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Mike Macgirvin

Stunned would be the word I'm looking for

  last edited: Sat, 02 Feb 2008 18:55:23 +1100  from Diary and Other Rantings
Microsoft is making a bid to buy Yahoo!. Surprise, shock... What words could describe my emotion on hearing this?

I can see the motivation and the reasoning behind it. They want to put a stop to Google ("I'd like to buy a noun, please."). Still I believe this is the wrong way to do it. The only way for them to stop Google is to buy Google. Don't laugh. They are ideologically more closely aligned than you might realize. I don't believe that they've thought through the consequences of this decision - or maybe they have but just don't care. It is a culture clash of epic proportions that will result pretty much in the destruction of Yahoo! and all they've ever done - and do nothing to harm Google. I suspect many of the employees will quit outright, and there's not much place for them to go in Silicon Valley except to side with the enemy (Google), the largest employer in the valley that's still adding significant headcount.

But I also believe that this move can't be stopped, so it doesn't really matter what I think about it. I would however like to share with you the exact image that popped into my brain on hearing this.

Haight-Ashbury Music Closing

  last edited: Sun, 20 Jan 2008 23:39:51 +1100  from Diary and Other Rantings
Thanks to Joe for letting me know - Haight-Ashbury Music in Sunnyvale seems to be the latest victim of the music industry fallout, closing today. That's funny in a twisted kind of way. It was almost exactly two years ago that I shut down Sonica Music for good. You can't run a viable business when you've got no customers. It's easy to say that both of these businesses failed to compete and deserved to die; but what you're seeing isn't isolated. It's more an indictment of the industry behind it; with their arrogant licensing terms - which had as much involvement in the death of these institutions as the changing tastes of the customers.  

Lots has happened in those two years, but the guys at Sunnyvale Music World (what Haight-Ashbury used to be called) were all friends, even if we were competitors for several years. Sad to see them go. It's only a matter of time before it all hits here in Australia. You can see the local music stores slowly dying, both of them. It's the same story all over again. There's just nothing anybody can do about it. One guy who had a NSW music shop almost begged me - you ran a music store? Please buy my store from me. You know you want to. I'll give you good terms.

Funny thing though, I don't want to. Watching a music store die is not enjoyable for anybody concerned.

Coincidentally, Intel also closed down its last Silicon Valley fab plant.
Sun acquires MySQL

  last edited: Fri, 18 Jan 2008 09:30:46 +1100  from Diary and Other Rantings
Unless you've been watching closely, this announcement was easy to miss. Sun Microsystems is acquiring MySQL. This has ramifications both good and bad.

This will likely affect a huge number of people who are currently using open source web applications; a majority of which are being stored on MySQL databases. Their future viability is now questionable. It all depends on the license and revenue models Sun chooses to adopt.

I would also try to steer clear of the pending 6.0 release as it is likely to involve significant re-structuring of the code to suit Sun's business requirements. It may be a year or three before it stabilises again. Sun is legendary for introducing layers of bureaucracy into development projects.  

While Sun may make public announcements of their intent to continue to provide the product for free [and it should be noted that there was no such announcement in the press release], it is difficult to imagine the corporate bean counters not making a recommendation to derive as much revenue stream as possible from the acquisition.

You can read the announcement here.

Also of potential interest is this (dated) history of MySQL
Stormy Weather

  last edited: Sat, 05 Jan 2008 07:57:09 +1100  from Diary and Other Rantings
Some rough weather over in California...


Fierce winds toppled trucks on a major Bay Area bridge and knocked out power to more than 100,000 people in Sacramento as wicked winter weather moved into California on Friday.

Tsering Gyurmey snapped this image of an overturned truck on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge Friday.Image/photo

Forecasters said the Pacific storms could dump more than 10 feet of snow on California mountains by Sunday.

Winds in the mountains could gust to 145 mph, forecasters said, the strength of a Category 4 hurricane. A Category 4 can inflict extreme damage.


Yowza! 10 feet of snow! 145mph! That's a serious storm. Hope you folks make it through OK.

Let me put this into perspective. I was in 100mph winds once in Colorado. There were full trash dumpsters rolling down the street, and I could barely stand up. Walking was a process of planting one foot ahead of you, wait and regain your balance, then plant the other foot. Several folks lost the roof of their house, which just blew right off.  And what they're predicting is half again more powerful than that.
My power was out when I awoke this morning (to the beeping of a UPS) and I rode my bike to work at the peak of the storm...but here the winds were no more than 50 or so. The 145 winds Mike is trying to visualize are equal to Hurricane Katrina at landfall. I saw what happened to Ground Zero, Mississippi. Not pretty.

Anyway, 10 hours later it's now calm (but still raining). Power is back on, and all is right with the world again.
AOL finally kills the 'Netscape' browser

  last edited: Sat, 29 Dec 2007 22:42:27 +1100  from Diary and Other Rantings
AOL finally pulled the plug on its branded version of Firefox which it amusingly calls 'Netscape'. Those of us who were a part of the real Netscape can only laugh. I haven't used the AOL browser in years and never really cared for it. But it's sort of the end of an era and I feel a bit saddened. The web browser with the 'N' is no more.

Long live Firefox.


Oh, and I'm sorry but iceweasel? What's the point?

  last edited: Wed, 31 Oct 2007 15:47:47 +1100  from Diary and Other Rantings
5.6 quake 5 miles north-northeast of Alum Rock - (near San Jose, CA) and 7 miles east of Milpitas. From my maps, this looks like the bottom end of the Hayward Fault before it fragments into several smaller faults near the Evergreen area, though I won't rule out the Calaveras Fault which also passes nearby.

So far looks like friends and family are OK. Believe this is the largest quake to hit the bay area since at least the early 90's and perhaps since Loma Prieta (Oct. 89).
I was present for Loma Prieta (1989) and the 3 7+ events in 24 hours, Humboldt County (1992). There haven't been any big shakers since then here in the Bay Area. I have long been aware that many folks have moved into the area since 1989, and comments on local news shows in the hours following last night's tremor bear out that feeling....lots of people saying "This was my first quake...."

Everyone talks about having food, water and cash on hand for 3 days, assuming that's how long it will take for help to arrive. Following my FEMA post-Katrina experience, I gotta disgree.....keep a week, at the very least.
The Google Interview

  last edited: Thu, 31 May 2007 11:57:54 +1000  from Diary and Other Rantings
Google is legendary for their brain-teaser technical interviews that weed out anybody who is less than Mensa. Mine went extremely poorly. I don't think they're going to be calling me back. But it's too bad, because it wasn't my fault.

First of all I don't understand the logic in having a phone interview between Australia and Mountain View California USA. I guess nobody in Sydney is qualified to ask technical questions. Oh well.

But here's the first question:

Given several points in 2-d space, construct a line between them.

OK, this isn't hard, but first I have to know the goal of the line. So I ask her. What's the goal of this line? And is there a vector or direction preference?

She answers - what do you mean a 'goal'? She sounds annoyed. It's just a line. How do you construct it?

So I start probing. OK, well you can just connect the dots. I doubt that's what you're after; but at least I may be able to further ascertain the goal you have in mind. She rejects connect the dots outright - even though it satisfies the problem criteria; and without providing any more input.

So I have to answer that I cannot solve this problem. I don't have enough information. She then goes on and says OK, forget it. Now instead of points you've got lines. Same question. Construct a line between them.

I've still got the same problem. There isn't enough information. I cannot answer it. I start by finding the midpoint of the lines, maybe we should draw through them all? BZZZZT! Wrong answer. She starts to question how you would find out if two lines overlap. So clearly she has another goal in mind, but for the dickens I can't tease it out of her. It starts to look like she had a scatter plot in mind. You know - you've got a bunch of random data points, find the mean. But even here, you need a further goal. Are you going against the x or the y axis?  It's still unsolvable. I'm starting to show my exhasperation - so is she.

But there's no place for me to go. No way out. Let's imagine some possibilities. Connect the dots in the Y direction. Find the mean in the Y direction. Solve for x instead. What if the points describe the circumference of a circle? Am I to draw the circle, draw a line through it, or draw something looking like the AT&T logo on these points? All of these solve the first problem. When you turn it into lines, am I finding the mean, or constructing segments? What if I've got multiple sets of parallel lines that look like the I Ching? What kind of line am I expected to draw?

But she cannot even envision these possibilities. She's looking for some simple answer to a problem that she hasn't been able to convey - and so I am unable to answer it.

Let's move on. Question two. You've got an array of integers. Sort them, in 1/n time or better. We know the min and max.

Maybe this can be done - but I'm just not seeing it. I tell her so. I also spend a few moments looking at possible ways to do it, but they all lead to dead ends. She stresses again, we know the min and max, as though to say that this is an important fact to consider. Well yeah, but it doesn't help. Best you can do is 2(1/n). But she's given up on me and the phone call is coming to an end. I am guessing she was looking for something like - construct an array with (max-min) elements. go through your original array and drop each element into its index in the second array. You're done.

But you're not. What if you've got holes in the destination array? You've got to make a second pass and prune all the holes.  Or you sort into a linked list in the first place, which means that min and max aren't helping you; and this takes log time so it doesn't fit the solution set. I then turn my brain into a CPU and drop into assembly language. Let's see, take the first number and stick it into a register... load the next, branch if greater... I'm visualizing how to solve this the best way.

She's almost scolding me by now. What's a register? What does that have to do with the problem? I don't have time to explain the inner workings of a microprocessor and it wouldn't help anyway - our conversation was finished. Too bad, I thought I was getting somewhere with the assembler sort; but totally lost the train of thought when she asked me what the hell I was doing.  

So anyway - for any of you thinking of joining Google, best of luck. It doesn't matter if you're clever. What would probably help is if you get an interviewer that has actually had to solve real world problems rather than theoretical questions from a cheat sheet. Or - if you're clairvoyant.
You and I have both been around enough start ups (tech and otherwise) to know that too-rapid expansion is the bane of all growing companies. In Google's case, not only are they rapidly expanding, they are gobbling up start ups, attracting folks who are chasing stock options, and having to replace early hires that are now eligible to cash out their own options and retire.

Sometimes (in fact, often) those who come late to the party aren't the same caliber as those who started it all, or are hampered by new procedures and internal regulations.

I suppose, if you own Google stock and don't really know much about the company other than the stock keeps going up, it's OK to continue to hold it, for awhile. But if you know much about the company at all, you have to start to worry about the stock at some point.....and either resign yourself to fewer gains or sell before it crashes.