Archive for December, 2006

Fran’s Chocolates

December 31, 2006

For a treat, I recommend the Salt Caramels from Fran’s Chocolates, Ltd in Washington. The Gray Salt Caramels, which won an Outstanding Confection award in 2003, are made with dark chocolate and are sprinkled with grey sea salt harvested off the coast of Brittany. The Smoked Salt Caramels, which won an award in 2005, are made with milk chocolate and topped with a sea salt smoked over Welsh oak.

My wife gave me an assortment for Christmas and they are very, very good.

For those of you in Washington State, there are two retail stores–one in Seattle (2626 N.E. University Village Street) and one in Bellevue (10036 Main Street). The rest of us can use the web site. Yum.

Hueston on Tactical Leadership

December 30, 2006

Bob Hueston, a Senior Staff Engineer in Sun’s Systems Group, is writing about leading software projects on his new blog, Tactical Leadership. He’s been wanting for years to write what he calls a field handbook for engineering project leaders and has started to share his thoughts publically.

The content is what I expect from Bob: insightful, thoughtful and well-presented. His introductory entry is here. I especially enjoyed his thoughts on top-down versus bottom-up planning here.

Time to add another Sun blog to my blogroll. This one’s a keeper.

TiVo Series3 HD: First Impressions

December 29, 2006

I installed and activated my TiVo Series3 this week. I’m replacing my old, hacked (ethernet, larger disks, etc.) Series1 TiVo that I’ve had for many years. I upgraded now to take advantage of TiVo’s limited time offer, which allows Lifetime subscribers to transfer their Series1 or Series2 Lifetime subscription to a Series3 box for a one-time fee of $199.

I’ve temporarily wired the Series3 to my old Proscan television until I buy an high-definition set. Using the same TV, the picture looks better than before, though I can’t tell whether that’s due to the improved electronics in the TiVo, or because the signal no longer passes through a separate digital cable box, or because I’m bypassing my A/V receiver and routing the signal directly into the back of the television. For whatever reason, it looks very good.

The front panel display was the first thing I noticed when I turned on the Series3. Rather than the Series1’s two simple status LEDs, I saw this:

I’m happy to have a clock and I love the crispness of the OLED display. Playing with the unit a bit, we get the next surprise:

When recording a program I’ve requested, the Series3 displays the name of the show on the front panel. Nice touch. But, wait, there’s more:

The Series3 has two tuners and can record two programs at once. Or it can record one show while someone is watching live TV on another channel. This is one of those marriage-saving features as my wife was sick of not being able to watch live TV because the Series1 was busy recording something for me while I’m away on business.

We also like that recorded programs can now be organized into folders, which cuts down on visual clutter and makes navigating easier. And the back-lit remote is a nice feature.

Since I’ve put the Series3 on our home network via its built-in ethernet, I’ve enabled some additional features. I can now display all of my iPhoto pictures and albums on the TV. I’ve also made my iTunes music collection available through the TiVo, including my playlists. This was all easily done by downloading the free TiVo Desktop software.

I also tried using the TiVo Central Online web page to remotely program my TiVo and it worked without a hitch. I’m sure this will be useful when I’m traveling…so long as I can make sure I’m not using both tuners at the same time my wife is trying to watch TV at home. 🙂

If it isn’t obvious, I give the Series3 a big thumbs up so far. It feels like an amped up and improved version of my Series1 TiVo experience, which was already excellent.

My Manly Blog

December 28, 2006

According to the Gender Genie, my blog entries are mostly written in a manly style, though I apparently strayed to the fairer side of the tracks with my recent piece on Comcast. You can feed any text samples into the GG web page–no need to limit your analysis to blog entries.

Here’s the GG analysis of one of my recent blog entries:

The Agony That is Comcast

December 26, 2006

Come with me, dear reader, on this tale of woe and ultimate redemption in my dealings today with Comcast, which I hearby nominate as the planet’s worst cable company.

Last week I scheduled a Comcast service call, asking them to bring two CableCARDs to install in my new Series 3 Tivo. I told them to bring at least two cards because I know of cases where the installer only brought one, or brought two and one was DOA. I was emphatic on this point.

The installer arrived this morning within the designated window. As he came in the door, he said he was there to do an “HD upgrade.” I said, “No, actually, you are here to install two CableCARDs into a Tivo.” I wasn’t surprised when he didn’t know what a Tivo was. I was more alarmed by his seeming lack of knowledge about CableCARDs. He retreated to his truck to get more information.

When he reappeared, he told me he could install an HD cable box for me. I told him I didn’t need an HD cable box, I needed two CableCARDs. He explained that they don’t usually carry CableCARDs and they are kept at the warehouse. I told him the entire point of the visit was to install two CableCARDs and that an HD box was not going to work for me. Back to the truck again for more consultation.

Now he says he can get one CableCARD, or I’ll have to reschedule. I tell him I allocated today for this call, that I need two CableCARDs, and want to get this done today. At this point, he suggests I go to the Comcast store in the next town, pick up two CableCARDs, and do the installation myself. I suggest that perhaps he could get two CableCARDs at the store, and then do the installation that was scheduled. He informs me he is not allowed to go to the store. At this point, I relent because I’m actually happy to hear about the self-installation option, though I am somewhat surprised because when I set up the appointment, the rep had told me I needed to have the cards installed by a technician.

I ask the technician if he is sure there are two CableCARDs in the store right now that I can pick up. He said yes. I ask if he’s absolutely sure. He’s 99% sure. I ask him to call the store and verify they have the cards. He tells me will find the store’s number and call them. Back to the truck again. He then comes back to the house: Yes, they have the cards. And, by the way, the store closes at 2pm. It is now a little after noon.

The tech leaves after confessing this was all his fault since he didn’t actually read the work order prior to arriving, and didn’t realize he was supposed to bring CableCARDs. While I appreciate his honesty, my appreciation will dim considerably over the course of the next few hours.

I drive about five miles to the Comcast store. I wait in line, and then put the digital cable box on the counter (don’t need one if you are using CableCARDs), and tell the man behind the counter that I would like to swap my cable box for two CableCARDs. He says, “Not here.” I say, “Excuse me, what do you mean?” He explains that they never keep CableCARDs at the store because they must be installed by a technician, not by the customer. I explain what’s happened so far today and he gets satisfyingly irate on my behalf.

He puts some notes in their ticket system, which is, with high irony, called WOW. He notes in the ticket that Comcast has made an error by not bringing the cards, and then made another error by sending me to the store. He then reschedules a follow-up visit later today to fix their error. It is now about 12:40. The new service window is from noon to 4pm. I thank him for his help and leave the store. On the way out, I learn that no technician had called the store today asking about CableCARDs.

I arrive home at 1pm. And, I kid you not, my wife comes out of the house with the cordless with Comcast on the line. A new person. She informs me that while it is Comcast policy to come out again the same day and fix a problem if it is their error, this does not apply to CableCARDs. Why? Because they have to be configured before they leave the warehouse and once the technicians leave the warehouse they are not allowed to come back. Once they are dispatched, that’s it for the day. She apologizes and reschedules my CableCARD installation for Thursday; the best she can do. I remind her that I just returned the digital cable box to the store and now don’t have cable access. She promises to roll another technician to my house today to deliver a cable box I can use till Thursday.

Since the guy at the store really seemed to be on my side and helpful, I decided to call him to let him know what had happened–that they were not going to send someone in the new slot he had arranged for me. At this point, I discovered it is not possible for a customer to call a local Comcast store. ALL calls to Comcast go to their regional/national Customer Care center. When I try that number I’m told that due to high volume, unless my problem is urgent I should try calling them some other time. I decide to drive back to the store to see if the employee there can help me.

I arrive at the store at 1:30pm. The door is locked. The sign, which I hadn’t seen on my first trip, says they are closed from 1-2pm every day. I look in the window and there’s my buddy behind the counter. He sees me and gives me an emphatic “V for Victory” sign–actually “V for Come Back at 2pm” sign. Not really counting at this point, but I think this is strike three for the original technician who told me the store closed at 2pm. I decide to get some lunch.

After lunch, I return to the store and give him an update. He tells me that the story about not sending another tech out today because it’s a CableCARD problem is “crap.” He suggests I go home, call Customer Care, ask for a supervisor, and get them to send another technician today.

I go home. I explain the situation to my wife. As I finish, another Comcast truck rolls up the driveway. It’s the second technician with the promised temporary cable box. I go out and greet him, saying “So, you have a box for me?”

He says, “Aren’t you the customer who was trying to get a CableCARD installed?”

I say, “Yes, I need two CableCARDs.”

He says, “I’ve got two right here.” And he holds them up to show me.

I was sure something bad was going to happen at this point. He wouldn’t be allowed to put them in. The cards would be bad. The Tivo wouldn’t work right. None of that happened. This tech knew what he was doing. And the guy at the head end, in Advanced Tech Support, knew what he was doing. He even knew what a Series3 Tivo was. We installed and configured the two cards in under 20 minutes. My Tivo is up and running with no problems, thanks to these two clueful Comcast employees.

If any Comcast supervisor gives a flying heck about any of this, you can look it up in your system under WOW ticket number 1926562. I’m sure I’ll be hearing back real soon now from Comcast Customer Care with an apology. Comcast continues to lower the bar on customer service with each of my interactions. Pretty soon you’ll be as bad as a monopoly. Come to think of it, I don’t have a choice in my area, do I? Why else do you think I put up with this crap? If I could clear-cut the forest across the street from my house, I’d jump to satellite in a nanosecond. My only hope is FIOS. Verizon, I hope you’re listening…

Dreaming of a Brown Christmas

December 24, 2006

My Christmas presents are all wrapped and ready, save one. That present is sitting in a UPS facility in the next town, having arrived there at 4:02am on Saturday morning. It wasn’t delivered yesterday, and now I’m sure won’t be delivered in time for Christmas since the tracking records says the package is “on time” and scheduled for delivery on the 26th.

Yet another example (see the Toyota example here) of how giving the consumer better visibility into the inner workings of a business can reduce customer satisfaction. If I didn’t know the package was sitting a few miles from my house, I’d probably conclude it got hung up somewhere due to the snow in Colorado. It’s much easier to be philosophical about an act of Nature…

Peace and Quiet

December 24, 2006

Sun is closed now for Winter Break, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The flood of internal email has slowed to a wonderfully quiet trickle.

The Dark Ages of Windows: Just a Bad Memory?

December 24, 2006

I’m getting very close to being totally Windows-free. If not for the occasional need for a few Windows-only applications, I’d be rid of it already. I use Parallels on my Mac Book Pro to run Windows XP when I need it.

Working at Sun, you get used to rock solid operating systems. I can’t remember the last time my Sun Ray server crashed, and I don’t believe my work-issued Solaris laptop ever crashed on me. Ditto with my Mac Book Pro and Mac OS X. I’ve had a few application issues (notably Mail.app), but the machine has never crashed on me.

Working today on my Mac, beavering away on something or other, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that one of my windows had suddenly turned black. Bringing the window forward, I saw it was my Parallels window and that Windows XP had crashed–again. XP had jammed up an hour or so earlier and I had forgotten about it.

I had to smile as I continued working, uninterrupted…

What Kind of War is this Anyway? [REPOST]

December 22, 2006

I posted an entry earlier this week and then deleted it and some of you may be wondering why. Change of heart? No, not really. But these guys shouldn’t automatically be killed as I implied in my original entry: I can imagine scenarios in wartime in which an enemy is captured, not killed. What ticked me off was the phrase “the three suspects are being held for questioning.” This war is being run too much like a policing action and not enough like a war.

Original post:

Consider the following quote from an American Forces Press Service press release today:

Iraqi troops and U.S. soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team today captured three men attempting to set up a mortar tube east of al Qasim. Combined forces found a mortar tube, five 81mm rounds, and a mortar bipod and sight. The three suspects are being held for questioning.

Uh, pardon me for what some of you may view as simplistic thinking, but why aren’t these three guys dead? If you come upon three enemy combatants setting up a mortar position, you don’t “hold them for questioning.” You kill them. That’s what you do in wars–you kill people that are trying to kill you.

Setting aside the question of whether we should be in Iraq or not, this is the biggest thing wrong with the war: not enough dead enemy combatants.

Sun Photo Share Program: Sharing for Fun and Profit

December 22, 2006

Awhile back, I submitted some photos to Sun’s Photo Share Program, a program run by Sun’s branding team to find distinctive, compelling, and creative photos to add to our brand library. Twelve of my entries were selected for inclusion in the Sun Photo Library and today I received a $50 gift certificate from Amazon as a thank you.

As someone who enjoys photography, this was a fun way for me to participate and share my work with others. And get rewarded, too. Sweet!