A blogging friend stopped by my office this morning and one of the first questions was: Where have you been with your blogging as of late?
He is about the 6th person to ask -- so, it's probably about time to give you some explanation.
First, nearly the entire month of October 2007 was devoted to weighing an opportunity I had to join another fantastically great team here at Microsoft. Imagine being given the choice of two huge lollipops both of which are your favorite flavors -- the proverbial kid in a candy store analogy. One of the choices is the team which produces Windows Media Center (I'm a big fan). The other was a team and a hiring manager for whom I have a large amount of respect. In the end, I chose to stay here on the Windows Media Center team -- I didn't feel as though I was quite done with this product and the things I personally want it to do for customers. The move to the other team would have also created a new period of professional relationship building -- I felt I had put my family through that enough with our move to the Pacific Northwest back in mid-2004 (more about that later). It was an *incredible* experience and I'm very glad I took the time to explore a change in career direction. I am very grateful for the advice offered from close friends both internal and external to Microsoft (you know who you are). The only downside is it left me quite a bit frazzled from a career standpoint -- I simply didn't have the energy to post here on the blog during October or the month that followed.
Second, I basically took the month of December 2007 as vacation. I mean a real (almost) complete disconnect from work related things -- this is rare -- just ask my co-workers who find me replying to emails while on vacation. Postings by me on places like http://discuss.mediacentersandbox.com even dropped off quite sharply. Our family traveled back to the East coast to see family and friends and I made a concerted effort to stay offline. When we returned I picked up some sort of flu bug which had me out of work for a complete week, with another two weeks of recovery time during which I didn't have a whole lot of energy. I haven't been that sick in probably 15 years. So, that explains December 2007 and most of January 2008.
Third, it was an incredibly busy time during all of these months (October 2007 - December 2008) from a day job perspective (most blogging is done on nights / weekends). Yes, we are working on the next version of Windows -- no surprise there. The ebb and flow of program management happened to be really flowing instead of ebbing during this time (not that there is much of an ebb anytime here at Microsoft, but there times when it is less busy than normal). I'd like to think I did a pretty good job of managing things, especially given the career churn in October outlined above. But several things had to 'give way' -- and blogging was one of them. And... I can't just blog about what happens in the day job -- no matter how much Mary Jo really wishes I would.
Fourth, I really took a good, hard look during October - December to think about my community involvement, including posting here. There are so many good and great things about blogging -- but one of the few drawbacks is it's really a scattershot method of communication, and the conversations it fosters can amplify the noise. What starts off in one distinct direction can be randomized into multiple other directions far removed from the original. These conversations demonstrate this to be wholly true. I literally worked through each and every comment on those two posts and created a list of feature requests. The list was *incredibly* long and I came to the realization there was absolutely no way I could personally make all of those things happen -- I found this to be incredibly frustrating because I really do like to take action on your feedback. As a result, I decided the posts weren't that incredibly helpful or useful except to allow the community to vent their frustrations. They were way too broad to start, and only got broader as the conversation continued.
Add to that much of the posting here is done on my personal time and took away from family activities. Family is everything. (Some of you are probably thinking: 'Well, DUH! It's amazing how easy it is to lose sight of the obvious.). The sacrifice they made to allow me to take my 'dream job' in 2004 was incredible. My wife and daughters deserve for me to be home physically AND mentally. I've reached a point where a lot of the heavy lifting of establishing myself on a new team is done in many respects -- I can now restore work-life balance to, well, balance. I've made a commitment to them to really be home when I'm home, and I'm beginning to see those dividends return to me in lots of ways. As a result posting here, a majority of which took place when I was at home, will naturally be lessened. Case in point, I'm writing this while at work today instead of tonight at home as was the usual. That feels *really* good from a father and husband perspective.
So, where does that leave us...?
I've decided there will be less broad communication here on the blog and more engagement with individuals in the community on a personal level this year. I'm going to invest my time with a deliberate and constrained group of people, mostly around how our product can be better for all. Some of those direct one:one projects are already underway and you should see the reports on some of them out here in the blogosphere at some point. I'll link to those as folks decide to chat about them publicly, and that's where the majority of my postings for this year will originate. I'll also be making it a point to spend more time with our Community Dev Experts over on http://discuss.mediacentersandbox.com. Finally, any extra brain cycles I have outside of working hours will be spent making in-depth resources available for Windows Media Center customers for the next version.
In a nutshell: I'm hoping less here becomes more in a real, tangible sense for Windows Media Center customers.
Robert has been trashing Microsoft quite a bit lately -- his most recent dig at Zune is somewhat over the top. A response is in order...
Robert: "Many projects there are simply defensive ones. To keep a competitor from getting more inroads into one of its businesses."
Many (perhaps even most) products are born in response to competitive pressures. I would say it's a sign of a company which is not satisfied with the status quo and very much has a 'can do' attitude with a belief they can make a better mousetrap.
Robert: "The problem is that whenever you do something just to defend another business you don’t do it from a position of love. Or a position of strength."
I personally don't believe the concepts of 'defense' and 'love' and 'strength' are mutually exclusive. I believe you can play a defensive position out of love for the company or product. A soccer analogy is a good one here. On a soccer team you have offensive and defensive players. The defensive objective is to stop the other team and move the ball forward to the offense so they can score points. I play soccer, specifically as a defender. I play with every bit as much passion and love of the game as the offensive player. In the case of Zune I think Robert is off base. Everything I've seen and heard is about building a better mousetrap, not protecting another mousetrap. I'd also say there is absolutely nothing wrong with building a better mousetrap AND defending the one you already have -- just like in soccer.
Robert: "I’m totally uninspired. Yawn."
That's probably because you haven't actually sat down for any length of time and played with one of the new Zunes, its software or communities. On this I will say the following: Shame on you, Robert, for jumping on the bashing bandwagon. Maybe next time you should wait and actually use the product before you drag its reputation through the mud. I could be wrong but I *think* you will be singing a different tune once you've had a chance to experience it yourself.
Finally, I'm beginning to think Robert is forgetting there are real people who work at Microsoft. Once upon a time he went from office to office with his video camera and helped to tell the stories of interesting individuals and teams working on neat stuff. Perhaps we haven't changed all that much while your access to the percolation of technology here at Microsoft has and in that vacuum you can only assume a negative end result.
Life is good here at Microsoft (you can't measure everything about a corporation based solely on their current stock price). In many, many ways it's much better than when you were here, Robert. Do try to keep the interpersonal relationships in mind when you are negative or critical of us over here in the collective hive. Perhaps that should go in the manifesto right underneath number 5.
I don't know about you, but Chris is just getting more annoying over the last few weeks. Seems like he's got a bee in his bonnet (or in his shorts). He seems bent on YELLING SO MUCH WE CAN'T HELP BUT PAY ATTENTION TO HIM. Microsoft PR must not be paying him enough attention these days, or he has figured out that stirring the Mac vs. PC pot (no matter how very tiring and, frankly old and irrelevant the argument has become) does wonders for ad revenue.
Meanwhile, Ken still hasn't gotten any help -- I posted a comment to Chris' blog asking him to put Ken in touch with me, but nada from Chris so far. I kind of find it sad that Chris is leaving him out in the cold.
Update: Chris has forwarded the offer of help to Ken but hasn't heard back. Thanks, Chris.
I've recently cropped up on a couple of Microsoft blog listings (Brier, Ed). I feel kind of ashamed because, well, I haven't been personally blogging very much over the last few months. So, some folks may be asking why and perhaps wondering what I've been doing as of late. Well, here goes if you are interested.
Like Steve and Robert I sort of 'burnt out' -- not over blogging per se but rather being 'connected'. Something like...
Wake up in the morning, check email and RSS feeds, shower, walk to the bus stop, reading email on the phone on the way, getting to work, doing the day job (which involves lots of being connected), getting back on the bus to ride home (reading email on the phone), dinner with the fam, bedtime routine with kids, back online, email + RSS feeds, checking out various discussion groups (Sandbox, GreenButton), more email, going to bed. Rinse. Repeat.
Then my bus route got WiFi. And it's pretty darn fast and reliable. And free. So instead of using the phone on the bus with more limited features I've got the MacBook out with everything at my fingertips.
In early June I noticed something: I could literally go all day with a computer on and connected. About the only time that wasn't true was the 3 minute walk from the house to the bus stop and back (but the phone easily filled the gap, and was still fully connected). I vaguely remembered too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
I had become simply too connected.
So, taking a small page out of Jeff's book I disconnected. And this is what I did...
- Organized a 'Fun Zone' sponsored by Microsoft for teens and tweens attending the Little People of America National Convention in Seattle. We had Windows Media Center / Extender, Zune and Forza Motorsport 2. A total volunteer effort by Microsofties. Along with about 30 other volunteers Chris came one night and demonstrated Zune. Joel from the Forza team came and set up a freakin' AWESOME racing chair custom made for attendees at the event (seriously, go follow that link and check it out). We gave away four Zunes (including one to a young man who lost his iPod while traveling to the event) and four copies of Forza Motorsport 2, all courtesy of the graciousness of those teams. As one of my peers put it in a private email afterwords: "It was great being part of a Microsoft event where we weren’t selling anything, just providing entertainment for a very worthwhile cause." Yep, Microsoft employees utterly and totally rock and I'm proud to be associated with them. Much thanks to my management supporting my being out of the office for about a week to put this together.
- Took a vacation! Went back home to North Carolina to see family and friends. The first part of the trip was to Ocean Isle Beach with my extended family while the second part was in Charlotte seeing more family and friends. 2.5 weeks of (nearly) zero connectivity -- I suffered a bit of withdrawal, I will admit -- but it was nice to finally get to a feeling of total online ignorance.
- Re-read two Clancy novels ("Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger") and bought (and read in two days) Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows the day it came out. It had been so very long since I picked up more than a coding reference book!
- Returned home and got back into the swing of things at work, but pacing myself -- getting done what could get done in an 8 hour work day rather than trying to answer each and every email and being connected 24/7. Instead of getting online during the 25 minute bus ride I'm reading books. Currently that's RESTful Web Services (recommended in Scotts blog -- I think -- can't find the link back to him unfortunately). This book really helps the lightbulb go on for us Program Manager types on the subject.
- Developed PowerPlaylist for Windows Media Center which adds a custom Start Menu strip to Windows Media Center with five tiles. Each tile represents an audio plus slideshow or visualization combination which will start when the tile is selected. It is highly customizable by the end user in a myried of ways: Strip name, tile title and image, audio, picture and visualization source are all configurable, including the number of tiles in the strip (1 to 5 at your discretion). It was really nice to just dig in and code for a while (with a side bonus of finding some areas for improvement we can make to the Windows Media Center platform and SDK). If you want to beta test, drop me an email to charlieo at microsoft dot come or leave a comment here.
- Quietly released the lastest version of the Windows Media Center SDK (5.2) -- read about it here and get it from here.
- My disconnected time was very much needed, and has helped me focus on the important things while getting back into the groove.
Couple of things noticed recently...
- Go get 'em Ed. I'm not sure why he subjects himself to this stuff, but I'm glad he tells it like it is.
- From what I've read (which I will admit is not a ton) something either went horribly right or horribly wrong at Gnomedex. I've wanted to go to this conference the last two years but have had conflicts with the dates. I'm defintely going to calendar it for next year, assuming Chris does it again.
- Yay! Welcome aboard Scott -- we are so very lucky to have you here. Stop by the office when you are in town -- I've got some things to bounce off your brain when you have some time.
I made a pretty bad mistake the other day with a mailbag post while trying to reach out to the Windows Media Center online community of grass root supporters -- those early adopters who constantly (and rightfully) push us to deliver more value. I took some information which was already public knowledge
and connected dots which -- honestly -- weren't there to connect. It was a mistake on my part to infer any sort of timeframe schedule going forward. Doing so set the wrong expectations for my readers and opened up a can of speculation and question worms which were way off base. Above all, I pride myself on being a source you can trust -- and the other day I let you down -- I’ll try not to do that again. [Note to self: Read The Corporate Weblog Manifesto
That's how it ended -- at least for me.
And that's what I was disappointed about yesterday. Thomas made some good points in his post and then proceeded to render them moot with this final, childish hubris. I didn't make that clear in my previous post -- I shouldn't have used the word 'disappointed' twice. While I was sad to see Thomas move to Mac, I've long since gotten over that (and he and others would be interested to know how I dealt with my feelings, but that's a story for another day). My post wasn't about Mac vs. Windows -- that's been done to death (note to folks: the horse is dead).
Why was I disappointed?
Because Thomas is a great guy, and a great spokesman for Zooomr -- and I hate to see his passion get the better of him. In order for Zooomr to be successful on a large scale it has to appeal to the broad market, which includes Windows users. Having the CEO of your company say 'your choice of operating system was stupid' stands a good chance of alienating customers with those operating systems.
Take the high road Thomas -- don't become a fanboy for anyone -- even if for the briefest moment.
The last 30 hours have been really, really interesting. As a result of forwarded URLs with 'have you seen this' attached I have had separate conversations with two smart, passionate developers who posted information they probably shouldn't have from a legal perspective. So far, both have responded positively to my suggestions and offers of assistance, feedback, support, etc.
So here is the deal: If you are a developer doing 'interesting' things with any product outside the scope of a published and public software development kit, take a moment and follow this simple rule:
Read the End User License Agreement before posting the wonderful thing you have discovered. If you have even the slightest shred of doubt whether or not you should post, keep the information to yourself or contact the company who owns the software and ask for clarification.
Here's the deal. I don't have the bandwidth or inclination to keep calling folks and pledging my personal support of their efforts. I'm not a lawyer nor a law enforcement officer. I'm just a guy trying to help enable developers, designers and companies on the Media Center platform. From now on, if you choose to Be Dumb and someone points it out to me (or I see it via Google Alerts, RSS feed I happen to be subscribed to, website I happen to be perusing, etc.) it's just going to get forwarded to our Legal and Corporate Affairs team. Not out of spite -- they get paid to look into these matters and resolve them -- I don't.
That said, you can ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS send your feedback about the Media Center platform to me directly. I may not always answer (my Inbox stays pretty full with Follow Up flags galore) but I guarantee I will read your feedback and pass along as appropriate to our development teams.
* 'Be Smart' isn't my idea. I heard it first from Scoble in reference to blogging. It seems an equally good maxim for this topic.