Sunday, December 14, 2003


I just spent 1+ hours outside in the snow with my kids and father-in-law. We had ~5 inches of snow overnight. Our backyard has a pretty good slope that runs about 25 yards so we were out there sledding with these cool "snow boogie boards." I haven't had that much fun in snow in a long time! Woo.

Sunday, December 7, 2003

Common vocabularies

Why is that every domain has it's own voabulary, and there's very little overlap; from software engineers to doctors to airlines? Certainly there are needs to express concepts that have no analog in other domains such as "linking" for a software engineer <nod to agregov>, but I can't imagine that my recent airline experience is one of those occassions.

I was stuck in Chicago trying to get rebooked on a flight to IAD. I had made two mammoth treks across ORD (O'Hare in Chicago is HUGE), when I arrived at the United desk. I presented a little stub of paper given to me by the USAir rep, and asked to get my boarding pass. The United agent, said "this is a receipt" and not a "ticket" I looked at the stub of paper and yes it did say "passenger receipt" immediately after is said "** ELECTRONIC TICKET **" so I said "I guess, but it seems to pretty clearly indicate that there is a ticket somewhere." So the guys pecks on his keyboard some more (felt like the seen from "Meet the Parents" with Ben Stiller at the ticket counter) and says "did the US Air rep make a reservation." I said "I have no idea... he just sent me over here with that piece of paper" He then asked for the "stub" from my last flight. He pecked for probably 5 minutes straight as I just waited DREADING another 2 mile trek back across ORD to the USAir guy. Fortunately, it didn't come to that the guy printed up a "boarding pass" scratched off "SSSS" (who knows that that means) and said "you're ready to go sir." So it ended up working out.

However, what I want to talk about is all of those terms:
"boarding pass"

I don't understand why it had to be that complicated. It would seem to me that common vocabularies exist all over the place... Take for example, a sporting event, or a bus ride, or ski resort. I may have to deal with more than one of those terms, but not ALL of them. I make a reservation for a restaurant. I buy a ticket for a baseball game, which I present and I get a stub (and possibly if I bought though TicketMaster, I may have a receipt). I present a ticket (or just plain fare) to ride the bus.

Why do the airlines feel they need to have this different model? It doesn't help their customer service, or efficiency (both of which I think I've bottomed out on.... despite the fact that I'm now "Silver Preferred" on USAir, and am really close to "Gold" oooh fancy me).

Maybe it's strictly a result of complexity? Airlines are one of the few places that you can buy a ticket for an "event" and get booted because it was "oversold", or you can sit next to someone that paid half as much for the seat, or you can buy four seats (2 for young children) and you can't be sure to get them next to each other until you board at which point you have to muscle some people around. Maybe if airlines had a more fixed model (one seat, one person, one fare) then the language wouldn't be as complex?

Maybe they just want control. In the moment as I was trying to get things worked out, I was angry, really angry, but I couldn't let it all out, because they had something that I needed. The magic language decoder key required to get me on an agreeable flight. So I bit my tongue and said things like "I know this isn't your fault, but I'm just a bit frustrated by this whole thing" when what I really meant was "I think you and your airline are incompetent and I feel like punching your lights out." I was under their control.

Language can really get in the way.

Tuesday, December 2, 2003


So I've had a fairly continual stream of bad Microsoft product experiences recently (Outlook is SOOOO slow over dialup, various application crashes, etc.) coupled with a bunch of fantastic experiences with Apple (iMovie, iDVD, software development on OS X, etc.) and have concluded that I'm becoming a dyed-in-the-wool Apple user...

...Except that my company runs Exchange, and really the only viable solution to calendaring and e-mail under those conditions is Outlook. I've tried Mail using IMAP, and it gets close (you can actually receive meetings and drop them into iCal, but you can't initiate them and include anyone else, and when you "accept" the meeting your requestor isn't notified). I've also tried Snerdware's Groupcal. Again, it gets close. You can subscribe to your calendar, and that of others, and you can publish changes to your calendar to the Exchange server, but again you can't initiate meetings. I used to use Ximian Evolution with Connector under Linux, and that was tolerably good. So I'm going to try that again and hopefully it'll work.

The ironic thing about that, and I don't imagine that I'm alone. Is that I remain leashed to an entire platform because of an application that's been around for decades. Apple needs to integrate exchange support into iCal/Mail.

If I were Microsoft, or for that matter, any company, I'd be trying to build the application that people can't live without. TiVo's kinda in the same position. See Michael's thoughts on that.

Sunday, November 30, 2003


I flew to Seattle today, and it was pretty lousy. First, I started at 4:45 EST. Second, I connected in Pittsburg AND Chicago. Third, the flight attendant from US Air had an A+ in evil customer service. She happily greeted me as I started to board with a "give me your bag you've got to check it" to which I replied "it needs to go to Seattle is that OK?" to which see replied "give me your ticket." When I gave her my boarding stub for the flight at hand she grumbled "your ticket" and looked at me like liberals look at conservatives and vice versa. She barked me to my seat and eventually returned my ticket. I had no confidence that she did the right thing which brings me to... Fourth, they lost my bag. Yippee. Not only that, it was lost between a connection from US Air to United so neither airline really seems to know exactly what's going on.

That brings me to my thought... There has to be a business in making travelling easier (at a premium sure...) I suppose to some extent this is what First class is. Why is it that economy and economy "plus" are herded into cramped quarters and treated like it's a privilege to be an a flight at all?

Furthermore, two weeks ago we went to Kaua'i which I can highly recommend we stayed at the Embassy Vacation Resort at Poipu Point also very nice. But as we were there, I got to thinking that I would've happily paid a lot of money (since the trip was already pricey) to have someone pickup my bags, take them to the hotel, and unpack them (and the same in reverse before leaving). It easily would've made my trip feel twice as long to not have to lug all that stuff from baggage claim, to the rental car shuttle, through the rental car line, to the hotel front desk, and up to our room (and then again in reverse).

Travelling needs to be easier... Or maybe it already is, and I just don't know how.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

I suck at blogging...

It seems like the only time that I ever think about adding to my blog is at a time when I have nothing to say (gasp... aharbick has nothing to say).

So I'll tell you about something funny that I saw. I was on a recruiting trip to VA Tech (pretty disappointing... 2 good, not great, hires). I entered my building through one of the side entrances and proceeded through the stairwell up a couple flights of stairs. When I got to the top there was a sign "Student Disability Services ->" Now I know there are many types of disabilities, but I could help but thing "ummm.... shouldn't this be in the elevator"

Yeah, I'm no good at this.

Tuesday, October 7, 2003


As I said yesterday, my XP install under VirtualPC has a virus. Well today, I have an announcement. If you want a PC buy a PC! VirtualPC just doesn't cut it!

Running it on a 1GHz machine with 1GB of RAM (512MB dedicated to virtual PC) and nothing else is so slow that it takes HOURS just to scan the "system" for the viruses. Then once it's wasted hours McAffee runs out of memory and crashes preserving no state and hence leaving you at the starting line again (granted this is only minorly VirtualPC's fault). Ugh.

Monday, October 6, 2003

Mac OS X

First, a humorous story... I had my powerbook in the office when I was in Seattle last week (turns out, I love to develop on it ;). On Friday, I got an e-mail and a remedy ticket auto-submitted on my behalf for having a virus on my machine. Rafael, the deskside support guy, came to check out my machine (my work laptop), and couldn't find anything so he started asking questions like... "Do you login to a different PC"... "Umm no, but I do have a Mac, and I did run Virtual PC." The day before, I had given a friend a demo of the machine; showed off X11 (with KDE, Gnome etc.), all of the iApps, popped up Virtual PC. "Check this out! I can run MacOSX, Un*x, and Windows XP all at the same time!" It turns out that Windows is so secure that it can get a virus under an emulator! I don't know which is more true; MacOSX is cool or Windows is lame.

Second, a Mac, er Powerbook complaint. Why on earth can't it have any sort of lights for CPU/Disk usage feedback? I don't know how many times I've clicked on something and after waiting an uncomfortable amount of time wondered whether it was actually doing anything. Maybe I've still got bad PC addictions, and Mac is actually the correct way to do UI/feedback. However, it feels like maybe Apple was being a little too snobby about their "clean industrial design" that they couldn't be bothered to have a light for disk feedback. How about this.... Why not use the light in the "lid open button" which blinks when sleeping? I bet it's probably even possible to hack this somehow.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Hurricane Isabel

I was in Seattle when Hurricane Isabel landed. My trip was delayed a bit as I was supposed to head to SHD (Shenandoah Valley Airport) or IAD (Dulles in DC) and they were closing airports left and right. Anyhow, I made it out the next day and got home without incident. Actually, it was pretty impressive that nothing at all really happened to anyone in my family. The winds apparently were pretty wicked, and it was reported on NPR that a county close by my house got 24" of rain (that's right 2 FEET of rain!). Yet, the worst effect was that my in-laws house had about an 1.5 inches of leaves and branches in the yard that I had to help my father-in-law clear up.

While I was in Seattle, I went to a show at Graceland with Ben Compton a cool friend from work who has taken me on as his young Paduan indie rock learner. We saw Denali a band from Richmond, VA and Rainer Maria. It was excellent. I recommend you catch one of their shows if at possible.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Home networks...

Why is it so hard to get a home network right?

We've been remodelling our basement, the intended home of my office and hence network hub, gateway/firewall, webserver etc. I had to move the equipment three times. Nothing ever works easily. First, wireless networks are upredictable, and hard to debug (at least I don't know of the right tools). Second, wired networks are surprisingly easy to get wrong when you're making your own cables. There are only 64 possible combonations of the 8 wires in one cable, and even with a cable tester and a color chart for wiring, I think I botch 50% of my cables. Now, I'm trying to fix a problem where I had a cable that used to work, that it turns out was miswired, and once fixed, now the wall doesn't work when it used to. Ugh. Time to crack open the wall, and rewire something yet again.

Why is this so hard?

Thursday, September 4, 2003

Reading resumes...

Is it possible to write a resume without being "false" I've been reading a lot of resumes (probably 20+ every day), and it's surprising how many people say that they want a:

"software development position involved with all phases of the product development lifecycle"

That phrase "product development lifecycle" gives me the creeps. People focus too much on that, or on a specific technology and not enough on the reason why the technology (or process of developing said technology) is useful. It solves problems. It makes someone's life easier. It enables people to do something that they previously were unable to do before. Who cares if you know the "big O" performance of a binary tree, or could implement a "multiple readers single write lock" if those TOOLS can't be used for something else. I interviewed one guy and he said it well "companies pay engineers to make money not to write code."

Here's my perfect resume header:

To work for a company that has interesting and fun people dedicated to using software to enable solutions to business problems.

  • You probably want to see:

    • Languages - C++/C/Perl/Java
    • Web apps - TCP/IP, HTTP, SOAP, WSDL, XMLRPC, Tomcat, JSP, JavaScript, HTML
    • Databases - Oracle, MySQL, BerkeleyDB
    • Other - Client/Server, CORBA, OOP, OOD

  • But I'd be happy to learn Cobol if it meant that I got to do something useful. Give me books, an environment to play, some examples, and great people to be around, and I'll be your Cobol expert.


BTW... If that describes you, send me your resume ;) I want people that look around and see thousands of interesting places to put software, and thousands of opportunities to learning something new.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Lost time...

I recently bought a TiVo. I've been watching the joy on my friends faces for years, but haven't had the experience for myself until now. So it is with both joy and horror that I report to you that it is reasonable to watch a 2 hour program (in my case "The Defining Moments of the Tour de France With Lance Armstrong") in 1.25 hours! That's right, I saved 45 minutes of my life last night, and got to bed at a much more reasonable hour. Maybe someone should start a class action lawsuit against MPAA for all of the lives that they've taken. Think about it:

291,922,359 Americans * 4 hours daily viewing = 1,167,689,436 hours of TV * .37 commercials = 432,045,091 hours wasted / (77.2 years average life expectancy * 365 days * 24 hours) = 638.86 lives lost per year!

Phew. I'm gonna go read a book now.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

The pitch...

Tonight I'm making the first pitch for a software position on my new team. We've found a really talented engineer, and are planning on giving him the choice of which team to work on. In as much as one can be persuaded about what is cool and interesting, I'll be endeavoring toward that end. If it works out, I'll be 50% of the way towards completing my hiring goals.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Personal development

Today, I wrote my first job description. I get to hire two people. Here's the first draft:

"Company is looking for a passionate and skilled software engineer to work on a team in the office of the CEO creating technologies that help us to be better organized, better managed and more productive. Candidates must be innovative, creative, flexible, and self-directed. They will be responsible for helping to identify business needs and solutions that will be widely adopted in the company. Candidates must have excellent written and verbal communication skills. They must be capable programmers in C/C++ and Perl. Experience building database applications is a must. Experience developing applications for the Web using technologies such as SOAP, XMLRPC, Javascript, HTML, Java, JSP, or PHP is required. A proven track record designing quality GUIs is a strong plus. A bachelor's degree in computer science, or equivalent experience, is required."

What do you think?


Last week I was a bit depressed having been exposed to a broad spectrum of problems that I would have to tackle in order to be successful in my new role. However, I then realized that true leadership is the ability to see through the problems to the solutions, and live as if you've already solved them as you tackle them one by one. That perspective shift was a really useful one for me.

Refreshed and hopeful, I started out to redefine what I had already done, a couple days later, and now I've come up with a reasonably clear, concrete framework for my team, and a ranked list of projects that we'll start to tackle.

Ah much better.

Thursday, July 17, 2003


I spent most of today and yesterday organizing and summarizing the results of my interviews with other folks. There's this great tool called MindManager that has proved immensly useful.

I used to the tool to organize/group all of the ideas that I've collected. After a lot of sorting/resorting, and group I came up with three main categories:

EOR ~= Eeyore ;)

Exactly how I felt after interviewing all those people.

A new day...

First, I must say Strong Bad... very funny!

Now onto serious things. Today, I plan on completing my decision framework for the team I'm starting, and then starting on the beginning of my first project.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Oh yeah one more thing...

For basically the past two years I've been butting heads with the owners of a technology at our company. Basically, I've been arguing that it had the right objecives, but the implementation was weak, and they haven't measured anything to see if the objectives were met. In reality, I think they've made some things worse.

Anyhow, one of the themes that has come through clearly in talking to people is that our technology (often mentioning this project by name) is a major factor that is stopping us from innovation/progress.

Sigh... I told you so? How, unmotivating.


So I've got a new task at work... "lead a technical team to help us be better managed, better organized, and more productive" In case you missed it, that's an astonishingly broad charter. A charter which I've been trying to define very carefully.

Part of doing that, I've gone around the company doing interviews. I've been asking questions like "if people were saying 'wow Andy really nailed the problem on the head' two years from now, how would your job be different?" or "are we as nimble as a small company? why not?" or "what are the biggest obstacles to success at our company?" It's been a fun exercise, but it's also be a little depressing. None of the people I talked to are really happy? In fact I bet there is a strong chance that the majority will not be around in 5 years.

To top it off, I was supposed to meet with my boss, and another SVP to discuss my latest thinking, and they were going to be 15 minutes late, then 30, then 45, then the meeting didn't happen. I understand, but it was just another punch that takes the air out of you.

Tomorrow I shall find the holy grail.

It all begins somewhere

So I just wrestled MovableType to the ground and won a great triumph. As well documented as things seem, there are some things that aren't clear.

1. Where should you put your blogs (~/public_html, /var/www/..., near the "db" directory)?
2. Furthermore some of the URLs that it wants aren't clear "Full Site URL" Is that or Or the archive URL.
3. Also I has some weird permission problems with "rebuilding indexes" It wasn't clear what it was complaining about (the dir was 777) but the problem went away.
4. I expected that the act of authoring and publishing would be a little more seemless. Instead I write up something. Publish it, and then rebuild the site.

That's it for now.