Happy 6th!

Six years ago tonight TS1 and I stood up in front of family and friends to pledge our love and lives together. Simply put, I’ve never made a better decision: no woman is a better match for me and she gives me hope that the future will be ever better.

Our wedding photo

For all of you still searching for a partner in life I wish only that you find someone as wonderful as Viv!

Blaming the gun

Today a man in Pittsburgh shot and killed three police officers who had responded to a report of domestic violence. Yesterday another man shot and killed thirteen people in Binghampton, NY. Both gunmen were wearing body armor, apparently prepared to take on any police response.

Online comments, in this case on the Yahoo Buzz discussion of the Pittsburgh story, are certainly not to be taken as more than anecdotal evidence of community sentiment but still I was seriously wound up by the majority of those posted as of now.

Most of the posters seemed more concerned that President Obama and the Democratic congress were trying to override their Second Amendment right to own guns than with the 16 dead people and their grieving families. A couple of particularly sad examples:

these brainwashed killers are brought out intentionally, so to take away our 2 amendment. bring on the chaos so to create more control. gun control that is. biden is on it!said dorite.

Will Obama insist on calling the shooter something other than a murderer? Perhaps this event will be called a “Disturbed Citizen Confrontation.” If we can’t call terrorists “Enemy Combatants.” how can we call Americans “murderers?” said (the ironically nicknamed) Patriot.

Seriously, sixteen people who were doing their jobs or else in the same boat as the murderer are being buried and these dunces want to make up absurd claims with no basis in reality?!

Let’s for a moment, though, take them seriously. Another poster makes the valid point that the majority of gun owning Americans do not use them to murder people or commit other crimes.

Is that a good enough reason to continue allowing Americans unfettered access to all types of guns? The NRA and the rest of the gun lobby use their muscle to prevent any limitations on gun ownership.

The primary arguments I have seen are that people need guns to protect themselves and for hunting. If this is so then why are laws that cover guns and ammunition which are not used in either of them a problem?

The Second Amendment is not, after all, as absolute in its language as the First. “Congress shall make no law” is much stronger than “shall not be infringed.”

Some people will argue that what the Founders wrote should be taken literally and not interpreted, either in regards to the times in which they lived and their other writings or in light of changes since then and current thinking.

My answer is simply WTF. You want a rifle for hunting and a pistol for the house? Fine. Armor-piercing bullets and .50 caliber machine guns? Kiss my heiny.

Another argument is that if we outlaw guns only outlaws will have guns. By definition I suppose that would be true as any hunter who kept a rifle in the garage or homeowner with a .22 in the back closet would be an outlaw. But that isn’t what’s on the table, its just a strawman argument to generate emotional appeal where logic fails.

Finally some will argue that an armed populace keeps the government on its toes, from overreaching its place. When the government has Stealth bombers, divisions of M1A tanks and nuclear subs I do not believe any group of civilians will be able to achive that result.

The only answer for this is to hope some substantial portion of the military will side with, well, whichever side is actually right. Even without the military, the lack of change brought about by various anti-government groups over the last 20 years is reasonable proof that armed civilians cannot succeed.

No, the truth now is that gun owners have become religious. They speak and react with the same zealous vigor as religious fanatics–and not surprisingly there’s a serious overlap of the two groups.

In a way this strange. You shall not kill is one of the 10 commandments, stated as an absolute. Not you shall not kill except in self-defense or in order to eat (the commandment isn’t specific to humans. No killing period.

Meanwhile our families, friends and neighbors are dying in front of our eyes. Are these two men murderers? Yes. Are their guns to blame? No. But when gun-owning fanatics will not allow the least restrictions on gun sales so that clearly mentally unbalanced people can buy them, then they share blame for the result.

Last: Our literal-minded compatriots will make exceptions on the one hand, since it suits them, but not on the other even when doing so might be closer in agreement with their self-proclaimed religious beliefs.

Next time you happen to be in a conversation with a religious gun owner, have some fun and ask them how they reconcile the contradictions.

Core principles of good documentation

On one of my mailing lists someone asked for guidance on creating software docs. I responded with a few simple principles:

  • Less is more: People simply do not like to read this kind of stuff and so leave out anything they don’t need to know, such as theoretical discussions of why something is the way it is. Also, at least in the first release of docs, use the 80/20 rule and only document the main use cases rather than the exceptions. Think of this as paying rent.
  • Pictures really are worth a 1000 words: Screenshots and even better screencasts are much better ways of explaining action sequences than text. Any time you’re putting a numbered list in the text, consider doing a short screencast instead or also.
  • Fix the software: If you have a tough time explaining a feature or capability for the documentation then consider rewriting the software. The best documentation is software that needs none, the ultimate less being more.
  • Steal or copy: Look at the documentation for software you use or is competitive or you respect and see what you can reuse from that, whether it’s formatting, how they use graphics/screencasts or method of explaining difficult concepts.

While screencasts are a very new concept I think they are a tool very much suited to our times. Already there are a bunch of free and inexpensive applications available for making them, all seem very easy to use, meaning a low barrier to adoption. If bandwidth costs are a concern for you or your organization, post them to YouTube or similar services–after all, the more widely available these videos are, the better!

Aptana has produced many and put up Aptana TV to host them (not to mention that site is the first production ActiveJS application, good job Ian and Ryan). Many of the videos are done by the developer who worked on the part of the product described, which I think is very powerful when the product itself is used by developers. No marketing fluff, at least.

Portsmouth 2-3 Liverpool: Skin of the Win

Liverpool have played a lot of games, six in two and a half weeks, and Steven Gerrard is out for the next three weeks on injury so Rafa Benitez decided to give some younger players a chance to show value today against relegation zone Portsmouth. He also switched formations to three at the back, an interesting choice, though in the end I don’t think it hurt us.

No, what hurt us was the inability of Ryan Babel and David Ngog to combine effectively in the final third. Babel has been looking especially week of late and today was little different as he muffed an absolute sitter that went past David James in the 61st minute.

Benitez was forced to bring on Dirk Kuyt, Xabi Alonso and finally El Nino, Fernando Torres and the trio were able to get the necessary second and third goals for the three points. Torres got the winner in the 91st on a header which was a virtual carbon copy of the winner he scored last Sunday against Chelsea.

The win puts us back at the top of the Premier League, at least until Manchester United play West Ham tomorrow and make up their missed game with Fulham on the 18th. Liverpool are off for two weeks for the international break and the FA Cup fifth round, the latter due to a heartbreaking goal from an Everton debutant near the end of extra time. One less trophy possibility but perhaps not too terrible since that means fewer games for a lean squad.

Chelsea, by the way, are spiraling out of control. They couldn’t manage a goal today against Hull City, though Cech and Terry saved the point for them. With Aston Villa posting a strong win, the Blues dropped to fourth–six points ahead of Arsenal but the Gunners don’t play until tomorrow and could have that against a staggering Tottenham.

If the last two league games are a real trend, the Reds fortunes are looking up. The boys are fighting hard until the very end and always going for all three points. Sweet!

TV 2008

Due to the writer’s strike and ever-increasing intrusion of reality TV this was a less than banner year for American TV viewers. Here are some of my personal highlights:

  1. The Wire: The final season of an awesome show was 10 episodes that layered on the death of the American big city newspaper to a stack of stories that were already deeper than the aggregate total of the 500+ episodes of the three editions of CSI. If you’ve not seen this just get the DVDs and thank me later.
  2. Sons of Anarchy: A new show on FX about an aging Northern California motorcycle club, I was reminded of the The Shield by its visual language and of Deadwood by its take on the changes engendered by time and the encroachment of others.
  3. Burn Notice: Funny, smart and pacey. A cross of The A Team and James Bond. The new episodes start in three weeks and I will be looking to see how well the writers do with the continuing mythology back story, three seasons is a long time for that kind of thing.
  4. In Plain Sight: Nothing like the short-lived Karen Cisco except also featuring a female US Marshal as the lead (Mary McCormack is totally whacky, Carla Guigino was simply strong but sad at the core), this series is much funnier, has better designed characters (her partner is a man named Marshall Mann, for example) and strong supporting cast (Leslie Ann Warren and Paul Ben-Victor, to name two).
  5. True Blood: Intriguing and different, this ‘vampires are real’ show is from Alan Ball, his follow up to Six Feet Under. Like that series, True Blood is largely about sex, family and friendship under strained conditions. Season one was pretty good though I remain unconvinced this concept will last six or seven seasons.
  6. Dexter: Brrrr! Despite the hot Miami setting, this show takes me back to the New Jersey winters of my childhood, but in a good way. Michael C. Hall (who was the second lead in Six Feet Under) is one of the best good bad guys in TV history–he’s a freaking serial killer who not only has run rampant in South Florida for over a decade, he works for the cops! This season his character was brilliantly paired with Jimmy Smits and the movement of their relationship through friendship, deception and death was outstanding.
  7. Brotherhood: American politics has a much closer relationship with American crime than any politician will publicly admit but to have a show where one brother is Speaker of the state assembly and the other is captain of a crew in the same city is a seriously good setup.
  8. Chuck: Another take on the James Bond out of water theme, also funny and smart but much sweeter than Burn Notice. I love the way Chuck’s family and day job are always an integral part of the story. Plus Adam Baldwin, he is terrific with this type of character.
  9. Life: Another quirky detective show (Monk, Pysch, the Vincent D’Onofrio half of Law and Order: Criminal Intent) I watch this mainly for the hands-down brilliant Damian Lewis.
  10. Eureka: Another quirky detective comedy but set in a semi-secret town where America’s most brilliant scientists live and work. Sheriff Jack Carter solves those human kind of problems that geeks never can and the writers give the show a very light touch, the polar opposite of, say, channel mate Battlestar Galactica.
  11. House: Speaking of polar opposites, try Gregory House and Marcus Welby. Two more different TV doctors you will be hardpressed to find. Every week House, his team of starstruck residents, buddy Wilson and frenemy/boss Cuddy stumble through several wrong answers to a new life threatening malady before (usually) saving the day.
  12. Numb3rs: Geeks rule, how can I not enjoy this FBI + math wiz smoothie? Rob Morrow may be playing the tough bro here but his years as a New York Jew in the Alaskan wilderness are too firmly fixed in my mind to not get overlaid on this performance.
  13. Barclays Premier League: The day we get Fox Soccer Channel in HD I will be so happy I will schvitz in my living room (don’t worry, TS1 will clean it up). I watch more soccer than any other sport, and I’d watch more if they had more good matches. That damned sub-rights deal Fox did with Setanta massively sucks Rupert Murdoch’s posterior and you can quote me.

Honorable mentions to Family Guy, The Simpsons, Fringe, Terminator, Heroes, The Shield, Battlestar Galactica, The L Word and Entourage.

I appreciate 1Password

Every Thanksgiving the team at Agile Web Solutions give a present to their customers. This year the present was up to three licenses of 1Password to give away to family or friends. Not cut down, limited or expiring after one update licenses but regular, same as paid licenses. I love this application, it’s a huge time saver, and so I found three Mac users who somehow hadn’t even heard of this great tool and gave them the licenses.

For those of you who don’t know about it, 1P “is a Password Manager that uniquely brings you both Security and Convenience. It is the only program that provides Anti-Phishing protection and goes beyond password management by adding Web Form Filling and Automatic Strong Password Generation. All your confidential information, including passwords, identities, and credit cards, is kept in one secure place provided by Apple’s OS X Keychain.”

Comes with an iPhone app too, which is especially handy for quick logins on the small screen.

How will they top this next year?

Headline from the (near) Future: Homeless Army Leaders Detained by FBI

(San Diego, CA, 16 June 2009) Six leaders of the self-style Homeless Army of Americans were arrested by a combined FBI, state and local police task force this morning minutes before the HAA organizers were to take the podium at a group rally at which attendance was estimated to be well over 100,000 people.

Those arrested include Sam Stross, 42, Peter Humphries, 43, Gerry Torres, 31, all residents of the San Francisco Bay Area, Gemma Lam, 33, of San Diego, Diego Stevens, 38, of Santa Fe, NM, and Bankos Hamesh of New York City. Their attorney, Jorge Chen, told this reporter that more than four hours after the six were taken into custody he had yet to be allowed any communication with his clients.

“Today’s action by the McCain Administration violates both the First Amendment as well as constitutional protections and other legal protections but are in no way a surprise to any supporter of the Homeless Army,” Chen said during a phone conversation. “In the five months since John McCain took office over nine million Americans have lost their homes and he has done nothing except staff up local and federal police forces and begin construction on what can only be enormous holding camps, with today’s illegal arrests only the first of many.”

Before news of the HAA 6 arrests became public, thousands of police officers from San Diego and surrounding areas, California State troopers and California units of the Army National Guard were deployed to the streets and the rally participants were herded down prepared paths to be dispersed out of the downtown area.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation would not provide a spokesperson to answer media questions but instead released a statement on the FBI press release website, which begins:

“No American’s rights were illegally impeded in San Diego today and any physical force used by law enforcement officers was in response to explicit physical attacks by this unauthorized gathering. The six individuals arrested prior to their participation in this unauthorized gathering were detained on charges of conspiracy to incite terroristic violence, threats of violence against the elected leadership of the United States and conspiracy to commit fraud.

“[The arrested individuals] are charged under the recent revisions to the Patriot Act and as such have been detained without access to counsel until the investigating officers determine that all participants in this complex conspiracy have been identified and, to the extent possible, arrested to stand trial with their comrades. Neither the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice nor local or state police commands will have further comment on these individuals until further notice.”

Stross, Humphries, Torres, Lam, Stevens and Hamesh have been very public faces of a movement that grew out of the debacle which last fall’s $700 billion bailout was supposed to prevent. The bill, according to the Bush Administration, was the only way to avoid a horrific economic crash; since the measure did nothing to assist borrowers, though, the huge number of so-called toxic mortgages remained untenable for homeowners to repay and banks began foreclosing in massive numbers days before the new administration was inaugurated in January.

The Homeless Army has drawn support across the country and today’s rally was expected to be the first big showing by the group ahead of a political campaign to pressure Congress and the Administration to find a solution that would return homes to the millions of families forced out by armed squads of temporarily deputized private security company employees.

HAA.org attempted to post prepared remarks by Mr. Humphries, who is the group’s primary public spokesperson, but the site was unreachable due to denial of service attacks. He has previously issued calls for the impeachment of President McCain and Vice President Palin for executive orders that authorized financial instutions and other mortgage owners to obtain foreclosure and eviction orders despite state laws that would otherwise protect homeowners for at least some period of time.

Miss Lam has written articles for the Huffington Post website laying out a case for the prosecution of leaders of the previous Administration for what she termed “the most outrageous fraudulent, illegal transfer of wealth in modern economic history” when almost all of the bailout money went to wealthy individuals and the balance sheets of the handful of large banks that remain in the aftermath of last September and October’s string of failures and near-failures.

Senator Joseph Leiberman, R-CT, spoke to the issue on the floor of the US Senate late in the day: “The so-called HAA6 are not honorable people attempting to redress some great wrong but thugs leading a mob unwilling to accept the consequences of their own greedy decisions and ready to bring the great American nation down around them unless the majority of law-abiding capitulate to threats of violence and disorder. We will not be intimidated and this Administration and our brave president will not allow such threats to stand.”

Senator Joe Biden, D-DE, responded to Leiberman: “Barack Obama and I would have blocked the massive expulsion of many hard-working homeowning citizens had we not been tragically prevented from taking office. Our Administration would never have approved the trampling of the Constitution and the Homess Army of Americans would never been needed. These people should be released immediately and President McCain should see this as a wakeup call from the reality he strives so hard to avoid.”

White House Press Secretary Gail Gitcho told reporters that the President had nothing to add to the FBI statement and would not be answering questions from the media, unsurprising as he has not met directly with reporters since three weeks after taking office and addressing the nation only sporadically and briefly in that time.

World Cup 2010 Qualifying, Day 1: USA look terrible

Even taking account of the downpour in Havana and very poor officiating–though nowhere as bad as that in the Hungary-Denmark match–USA played down to the level of competition and were lucky to get a 1-0 win over a team that has exactly zero players on club rosters outside their island nation.

Bob Bradley went with a five man midfield but despite the extra man were not able to get Brian Ching a single good opportunity. The one goal we had, from Clint Dempsey in the 40th, was down to a lucky bounce after the Cuban defenders beat Dempsey on the initial cross and Ching was able to touch it back to Clint.

The top goat, besides the coach, was Maurice Edu. Fresh off a decent performance at the Olympics and a $5 million transfer to Rangers, he was horrible all night with his passing. Either short, too soft, to the wrong place, wherever, if the US had given up a goal it would most likely come off a bad Edu pass.

Landon Donovan is next on my list. While I can’t point to the same kind of specific miscues as with his fellow midfielder, Landon was never the attacking engine he should have been. After all, of his American all time team record of 35 goals, six came in two previous matches against Cuba. Tonight the closest he came was a couple of shots well high from distance and, in general, he played too deeply to be the connection between balls out of the back and Ching.

Somehow Heath Pearce started at left back for the seventh consecutive game. I cannot believe that we don’t have a better option. Where are Jonathon Bornstein, Jonathon Spector or even Eddie Lewis? Heck, if Bradley wanted a five man midfield he could have gone with Onyewu, Bocanegra and Frankie Hejduk in a 3-5-2, pushing Dempsey up top with Ching and inserting Sacha Kljestan into the XI. We probably would have won by three or four goals!

Next up for the US is a much tougher match Wednesday against Trinidad & Tobago, who managed a 1-1 draw at Guatemala today. We’ll have Steve Cherundolo back (from a ridiculous two yellows in a game suspension), maybe see Kljestan, Marvell Wynne or Ricardo Clarke in the starting lineup and the game is in Chicago, so for once we may have more supporters than the visiting squad.

Elsewhere French soccer fans must be wondering the hell has happened to a team that won the World Cup/Euro double back in 1998/2000. They lost to an Austrian team 3-1 by giving up essentially two own goals and a penalty kick! How Domenech will keep his job if the lose the game against a very tough Serbian side==remember, he didn’t win a game in the Euros in June and the team went out at the first round–I do not know. Teflon coach or not.

Italy needed a last gasp score to beat Cyprus 2-1, England (missing the injured Steven Gerrard) could only manage two against micro-minnows Andorra and Spain (missing Fernando Torres) snuck past Bosnia-Herzegovina just 1-0.

Israel apparently has a decent shot of making it to the Finals and an injury time goal gave them a precious point against a very difficult Swiss side after going behind 2-0. Liverpool’s Yossi Benayoun got the first and Chelsea’s Ben Sahar the equalizer. The Sabras travel to Moldova midweek, so hopefully the full three points from that.

What’s the timde difference from the West Coast to Johannesburg?

Family Visiting Us (for a change)

My great aunt Edith is 100 years old this year and so a big Lazar family celebration was organized for this weekend, with cousins and spouses traveling here from all over the US (Edith lives in San Francisco). My father, sister and nephew came from back east and our new house was ready just in time for them to stay with us.

This afternoon we all met up at my uncle Martin and aunt Wendy’s place in San Jose; this is the first time I’ve been with so many relatives since, oh, maybe my first wedding back in ’87, maybe longer. The core group was my great uncle Nate, my dad and his six first cousins: Norm, who was great to me when I lived near him in college; Norm’s older brother Irv; Andrea, who lives just down Middlefield from us; Eleanor; Arthur, son of the birthday lady; and our host Martin. Plus a bunch of the cousin’s kids came from near and far. Martin’s two daughters both have babies, who spent most of the afternoon sleeping or looking cute.

There were several pro (Eleanor’s husband Tom) and semi-pro photographers, so I’m sure I’ll get pics to post soon. Meanwhile, here are two I snapped with the phone:

Click to expand Click to expand

Tomorrow Edith will come down for the party at Andrea’s house and Sunday the inner circle are having lunch with her in San Francisco. What a great holiday, eh?

House shopping: This industry is not like Tech

So we did bid on that ‘interesting house’ I mentioned a month ago:

  • Thursday – Came out on MLS, owned by a bank (foreclosure) and listed way below market
  • Friday – Saw it in the morning before work, really liked it
  • Saturday – Met with our Realtor, decided on a strategy that targeted bank’s priorities
  • Monday – Put in our bid, there were three others (I believe)
  • Tuesday – Had our bid accepted!

The closing was scheduled for last Thursday but apparently REO (an industry acronym for foreclosed properties) sales never close on time. Our’s certainly didn’t, because a, er, highly qualified employee at the owning bank sent all the necessary papers to the title company except one. New deeds cannot be recorded without original signed copies of every single form.

Friday came and went with no sign of the paper, so there goes the weekend.

Late this morning our Realtor called to say the bank sent the paper. Great, right? Except the highly qualified employee sent it to the title company’s office near Sacramento instead of San Jose. I guess from Texas everything north of LA seems like the same neighborhood. So the title company Fedexed it to San Jose and we seem to be on for a closing tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed.

I’m not saying that tech companies never miss deadlines or make errors. But when this kind of thing happens at companies where I’ve worked, customers can at least generally get someone on the phone to get a resolution or at least an explanation. The owning bank doesn’t allow this, even for the real estate agents who work for them.

The house is a nice one, and only needs a little work. Well, if $20,000 or so is little; at least it isn’t much compared to how much we might have had to spend on that first place.

I’ll post some photos soon (teaser) but here are the highlights:

  • Quiet street in Mountain View with an elementary school across the street
  • 1860 square feet on two levels built on an approximately 6,000 square foot lot
  • Four bedrooms, three baths, two car garage

An extensive remodel in 2005 (with permits!) added the second story, which has the master suite with a huge bath, loft and full-size walk-in closet, as well as a lovely full guest bath and kitchen. There are signs that the people who did the work ran low on cash and so we’re going to have to finish that with the help of contractors.

Starting Wednesday, we hope.

Another year comes off the shelf

So we were out with the Big Guy, Pam and Henry, Colleen, Jim and Tanya last night for dinner and Iron Man. Fun movie and Robert Downey as Tony Stark? Good casting idea even if you didn’t expect it.

The Big Guy took a few pics, here are some cute ones…

Everyone at the table Bill listens intently to Tanya Viv, Tanya and Jim

Got to watch the Reds overwhelm Man City this morning in the season’s last home game; don’t let the 1-0 score fool you, at one point Liverpool was outshooting the Citizens 19-1.

Where did Web 2.0 go?

Okay, this is perhaps a small complaint and not all about Web 2.0. Still, every major JavaScript UI library includes an auto-complete function so why don’t major sites such as IMDB have it on their search boxes? Marketo, of course, has it on every user input widget where it can work. If we can do it, why can’t Amazon?

90 Days at Marketo: Awesome

I’ve hit the three month mark at the new gig and, really, the news is all good, and not just that the bosses got me a MacBook the week before last. My timing on that, as always, was terrible, in a darkly funny way, with a modest but decent update within a week of mine arriving. Good thing I hadn’t asked for a MacBook Pro, eh?

The biggest news is that we came out of beta this week and beat the CEO’s forecast of customers under contract by more than a third; some of those easily recognizable big company names too. Several of the accounts I shepherded through the beta and in the last two days two of our customer champions (that is, the key user at each company) were extremely effusive about our application and how well we supported them, that Marketo will make a real difference in how well they do their own jobs.

Everyone’s worked hard to get us to this point. For me that’s meant staying later, sometimes coming in early to connect with customers in Europe and the East Coast and picking up my boss’s responsibility for office furniture (hello, Ikea?). All in all, leaving most of my energy at the office and what’s left went in to the resurgent Jewish High Tech Community.

After I was brought on the company turned off hiring for awhile but in the last few weeks we’ve added three new people (and are hiring two more, feel free to send me your resume and a cover letter if you’re a good fit!). One of our new team members is a very capable technical sales manager–who came over from Salesforce.com–and he’s gradually assuming responsibility for all the support Glen and I’ve been doing. Do I really mind?

The second biggest news is that I launched our Success platform. Besides doing about half the support (along with our outstanding, and recently promoted, Director of User Experience and Product Management) and being the office pingpong patsy, I’ve been building the software platform and writing the content for our community site.

The underlying tech we chose is Simple Machines Forum. SMF is a good open source PHP/MySQL package with a decent development and support team though I have to say learning the ins and outs of their template/source system has been a bit of a challenge, made more difficult by our decision to use the so far mostly undocumented 2.0 beta.

Our requirements mean that, if not for the copyright statement in the footer, you might have a tough time recognizing this as a forum package. We’re gradually removing just about all the table structures from the various views; given the number of them this is a long way from finished. We’re also removing large chunks of functionality we don’t want, like the whole private messaging system, avatars and signatures and the open registration pages–the site is world-readable but only our customers and partners can have accounts to post.

There’s still some serious work to go on the platform. The main pieces to be added are message/topic tagging and rating; the former especially is key since we want to provide concept-based access to material rather than the basic forum slicing the core software enables. The rating I hope to have running within the week, the tagging soon after.

Content-wise, everything is from me so far but I’m hopeful that our customers and other Marketoteers will liven up the site very soon. After all, as my boss said yesterday, my key responsibility is making this community successful and that means active participation from lots of other people.

Having shipped Marketo 2.0 is great but since we’re a software as a service company (that is, you access it using your favorite web browser) that doesn’t have the same meaning it does for products like, say, OS X and Microsoft Office. When we add a feature or patch a bug the only servers the software has to be installed on are ours. Consequently Engineering and Product Management are already into their next execution cycle, with 2.1 perhaps 90-120 days away.

Cool, very cool!

Book: Singularity Sky

This was the first of Charlie Stross’s novels I read, three years back, and I pretty much stand by the effusive review from then. His first published novel, from the distant past of 2003. I don’t have too much to add except that I love these three paragraphs from just about the end:

Riding in a chicken-legged hut through a wasteland that had recently gone from bucolic feudalism to transcendent post-humanism without an intervening stage, Burya Rubenstein drifted through a dream of crumbling empires.

The revolutionaries were ideologically committed to a transcendence they hadn’t fully understood–until it arrived whole and pure and incomprehensible, like an iceberg of strange information breaking the surface of a frozen sea of entropy. They hadn’t been ready for it; nobody had worned them. They had hazy folk memories of Internets and cornucopiae to guide them, cargo-cult assertions of the value of technology–but they hadn’t felt the elephant, had no sense of the shape the new phenomena took, and their desires caused new mutant strains to congeal out of the phase space of the Festival machinery.

Imagine not growing up with telephones–or faxes, videoconferencing, online translation, gesture recognition, light switches. Tradition said that you could send messages around the world in an eyeblink, and the means to do it was e-mail. Tradition didn’t say that e-mail was a mouth morphing out of the nearest object and speaking with a friend’s lips, but that was a more natural interpretation than strange textual commands and a network of post office routers. The Festival, not being experienced in dealing with Earth-proximate human cultures, had to guess at the nature of miracles being requested. Often, it got them wrong.

While Stross doesn’t generally go in for extended stretches of exposition, this passage comes about 40 pages from the finish, just prior to the climactic scene, and so he made a reasonable choice to back off a few steps and talk directly to us, to try and tie the phantasmagoria of the previous 300 pages into a tight package an early 21st century (educated, familiar with science fiction/modern physics) human might understand.

But look back at the beginning first sentence I quoted to understand that Charlie has a great way with language too. I mean “Riding in a chicken-legged hut,” really!


Squinting at the Future

[Getting back to my New Year’s Day tradition…]

As Artie said of a man who went away this year,
“You can be a positive ion or a negative ion and
I choose to be a positive.” In that vein, we say,
This year just ended did not disappoint.

For us the cheers outclassed the dour spirits
Rewards surpassed payment required
Delight outweighed distaste but most important
Love received overwhelmed all sadnesses.

Turn your eyes ahead and focus on that
Allegorical tree trunk spanning the chasm
Above the river of days and years yet to come and
Measure its diameter and strength and color.

Does the tree appear a bigger and healthier,
More substantial path across for you and yours
From this closer vantage point, than on
New Year’s Days in the past?

When you crane your neck out from our
Common past’s cliff and look down to the water
Is the River calm as a lazy August afternoon or
Raging like late April after a storm?

I know that seeing the rage is easier by far
Black skies and thunder near the horizon
Sharp rocks poking out of the frothy water
But is that the life you want for you and yours?

Obstacles and blind curves will surely come up
Bad news lurks in every conversation and news brief
Faults of the many outweighing the good of the few
Tempting you at all turns to the downward spiral.

And yet and still… I ask you to resist, even to struggle
Choose good and happiness and friendship and love
“Rage against the dying of the light” as Dylan urged–
See the bigger, healthier, beautiful bridge.

Book: Strip Jack

A couple of years ago I caught some of the BBC’s productions of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus tales, with the Edinburgh police inspector nicely done by Ken Stott. More recently I’ve been grabbing some of the books (there are about 18, between novels and collections) from Mountain View Public Library, so far all quite enjoyable.

Strip Jack is one of the earlier novels, from 1993, when Rebus is sort of between Brian Holmes and Siobhan Clark as his junior. The title character is Gregor Jack, Member of Parliament for a fictional constituency of North and South Esk in Edinburgh, who we meet when the commander of Rebus’ CID unit puts on a full-blown raid of a brothel in ‘a nice neighborhood’ and Rebus finds Jack in with one of the girls.

Jack was clearly the victim of a setup since (a) he wasn’t there for sex and (b) the London papers were there to photograph his perp walk. This causes a seven day wonder and has Rebus off his feed because the whole thing doesn’t pass his smell test. So despite his superiors’ wishing otherwise John continues to poke around while working other cases.

One of which is the theft of a half dozen valuable books from the unlocked office of a university professor. This takes him to a used book store that, just coincidentally, is owned by MP Jack in partnership with a school chum nicknamed Suey, short for his failed suicide attempt at age 18.

Something that’s got up Rebus’ backside is that he cannot contact Mrs. Jack. She, it seems, brought big money and a lovely smile to the marriage but never outgrew the wild party phase so no one is sure if she’s at the couple country cottage or in the south of France with a boy toy.

Until the wild child turns up dead, her body found in a river in a manner that’s quite similar to another female corpse found about two weeks previously. Of course there’s a nut job who confesses…

I really enjoyed Rankin’s cranky, irrascible treatment of John Rebus and the Scottish color.


Post Halloween Fugue

I walked out of the coffee shop
Late on a Friday early in November;
The air suffused with a dense mist
A hundred yards in every direction,
A pale moon visible beyond it
Too high in the sky this time of day.

Cars all had headlights switched on
Adding a sense of dark mystery
Heightened by the ringing train bell
As we walked along the empty sidewalk.

Jake turned to me, his mouth opening
About to say something, his mouth catching and closing
When he realized empty words were
Worse than no words, that any
Yammering could spoil our supernatural
Illusion before we consumed all its
Fantastical, tenuous pleasures.

Bruce Springsteen: Magic

Though it’s only releasing today, I couldn’t resist grabbing a copy of the BitTorrent network two weeks ago for an early listen. Major media reviews I’ve seen are almost unanimous in praising Springsteen’s first rock record in five years but my opinion is less positive.

While The Boss has said repeatedly over the years that he follows his muse and he’s happy to have fans enjoy whichever parts appeal to them, the biggest negatives for me on Magic are that for all the claims about this being a rock record the music just doesn’t rock nearly hard enough and lyrically lack the poetic storytelling that’s characterized so much of his work. Radio Nowhere, the first single, is musically the strongest song but the lyrics recapitulate his own 57 Channels and Elvis Costello’s 1977 breakout hit Radio Radio.

The sound, if anything, takes me back to the more R&B groove of Springsteen’s first two records, a sound that peaked with Born to Run‘s Tenth Avenue Freeze-out and then disappeared pretty completely. If you want to see a great concert video capturing this, grab a copy of the 30th Anniversary edition of Born to Run and watch the included DVD of the E Street Band’s first London concert–Bruce doesn’t even pick up a guitar until the fifth or sixth song, instead dancing and singing and even playing a bit of piano.

The lyrics are also pointedly, explicitly political which doesn’t bother me as much as makes me wonder why Bruce has resisted the many calls for him to stand for office. Being a senator from New Jersey, an election he would clearly win in a walkover, would provide a much more effective platform to implement change than his current efforts.

Consider these lines from Livin’ in the Future:

Woke up Election Day, skies gunpowder and shades of gray
Beneath a dirty sun, I whistled my time away

My ship Liberty sailed away on a bloody red horizon
The groundskeeper opened the gates and let the wild dogs run

Or the next to last verse of the title tune:

I got a shiny saw blade
All I needs’ a volunteer
I’ll cut you in half
While you’re smiling ear to ear
And the freedom that you sought’s
Driftin’ like a ghost amongst the trees
This is what will be, this is what will be

Last to Die, which admittedly does rock, makes no bones about connecting the political decision making of the current Administration to our Vietnam experience: “Who’ll be the last to die for a mistake?

I’ve listened three times but still sitting on the fence, probably need to listen a couple more time before making a decision; I’ll either delete the booted copy or buy it in the end. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, letting Magic out on our network of tubes was surely done with at least the tacit approval of Springsteen’s camp so that fans with tickets to early shows of the supporting tour (i.e., tonight is the first concert) would have heard the songs.

Some useful web material: