Month: November 2011

Business innovation and organization

I’m still grinding my way through the Steve Jobs biography. I’m around half-way through it as I’m writing this. One of his motivating passions was to build a lasting company. At age twelve, when he got a summer job at Hewlett-Packard, he learned that a properly run company could spawn innovation far more than any single creative individual. “I discovered that the best innovation is sometimes the company, the way you organize a company,” he recalled. “The whole notion of how you build a company is fascinating. When I got the chance to come back to Apple, I realized that I would be useless without the company, and that’s why I decided to stay and rebuild it.” That struck me. In many ways my experiences of late echoes this. One of my main complaints that led me to switch jobs is about structure. This is hard to describe to someone else. Mr. Jobs seems to have captured the dichotomy of at once empowering people while personally holding them responsible for their performance. A company requires organization. A structure provides the framework to grow in both responsibility and authority. People that can lead, should lead. This allows you to use people strategically, not tactically. So, what’s the difference? Tactically is giving the best person a project and having them work on it. It might be a good way of getting something done in...

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Teardown Tuesday – Commodore 64

This is really a part two of the series I started up on Sunday. The thing I did after booting up the old guy was to immediately take him apart! This isn’t the first time I’ve done this so I was pretty confident that I wouldn’t have any issues with this latest attempt. The beauty of the design is that after only three Phillips screws, you’re in! The inside is so incredibly simple! This is a revision A board at that. Sweet! When I got the computer in the summer there was a murmur in the crowd wondering if it still had the SID chip or had it been harvested before the auction… Here it is in all its glory: The SID is the Sound Interface Device that made all the cool beeps and boops of the day. I remember one day making an analog-to-digital converter on a wire-wrap board when I was growing up. I eventually got the sound to play barely. It was the distinct sound of my mom vacuuming the upstairs hallway. (Even that was hacking the SID in a strange way… volume modulating the SID to do a primitive 4-bit digital-to-analog converter… It worked… once.) Next up: the can. Under the can is the VIC-II: The Video Interface Chip. No doubt it was in the can to cut down on interference from the relatively high-speed signaling...

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Well, right now I’m sitting on a plane en route to San Francisco to get together with my soon-to-be former employer to do as much knowledge transfer as practical in the next four days. It’s a strange feeling. I know I said a lot of my good byes last time I was out, but this time it’s a lot more real now that I have a new job. I’m feeling really bittersweet right now. I spent the last nearly 11 years making the system what it is. Now that system is being cast off in a way. Other folks are going torun with it as best as they can. Is it going to be good enough? It’s hard to tell. The tech folks at QuinStreet are a good crew. They are smart people. I’ve had some good times with them in the past. Honestly I’m going to miss some of them — not just the folks that came from ICOM. I do hope that all that we’ve worked for in all this time doesn’t wind up as a CD in someone’s desk drawer. At the same time I’m doing cross training I’m simultaneously looking at the future. The dichotomy in that existence makes it seem quite awkward. – = – Update @ 7:02 PST: A good crew today. I can’t...

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Commodore 64 – Part 1

The Commodore 64 wasn’t my first computer — that honor goes to the TI99/4a, but that’ll be the subject of a different series of posts. The C64 was the real workhorse of my understanding how computers worked. I wrote my first assembly on one. I ran a BBS on one (until it stopped working and was replace by a Commodore 128). I ran across this instance at the Bulldada auction at X-Day this year. This was the least Bulldada thing there I think. I paid $60 for this one after a little bit of a bidding war. When I was buying it I didn’t know if it was a working one so I wouldn’t have gone further, but it’s something to have since it means so much to me. But… does it work? Turning it on the power LED glowed to life. After futzing with the connections for the video I finally got a picture. :-D :-D :-D :-D Win! I’m not sure why this is coming over as black and white since the normal screen is white on blue with a light-blue border… but that’s something for another day. It came packed up with a 1541 5-1/4″ floppy drive, but I’ve not dove into that yet. It also has the first real computer book I sunk my teeth into: It’s a good inch and a half thick. And...

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Another Binder-Clip Christmas

I know, I know… I did this last year too. This year I’m doing it with LED lights and slightly better photography. It all started when we moved in. I wanted to find a non-destructive way of attaching a string of christmas lights to the facia board above the porch. Being lazy I wanted to do it quickly and easily. I tried a number of different methods and none worked. The next step would be attaching eye-screws in the board to get things mounted. Then I had a brainstorm: big binder clips would be big enough to span the board! The problem is that they are ugly black. Well, ugly in this case anyway; on business documents they somehow work. Solution: spend a few minutes spray-painting them white to match the house. I even used the legs of the clip to hold up the plugs between the chains of lights to keep them from dangling: The cool thing is you can barely tell they’re there! And it only takes five minutes to mount them all up. BTW: the new Philips LED lights are awesome — they don’t look blue at all. They compare very favorably to the incandescent lights that are on the wreath and in the windows. And they also use a lot less power! [smugmug url=”″ imagecount=”100″ start=”1″ num=”100″ thumbsize=”Th” link=”lightbox” captions=”false” sort=”false” window=”true” smugmug=”true”...

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Freedom to Be

This is going to be a rant of the highest order (though not business related). If you want to skip it, do so now. You have been warned. My niece is almost three. She’s cool. (Yeah, if you’re reading this in the far future — I’m the first one to say that… just sayin’) She’s a boisterous girl that knows what she wants to do. She doesn’t just sit and wait for stuff to happen, she gets them to happen. She’s a character. My mother-in-law-in-law seems to disagree. She made the statement that my niece is not going to play socker or other sports, she’s going to play the piano. W. T. F. ? If she wants to play sports, play sports. If you want to do things that aren’t girly, do them. If you want to do “girly” things, do it. To limit what you can and can’t do is an idiotic statement. If she wants to ride dirt-bikes I’ll be the first in line to get her one. If she wants to shoot guns, I’ll teach her how to do so safely. Computers: check. Photography: check. If she wants to play with Barbies, I’m out of my league, but En will no doubt step up. :-) (Ok, I’m sure I can manage if I wanted to, but it’s not my forte) If she wants to play the piano (as opposed to being...

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Just wanted to wish everyone out there happy thanksgiving! It’s been a strange year. New jobs and broken bones for me. Other various and sundry medical issues for other people. In the end, all of you who happen to be reading this are alive. Be thankful for that. Be thankful for all of what you have. Be thankful for the struggles because the alternative is worse. (Ed: insert a “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” somewhere) For all its problems and occupations we live in the best country in the world (IMHO). We’re not really doing that bad. Of course we can do better… but I’m not focusing on that at the moment. I hope you all spent time with friends and/or family today and looked around — to notice that for all our problems, we’re lucky in the grand scheme of things....

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Learning and Teaching

Those are two of the things I value. In the ideal world I have the ability to do both. I’ll add another thing which is a variation of learning — exploration — into the mix as well. In the general case when I’m working I like not being the smartest or most experienced guy in the room. I want to have someone who knows more than I do to teach me about what I’m doing — what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong. Most things work on the apprenticeship model it seems. What you learn is hard won knowledge that’s been passed down over time. At the same time I love to teach. Information wants to be free. Knowledge, as the word itself implies, wants to be known. If I know something I want to be able to share it. I want the people around me to be better. Teaching a class on advanced Java programming at Cuyahoga Community College, while hard, was a fun time. A manager I worked with once said that anyone who works for him should be able to quit and get a better job in three years — though he hoped that they would stay along because the job was so good. That’s the way I want people around me to bo. It’s only through teaching and learning that is possible. You can’t be...

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