Tallying the scores

Continuing the “rate the airport” madness with O’Hare and Logan:


  • 1 point for having a Starbucks open at 5 am.
  • -1 point for no WiFi.
  • -2 points for having non-functional electrical outlets in the Terminal C seating areas.
  • -1 point for the light show on the people mover between terminals B and C, and the approximately five distinct echoing messages warning in canon that the moving walkway was ending. No, make that -5 points. In my jetlagged state, I thought I’d never get out of there alive.

Total: -7 points.


  • -1 point for no restaurants in the United terminal other than a Starbucks.
  • 1 point for having finally rebuilt the ground transportation center at C terminal so that there is a separate curb for buses and shuttles.
  • 1 point for an authentically cranky driver who nevertheless actually told the scared folks I was with how to catch the Blue Line to get downtown to Government Center.
  • 1 point for having good GSM signal at the airport so I could check my email on my phone on the way to the train.
  • 2 points for being accessible by the T.

Total: 4 points and the winner.

Notice I didn’t say I was being objective with these…

On my way: scoring SeaTac

I’m scoring the airports on this trip, because I know something is going to go sideways on the flight and it will be interesting to try to compare the experience objectively.


  • No line at the United counter, 1 point (of course it’s for an 11:30 pm flight).
  • Only one metal detector open, with a screener who wants to see everyone’s pass after the person at the head of the line already checked it: – 1 point.
  • Not setting off the metal detector with my glasses or my shoes: 1 point.
  • WiFi in the terminal, 2 points. – 1 point for WayPort paid rather than free (but at least it’s a paid service that I already subscribe to).
  • No one at the gate to check if I can get exit row seats, – 1 point.
  • No travel services open in the N gates: -1 point.

So far SeaTac is pretty neutral (or, less favorably, scores a big goose egg).

About blogs and business

I find myself thinking more often these days about what blogs should be, even as I spend less time thinking about what I actually blog. Not necessarily a good combination. But I sometimes think that the relative effortlessness with which really practiced bloggers post is less a factor of short attention spans or carelessness (though there are plenty, myself included, who are guilty of both) and more a factor of practice. And, over time, of self-knowledge.

Someone asked me what blogging was the other day. My reply: “It’s an individual’s perspective on life, usually but not necessarily of the online variety.” After taking that thought away, I’m not sure I’m satisfied with it. After all, Real Live Preacher doesn’t blog about online life; neither does Julie Powell; neither (usually) does Tony Pierce. And neither, really, does Dave Winer, not anymore. So that leaves us with “an individual’s perspective on life.” Hmm. Not satisfactory, but let’s start with that.

What does that individual perspective mean? Well, for one thing, it’s personal. Regardless of whether you’re compiling lists of links or writing essays, the blog reflects your perspective. The better blogs are more personal, not less; they put that personality out there and reveal all the subjectivity up front.

So what does this have to do with business? Maybe nothing. But even at large companies like Microsoft, we need to connect to our customers and understand them—and, sometimes harder, have them understand us. Maybe blogging is a way to do that that transcends being there in newsgroups or posting anonymous advice to the corporate website.

Getting ready for BloggerCon

I’m doing my best to get ready for BloggerCon. I’m downloading the Lydon interviews for listening on the plane; I’ve read the conference blog for days; I’ve signed up for dinner with Doc Searls (but will they let me bring my spouse?); am I forgetting anything prior to the conference?

Yes. I need to put my humble hat and my listening ears on. This is the first place I’ll be with other bloggers (outside the Seattle circle) who will know me not as “Tim of Jarrett House North” but rather “Tim the Microsoft blogger.” I expect I’ll get a lot of input, some of it friendly, some constructive, and some impassioned. And I expect a lot of it will be really good. But the important thing is, I’m not going to speak; I’m going to learn.

A week in Boston

I’ll be in beautiful sunny Cambridge this week to talk to MIT and Harvard business school students about Microsoft. I’ll also be at the BloggerCon this weekend. In between I hope to squeeze in a little vacation and maybe celebrate our anniversary (Lisa is coming along).

I tend to be productive blogging on the plane; between airport wifi and long hours of enforced immobility, I find time to write software and get ideas out into words. Hope this trip continues the trend.

November in Napa?

George just emailed us a link to the perfect excuse, now that we’ve been on the west coast 15 months, to finally head down to Napa (and spend some time with him and Becky): the Wine and Food Affair. Two days in the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys, over fifty wineries, $40 bucks a person. Sounds like a road trip to me!

Mothman victorious: the end of the Appalachian Trail

Jim sent his final update today from his nearly six month, 2,171 mile long hike through the entire Appalachian Trail. In the final episode, he helps a 62-year-old Irish priest rescue an unprepared day hiker with a twisted knee, explains the trail protocols for getting food from other hikers without asking for it, rhapsodizes over hiking boots… and makes it to the top of Katahdin.

Jim closes with the closest thing to a benediction I’ve ever heard him utter:

If you have already or are currently living a dream, my hat is off to you; I understand now. If you have a dream, do your best to make it happen. Life is short, and you owe it to yourself to at least give it a shot. Even if I had ducked off the Trail at the first road crossing in Georgia, I would have been happier knowing I tried than if I had never tried at all.

I plan to update the Mothman Chronicles page over the next few days with a few extra features to make the experience of reading Jim’s story from beginning to end a little easier. Maybe before my next update, Jim will finally explain why they called him Mothman.

Modigliani RIP

New York Times: Franco Modigliani, 85, Nobel-Winning Economist, Dies. The great man’s presence at the Sloan school was always felt, though I don’t believe I ever actually met him.

The obituary emphasizes his economic research in life-cycle theory, but my corporate finance professor structured much of the theoretical side of our class around the Modigliani-Miller Theory, which said that, except in certain edge cases, a firm’s choice between financing growth with equity or debt is largely meaningless because the specific capital structure (ratio of debt to equity in a firm’s balance sheet) is irrelevant. The theory says that certain common modes of corporate thought are fallacies, including “debt is cheaper than equity,” “taking on debt is better if your earnings per share growth is up, and the weighted average cost of capital should be higher for highly leveraged companies because of the risk to equity. (You may still see some of these fallacies in business journalism or hear them from your boss.)

Of course, this being MIT, we then spent the rest of the semester exploring cases in which Modigliani-Miller ignored certain frictions of the market, including the effect of debt on a firm’s tax burden (it decreases it) and the potential costs of financial distress should a firm be unable to repay its debts.

Followup day part 2: Coalescing temporal data in SQL queries

I have to confess that there’s a little trick I didn’t mention in my first post about summarizing time range data using SQL. Specifically, my solution relies on the data set being sorted in a certain way, in this case by server_id and DateAndTime, and then inserting a sequential key on the table using an identity column. So my solution isn’t very general.

This came back to bite me in the butt when I wanted to take the next step and summarize the output from that script further by eliminating the TestID and summarizing by server_id and time range. I couldn’t get my original algorithm to work. At all. Frustrated, I did more research and found that this problem, which is formally known as coalescing temporal data, is really hard—so hard that there are people like database guru Rick Snodgrass who devote their whole careers to figuring out how best to summarize temporal data using SQL.

The difficulty is that SQL is a set based language, but to properly summarize temporal data, SQL needs to understand time spans bounded by a start and end date and be able to compare them to see if one partially or wholly contains another. Fortunately for me, Snodgrass wrote an article a few years back in Database Programming and Design, called “Temporal Coalescing,” that lays out several options for solving this problem, including a mostly procedural option, a cursor-based option, an option all in one SQL query that’s even hairier than the one I proposed, and an option that uses a view and a HAVING COUNT statement, which is what I’m using now. It’s not fast, but it is correct. Here’s Snodgrass’s sample code, translated into the terms of my original solution:

CREATE VIEW V1 (server_id, DateStart1, DateEnd2) 
AS SELECT F.server_id, F.DateStart1, L.DateEnd2
FROM ServerHistory AS F, ServerHistory AS L, ServerHistory AS E 
WHERE F.DateEnd2 <= L.DateEnd2
   AND F.server_id = L.server_id AND F.server_id = E.server_id
GROUP BY F.server_id, F.DateStart1, L.DateEnd2
         WHEN (E.DateStart1 < F.DateStart1
            AND F.DateStart1 <= E.DateEnd2)
         OR (E.DateStart1 <= L.DateEnd2
            AND L.DateEnd2 < E.DateEnd2)
      THEN 1 END) = 0

CREATE TABLE Temp(server_id int,
   DateStart1 DATETIME, DateEnd2 DATETIME)
SELECT server_id, DateStart1, MIN(DateEnd2) 
GROUP BY server_id, DateStart1

Mandatory disclaimer: This posting is provided “AS IS” with no warranties, and confers no rights.

Followup day part 1: Voting machines

Some additional thoughts and links about the Diebold voting machine security issue: Greg was kind enough to point out to me over IM, rather than chiding me publicly for it on his blog, that it’s unlikely that Georgia’s Democrat Secretary of State, who has responsibility for running elections, would be unlikely to help rig an election via voting machines in favor of the Republicans. He also passed along a link or two, including one I should have caught in the MIT Technology Review, about security issues with the voting machines.

At bottom, the whole mess still feels to me like a problem of under-secured, under-audited, badly-managed software development.

Black and White week

I was hoping to go for a whole week with album covers that consisted of black and white portraits of two men, but didn’t quite make it. Still, I continue to be slightly creeped out by the Kruder and Dorfmeister cover, which is like a bizarro version of the Bookends cover. And is the pose on the cover of Songs From the Big Chair coincidence? I don’t think so. Check out the Past Listening page for the whole picture.


Lots of stuff today while I was at work shipping internal products:

  • Tony Pierce talks about the show that I should have gone to when it was in Seattle…White Stripes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. All rock goodness, it sounds like.
  • Weblogs Inc., dedicated to producing niche “blogs” dedicated to aggregating industry focused content and hosting discussion groups. Sounds kinda like CNET, but Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin posted the link without busting it; maybe they’re on the up and up.
  • The Apple Computer History group blog has really taken off; just look at the story list. Current fave: engineer tells Jean-Louis Gassee that releasing the new high performance IIci will break all the NuBus cards currently being made. Jean-Louis says, “OK, that is problem number one. Are there any more?” Apple goes forward with the IIci, they work out a software patch with all existing NuBus card makers prior to release, and it becomes one of the coolest Macs ever released.
  • Mail-to-weblog is now released for Manila. If I ever get email working on my mobile phone, I will be taking advantage of this feature.
  • A Mac user was improperly caught up in the RIAA’s dragnet, accused of using a KaZaA client that isn’t available for the Mac to download music. The 66-year-old grandmother was accused in the lawsuit of downloading lots of hip hop including works by Snoop Dogg. The suit has been dropped. (NYT.)

QTN™: Buffalo Bill Pumpkin Ale

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these; seems like the seasonal beers are easier to make notes about. This is probably because a lot of seasonals, particularly winter beers but also some autumnal varieties, rely on a lot of spices to provide their flavor, and it’s easier to say “nutmeg up front” than “vague aromas of bananas.”

And Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale is definitely nutmeg up front. Big big taste of nutmeg with just a little cinnamon and allspice, that fades into a well balanced hop bitterness that fades into with a lot of malt behind. The pumpkin is there, but as anyone who’s tasted pumpkin in anything but pie would guess, it’s mostly providing malty balance rather than a distinct flavor. But it’s a better balanced pumpkin ale than most I’ve tried.

Foggy Notion

Like a switch had been flipped: today is the first day of fall, and the Lake Sammamish valley in which downtown Redmond sits was shrouded in fog as I drove in this morning. Good metaphor for how I felt all yesterday. Today is looking up, though.

I got a call from Esta last night, and again this morning. Though things have been extremely busy, she is doing well. Their power returned today, for the first time since Thursday; she says that some of the smaller rural areas east of Richmond might not see power until sometime in October. She is also discovering, I think, that there is as much to be learned outside the classroom in her program as inside. I certainly found that to be true in my MBA, and I suspect the same is true for most graduate programs.

The GOP’s nakedly partisan explanation of the recall

I’ve been on the fence about this whole California recall thing. While California is clearly a state in the toilet right now, its voters re-elected Gray Davis fair and square even after he had screwed the state up. If someone wanted to prevent him from doing future harm, the best way would seem to be to invest in voter turnout programs.

Then I read today’s article in the San Francisco Chronicle, which quotes GOP congressman Darrell Issa, whose $1.6 million expenditure funded the effort to get signatures for the recall petition, as saying that voters should vote against the recall if the GOP ticket remains split. “”If two major Republicans remain on the ballot, I’d advise you to vote ‘no’ on the recall…It would absolutely guarantee that (Democratic Lt. Gov.) Cruz Bustamante will be the governor, even though a majority of voters are asking for a no-tax solution…”

Hmm. I thought the purpose of a recall was to state that the office holder was so awful that no matter who replaced him, the state would be better off. Did Issa really not think that the Democrats stood a chance of doing that? Issa’s statement totally recasts the recall for me. It’s all just another cynical attempt to rewrite the results of a fair and legitimate election in favor of the GOP.