Archive for July, 2006

Mac Book Pro, Part the Fourth

July 31, 2006

For those following the saga of my early adoption of the Mac Book Pro, I’m happy to report that Apple returned my unit quite quickly a few weeks ago and I’ve had no problems since with the machine waking inappropriately from sleep. Recall that the diagnosed problem was with the sleep sensor mechanism. According to the repair report they replaced the top case assembly to fix my problem.

What triggered this entry was Apple’s recent announcement of a battery exchange program for a select set of battery serial numbers. Well, guess what? I won! I won! 🙂 Seriously, I’ve noticed no particular problem with my battery, but if they are going to replace it with one that meets their “high standards for battery performance,” then sign me up.


Leveling the Playing Field at Sun (and elsewhere)

July 30, 2006

The Sun Global Technology Conference in Bangalore last week included a session on Global Engineering during which we discussed the challenges around building and running an effective, widely distributed engineering organization. I’d like to share a suggestion I made during this session. It addresses only a specific aspect of the global engineering challenge, but I believe it could deliver real value for Sun, Sun’s employees, and ultimately Sun’s customers.

In a nutshell: Ban the use of conference rooms at Sun for meetings with multi-site attendees.

It would cost a modest amount to ensure employees have headsets for quality, full-duplex audio, but if we are serious about being a global company, this suggestion should be studied carefully.

For our senior executives, it’s probably been awhile since you’ve been stuck on a phone, dialed into a conference room full of people who you can’t hear, who haven’t remembered to email the conference materials, and who use whiteboards you can’t see. If you can get past all that, now try to actually participate in the conversation instead of just trying to listen. It doesn’t work. And better conference room audio systems are not the answer.

As a senior technical person, I find such meetings annoying, but I make it work as best I can. I’m not shy about insisting that the meeting materials be sent out or about being aggressive in inserting myself into the conversation, despite the difficulties of being heard on the phone. But what about our less senior engineers? Or engineers in countries where such aggressiveness isn’t part of their culture? Sure, they need to step up and participate in Sun’s engineering culture, but why not remove a significant barrier to their full participation? One that we can easily address with a small technology investment.

In terms of how meetings should work, I’ve been involved for several years in several standing meetings where everyone is required to use a headset even though these meetings involve groups of people on each of the Burlington, Menlo Park, and San Diego campuses. We could use three conference rooms, but we don’t. And what a difference it makes:

Conference materials must be sent out to everyone. And the audio playing field is completely leveled, allowing everyone to participate equally. It’s true that tools must be used to share online demos and do whiteboarding, but such tools allow everyone to participate, regardless of location.

Some may argue reasonably that this is a lowest common denominator approach which removes the benefits co-located attendees derive from sitting in conference rooms together. While that may be so, there are other ways for co-located employees to replace that in-person meeting interaction, for example through hallway conversations, after-work socializing, cafeteria lunches, etc. That problem is a lot easier to fix than the remote (“remote” is headquarters-speak–there are no remote employees) distributed collaboration problem.

It doesn’t take a corporate ban to start levelling the playing field. I don’t like big policies like this anyway. If you run a meeting with distributed attendees and are serious about allowing all your team members to contribute equally, make the change. Just do it!

Bloody Awful

July 30, 2006

British Airways is zero for three with me now. Every one of the three flights I’ve taken has arrived at least two hours late. The stilton hit the fan yesterday when we arrived over two hours late to Heathrow from Mumbai and I missed my connection to Boston.

After having been told by the onboard attendants that everything would be sorted out for me in advance of landing, and that the gate agent would help me, imagine my surprise when they instead directed me to a line at the BA desk for rerouting. It took over an hour and a half to have my flight rebooked and be given hotel and meal vouchers. Numerous appeals to the BA staff to find some additional staff for the desk were not sympathetically received. At one point, the line stalled for over 30 minutes while the few agents assisted customers with apparently difficult situations.

After that, it was then another hour to find my way from Terminal 4 to Terminal 1 to the hotel bus to the Renaissance Heathrow. Thumbs up on the Renaissance, by the way.

I’m now back at the airport with three hours to wait before my flight home. It’s been smooth so far. But the day is young yet.

British Airways. Bloody Awful.

UPDATE: The day was indeed young and I was optimistic. My last BA leg arrived in Boston over two hours late as well. And that ends my short and unhappy relationship with British Airways. Four strikes and you’re out, guys.

Bangalore Traffic

July 30, 2006

The traffic in Bangalore was something to behold. It’s a flowing river of motorcycles, auto rickshaws, buses, trucks, and automobiles. It’s noisy, chaotic, and dirty. Noisy because horns are used continually; chaotic because the lane lines seem at best advisory; and dirty I think primarily because of the large number of auto rickshaws on the roads. I saw some of these little three-wheelers spewing steady streams of black or white exhaust from their little tailpipes. In spite of all that, it is quite fun to watch and I never felt unsafe.

After I’d watched the traffic for a few days, I came to think of it as “polite chaos.” While the horns are used continually as a matter of course, they are not blared in irritation as we do in the US. Rather, they are tooted informationally in advance of overtaking another vehicle. And to warn pedestrians, who are definitely at the bottom of the food chain in this ecosystem.

A simple, static snapshot couldn’t capture the sense of the traffic very well. I was much happier with a series of eight-second exposures I took from our cab one evening. I’ve included a few below.

Sun Global Technology Leadership Conference (GTLC)

July 30, 2006

Every year, Sun holds an internal technology conference for its senior technical staff. The Technology Leadership Conference is an event for Fellows, Distinguished Engineers (DEs), and a selected group of senior engineers from all of Sun’s divisions. The conference is usually two days and focuses on technology issues important to Sun and its future.

This year, in recognition of the importance of Sun’s global engineering community, the conference was for the first time held outside the US. Actually, this is the first time it has ever been held outside of California as well. The conference was held in Bangalore, location of Sun’s largest engineering office in India. About a dozen Distinguished Engineers and Technical Directors (TDs) travelled from other Sun sites to attend along with about 150 of the Indian senior technical staff.

The conference was divided into two parts. The first day was organized around talks from a variety of Sun customers in India. Talks were chosen to align with Sun’s targeted growth areas and each talk was followed by a panel discussion with the speaker and several of the visiting DEs and TDs.

The second day was for employees and it gave us a chance to get into some excellent discussions on some of the major internal technical vectors that Sun believes are going to be critical for the future of the industry and Sun’s success. The 2nd day opened with a video presentation from our CTO, Greg Papadopoulos, that outlined Sun’s view of the technology landscape and the challenges and opportunities ahead for us as an engineering organization. I teamed with David Greenhill, Niagara Chief Engineer, to do a presentation on horizontal scaling. The presentation was followed by a very active panel and discussion session.

After the technology presentations, attendees split into breakout sessions to discuss each of the technology areas and then each team reported out its conclusions, which will be summarized and shared with Sun’s senior technical staff.

The conference was a great success. I was very impressed by the local staff’s enthusiasm and eagerness to engage actively in the event. It was clear from the numerous interactions I had that the senior technical staff in India are a motivated and very clueful team.

I’ve been on past TLC program and organizing committees and know how much work is involved. Congratulations to Srinivas and his team for holding a stimulating and valuable technology conference!

Bangalore Tour

July 26, 2006

We took a short tour of Bangalore on Sunday after landing in the morning from London. Here are some photos.

Garden wall, Bangalore Botanical Garden

Lotus flower, Bangalore Botanical Garden

Monkey by the lake, Bangalore Botanical Garden

One big tree, one tall Sun German Technical Director, Bangalore Botanical Garden

65-foot Shiva in a temple attached to a shopping mall, Bangalore

Detail, Bangalore Palace

Bangalore Arrival

July 26, 2006

I arrived early Sunday morning in Bangalore, India where Sun is holding its first Global Technology Leadership Conference. More on the conference in subsequent entries. For now, a short travel report and some photos.

I flew British Airways from Boston to London to Bangalore. My first flights with BA and the flights themselves were okay except that the Boston leg left two hours late, and we sat in the plane in London for 2.5 hours before departing. And the jetway was broken at Heathrow so everyone had lots of stairs to climb with carry-on bags. On the positive side, my arriving and departing flights used the same terminal and the gates were close together as well. From what I’ve heard from other travellers was very good news indeed.

I tend to read when flying rather than watch the onboard entertainment so my video screen displayed our position, speed and altitude throughout the flight. It was eerie being suspended in a dark and peaceful aircraft cabin 35000 feet above Eastern Europe, then Turkey, then Iraq, then Iran, then Mumbai. So many troubled and troubling places. Visually, Tehran was surprising — such a huge sprawl of lighted terrain through my window.

Sunrise through the clouds just before landing in Bangalore

Summer of Rockets

July 21, 2006

Given recent events in North Korea and the Middle East, it’s a strange synchronicity that this Spring I chose Thomas Pynchon‘s Gravity’s Rainbow as my primary reading for the summer. Pynchon’s novel, which takes place in part in a WW II London beset by V2 rocket bombardments from across the Channel, famously begins with the line:

A screaming comes across the sky.

The Importance of Customer Service

July 15, 2006

I’ve sent my Mac Book Pro back to Apple twice now. The first time it was a DOA Superdrive and they replaced the entire machine. This week I sent it in for repair due to a presumed faulty lid latch that is causing the system to wake inappropriately from sleep. Oh, and I found out that when Apple replaced the first system, they did not automatically transfer my Apple Care protection to the new unit.

Given the above, why am I still a happy Apple customer? Actually, a very happy Apple customer. No, it isn’t because my expectations have been pounded into the ground by other customer support experiences (though more on this shortly), but for two good reasons. First, the user experience–the design and functionality of the product–is superior. But equally important, I have had excellent interactions with every Apple employee I’ve encountered in dealing with the above issues. They’ve been uniformly pleasant and helpful. And here’s the important part: I feel like it’s all about ME, the customer in these interactions. They want me to be a happy customer and it shows in how they approach the problems and solve them.

This in stark contrast to my local cable company. Let’s call them BOMBAST. Yes, sure, their “product” is over-priced in my view by about a factor of two relative to what it is worth to me personally. But that’s the secondary issue. With BOMBAST, pretty much every encounter I have with their customer service people is all about BOMBAST, not about me. They seem far less interested in helping me than in detailing their various policies that prevent them from doing what is in the customer’s best interest. Not that they are at all apologetic about not being able to help me. I assume they have a policy about that, too.

Well, you say, it isn’t fair to compare a computer company to what is essentially a utility. Supposing you are correct, I will then point out that I really like my telephone provider, Verizon. Again, because of the quality of their customer service. Even utilities can be pleasant and helpful and care about their customers.

If I didn’t live deep in the woods with virtually no clear southern exposure at all for satellite access, BOMBAST would be history in our household. For now, I dream of FIOS and a day when it might carry cable video content to my area.

Mac Book Pro, Part the Third

July 15, 2006

I took my Mac Book Pro to one of the local Apple Stores in the Boston area and they’ve shipped it back to California for repair. I hope to have it back in time for an upcoming business trip on Friday.

The problem is that the system has started waking inappropriately after the lid has been closed, usually while I’m either putting it into my Booq Vyper M2 laptop sleeve (highly recommended, by the way) or taking it out. According to the local genius, the latching mechanism is faulty and needs to be replaced. He thinks that the left side of the latching mechanism is disengaging when I pick up the unit (I hold it by the right edge) and this is causing the unit to wake. I can also cause the system to wake up by pressing down on the right side of the closed lid.

It’s interesting to me to see just how much I miss having the laptop. Sitting down at my wired PC at home just isn’t cutting it as an acceptable computing experience.