Hey, you sass that hoopy Bill Napier? There's a frood who really knows where his towel is.

2 Year Anniversaries

I just recently celebrated my 2 year anniversary working at Google. It's really quite amazing to contrast 2 years at Google with my 2 year anniversaries at my previous employers. Both quite a difference in where I am personally, and where the companies were.

My first job out of college was with Salix Technologies. Prior to my arrival, Salix had been doing very well doing contract work, but they had this idea on how to turn their contract work into a product. 2 years into my job at Salix would be June of 2000. Salix had been sold to Tellabs in April and I'm suddenly fully vested on my stock options and worrying about taxes I didn't even know existed before. Personally, I had worked with an exception team and had a deep understanding of our product. I would spend the next year explaining (and re-explaining) how the system worked to new Tellabs engineers before being laid off nearly a year later.

After Salix, I went to work at another startup company (what would eventually be known as Hillcrest Labs) as employee #11. 2 years into this job would be May 2002. Things weren't nearly as good as at Salix. First problem: the internet bubble had burst which made being a startup company quite a challenge. Second Problem: 9/11 was still fresh in everyones mind which made the market (for everything!) quite uncertain. Personally I was happy with my job. Even though I was the youngest person on staff (which would last for a couple more years), I was working with (and learning from) older and more experienced engineers.

2 years at Google is totally different than either of those other experiences. Google is a big company, has been around for a bit, and isn't going anywhere. I am working on a product (Android) that is in the news every day. I've built and launched a product that was covered on national TV news on launch day. Personally, I'm on a team of experienced engineers doing cool things and having fun doing it. And instead of learning from more senior engineers, I am the more senior engineer (yes, it is as scary as it sounds).

(this post was inspired by a comment from Charles on this buzz post)

Wait Wait Don't Tell Me Taping

Last week Margaret and I traveled to Chicago to see her family and catch a Cubs game (they won!).  Since we happened to be there on a Thursday, I got tickets to see a "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" taping.  I listen to the podcast EVERY week, so this was a big deal for me.  I was very excited.

It started of very exciting the way things usually do in Chicago.  We hit major traffic heading into the city from the suburbs and it took almost 2 hours to get downtown.  Thankfully we thought it might take a bit, so we left with plenty of time.

Once we got the car parked and grabbed a bite to eat (Cosi was YUM!), we went and got in line at the Chase Bank Auditorium.  After a bit they started checking our names against the list.  We were on the list, so were allowed to line up to get into the theater.  After a brief rundown of the do's and don't of the taping, we were let into the theater.  We grabbed seats with a clear view of the stage (honestly, all the seats were good) and awaited the start of the taping.  Turns out there were some issues, so the taping started a little late.  But worth the wait.  

The taping took about 90 minutes.  And they make LOTS of mistakes.  If they flub their line, they just wait a little and try it again and fix it all in post-production.  So you'll see Peter take a couple tries to get his lines right.  The panelists had some great chemistry and it looked like a lot of fun to be up on stage.  Very funny show.  There was some technical difficulties with one of the callers, and they had to re-record some of her lines, after reminding her to act like they haven't just spent the last 5 minutes talking.  Not sure I could do it if I were on the phone...

After the taping, the disembodied voice speaks into their ear and tells them what lines they need to repeat.  It took about 10 minutes for them to tape all.  No clue how the producers knew which lines needed to be repeated.  Still trying to figure that one out.

This ended up being an extra-special taping.  Peter is going on vacation later on in the summer, and they had his replacement come in and run through a segment just to get a feel for how to run the show.  So we got a bonus round of the show that won't ever air.  It contained some lines that wouldn't pass FCC muster...

After the taping, the cast stuck around and signed autographs and posed for photos and were generally available for their fans.  They were all very nice and would take all the time in the world with each person.  I got my picture taken with both Peter and with Carl.  I'm very happy!  We also found out that Roxanne Roberts comes to the show prepared.  She's got multiple pages of detailed notes on topics that may come up during the show.  Talk about being prepared!

I'm very glad that we were able to go and see the taping.  And i'm going to keep my eyes open for the next time they come out to the bay area so I can catch another taping.  You should be able to listen to the episode here: http://www.npr.org/templates/archives/archive.php?thingId=35&date=08-01-2010&p=16

 

A Bookshelf I Would Love

hugobookstack 1.jpgA lot of what I read is Science Fiction. And if you believe Sturgeon's Law, "90% of science Fiction is crap" (because 90% of everything is crap), so it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. But I've got some rules of thumb that have served me pretty well:

  1. If you've read something from the author before and liked it, you'll probably like other things from the author.
  2. Pick something from the Hugo Award for Best Novel list.
      Unlike the Nebula Award which is voted on by science fiction authors, the Hugo is voted on my science fiction fans. Since it is awarded based on a popular vote, the books that get nominated (and win) tend to be of the more "readable" variety (as opposed to being "literary"). Following my logic, these tend to be books that I enjoy reading (and I have empirical evidence to support this claim). If you take a look at the picture of Hugo Award winning Novels (and short stories), I own about 1/4 of the books pictured there. And some of the ones I've read from that stack I picked purely because they won a Hugo. Sometimes my two rules come together. I recently got "Rainbows End" by Vernor Vinge for Christmas (thanks Bill!). I had asked for it because of my adoration of the two other Vernor Vinge novels I read (see my last post). Tonight I was checking to see what book won the 2007 Hugo, and to my delightful surprise it was the same book I had just gotten. Lucky me! As an aside, I also seem to be reading a lot of Young Adult's Novels lately. When it was just Harry Potter, it was very acceptable as everyone else in the world was reading it as well. I'm not so sure how acceptable it is to be listening to the Artemis Fowl series of books on tape, or reading His Dark Materials. But regardless of how acceptable it is, I enjoy reading them and don't plan on stopping. As a matter of fact, I'm thinking about trying out the Inkheart series of books as well, as the movie that is coming out for it looks pretty good.

Bill's Best of 2007

Bill's Book of the Year

First surprise, it's not "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows". While I really looked forward to the book being release, and sat down and read it straight, it had it's rough spots. My two biggest complaints were the unevenness of the story (sometimes it moved really well, other times it dragged like it would never end) and the arbitrariness of who survived the novel and who died (killing a bunch of characters for the sake of showing that the final battle is Serious!).

Instead, I'm going two pick two science fiction novels by Vernor Vinge that totally occupied my time this year. The first is "A Fire Upon the Deep". I was a little hesitant when I started reading this book as part of the story was fantasy stuff that I didn't really care for. But Mr. Vinge quickly shakes things up and ends up with a chase story (are they going to get away before they get caught?) with such tension in it that I was happy to finish the book so I could physically relax from the stress of the story.

The second novel was "A Deepness in the Sky". I think one of the area's that Mr. Vinge excels at is creating a compelling and believable universe. His aliens are truly alien (no Star Trek prosthetics here). The best aliens from this novel are the Spiders. They look like, well, spiders. But act like humans. So you spend most of the novel relating to the human-ness of the these aliens, and in two paragraphs towards the end of the novel Mr. Vinge strips away their human-ness and presents them in all their alien glory. It was a subtle, but awesome switch that cemented by adoration for this book.

Bill's Album of the Year

I don't buy much music in a year, I've already got most of what I want to listen to. And the music that I do buy I mainly get from iTunes. But my pick for Album of the year is only available as a CD from Starbucks (of all places). Dave Matthews Band "Live Trax" is a compilation of a bunch of live shows throughout the lifetime of the band. It's great because not only do you get to hear some of the best songs by DMB, but you also get to hear live versions of them that are different than the studio versions.

Bill's Video Game of the Year

Yes, I got a Nintendo Wii earlier this year. And (I'm sorry to admit), my pick for this year is a PC game. Well, technically it is two games, but since they are available as one pack (Orange Box), I'm going to count it as one. Just as an aside, Orange Box is one of the best PC gaming purchase you can make this year. 5 games for $49.99 (cheaper if you shop around). I even already owned two of the games and it sill made a good bargain (plus I got two games to give as gifts, if anyone is interested...).

Ok, back to the games. Portal is an interesting twist on a First Person Shooter. Rather than relying on lots of well aimed shots and a quick reaction, Portal relies on you to interact with your environment to solve puzzles as you make your way through the game. You've got one weapon: The portal gun. Shoot a blue portal to one wall and an orange portal to another and you've suddenly got a new door that you can walk through (or drop stuff through). Couple this novel new idea in gameplay with a funny story (yes, a game with an actual story) and unusual characters (Companion Cube?) and you've got a real winner.

And the other awesome game from Orange Box is Team Fortress 2. TF2 is a Class Based FPS. So rather than having the same weapons and skills as everyone else in the game, you pick what Class you want to play and the determines what you can do in the game. And it's multiplayer only, so you have to jump onto a server and play with other people in mainly pick-up games. The best part for me is that a single round of TF2 is short (like 10 minutes) so I can jump in and play a quick round and jump out if I have to do something else.

Bill's Board Game of the Year

I blame my parents and brother for this one. When I went to visit them before Christmas (Margaret was home sick) we ended up playing "Ticket To Ride: Marklin Train Edition". I hadn't played before, so there was a bit of a leaning curve for me to figure out what was going on. But it took about 5 minutes before I caught on to how to play and I was hooked. Even though I lost miserably, when I got home I tracked down my own copy of "Ticket To Ride: Europe" so I could play at home. We broke it out last night with my wife and my father-in-law and had a blast playing. Highly recommended if you're looking for a board game.

Bill's Movie of the Year

I wanted to pass on this category for 2007, but it felt like a cop out. Frankly, I don't remember that many movies that I saw this year. I do remember the summer popcorn fare like the most recent Spiderman, Pirates of the Carribean, and Die Hard Movies. But much like popcorn, they don't really stick with you. I enjoyed "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", but was afraid that I couldn't make an objective evaluation, me being a fanboy and all that.

But I'm going to make a pick anyway. "Children of Men". While technically a 2006 film, I didn't see it until this year so it counts. What I really like about CoM was the fact that it was science fiction done right. Most of the time, Hollywood screws it up and forgets that science fiction can be a genre of it's own (as opposed to being either action or horror). CoM tells the story of a dystopian world where people can no longer get pregnant. No more children, no more future. Yeah, there is a little bit of action in it, but the science fiction part of it is what really drives the story. Oh, and it was nominated for 3 Oscars, so don't just take my word on it.

Bill's TV Show of the Year

This has been a rough year for me for TV viewing. I've really cut down on the amount of TV that I watch this year. It is just that most of the stuff that is being broadcast right now I'm not interested in watching. Now I'm still watching "Heroes", Psych, and Numb3rs (and a few other shows). Oh, and I'm really enjoying Life on Mars and Top Gear on BBCA (and I am by no means a gear head, but the show is really funny and enjoyable).

But I've picked up a bit of a bad habit from Margaret. As she sits and works on BabyDuckles, she watches TV shows on DVD. And now I've gotten hooked on some of the DVD's that she sits and watches. The ones that she has gotten me hooked on are The Unit and House.


So that's it for my 2007 wrap up. Let me know what your favorite things from 2007 were in the comments!

What's on your Mac?

There are a few applications on my mac that I couldn't do without. These are the kinds of programs that would be the first thing I install on any new computer that I would get, they are that good. And the best part about this list? They are all (currently) free.

Quicksilver

Beginner Quicksilver users love it as an application launcher. No more going to the Applications folder to launch your applications, just a quick Command-Space and type the first few characters of the name and your set. More advanced Quicksilver users can resize images with a few strokes of the keyboard. Or do quick math without having to launch the calculator application. Even more advanced users can send full e-mails or even text messages from inside it.

Adium

Multi-protocol IM client. MSN, AIM, ICQ, Yahoo, Google Talk and many more inside one program. Not to mention how sweet it looks. Eye candy that works well? I'm in heaven.

MacPorts/Fink

One of the greatest things about having a Mac is that it is UNIX under the hood and you can install all your favorite UNIX tools on it (Ethereal, Nethack, and ffmpeg jump to mind). With this great power comes great responsibility (and heartburn) as you try and get all these programs to compile and install and keep them updated. If you've ever tried to do this on another UNIX system, you know how much of a pain it can be. Most modern UNIX's have some kind of package management system to ease this burden, and OSX is one of them.

I first started with Fink. It's biggest draw to me was the pre-packaged binaries so I didn't have to compile anything and the "apt-get" interface that I was comfortable with from running Debian Linux for so many years. But I have recently switched to MacPorts. The 2 main reasons for me to switch were: 1. With Leopard, fink hasn't built up its binary library yet, so I was compiling everything anyway. 2. I got fed up with the crappy support fink had for ffmpeg. I've switched to MacPorts and haven't looked back.

iTerm

It is true that Apple ships a terminal program with their computers called (creatively enough) Terminal.app. But the one that shipped before Leopard was slow and ugly (slow can be a problem when running long compiles...). So I switched to iTerm. Speedy, Looks good, and supports tabs. I've read that a lot of that has been fixed in the version of Terminal.app that ships with Leopard, but I'll never know as I'm still using iTerm.

AppFresh

Just like MacPorts and Fink manage your UNIX tools and keep them up to date, AppFresh does the same thing for the rest of the programs on your computer. Run it once a week and it will look at all the programs on your computer and tell you about any updates you may need to install, and in many cases install them for you. It's still a little rough around the edges at times, but it works well for me.

Cyberduck

FTP is sooooooo 1997. But truth is, you still sometimes have to use it (like when I access files on my webhost provider). And while I can do it from the command line, the graphical interface that Cyberduck provides just gels really well with Finder and enables me to just drag and drop the files I need.

Growl

Honestly, I don't know why Apple doesn't ship Growl as part of the OS. Or write it's own version. Simply put, Growl is a notification system. It allows any application on your system that is Growl enabled (and most of the ones you download are) to put popup notifications on your screen. Some of the most useful notifications I get are: IP address changed, Safe to Remove USB stick, song changed in iTunes, etc.

Handbrake

Want to convert (rip) DVD's to watch on your iPod/T-Mobile Dash/Mac/etc.? Handbrake is your program. Couple of clicks, come back in a few hours and it's done.

Transmission

You going to do bittorrent? Get Transmission. Easy, lightweight, free.

CJ's Favorite Day of the Year

My dog CJ loves one day better than all the rest in the year. And that is the day Margaret and I toast the bread for the stuffing, which always happens the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. CJ's biggest attraction that morning is the fact that I am a bit of a klutz when it comes to getting the toasted bread into the bags so a bit of it always ends up on the floor for her to chow down on.