobless recovery. I know I’m doing the work of 2-3 people and I’m certainly not alone there. Maybe I’ll adjust my resolution and just start blogging once a week…


For the first time in over 7 years, I find myself working for a privare company. No more quarterly reporting…no more stock options! I’m in these circumstances not exactly by choice, but it’s still fairly agreeable, especially considering the state of my former employer (although I wish you luck, all that are left behind).

I hope our new private owners don’t screw with us too much, but at the same time I hope they don’t stay too hands off. If they can find the right balance, we’ll be set.

On easier news, my kids had their 3rd and 5th birthdays today (yes, I planned things that well ;-). I think they had a good time, but I’m amazed how quickly the time has gone. I guess that’s one reason I’ve started blogging. As long as my computer doesn’t crash, I’ve got at least some record of the comings and goings of every day life…maybe one day it will slow down.


There’s alot of things I “need”:

  • GPS: I had one these a while ago, but Ebayed it because it didn’t work the way I thought it should. I think some of the new ones they have now, with the integrated maps, would come closer to what I need.
  • Telescope: and not one of those cheap department store models either. I’ve been into Home Theater and Automation for a while, and I think this would be another “math-based” hobby that I could really get in to. I’d really like a nice >100mm Cas-Mak compact scope that I could lug with me on vacation. That would be sweet.
  • iPod: I know I must be the only geek on the planet without one of these, and Apple just made it harder on me with the introduction of the mini. Do you think they ever considered what the new one would do to people that can’t make up their minds?
  • AMD64 machine: this kills my friends at Intel, but I’m really itching to build one of those new Athlon64 machines. I’m not sure what I’d do with it, but it would be nice to have something killer fast.

That’s all I can think of for now, but I’m sure there’s more where that came from.

Going, going, gone…

I work for a fairly large IT firm that hasn’t been doing so well lately. We’re doing a little better now than we were about a year ago, when our board decided to replace most of the upper management. Old tune was diversify, new guys tune is focus. And thus, the division I work in is not “core” and has been for sale for the past few months.

It’s tough working in a company who’s future is uncertain. But at the same time, it’s seems to me that it’s a lot like working for yourself in the so called “free agent nation” that has gained so much fame since the concept appeared in a Fast Company article a few years ago.

The most difficult thing is trying to think long term. How can we make long term commitments to do anything, when our whole world can change tomorrow? This kind of thinking causes all sorts of problems. We try to delay decisions until the last possible minute, and then miss the opportunity to really take advantage of thi things we do decide to do. We try not to look out into the market too far and so we’re always caught reacting to our competitors.

What’s the answer? Not really sure, but I think it’s somewhere in the quote from James Dean that appeared at the end of Tom Peter’s book Reimagine:

“Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today”

Howard Stern

I don’t get into to politics too much (there seems to be enough blogs about that), but this one really irks me. As many of you probably have heard, Howard Stern is under fire again, and I must admit it’s mostly deserved and probably not completely unwanted by Howard himself (no such thing as bad press).
However, the fact that the government can decide for me what’s decent and what’s not, seems like a trivialization of my freedom to choose. Freedom has to work both ways for it to work at all. Just as I have to have the freedom to listen to, watch, and buy what I want, everyone else has to have the freedom to not do those same things. This is the thing that strikes me as odd: for an administration that seems 100% committed to free trade, they won’t let the market decide if Howard should stay on the air. If they truly beleived in free market policies, they would let him stay as long as it was commercially viable…not until they got the 1 millionth complaint from some little old lady in Omaha (or the 1 millionth copy of the same complaint!)

CATS! Cats! Cats!

For newfriends of mine that get to experience my behavior in the month of March, it can be quite upsetting. A pretty normal guy who works alot and doesn’t sit in front of the tube too much, suddenly becomes a work skipping, couchpotato.

It’s all about the basketball. I can’t explain quite why I love it, but I find no other sporting event quite so compelling as the NCAA College basketball tournament, aka “March Madness”. It doesn’t hurt that my favorite team, the Kentucky Wildcats, are on a run into tournment time and look to be getting ready to seed well. Hopefully they can repeat the run they had in ’98 which gave coach Smith his first NCAA title.

Computing costs dropping through the floor

As I am the only member of my family with a blog, I also happen to be the only member of my family that is called by every other member of my family to fix anything remotely resembling a computer. So it was that I found myself trying to install a brand new epson printer/scanner/fax/copier/card reader/coffee maker on my uncle’s 8 year old windows 98, 400 MHz PC. It seems that hardware manufacturers don’t spend too much time testing their windows 98 drivers these days, because after 2 hours I could get this thing to do everything EXCEPT print.

So I threw in the towel. I told my uncle I would build him a new system and set about spec’ing one out there on the spot. I won’t bore you with all the details, but for about $350 I was able to build a extremely useful home office machine. Despite the fact that I’ve been doing this for a while, that’s amazing to me. That same $350 could buy a top of the line iPod, or a nice iPaq. But instead it bought a 2GHz dekstop with more storage than my uncle will ever use. And it will save me from having to wrestle with windows 98, because I’m going to use this as my excuse to get him moved the linux.