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Jim Morris's Thought of the Week (or month, or year, ...)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Genius Trumps Literacy

Paul McCartney, who turned 64 this week, can’t read or write sheet music. When he wrote a symphony, Standing Stone, he used a computer to translate his sounds into music notation: He played a keyboard connected to a computer that would then transcribe the music he played into sheet music.

Muhammand was illiterate. So was Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism.

Finally, I’m sure Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise can’t read. I’ve watched every episode, and he’s never read anything. He just asks questions and is given answers by Mr. Spock, who does read.

posted by Jim Morris @ 5:30 PM  0 comments

Monday, June 12, 2006

Silicon Valley is Different

When I look at Silicon Valley with my Pittsburgher’s eyes, several things strike me.

It’s in California, but it’s not laid back. People here are overworked. Engineers and business men and women work 60-hour weeks, and they are the lucky ones. Service workers and others without high-tech skills work 80-hour weeks on multiple jobs. People here might seem friendlier than Easterners, but it’s the way flight attendants are friendly until the flight is over. Everyone is polite and pleasant, but it’s all business. If you try to get away from it with a leisurely bicycle ride, you’re run off the road by packs of whippet-thin cyclists on $5,000 bikes wearing all spandex.

In most places, changing jobs frequently is bad for your resume. In Silicon Valley it’s good. If you’ve been working at the same company for ten years, it shows either that you are not a risk taker or that your co-workers, who left the company for a start-up, didn’t take you along.

Ann Saxenian believes that Silicon Valley thrives because its workers and investors have no company loyalty. Their loyalty is to the “next big thing.” When that next big thing was the PC, they abandoned companies like Hewlett-Packard, which was making mini-computers, and they went to Apple Computer. In contrast, Boston was dominated by Digital Equipment and Ken Olson, who didn’t believe in the PC.

Silicon Valley is not driven by visions. New ideas and visions are needed, but they are plentiful everywhere. The businesses of Silicon Valley are driven by people who have discipline and focus. They live by the motto “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

See for some more thoughts/

posted by Jim Morris @ 2:38 PM  0 comments

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Endless Beta

Google News spent three years in Beta release, GMail is still in Beta, and the Google Earth T-shirt notes that the Earth itself has been in Beta for 4.7 billion years. I’m beginning to get the message: In the future, many software offerings will have a minimal Alpha phase before release to the public and no Gamma phase (if that’s what you call the period after Beta). The development team will get the software up and running, release it, and keep enhancing it for its lifetime, perhaps changing the software daily.

Software wants to change; it’s the nature of the beast. All hackers wish to operate this way – and it takes years of training, some of it painful, before they accept the rigorous test and release regime of industrial software. The Software as a Service business model seems to offer us an escape back to the time when every bug could be fixed immediately and every new idea tried instantly.

However, the Endless Beta requires a new kind of software engineering. The freedom to release at will must be tempered with the discipline to make every release an improvement with fewer bugs and better features. The practices of the Open Source community with its hierarchy of release controllers (a.k.a. “committers”) demonstrate one successful method: Each person’s changes are checked by a more responsible person in the community.

The method for testing will change since the entire user community will be an involuntary test organization. The software will contain elaborate monitoring facilities that log every bug and difficulty users encounter without their awareness. The development team will come in every morning (or night), apply triage to the logs, address the most important things, and put out a new release.

The pace of testing and fixing will become relentless with competitors struggling to match each others’ offerings on a daily basis. It will seem like an endless programming contest. Be careful what you wish for, hackers.

posted by Jim Morris @ 2:56 PM  0 comments

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