Apple: How to bury an important announcement

A lot of people, Steve Jobs probably among them, were disappointed in today’s MacWorld keynote address. Lackluster new iMacs and another two months for Mac OS X 10.1 (including DVD playback and speed boost) were the “highlights.”

But Dave Winer pointed out something very important I missed (primarily because I joined the webcast after it had been announced. Give me a break, it started at 6 am PDT): Apple will embed SOAP and XML-RPC in Mac OS X and make it accessible through AppleScript.

Why is this so important?

Someday I’ll write a good description of what a major turning point XML-RPC represents. For now, the best way to describe it is this: It’s a universal protocol that works over the web that describes how applications talk to one another. It’s the basis on which this web server and the engine I use to edit it operate. As SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), it’s the basic syntax that Microsoft is using throughout their .NET initiative.

It’s the most important thing on the Internet since HTML. HTML allowed people to share information easily and enabled people to get connected to each other on the Internet. Just as HTML described how to allow people to access information in an intuitive, graphical way, so XML-RPC describes how to allow different computer programs to talk to each other across the Internet. It’s scalable and robust, it’s an emerging standard. And Apple is baking it into the OS at a very low level.

Microsoft’s vision for .NET is information access any time you need it, on any device, in any format. Dave Winer’s vision, along with the other folks working with him on XML-RPC, is the same, only they want the core services to be distributed across the community rather than all running in Redmond. And Apple wants its Mac users to be able to use AppleScript, its intuitive programming language, to wire programs running in Mac OS X to web services speaking SOAP and XML-RPC anywhere on the Internet.

Why is this important? Because this is where the next generation of killer apps will live. Bill Gates thinks so: he’s staked the future of Microsoft on it. And Steve and the gang have taken that bet and ensured that Mac users won’t be left behind.

So am I mad at Apple after the keynote today? Yes, but not because of hardware or because I have to dual-boot into OS 9 to watch DVDs until September. I’m mad at Steve because he spent time in the keynote showing screensavers and talking about the megahertz myth instead of articulating why this is so important. It’s something that’s hard to demo, but I guarantee this will make more of a difference to your life as a Mac user than the hardware will.

Email bulletins working (really)

No life stories today, just a site update. I’ve hacked some of the back end of the web site so that I can get the site sent out by email. If you want to start receiving site updates via email so you don’t have to point your web browser at the site all the time (and yes, I know the site goes out from time to time), go to your preferences and toggle the switch that says you want to receive email bulletins.

More Navigation

Update: I’ve put together a couple pages that highlight some sets of stories that make sense together. So far there are two: a batch of travel related stories I wrote last year, and a page that pulls together the stories that have more or less to do with my time in Seattle in the summer of 2001. You can get to them from the Navigation area on the left hand side of all the pages.

Hopefully this starts to address some of the navigation challenges imposed by the “calendar” format of the site, and to make some of the writing on the site a little more discoverable. Let me know if you like the change.

All Wet, or Sleepless in Seattle

My wife was visiting for much of the last week. We were determined to get the best experience out of my time in Seattle that we could. Saturday we decided that we would branch out from microbrews, Pike Place Market, and salmon and check out some of the other pleasures that the area has to offer. We decided to start with the water.

Seattle is surrounded by water. To the west is Elliott Bay, which opens into Puget Sound. To the east is Lake Washington. And around the periphery are dozens of smaller lakes. One in particular, Lake Union, divides Seattle proper from its northern suburbs, Ballard, Fremont, and Wallingham, as well as the University of Washington (known locally as U-dub). Lake Union has a couple of things to recommend it: houseboats (it’s the supposed site of Tom Hanks’ home in Sleepless in Seattle), seaplanes, and the Wooden Boat Center.

The Wooden Boat Center restores and maintains a fleet of wooden vessels ranging from rowboats to two-master sailboats. You can take sailing lessons, or rent sailboats or rowboats. It’s pretty cool — Lake Union is a small enough body of water that it’s not too intimidating to be out there on a boat, even if you haven’t rowed in a few years.

Or so I thought. We rented a 15-foot wide-bottomed boat, got in, and cast away from the dock. As I pulled the oars, I immediately made two discoveries:

  1. The oars had much smaller blades than those I had used before.
  2. It really had been a long, long time since I had used the muscles needed for rowing. In fact, I used to use a rowing machine when I visited the gym regularly, which was last in … 1998.

Clearly, my body was not going to enjoy this.

The small blades of the oars (also wooden) contributed to the funniest problem of the day: the boat had a tendency to go in circles. This was because the oars had a tendency to rotate around their central axes in my hands, so after one good stroke with the blades in the proper position, the blades would suddenly be 90 degrees out of whack and start scooping the water into the boat and over both of us. This was more a problem on my right side for some reason, and so I found myself continually pulling the boat to port.

Lisa suggested we try to move the oarlocks back one bench to see if I could pull them better from that position, so we pulled the boat up to another dock and tried to move the oarlocks. That didn’t seem to work, so she volunteered to pull for a while. We shoved off and she promptly set the boat going in circles. After we straightened that out, she still was pulling to starboard. This was bad, because that was sending us right at a row of yachts in a private slip.

Visions of us crashing a well-loved 40 year old rowboat into a $500,000 yacht dancing in my head, I helped her wrestle the oars and we finally came to rest in a vacant mooring between two yachts. Cursing mightily, we switched places and I managed to pull the boat back out onto the open water–no mean feat, because if I pulled it too far to one side or another the oar would scrape the yacht on that side.

We finally got it out in the open water and decided to head back. Lisa directed me and I kept the boat going more or less in a straight line by lining up her head with a seaplane hangar on the other shore of the lake. I told her, “Don’t move your head, dear, because we’ll end up totally lost…”

Last night my aching triceps and mild sunburn kept me awake all night long, telling me I was a moron. It was still fun though. Lisa’s on a red-eye back to Maine where she’s managing a project. She hopes to come back in August, at which point she wants to go kayaking. Please say a prayer for me and send a bottle of Advil.

Continuous Improvement

The title of this piece is a phrase you hear a lot in consulting, software development, higher education, and basically any other highly complex process environment. When I hear the phrase “continuous improvement,” I generally think it means three things:

  1. The speaker acknowledges that the thing being “continuously improved” is broken.
  2. The speaker confesses that not only is it broken, it’s so badly broken that it will never be fixed.
  3. Look for a lot of half-assed changes to try to fix the problems, but never really succeed.

Maybe that’s a little too cynical. I certainly hope it’s too cynical for my “continuous improvement” efforts on this site!

Improving the site

One of the nice things about writing a personal web log is that, at least until you get linked by Dave, you know everyone in your audience. I’ve been taking advantage of that to gather feedback from people about how the site is working for them. I’ve heard two pieces of feedback: the navigation can be confusing, and the email options don’t work. I’m trying to address both of those:

  • Navigation: I’ve just added a new help page to the site, accessible both from the FAQ and from the side links on each page. It explains how the site works, in concept and in how you click from page to page. I’m also trying to improve how things on the site are labeled.
  • Email: I think that I didn’t understand how the email bulletins feature was supposed to work. I’m changing the process for how I write the front page of this site. After I write a page, I’ll manually send out a bulletin with the contents of the page. If that works, this will be the first page update you’ll get by email. Remember, you can turn bulletin notification on and off using your Preferences.

This site is definitely a work in progress, so please give feedback either to me directly or on the site. If you have problems with the site navigation or have an idea of how I could improve it, or if the email bulletins don’t work, let me know! As Dave Winer, the developer behind the Manila platform used to say, “Dig we must!” It’s a phrase I prefer to “continuous improvement” because it’s more concise: there’s work to be done! I’ve got to do it! I’m working on it now!

For Amateurs

Not that this has anything to do with the rest of the piece, but my wife and I (yes, she’s back in town for a few days–yay!) ate at Seattle’s famed Wild Ginger last night. Sadly, we were very disappointed. While the food itself was quite good (though very mild compared to the Thai food that inspired it), the service was so far below sub-par it wasn’t even funny. We got there half an hour early for a 9:30 reservation (so we could hang out in the bar and chat) but weren’t seated until 9:45. The waiter was condescending about the wine list (which was overpriced)… Enough rant. Bottom line: go to Flying Fish instead. Much better experience.

So, “for amateurs.” Douglas Rushkoff in the Guardian wrote this piece that echoes my feelings about the possible harm from the dot-com fallout. Rushkoff says, “The point is to do what we do online because we love it…Anything done in this very transparent medium for any other reason gets exposed. It’s as if the more active mindset we use to navigate the internet allows us to detect the intentions of its many posters and navigators. If there’s no real passion for anything but revenue, we know it. We can smell it.”

I have long thought the same about music (in the immortal words of choral conductor Robert Shaw, “Choral music is like sex. Both are far too important to be left solely to professionals”). I think on some very fundamental level this can be generalized to our work, our private activities, our interaction with our families. Purity of motive and honesty about motive count for a lot in my book.


I’m feeling a bit overextended lately. This is nothing new for me; after all, I gave myself an ulcer when I was an undergrad with the stress of the various things I was trying to accomplish. I’m still surprised on a day like today when it seems I haven’t learned my lesson.

This summer, I’m trying to do the following:

  • Complete a successful internship
  • Customize a commercial calendar package for MIT’s entrepreneurship portal, e-MIT
  • Give the web site for the Sloan Leadership Forum a facelift
  • Get ready for a new season of the Sloan E-52s — including arranging some music
  • Oh, yeah–and be a good husband

Am I stupid? Why do I always overpromise things?

A few years ago at AMS, I had a 360-degree review. If you’ve never been through one of these, I highly recommend it as a diagnostic tool. A group of your direct reports, managers, customers, and peers provide you with anonymized feedback in response to a questionnaire designed to measure your leadership effectiveness. It can be pretty humbling. One of the respondents noted my tendency to get involved in a lot of things (at the time, I was, at the request of my management and my clients, holding two unrelated full-time positions), and accused me essentially of letting my ambition write checks that I couldn’t cash.

Maybe there’s some truth in that statement. I don’t know that I’d ever considered ambition a major component of my personality, but maybe that’s the problem — or vanity, or something. Or just a chronic inability to estimate time. I do know it’s frustrating not having the time and energy to deliver the best things that I can.

Gougers! United: The Untold Story

After some fun, I’m back in Seattle. An observation: when United Airlines calls your cell phone, tells you that your original flight was cancelled, and offers you a different flight at no charge that gets you to your destination earlier, and it seems too easy… it probably is.

Update: Here’s the full story. Not an atypical travel story, I suppose, but it’s unusual in my experience in the number of things that went wrong in one day.

Boston, Sunday, 3:35 pm. I get a call on my cell phone telling me that the first leg of my flight back to Seattle, through Washington, DC, has been cancelled. However, they can put me on a flight routed through Denver that gets me to Seattle about half an hour earlier. As noted above, it sounds too good to be true.

Boston Logan Airport, 5:30 pm. The airport is packed and I find the flight departure has been delayed twenty minutes, to 7:00 pm. No big deal so far…

Boston Logan Airport, 8:00 pm. Having finally pushed back from the gate at 7:30 pm, we’re waiting in line to take off. And waiting. And waiting. I start noticing other planes going around us… The young kid in the row behind me kicking my seat and giggling doesn’t help my mood.

Boston Logan Airport, 8:30 pm. We’re back at the gate. The pilot announced that there was a mechanical problem with one of the instruments that would prevent us from taking off. Then the ground crew chief came on and said, “Passengers going to Denver and those continuing to San Francisco, we will get you there tonight, either on this plane or another. Passengers connecting through Denver, you will probably all miss your connections. Please come and see me at the podium…”

Boston Logan Airport, 9:20 pm. I finally get through the line at the podium to find that I can get on a flight to Los Angeles, and then take a flight to Seattle first thing in the morning. That gets me to SeaTac Aiport about 9 am. The only catch is that “at this point there’s no way your bag is going to LAX with you, because the LAX flight leaves in 15 minutes and your bag isn’t off the plane yet. You’ll need to file a claim as soon as you get to LAX so that your bag can be delivered to you in Seattle.” But he promises I can get a voucher for a hotel room in LAX.

Boston Logan Airport, 10:20 pm. We take off finally for LAX.

LAX, 1:10 am (Pacific Daylight Time). We land in LAX. I ask the customer service crew about my hotel voucher and am told to proceed to baggage claim. I ask the baggage claim personnel about my bag claim and am told, “Since your bag is checked to Seattle, you’ll need to call this number to file the claim.” I have to ask twice to get the voucher.

LAX, 2:10 am (PDT). After I wait for 25 minutes, the shuttle for the Aiport Hilton pulls up and stops one lane away from the curb. I try to make eye contact with the driver to see if he’s going to bring it to the curb, but he revs the motor and drives away as I’m waving at him (empty shuttle). I end up paying the Ramada driver $5 to take me to the Hilton.

LA, Airport Hilton, 2:45 am (PDT). I finally get in my bed, until…

LA, Airport Hilton, 5:10 am (PDT). My wake-up call. I need to be back at the airport for a 6:30 flight.

LAX, 6:35 am (PDT). We take off on time (amazingly). So far Monday is much better travel than Sunday…

SeaTac Airport, 9:10 am (PDT). I deplane and head for baggage claim. When I speak to the personnel about my bag, she says, “Your name rings a bell for some reason. I think we may already have your bag.” She and I walk over to a stack of luggage from another flight, and there’s my bag!!!

Redmond, 10:10 am (PDT). I arrive at work smelling not too horrible in yesterday’s clothes (no time to go home and change). Another travel horror story survived.

The scariest part

The most frightening thing about this whole story is that virtually the whole story happened to me before… in 1995, when I was traveling for AMS. From Dulles, we couldn’t take off for LA because of mechanical failure… we missed our connection to Inyokern, CA and had to spend a night in the Airport Hilton… our bags were lost and then found… and it was all on United. So Mike Stopper and Kevin Mitchell, I was thinking of you guys last night as I tried to dial a local access number for my company in LA only to find that the room didn’t have an active outside line. “What a bunch of gougers!”

What’s your story?

Post your travel horror story in the Discussion section. (Comments are now closed.)

Back in Boston

…at least for the weekend. After my long sleepless plane ride (which admittedly was freakishly cheap), it was a relief to just sit on the bank of the Esplanade in Boston beside the river and watch the crowds go by. Lisa, our friends Niall and Dubhfeasa, and I went there about 3 pm yesterday and spent a nice afternoon just being lazy. There are probably more historically appropriate ways to spend Independence Day, but I don’t want to know about them.

Lisa has said that the weather in Boston has been oppressive this summer with high heat and humidity, but (at least so far) it doesn’t touch Washington, DC for nasty sticky.

I’m currently sitting in a team room in Sloan writing this. It feels strange to be back here, knowing that there will be 350 new people running around in a month and that I’ll be the one that’s supposed to know something about Sloan and how it works.

I had an email today from someone in Alabama who may be related to the Jarrett side of the family. Weird thing–he says he has my uncle Aubrey Jarrett’s dog tags… I’ll have to call and see if Aubrey was even in the military.

PS — Freudian slip: the first version of this page was called “Back in Cambridge” — even though we moved across the river to Boston in May. Funny how the brain gets confused in a different time zone.

And the eyeball’s red glare…

Updates will be sporadic for the next few days, as I’m flying back to Boston for the 4th of July holiday (redeye flight tomorrow night, hence the title of this piece). I’ll probably sneak one update in later in the week, but I hope to mostly be enjoying the heat, humidity and sun that I’ve so far managed to escape in Seattle this summer.

I had dinner with our dear friend Shel and her folks tonight. They’re visiting her in Portland, having flown out this morning from Poquoson, Virginia. Exciting news from Poquoson–apparently they’ve put a sewer system in now. Too bad–as they say, it used to be “where the effluent met the affluent”…

I tried to talk Shel into starting up one of these sites (by the way, have I mentioned you too can have your own weblog, entirely edited through your browser, at, but over dinner wasn’t able to get quite worked up enough about it to convince her. I guess the only thing I can say is to point to the web site of Justin Hall, which remains unparalleled in my experience.

Justin’s been writing an online diary since he was a callow youth at Swarthmore back in 1994, and has faithfully posted every joyous and painful (and sometimes explicit, so be warned) detail of his life since then at his site, Links from the Underground. In a way, you might say Justin is to blame for my site and others like it. But at the same time, his words from 1995 still ring true, even after the DotBomb.

For him, and for me, it’s about getting humanity onto the web before it’s so choked with commerce, official TV show fan sites, technical support knowledge bases, and pop-under ads that it becomes just another worthless sewer of data without information, communication without listeners, words and images without soul.

I was sad because I had no broadband

…until I met a man with no modem. If you’re trying to contact my parents via email, you may want to try the phone instead — their modem perished via electrical storm last week. The moral of the story: get one of those little modem surge protectors from Radio Shack. Your Internet thanks you.

Yucca Flats

So the cryptic reference in yesterday’s writeup was to a beverage called Yucca Flats, which we used to enjoy at Myrtle Beach after classes ended each spring when I was in college. For the record, here’s the recipe: Put 10 lbs of ice in a cheap styrofoam cooler. Pour a big (1.75 liter) bottle of vodka over the ice. Put sliced fruit (whatever you’ve got handy, but make sure to include limes, oranges, and maraschino cherries, plus the liquid the cherries came in) in the cooler. Add about 1-2 cups of sugar. Stir. Put the lid on the cooler and place it in direct sunlight for about six hours, stirring periodically. (The ice must melt down enough so that you can’t taste the vodka any more).

The only problem I ran into making it last night was that I didn’t get enough direct sunlight, so I had to use a few cups of hot water to melt some of the ice — which made it a little too weak. But it had good flavor anyway.

Reggie Aggarwal and the Thrilla from Manila

A long time ago, I decided to start this page so that I could play around with the Manila technology and keep a web log. I didn’t realize the power I had at my hands until I started looking at my referer log. I saw that a lot of people had come to my page after searching for things on Google. Curious, I clicked through one Google link (a search request for info on Reggie Aggarwal) and found that I had the top two links for him! The links showed up ahead of his own home page and his official biography at his company.

I can only assume that the Manila back end managed to store my site in such a way that it showed up pretty darn high on Google. I don’t know how you did this, guys, but I’m sure I speak for all Reggie’s fans when I say I’m grateful.

Keeping Busy

Looking back over the past couple weeks, I realized I haven’t really said a lot about my day-to-day existence here in Washington State.

I’ve pretty much fallen into the groove here. Work typically doesn’t consume much more than eight or nine hours a day; commute chews up almost two hours a day, though. (Coming into work isn’t bad: I leave the house at 7:15 and get in around 7:45. But the return trip always takes forever.)

After hours most days I heat up some leftovers and read, listen to music, or try to teach myself Perl. Sadly, I have become addicted to a few television shows as well, specifically “Whose Line Is It Anyway” and most of the shows on the Food Network.

We interns typically have about one company-sponsored after work event a week. We also generally meet up for dinner and drinks after work on Friday. This weekend we’re doing a barbecue at the swank apartments where a number of the interns are staying (sadly, my digs are a little less elegant).

Which brings me to the point of this little missive: if anyone reading this knows the recipe for Yucca Flats (also known as just yucca), can you call please before 6 pm Pacific time? I’m going to wing it, and I’m terrified I’ll forget something …

The Verdict

On the verdict

There’s been a lot of coverage of the verdict of the Microsoft case today. There were a lot of news trucks in the part of the Seattle area where I work. The web log traffic has been heavy too.

Dave Winer thinks that the decision still contains some really strong teeth against Microsoft and in favor of Independent Software Vendors (ISVs). He thinks “the judges put in writing some basic principles about how platform vendors must deal with independent developers.”

Thomas Madsen-Mygdal has been excerpting the decision of the appellate court, highlighting sections that upheld the ruling of the lower courts.

Slashdot has more than 1000 comments on their reporting of the article.

On the competition

I have some thoughts on how all this will play, but one point I have to make from the Mac-using population: the decision does throw into pretty sharp relief the issues facing the Mac platform. From the case:

The District Court found that consumers would not switch from Windows to Mac OS in response to a substantial price increase because of the costs of acquiring the new hardware needed to run Mac OS (an Apple computer and peripherals)and compatible software applications, as well as because of the effort involved in learning the new system and transferring files to its format.
Findings of Fact ¶ 20.The court also found the Apple system less appealing to consumers because it costs considerably more and supports fewer applications.

I guess that’s the challenge for Steve. He’s got a brand new operating system that has a combined heritage of 17 years of the Mac and more than 30 years in Unix. Is that enough to keep the platform from falling into irrelevancy? I’ll keep using my PowerBook until it’s pried from my fingers (or I upgrade to a new model), but I have to hope that the early burst of activity I’ve seen with new apps for the platform will help reverse some of the trends of the past few years.

The Distance of the Lonely Runner (or something)

My parents are in the process of building a house. This is a pretty big deal, since their previous house, the one in which I grew up, had been their home for almost thirty years (longer, in my Dad’s case). They started the building process late last year, after having moved to my family’s property in western North Carolina when my Dad retired.The house is its own story (and it’s one that Mom and Dad have sent out in numerous emails in the last six months), but the part I want to focus on is (naturally, and myopically, enough) where I fit in. See, I grew up in that house in Virginia. I went to school at the University of Virginia. I worked for six years in Northern Virginia (which is not quite its own separate state, although maybe it should be).

Now, within the course of eight months, I’ve moved to the Boston area for school then to Seattle for a summer job, and my parents have left Virginia for good. Only my sister is still left in the state.

What I’m coming to understand as a result of all of this is something that I never really “got” before. My family’s roots are very strongly geographic, with my Mom’s family from Lancaster County, PA, and my Dad’s from the Asheville area in North Carolina (in fact, if you look at my genealogy, you can see just how far back those roots go). As a result, I think I confused geography with family connections for many, many years. What I’ve come to realize is that there’s a much harder process than building a house that I have to do—it’s continuing to communicate and visit with the family and ensuring that those connections never drop.

It’s a much harder job than designing an enterprise software system. Or building a house. Or writing a book. But a lot of people seem to be able to do it pretty successfully. As a coworker of mine said a bit wistfully this evening, “That’s what air travel is for.” Still, it seems like no matter how far we’ve come in communications, travel, and city design, we’re still faced with the basic fact that distance makes a huge difference in how we live our lives.

Kicking squealing Gucci little piggy

Today’s update is a little disjointed, but I wanted to go ahead and post it rather than try to get it perfect.

One of the benefits of hearing a band live is that sometimes you can understand some of the lyrics to your favorite songs better. The lyric quoted in the title of today’s piece was snarled with great clarity and venom by Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke on Saturday night, during “Paranoid Android” (their “breakthrough” single from 1997’s OK Computer). And Thom did look like a paranoid android — bobbing in front of the microphone like a man possessed. The full context is “Ambition makes you look pretty ugly/Kicking squealing Gucci little piggy/You don’t remember, you don’t remember/Why don’t you remember my name?”

And the audience kind of sat there getting stoned. At least that was what was happening where we were sitting.

The Gorge, near the city of George, Washington, sits in a high natural amphitheatre overlooking the Columbia River. You can see down into the river bed for miles past the band shell. It’s the most sublime location for a concert I’ve ever seen.

Radiohead is a band that makes music that kicks back against the complicity with which we are giving up our humanity. Unfortunately I think most of the crowd on Saturday was too far gone to respond.

The new Radiohead song that won’t leave my head, “Dollars & Cents,” was given a disturbing spin on Saturday. Radiohead have made a career out of defying expectations, and originally I understood “Dollars & Cents” to dramatize pressures that the band felt to be conventional pop artists (“Be constructive with your blues…Quiet down!”). But on Saturday I thought I heard Thom sing

     We are the dollars & cents
     We are the pounds & pence
     We are the marketing men, and yeah
     We're going to crack your little souls

Words of caution to live by for an MBA student.

PS The full lyrics to “Dollars & Cents” can be found at