Microsoft Bob

Just a short, simple blog for Bob to share some tips and tricks.

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Hacking - Hollywood Style

I read an article the other day about the "tech consultants" who work for Hollywood. (Sorry, I don't remember where I read the original article... and at the moment I don't feel like looking for it, either.)

Anyway, these consultants are acutely aware of the fact that real hacking does not make for gripping Hollywood-style action, so directors and assorted other creative supervisors ask for scenes which make for better movies. These requests - of course - lead to scenes which are so far over the top ridiculous that you have to completely dismiss reality if you actually know anything about computers. That being said, the article also mentioned that since these same consultants are aware that their scenes cannot be realistic, there is something of a competition between consultants to see who can make their scenes the least-plausible. (My favorite is the guy who used Excel and a MacBook to diffuse a nuclear bomb.)

With that in mind, a subreddit has emerged as a repository of all of these utterly ludicrous technology fails, and I have to admit - I'm hooked and I cannot stop laughing...

reddit

It's a Unix System, I know This! • /r/itsaunixsystem

www.reddit.com

A subreddit for every over the top, embarrassing, and down right flat out incorrect usage of Technology found in Movies, TV Shows, and Video Games!

Posted: Oct 08 2016, 12:56 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Some Thoughts About My 20th Anniversary At Microsoft

At the risk of gratuitous self-aggrandizement - today is my actual 20th anniversary. My 20th anniversary crystal arrived the other day, so I added to the collection on a bookcase in my office. (Although to be honest, they didn't hand out anniversary crystals when I reached my 5th and 10th anniversaries, so I had to buy those after the fact.)

20thAnniversaryCrystal

Things I'm Most-Proud Of...

Disclaimer: Yeah, I realize that I'm definitely bragging here; hence why I labeled this section "Things I'm Most-Proud Of."

  • IIS Express - I came up with the idea for IIS Express one afternoon after writing an SDK sample where I showed that it was possible to create a mini version of IIS which could be used for self-hosting applications and debugging. After I proved that it could work, I faced a huge uphill battle trying to sell the idea for a miniature version of IIS to my bosses, (e.g. ThomasD, VijayS, Mai-lanB, BillS, etc.) Once I had convinced all of them, then I had to convince the Visual Studio team to dump Cassini in favor of IIS Express. (That was no small task, believe me.) Shortly after I had everyone on board, Vijay took over the project while I changed teams for the next year, and Vijay grew my rather simple idea into a full-fledged application. (Kudos to Vijay - I had more modest plans originally.) A few years later I changed teams again and I took over IIS Express, where I added some more cool features to it. Now IIS Express ships everywhere, so it's pretty cool to see how far you can take an SDK sample. Smile
  • Being a PM on the IIS team - This was a dream come true for me. Oh sure, that dream was more of a nightmare in the days before shipping a product, but being a PM for IIS was pretty much everything I thought it would be. By way of nostalgia, here’s what the IIS Product team looked like in 2009. (Note: I took the picture, so I'm not in the picture. I prefer it that way.)
    IISTEAM2009
  • RFC 7151 - It took me eight years to get this Internet Standard published, and I wrote most of it as part of my IIS PM work. As I have mentioned before, I get to honestly say that I helped create part of the Internet. (It's a very small part of the Internet, but I still get bragging rights.)
  • Technical Writing - Between my ten years in product support and my years as a writer in this organization, I have written thousands of how-to articles, samples, walkthroughs, blogs, reference topics, and KB articles. It has never ceased to amaze me how much of what I have written has been used by customers; I love seeing code that I wrote in an article show up in customers' blogs or forum posts. It's especially amusing to me when they're passing it off as their code even though it's 100% copied from my samples. (Hey, I always can tell.) If I combined every article which I have written during my tenure at Microsoft, I could create a whole series of books. (Although that would be a really boring books series.)
  • FTP Service for IIS 7 & IIS 8 - There's lots of good stuff in there; our feature team discarded the old FTP service (which no one wanted to use) and we created a first-class service from scratch, for which we received a lot of positive feedback.
  • Being a Customer Advocate - I started in technical support, where I spent 10 years speaking with customers, and I have always hosted my own websites and run my own servers so that I could face many of their same frustrations. For instance, I run a full Windows domain in my house, where family members have individual accounts, and all Internet access goes through my proxy server, and I could use group policy to set restrictions for my kids when they were younger, etc. By using Microsoft's products as a customer, I made countless discoveries from a customer-point-of-view. But that being said, some of the people with whom I have had to work still don't understand their customers; I ran into that situation a lot when I was a PM. For example, when you make something easier for you which is harder for the customer, you have just failed your customer. (Sigh.Sad smile)
  • WebDAV for IIS 7 & IIS 8 - I loved this technology and I was a huge advocate for it. I hated the old version of WebDAV on IIS 6 and earlier, so when I was a PM on the IIS team I helped create a version from scratch which customers would like. Most people don't realize that Windows ships both a WebDAV service and WebDAV client, so you can map dives and share files over HTTP thanks to WebDAV.
  • MetaEdit - This utility was like Regedit for IIS settings and shipped with the Windows Resource Kits. This was a very popular tool in its day, and it was cool to see classes being taught at ATECs for something which I had created. Eventually MetaEdit was replaced by another tool, and IIS 7 made both tools obsolete, but in its day MetaEdit reigned supreme.
  • FrontPage Server Extensions (FPSE) - Customers both loved and hated FPSE, and I knew FPSE inside and out from my days in technical support; for years I was arguably the most-knowledgeable person about FPSE the company. (No exaggeration.) So when I became a PM for IIS, I was able to get them to work in all sorts of scenarios where they weren't designed to work, which helped to create new versions of FPSE which resolved thousands of customer problems for Visual Studio and other Enterprise-level customers. (Seriously - the lack of FPSE was an adoption blocker for thousands of Windows Server 2008 customers.) Then a few years later I got to be the PM who finally killed FPSE as far as Microsoft was concerned. (Or as one customer gratefully remarked as he reached to shake my hand, "So you're the guy who's driving the stake through the heart of FPSE!")

Embarrassing Microsoft Moments...

Here is a collection of amusing stories with which I have been involved over the years:

  • Due to a simple programming error, (which wasn't my error - I swear), one of my servers managed to register "localhost" in the company's name servers, and it started responding to all TCP/IP requests for "localhost" across the entire network. Within a few hours, this mishap had taken down several mission-critical services across the company, so my office was kicked off the network and I received a call from a corporate president asking me to never turn my server back on. (Note - I found the error and fixed it. But I swear it was in someone else's code. Really. Why would I lie about something like that? Smile)
  • I mentioned MetaEdit earlier, and one of my greatest embarrassments was when I famously messed up the version checking dialog box.
  • When I designed the extensibility APIs for the IIS 7 FTP service, I realized later that should have added an extra parameter to one of the method prototypes. I couldn't get approval to change the method in subsequent versions of the FTP service, so I have to live with that for the rest of my life. (Darn. Darn. Darn.)
  • I didn't cause this error, but I helped diagnose it back in my technical support days: Windows has several built-in reserved filenames which go all the back to DOS, such as PRN, CON, NUL, LPT1, COM2, etc. Back in the earliest days of IIS, most companies only had one server for everything - domain, web server, proxy server, file shares, print sharing, etc. So you could connect to the FTP service and start uploading a text file filled with nothing but page feed commands while using a destination filename of LPT1; if the company had a printer attached to their server, it would spit out all the paper and then pop up a dialog message asking the user to reload the printer. However, this was a modal dialog box, so IIS would hang until the user had completed the task. We called this the "Denial of Paper" attack. Smile

Weird Microsoft Traditions...

We have done some silly things over the years at Microsoft; some of these traditions are still in practice, while others are long-gone. For example:

  • Togas - Believe it or not, employees used to wear togas to work whenever our stock split. (Yeah, it's been years since that happened. Sad smile)
  • "Fire Me" Emails - Locking one's workstation used to be policed by the community, so if you found someone's desktop computer unlocked, you were supposed to send an email to the team which contained the words "FIRE MY LAME @$$!!!" (Eventually this practice was heavily frowned upon.)
  • April Fool's Websites - Okay, this is mostly just me, but over the years I have created several internal-only websites for April Fool's Day - for example:
    • People for the Ethical Treatment of Software (PETS) - this was a take off on PETA which was advocating for the abolition of the cruel conditions under which software is tested
    • Buugle - It looked and acted like Google, but it wasn't...
    • Technical Support Trading Cards - this website looked like baseball cards, but listed off all the stats for technical support employees, (e.g. SDFC = "Solution Delivered First Contact," MPI = "Minutes Per Incident," etc.)
    • Virtual Tech Lead - I created Virtual Tech Lead back when I was a Tech Lead in technical support, and I populated it with a bunch of innocuous statements which most Tech Leads often said. I sent it out to my team on April Fool's Day with the caveat that it was "90% as effective as a real Tech Lead," and it took off across the company's tech support divisions like wildfire. Pretty soon my poor internal-only webserver couldn't keep up with the web traffic so it rolled over and died; I had caused a denial-of-service on myself.
  • Office Pranks - We used to trash people's offices when they went on vacation. I realize that open space offices have put a dent in certain gags like filling an office with balloons, but how hard is it to wrap someone's desk in saran wrap? Smile
  • Anniversary Goodies - Usually people bring in one pound of M&M's for each year on their anniversary. Once I hit my 10-year anniversary I decided that 10 (or more) pounds of M&M's were simply too many for any team to eat, so I started bringing in rum cakes from the Caribbean. Since I work remotely I don't do that now, but my wife surprised me with 20 rum cakes on my desk this morning:
    20thAnniversaryRumCakes

A Few of the Hardest Things for Me at 20 Years...

  • The Demise of IIS - It has been difficult for me to watch IIS slowly get killed off as a product in an effort to encourage customers to host their websites on Azure. I started working with IIS in early 1996, so it's sad for me to see a product wither away and perish ignominiously after I have I spent thousands of hours designing, developing, and documenting it. But time and tide wait for no man, so the wheels of progress soldier on. However, if you want to see what IIS looked like way back in 1996, see http://www.microsoftbob.com/iis-legacy-screenshots/.
  • Kenny King - I was hired at Microsoft on the same day as Kenny; we were hired within the same hour, to be exact. We quickly became friends and we worked together for years; we bought houses down the street from each other in Texas where our kids grew up together and our wives were like sisters. Kenny was always a rock star with everything he did at Microsoft, and he should be here celebrating his 20th anniversary along with me, but sadly he passed away from cancer shortly before our 19th anniversary with the company.

A Few Manager Anecdotes...

I worked with some great first-level managers at Microsoft - too many to recall - and I worked with some great skip-level managers, too. That being said, here is a list with some of my all-time favorite first-level managers (many of whom are no longer with the company): NancyL, SibhonO, MicheleP, JayV, StaceyC, TerryM, SharonM, BillS, Mai-lanB, EricD, ThomasD, AndrewL, TomW, WonY, and of course - WadeP.

Here are a few small managerial anecdotes - I don't have stories about everyone, so anyone left off the list is not meant as a slight:

  • NancyL was my first manager at Microsoft, and she was on my interview loop when I was originally hired in Arizona. There had been 8,000 job applicants for 100 jobs, so after I was hired I naively asked Nancy why she wanted to hire me when there were so many great people to choose from, to which she replied, "You scared me; I was afraid that someone else would hire you and we would have to compete against you."
  • JayV was one of the best "Big Picture" managers with whom I ever worked; Jay could take a scenario and see how it applied to the company at every level. Yet Jay never lost touch with his individual team members; he would always grab two or three team members and head out to lunch where we'd talk about how things were going. Whenever I have been in a position of leadership during my time at Microsoft, I have actively tried to emulate several of Jay's great qualities.
  • StaceyC was one of my all-time favorite managers; I worked for Stacey on two different teams for a total of six years. Stacey was one of the best "people-persons" with whom I have worked. Even in the hardest of time she had a great attitude, and I watched her successfully manage several teams through some extremely traumatic times.
  • EricD had not had many direct reports when he became my manager, so he called me into his office one day and said, "Look, I'm the guy who makes sure that IIS ships, so I'm usually pretty difficult to work with. So I want you to be my guinea pig - I want to try not to be jerk for you." Despite the ominous sound of that proposal, Eric turned out to be a great manager.
  • JeffH was a really good guy who was in a really difficult position when I worked for him in Technical Support; I had pitched an idea for creating a specialty team of escalation engineers to several managers, and they liked my idea. However, once the team was created my original idea was quickly transformed into something which was entirely different than what I had proposed, so I no longer wanted to work on the team which I had just helped to create. Nevertheless, Jeff really needed the headcount, so he asked me to please stay on the team for six months in order to help get the team started - so I reluctantly agreed. In the end I worked on the team for a year and a half; I hated every minute of it, but I stayed because of Jeff. That was some good leadership on his part.
  • Mai-lanB doubled as my mentor at times; she gave me a lot of great advice on how to manage my career as a PM during our 1:1 meetings, which were often over lunch somewhere off campus. However, Mai-lan's primary weakness was that she was a workaholic like me, so she worried some of her direct reports because she would email them at any time during the day or night with a question. Many people thought they had to have an answer right then, so a lot of her reports spent some restless nights until they figured out that it was okay to answer the next day. But that being said, I also had an unpredictable schedule, so Mai-lan was amazed that I seemed to answer all of her emails 24 hours a day. She eventually asked if I ever slept, to which I replied, "Only when you're on vacation." (Perhaps it takes a workaholic to understand a workaholic.Smile) When Mai-lan's position was unexpectedly cut from the IIS team, she and I had found out immediately before we were scheduled to attend a team meeting, and when I sat next to her, I risked an HR violation by hugging her and saying, "I'm so sorry - I really liked working for you, and you will be sorely missed." Mai-lan simply cried as a response. Sad smile
  • I reported to WonY when I was an IIS PM, and he sat down the hall from me. Won had a laugh which was infectious; you could always tell whenever he had a meeting with someone because sooner or later something would make him laugh, and you could hear it everywhere in the building.
  • It would seem inappropriate to expound upon WadeP's great qualities since I currently report to him and we have a review meeting coming up soon. Smile So I'll just say that I have probably worked for Wade longer than any other manager, and the same can be said about most of Wade's reports. Any manager with a team of faithful, long-term employees and a zero attrition rate must be doing something right.

Windows Versions during my Tenure...

I thought it would be fun to take a look back at all the version of Windows which have exited during my time at Microsoft, with a few of my thoughts about each version. (Note: you should also see Windows turns 30: a visual history, which is a pretty amusing look back at the history of Windows.)

  • Windows 3.1 - Believe it or not, this OS was still widely-used when I was hired, and I had to take tech support calls for it. (How many of you ever knew that there was a 32-bit version of Win31? I did - and I talked customers through getting it up and working.) Win31 wasn't bad, and I knew all sorts of really cool tweaks for customizing ProgMan which were soon to be obsolete. But in its day it was great.
  • Windows NT 3.51 - This was the only viable Windows client and server product at the time that I was hired. Before I started at Microsoft, I was working in the IT department of a small college, and we had used WinNT351 for one of our servers. After I was hired by Microsoft I had to take tech support calls for WinNT351, which were an adventure. In terms of productivity, WinNT351 beat the crap out of Novell, which was far-too-cumbersome for most people, and that is why WinNT eventually took over the server market from Novell.
  • Windows 95 - This was released shortly before I was hired, and Win95 quickly dominated the home PC market. That said, I had a love/hate relationship with Win95; some things were great, others weren't quite where they needed to be. But the built-in networking was great, and it eventually supplanted every other PC-based peer-to-peer networking technology. (Anyone remember LANtastic? ARCnet? Of course not.)
  • Windows NT 4.0 - This was released shortly after I was hired - it was a great OS, and it had lots of stability (unlike its predecessor); both the client and server versions were fantastic. I earned my first MCSE certification on this OS.
  • Windows 98 - I loved this OS, and believe it or not I still run the Win98 core OS (non-GUI) on a legacy machine where I need pure DOS-level functionality for some old MIDI stuff which needs unrestricted physical access to drive hardware.
  • Windows NT Option Pack - This wasn't really a separate OS, but NTOP added amazing Internet-hosting features to Windows NT 4.0.
  • Windows ME - A lot of people hated this OS; I only put it on one computer, and I didn't have any problems with it, so I never understood what the griping was all about.
  • Windows 2000 - This was a good OS, both the client and server versions. That said, I never liked using Win2000 Pro for a desktop machine because it had crappy support for audio/video/MIDI processing, which was an intentional decision from the Windows product team. (Their argument was, "This is a business machine; watch videos and create music on your home PC." Of course, that decision alienated anyone who wanted to use Win2000 Pro as the OS on their home PC. It also helped Apple to take over the recording industry. I earned my second MCSE on this OS.
  • Windows XP - As everyone is well-aware, WinXP was a fantastic product; in many ways it was too amazing for its own good so millions of people still refuse to upgrade from it. WinXP was clearly one of the greatest operating systems ever created, although there is some funny irony here: Microsoft received a lot of bad press about WinXP when it was first released - some people didn't like having to upgrade their systems for a few of the new product requirements. (Of course, Apple users had always forced to do that for years.) In any event, when Vista and Win7 came along a few years later, they also received bad press from people who didn't like having to upgrade, which made me start ignoring early reviews of operating systems.
  • Windows Server 2003/R2 - This OS had some amazing security features, and certainly the best "Old School" version of IIS.
  • Windows Vista - This wasn't a bad OS, although it got lots of bad press because it required more video/memory resources than were typical for many legacy systems, so millions of users were forced to upgrade their systems if they wanted to use it. It never worked correctly on my wife's laptop, which was cause for many unhappy conversations in our house. (e.g. My Wife: "Why did you upgrade my computer to this OS? I hate Vista!")
  • Windows Server 2008/R2 - These were great server operating systems; lots of killer features, and amazing versions of a completely-redesigned IIS.
  • Windows 7 - This is still my favorite OS of all time; it was so amazing that during the beta time frame I reformatted every machine that I had (including my home PCs) and installed the Win7 beta. It was pretty, it was fast, and it did everything right (or so it seemed). Microsoft hit an amazing home run with this OS. One of the least-actualized features of Windows 7 was Windows Media Center (WMC), which should have taken off and dominated the home theater and HTPC markets, but whoever was in charge of that product did not follow through with the right people in the right places to make that happen. WMC on a Windows 7 computer is still the centerpiece of our home entertainment system; it's our DVR, video library, music player, etc.
  • Windows Server 2012/R2 - Once again, these were two great server operating systems, with amazing versions of IIS.
  • Windows 8 - I am almost embarrassed to admit this publicly, but I really wasn't fond of this OS, even though I tried very, very hard to like it. I could wax poetic about my reasons for this decision, but I'll just leave this as it stands.
  • Windows 8.1 - This OS fixed a few of the clunkers in Win8, but unfortunately Microsoft showed off additional fixes (like a replacement Start Menu) which were promised for a Win8.1 update, and that update never happened. The Windows product team decided to hold off and ship those features in Windows 10, and this was a seriously bad decision, for which I heard a great deal of end-user grumbling at Microsoft's expense. (Which may have been was well-deserved.)
  • Windows 10 - I upgraded a couple of computers to Win10 during the beta: one physical computer (which stayed on a particular stable build) and one virtual computer (which I updated when new customer previews were available). I've continued to run Win10 on a few computers since its release, and so far it's much better than the Windows 8 versions. Of course, we completely killed Windows Media Center in Win10, so I'm unhappy about that. (Time to look into running XBMC on a Raspberry Pi? Smile)

That about wraps it up for me. So if anyone is still reading by now, here is my statement which I have always used to summarize how I feel about working at Microsoft: "To me, working for Microsoft is like working for Santa Claus; we make all the coolest toys, and we get to play with them before anyone else."

With that in mind, who wouldn't want to spend 20 years working for Microsoft?

Posted: Dec 18 2015, 12:50 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Nineteen Years at Microsoft

Microsoft has an interesting unofficial tradition for employees on their anniversary with the company: we are supposed to bring in one pound of M&M's for each year that we have been with Microsoft.

That being said, when I reached my 10-year anniversary with the company, I decided that 10 pounds or more of M&M's were way too many, and a recent trip to the Cayman Islands provided me with a much better alternative: Caribbean Rum Cakes.

Tortuga_Rum_Cakes

For each subsequent anniversary, I would bring in a rum cake for each year since my date of hire, and these proved to be a big hit with my coworkers. So much so that when I changed teams, I had coworkers ask me if they could still drop by and have rum cake on my anniversary.

However, this past year I began working remotely, so I did not order any rum cakes that year. That was kind of sad for me, because I usually looked forward to my annual tradition. With that in mind, I hadn't really paid attention as my anniversary was approaching this year.

Needless to say, I was quite surprised this morning when I entered my office and discovered that my loving spouse had ordered several rum cakes just for me to celebrate the day…

I have a pretty cool spouse. ;-]

Posted: Dec 18 2014, 11:07 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Why I Don't Like Macs

I freely admit that I am fiercely loyal where my employer is concerned, but my loyalty pre-dates my employment. I was a big fan of Microsoft long before I went to work for them, which was one of the reasons why I was so thrilled when they offered me a job.

My affection for Microsoft goes back to then they were the "Little Guy" standing up to "Big Bad IBM," and at the time everyone loved Microsoft for that reason. (At that time, Macs were still pretty much toys.) But I became a huge fan of Microsoft when I started working in IT departments in the early to mid-1990s. At the time, the licensing fees for WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, Ashton Tate's dBASE, etc., were astronomical, and our little IT budgets spent more on those licensing fees than we did on hardware, so our PCs were sub-par due to price-gouging. Then Microsoft came along and offered all of Microsoft Office with per-seat licensing that was 50% less than any other single software application, so we suddenly had software for every PC and budget to buy more hardware. This cannot be understated - Microsoft made it possible for us to actually focus on having great computers. To us, Microsoft was the greatest company on the planet.

MetroLogo

By way of contrast, let's take a look at what Macs were like. In each place where I worked, we had some Macs, and the experiences were nowhere near similar. First of all, the Macs were hideously over-priced. (And they still are.) When a PC died, the data was nearly-always recoverable, and usually the majority of a PC could be salvaged as well. (It was usually only a single part that failed.) Not so with a Mac - when a Mac died (which was just as often as a PC), the user's data was gone, and we couldn't fix the computer because we couldn't walk into a store and buy over-the-counter parts for a Mac. When a brand-name PC failed, its manufacturer was generally helpful with troubleshooting and repairs, whereas Apple had one answer - send us the Mac and we'll get to it when we can. Seriously. Apple was so unwilling to help their users that we grew tired of even bothering to try. We just boxed up dead Macs and sent them (at our expense) back to Apple and forgot about them until Apple got around to shipping something back to us.

To be perfectly honest, I really tried to like Macs - and I used one for quite a while. I had heard that "Macs are better for [this reason]" or "Macs are better for [that reason]," but in my actual experience most of those claims had little basis in reality (with a few exceptions). Macs simply had a loyal fanbase of apologists who ignored the bad parts of their user experience and evangelized the good parts of their user experience. (Which is pretty much what I do for PCs, right? ;-] ) But after months of using a Mac and wrangling with what I still think is a terrible user interface, coupled with the realization that I could be doing my work considerably faster on a PC, it was my actual use of a Mac that turned me off to Macs in general.

no_apple

I realize that a lot of time has gone by, and both Apple and their products have gotten better, but years of abuse are not easily forgotten by me. There was a time when Apple could have won me over, but their sub-par products and crappy customer service lost me. (Probably forever.) And make no mistake, for all of the blogosphere regurgitation that Microsoft is a "monopoly," Apple is one of the most-closed and highly-controlled architectures on the planet. What's more, prior to the release of OSX, Macs were a tiny niche, but for the most part they were a social experiment masquerading as a computer company that failed to reach more than 5% of the desktop computer market. In short, Apple was a sinking ship until Jobs returned and Apple saved itself through iPod and iTunes sales. This gave Apple enough capital to abandon their failing computer design and rebuild the Mac as a pretty user interface on top of a UNIX operating system. This was a stroke of genius on someone's part, but you have to admit - when your 15-year-old computer business drives your company to the point of bankruptcy and you have to save your company by selling music, that's pretty pathetic.

Ultimately, Apple users are a cult, Steve Jobs is their prophet (even though Woz is the real hero), and Apple products have always had half the features at twice the price. And that is why I don't like Macs. ;-]

Posted: Jul 25 2014, 14:13 by bob | Comments (0)
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Proper Use of Acronyms In Business Communications

I caught some people at work overusing some obscure acronyms in business emails that have considerably more popular uses, so I had to tell them to get used to spelling out phrases at least the first time in order to provide context for everyone else in the conversation. This should be obvious to everyone, but too many people fail to realize that their recipients may have no idea what the sender is talking about based on their individual knowledge.

For example:

  • HTML - This should always mean "HyperText Markup Language," and it should never mean "Happy To Make Lemonade" With that in mind, you should always write "Happy To Make Lemonade (HTML)" when you first use it, and you should probably use it throughout your email. But still, you should consider writing "HyperText Markup Language (HTML)" when you first use it, just to make everything perfectly clear to your readers, and then you can use just the acronym for subsequent references.
  • VS - This could be short for "versus," or it could mean "Visual Studio." Many English-speaking readers will probably be able to determine the correct meaning based on the surrounding text, but in a diverse work environment there is no guarantee that the intended meaning will be perfectly clear to everyone. This means that some recipients will have to re-read what the sender has written in order to verify their understanding, which could have been alleviated by simply using "A versus B" or "Visual Studio (VS)."
  • OMG - This is often used colloquially to mean "Oh My Gosh," but I've seen it used to mean "On Middle Ground." Needless to say, the sentence can have dramatically different meanings depending on how that acronym is understood by the reader. For example: "Right now both parties are having a difficult time finding issues OMG where everyone can agree."

Social media acronyms should not be used in a business context; this includes the following examples:

  • BTW - "By The Way"
  • FWIW - "For What It's Worth"
  • PDQ - "Pretty Darn Quick"
  • SOL - "Sh** Outta Luck"
  • etc.

There are a few possible exceptions which may be commonly-understood business acronyms, but you should still consider your recipients when deciding which of these acronyms you should use and which you should spell out. Here are a few examples:

  • ASAP - "As Soon As Possible"
  • FYI - "For Your Information"
  • FAQ - "Frequently-Asked Questions"
  • Q&A - "Questions and Answers"
  • PS - "Postscript"

There is one simple rule that you should always remember when writing for others:

In business communications, brevity is not always better, and ambiguity will be the death of us all. Winking smile

Posted: Jul 16 2014, 11:50 by Bob | Comments (0)
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What I Do For A Living

It seems that I have always had a difficult time explaining to people what I do at Microsoft. It's not that I'm unsure about what I do - the details of my job have always been crystal-clear to me and I love what I am doing. It's just that I can't find a way to explain things in a way that doesn't result in blank stares from anyone who isn't a geek. (This problem isn't limited to me, though; my non-technical wife simply responds "I have no idea what he does" when someone asks her what I do for a living.)

Here's a perfect example: when I was a Program Manager on the Internet Information Services (IIS) team, people would often ask me what I did for Microsoft, and I would reply with something like, "I help design and implement the web publishing protocols for Microsoft's web server."

Other Person: [Blank Stare]

I would attempt to remedy the situation by adding, "You know, I design Microsoft's implementation of Internet technologies like the File Transfer Protocol, WebDAV, and the FrontPage Server Extensions."

Other Person: [Blank Stare]

In a sometimes-futile effort to salvage the conversation from complete disaster, I would interject, "You like to use the Internet, right? Well, your computer is on one side of the Internet, and my team helps build the other side of the Internet. That's kind of what I do."

That comment would usually be met with a slight spark of recognition, which was sometimes followed by a half-muttered, "That's nice."

At one time or other during my tenure as a Program Manager on the IIS team I was responsible for a smattering of disparate technologies; things like FTP, WebDAV, FPSE, FastCGI, PHP, URL Rewrite, IIS Express, Log Parser, etc. Most of those technologies garnered little to no interest for the average person, and many of my coworkers found them pretty boring as well. Just the same, I personally found every one of those technologies completely fascinating. (Why else would I spend eight years trying to get just one new command added to FTP?)

A couple of years ago I left the IIS program management team and I joined the writing team which is responsible for documenting Microsoft's ASP.NET framework; and if you have to ask what that means, then you are probably not interested in the answer.

Still, people would ask me what I do for Microsoft, and I would try to explain my job with statements like, "I document the Application Programming Interfaces (or APIs) for Microsoft's ASP.NET."

Other Person: [Blank Stare]

I would try to nudge the conversation along by saying things like, "I help people write web code."

Other Person: [Blank Stare]

Skipping ahead in the conversation, I would usually make a last-ditch attempt by stating, "Let's say you wanted to create a website; if so, you might read something that I wrote in order to help you get started."

Sometimes this remark would illicit a hint of acknowledgment, but usually I just got another blank stare.

This leads me to a few days ago. My wife and I were at dinner, and a waiter asked me what I did for a living. In the back of my mind I started to say something like, "Well, these days I'm documenting a set of APIs that Java programmers will use with Microsoft Azure technologies [blah blah blah]..."

But what actually came out of my mouth was, "I could explain it to you, but I'm pretty sure you wouldn't want me to. Trust me."

I like that answer. I think I'll stick with it in the future. :-)

Posted: Apr 28 2014, 23:47 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Happy New Year!

2006 is rapidly coming to a close, and the new year is almost upon us. Before I go home for the weekend I wanted to wish everyone:

Happy New Year! 

Gutes Neues Jahr!

Feliz Año Nuevo!

Bonne Année!

С Новым годом!

Posted: Dec 29 2006, 17:08 by Bob | Comments (0)
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To geek, or not to geek...

Like most of the computer-obsessed friends that I hang out with, I am often called a geek by the non-techie types that I have to interact with. (That list of non-techies includes my wife, by the way. ;-])

I wondered if that was a label that I should wear with pride, then I saw a great quote the other day:

"A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one."

Given my over-interest in computers, maybe the "Geek" title fits.

When discussing several subjects with some other geeks the other day, one of my friends asked, "Is it possible that there is anything that you're not a geek in?"

I had to give that some thought, but then I replied, "Shoes."

To be honest, I wear a set of sneakers just about everywhere. I wouldn't know a good set of dress shoes if they snuck up behind me and kicked me in the rear.

Maybe that's why I have such a hard time understanding why my wife owns 40 pairs of shoes... To me, I figure what's the point?

To be honest, I actually do own a couple of other pairs of shoes, but my wife bought them for me. When all is said and done, all I ever wear is the sneakers. (Even to church... ;-])

I think my wife buys my other shoes for me in the hopes that I will either: 1) empathize with her plight, 2) convert to the dark side, or 3) develop some form of shoe-fetish gland. I think the fact that I work for Microsoft has still escaped her.

I've told my daughters that I'm making them a simple deal: I'll wear a tuxedo for their weddings. If I foot the bill for the wedding, then I'm wearing sneakers with the tux. If they pay for their own wedding, then I'll wear whatever shoes they like.

Seems fair to me.  ;-]

But the question remains, am I a socially hopeless cause? I hope not. (After all, I do get out a lot.)

Am I a geek? Hmm... I guess I should consider the old adage:

"If the shoe fits..."

Well, you know the rest. ;-]

Posted: Feb 01 2006, 12:39 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Merry Christmas 2005!

Okay, it's a couple of days late because I took the past few days off to celebrate Christmas with my family, but I wanted to make sure that I wished everyone a Merry Christmas...! [:)]

Веселое Рождество!

Christmas Alegre!

¡Feliz Navidad!

Frohe Weihnachten!

Joyeux Noël!

Καλά Χριστούγεννα!

Natale allegro!

Vrolijke Kerstmis!

Posted: Dec 28 2005, 11:51 by Bob | Comments (0)
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