Category Archives: personal

Taking Charge of Personal Growth

I ramble. Looking back at this blog, it’s particularly evident I can say a lot but communicate little. It’s especially easy to get caught up in written word, but I’ve noticed that I do it verbally, as well.

To counteract this, I’ve begun an effort to be more precise, using fewer words, fewer embellishments. At work, this means asking precise questions and giving precise answers. In fact, there was a training course called “Precision Questioning and Answering”, detailing what a precise question/answer is and how, why and when to employ them. I’ve gotten the summary from a co-worker who has taken the course (they don’t offer it anymore; strange).

This is all part of a wider personal effort. I’ve resolved to learn in a more conscious manner. One skill I’m most thankful for is my ability to learn quickly through osmosis. But, it has meant my learning, since graduating from university, has taken on more of a meandering, whatever-is-convenient path. Many of us go through the 12-16 years (sometimes more!) of our lives in a structured learning environment. We don’t have much need to think about learning – it is, for better or worse, forced absorption. At work, I’ve been put into a number of fortunate roles and environments, where that kind of absorption, to date, has been enough to help me succeed, progress, and be satisfied.

However, to first, understand, and second, reach my potential more quickly, I need to take control of my learning. No one will force it upon me, again. Currently, I’m blessed to work on a team of superstars. It was no accident; it was one of the primary reasons I joined the team. I wanted to see these guys, whom I respect deeply, in action. I wanted to learn from their skills and experience. It’s happened, but only as the result of incidental interactions. Due to the scope and expectations of the team, working on separate swaths of the project is the norm, and the amount of time I spend interacting with my team is limited. So, I’m going to make an explicit effort.

I want to grow in three scalable areas: precision communications, developing clarity out of ambiguity, and leadership, motivation of others. In the type of work I enjoy, these will become more and more important, as my career progresses. They’re also areas with significant room for growth.

If you have books, readings, or courses to recommend, please give me a shout!

Anand

Anand is leaving AnandTech and tech publishing, as of today. It’s a great loss to the industry, as more than ever, tech media trends towards diminishing quality, higher quantity, sensationalist reporting of the latest fad and gossip coming out of the community. AnandTech has largely remained a shining North star of depth and quality in face of this.

To me, it’s also personal. AnandTech played a significant part in cultivating my early interest in computers, particularly DIY builds and overclocking. In fact, one of the first technology articles I ever read was the AnandTech review of the ATi All-in-Wonder Radeon, as I did research for my first piece of unassembled computer, ever. That was almost exactly 14 years ago, to the day, as an early teenager. I’ve been on the bandwagon, ever since.

While Anand, himself, has published a smaller proportion of the content at AnandTech, the level of investigatory due diligence and technical excellence he expected his team to uphold has made it my favorite technology discussion and review site on the web.

I’m excited to see what Anand applies himself to, next. It was an honour to have bumped into him (and Brian Klug) at IDF2013 in San Francisco. I distinctly recall our conversation on his view of consolidation in the silicon space, discussing Samsung, MediaTek, and, obviously, Intel’s future. Anand, I hope you remain in technology, and I get a chance to pick your brain, again!

Mercedes C300 Engine Vibration or Shutdown

PSA: I had some mysterious engine shutdowns during the startup process with my Mercedes-Benz C300 4MATIC (2013MY) over the past year. Symptoms were:

  • Typically on a warm start (e.g. the car had been running just a short while before, engine oil temperatures had not yet fallen to ambient)
  • On start, engine would cause severe enough vibrations to shake the car (feels unbalanced)
  • Or shortly after start, engine would spontaneously shut down (while still in Park)

This, to me, was seriously troubling. When I sent my car in for servicing, I noted the issue to the technician. An ECU update was applied and, since then, I’ve not experienced either symptom (severe vibrations nor engine shut-down). If you’re seeing these issues, take it into the shop and have them check for updated ECU software.

4

Yesterday was my 4 year anniversary of starting at Microsoft. I can’t believe how quickly the years have gone by (I’m one year from getting my first tenure crystal at year 5!); it’s not infrequently that I feel I’m a fresh-out-of-university new hire or forget that I’m officially in the latter half of my twenties. But, occasionally, I get a chance to interact with the new hires or interns that are streaming through campus at this time of year, and I realize, despite the barely detectable growth, day after day, 4 years of it has resulted in a level of maturity and experience that is starkly different from where I was, immediately after university. Of course, there’s a humbling, infinite amount left to learn, as I look around myself.

The average tenure with a single employer is somewhere around 4.6 years (and 3.2 years, for those between 25-34 years of age). While my 4 years have all been spent at Microsoft, the type of work I’ve had the opportunity to experience over those years has spanned a huge range. All this was possible under the Program Management umbrella. In briefly reviewing my posting history, here, I noticed I haven’t really written about what it is I’ve done. A lot of it has to do with the fact that we typically work on confidential projects, but part of it is also that writing things down in the moment may be personally sensitive. With several years to look back on, here’s a brief summary of my time.

It all started with Office SharePoint. I was a feature Program Manager, working with a couple developers on multi-tenant SharePoint Online administration features. It was a far cry from what I’d originally wished for (UI design). SharePoint was the natural progression from my co-op, in the InfoPath team, which upon my return from graduating, had been folded into the SharePoint organization. And, I (think I) only found myself on the InfoPath team in the first place, because when asked to talk about a Microsoft user experience, I brought up the Ribbon. InfoPath hadn’t had the Ribbon menu facelift at the time, so I tell myself the recruiters were a bit too literal, when placing me. My attempts to get an after-graduation placement into the Windows Phone team was rebuffed by both my team management as well as my recruiter. I certainly understand the aura of safety and known-quantity in staying with the same team, but isn’t the point of a co-op/internship to discover what you want (and don’t want) to do?

It also didn’t help that in my last semester at university, I realized my passion was more for hardware (or at least low-level software) than anything else. So, it was with great fortunes that my co-op interviewer was suddenly the group manager for the Windows Ecosystem team, responsible for working with our key hardware partners. So, in mid-2011, I became a partner Program Manager in Windows, working with Texas Instruments on some of the first Windows on ARM (WoA) hardware projects. I had an opportunity to work on both the hardware bring up of development systems, as well as directly with Toshiba on two hardware designs (they were slick). Unfortunately, those projects weren’t meant to be, and we concluded the OMAP work and the 2012 Windows 8/RT launch with nary a piece of released hardware.

Texas Instruments exited the majority of the consumer AP business, towards the end of 2012. With the post-Windows 8 reorg, I was given the opportunity to work with Intel, and particularly on their new breed of low-power SoC platforms: Haswell and Bay Trail-T. This assignment was the hockey-stick growth point of my nascent career. With the mentorship of my management chain and exposure to an amazing amount of corporate strategy and personnel at both Microsoft and Intel (the intersection of Microsoft and Intel is an incredibly exciting place, even today :)), I was forced to grow rapidly in technical and business acumen. Frankly, at my junior level, it was an incredible, fortunate opportunity, one which I’m grateful my team had enough faith to give me. It’s also incredibly exciting to look back after only 1.5 years of that, to see direct and indirect impacts to the ecosystem: the popular Dell Venue Pro 8 and ASUS T100 (Bay Trail-T) tablets and 2-in-1s, Windows with Bing-based products, Connected Standby Surface Pro 3 (Haswell), and just reaching the market, Bay Trail-CR Windows systems, at much more competitive price points (Toshiba Encore 2).

After 2.5 years in the Windows Ecosystem team, I began to long for direct product work, with a deeper engineering focus. Throughout my time on these SoC projects, I worked with a number of excellent teams, so started poking around for opportunities, after the Windows 8.1 wave concluded. One in particular, the Windows kernel team, rose to the top of my list. As it happened, by the time the post-launch reorgs closed, the PM lead I’d been in contact with had moved to a new team, a new team with PM openings. In that new team, I would be able to build on both my technical experience in working on low-power systems, but in a product-focused role, and my leadership and relationship skills, with internal and external organizations. With much secrecy around the project itself (I signed on without really knowing what I’d be working on), I decided to join the team, because I trusted my new group manager and I could tell by the caliber of folks, already on the team and about to join, that it was something special.

And 5 months into the new role and 4 years at the company, I look back at the projects I’ve had a chance to be a part of and the opportunities I was given, and I don’t know how events could have transpired any better to give me the breadth and depth that I have today. Plus, 4 years is a mere blink of an eye in the overall epic of one’s career and life. Certainly, a high bar has been set for the rest of it.

Commuting

A series of events conspired to lead me to purchase a bicycle, in the hopes of commuting to work with it.

  • I’m surrounded by hundreds of miles of bike trails
  • I’ve recently moved closer to work, now approximately 4 miles away
  • The path to work is almost exclusively along a nicely maintained bike trail, reducing the concern of riding with traffic
  • Microsoft generously provides reimbursement for a good chunk of fitness/exercise-related purchases each year (I never took advantage of the ProClub membership)

So a week ago, I test rode a couple bikes at REI and picked up a Novara Express road-ish bike. I’ve never had any experience with road bikes, with my childhood riding all done on mountain bikes (I remember wanting a bike with ever longer-travel shocks, for the raucous rides through the forest near the family home on PEI). My first go on one was a shock (pun intended) of a firm ride and very squirrely handling. With thin and full tires, the experience was very different.

It’ll take a while to get used to it, but I could already feel how (relatively) effortless it was to get up to speed. Perhaps too much speed for not having ridden in 10+ years.

So, before I try to ride into work on a real workday, I’m going to try to beat the heat tomorrow morning, get up early and take the proposed path to work. There’s a steep hill, ~350ft ascent on the way, which I’m a bit intimidated by. Fellow co-workers have retold their walk of shame: getting off the bike and walking it up that steep slope. It’s going to be a challenge, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to bike!

2014

The past year has been one of great learning for me. Both my wonderful girlfriend and great job combined have taught me many lessons and etched more than a year’s worth of maturity onto me. I have also become a mess of contradictions: while feeling young and invincible (still), I also sense the rapid approach of both cynicism and wisdom that often accompany old(er) age.

I know this year will be one of great change. I’m officially in the latter half of my twenties, I’ll have had 4 years of industry work experience under my belt, and big decisions to make, such as buy or rent when my lease is up (and all the associated implications that would have).

Part of the reason for my internal confusion is because I’ve been blessed with a job that has given me visibility and influence at a scope I couldn’t have begun to imagine as a relative whipper-snapper in the company. It’s been like a lanky kid going through puberty. The physical reality is there, but the mind hasn’t  grasped the entirety of what’s happened. The feeling of invincibility to have almost no fear in meetings, discussing problems and solutions with some seriously smart and senior people, while also beginning to develop the maturity to frame discussions in the right manner to achieve the best outcome. At the same time, ignorance truly can be bliss, and unfortunately, I haven’t had the luck to be spared any detail when it comes to the business or the organization.

It’s also within that context that I’ve seen my work experience drift more towards the strategic, the higher levels. I find myself missing the deep and intimate work on technically challenging problems and seeing it through to the end. In a somewhat idyllic way, I sometimes long for the all nighters in the engineering labs at university, ploughing through the latest calc assignment or FPGA design project. The goals were straightforward and little in the way of convoluted scheming was needed to accomplish them. It’s rarely that simple to do anything these days.

So, it’s with these thoughts that I enter 2014.

Prime

I spent part of the Labour Day long weekend in Vancouver, night market in Richmond, biking around Stanley Park, and hiking in West Vancouver. It was a great weekend of outdoors activity, accompanied by beautiful weather. It was a ton of fun, and at the last moment while packing, I decided to bring my neglected Nikon D600 (I figured the night market would benefit from the high ISO performance). To test out whether my interest in the Fuji X-system and its great prime lenses will work out, I brought a fast prime, the Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4. More challenging than being just a fast prime, it’s a manual focus-only lens. Not something I envied a ton, with my little experience with manual focusing and the razor-thin focal plane of a fast prime paired with a full format sensor.

What I did forget, though, is just how stunning a great sensor and lens combo can be. That’s not to say that my go-to Panasonic GX1 + 14-42mm or 20mm pancake isn’t capable of producing good photos; it’s simply that there is another tier of image quality to be achieved, if one is willing to lug around some more weight. I took a risk by opting for the 58mm as my only lens on this trip, but I’m happy I did. I discovered that it’s very enjoyable to frame and zoom with your feet. I also discovered epic image quality, again. Below is a small crop of a shot at night (full frame is inset, top-right) at ISO 1600 with no sharpening or noise reduction (aka both are set to 0 in Lightroom). Wow. This cleans up very nicely with minor tweaks. By comparison, the GX1’s sensor quickly falls apart beyond ~ISO 800.

Nikon D600 + Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4

It certainly gets me even more excited for the highly lauded X-Trans sensor on the Fuji X-E1 and great (autofocus) primes in that system, including the 35mm f/1.4!

The Island

A whirlwind two day trip back to Prince Edward Island reminded me of precisely why the province, and I can speak best about Charlottetown and its environs, is a wonderful place to grow up. The strong sense of community and inclusiveness makes it inviting and warm. The island is often visited for its natural beauty and tourism highlights, like Anne of Green Gables or its many golf courses; however, its true remark is in its people.

For 12 years, I called PEI my home, and the friends I made my extended family. So, it’s been easy for me to return when any excuse pops up. Of course, for this current trip, that reason was a good one, the marriage of a friend I’ve known for 20 years.

Beachfront

It was a beautiful wedding, set at a fantastic spot in eastern PEI, on the beach, with a gorgeous, new family home as the venue. But like the island, the scenery was but a small part of the experience. The people made it what it is. Folks I’d not seen in many years made me feel like I had never left. Other folks, whom I’ve never met before, greeted me with warmth and acceptance. With a laid back style and the refreshing lack of rushing to do the next thing, we spent the time to really catch up or to get to know each other, even if the likelihood of ever bumping into that person again is low. The rat race of the larger urban centers hasn’t touch much of the island or its inhabitants, yet.

Visiting the island has always been something of a bittersweet experience. Sweet, because everyone just picks things up where they last left off so naturally, not missing a beat. Bitter, because it’s always so short, with so many people and places not revisited. The one piece of consolation that I hold on to is that I discovered many people had traveled long distances to return to the island to be a part of this friend’s special day; I hope they’ll carry and spread that Island spirit wherever they are, not succumbing to the pressures of daily life, through the years. I’ll try harder.

P.S. Congratulations to the couple!

Reflections during vacation

As I settling into a week-long vacation back at my parents’ place, then off to a friend’s wedding on Prince Edward Island, I’ve collected several thought tidbits as I unwind and take stock of longer term projects I want to tackle.

Photography

Maybe it’s summer talking, but I’ve been more eager than I can remember to get outside, in the city, through the mountains, nearly anywhere, and bring my camera with me. Unfortunately, starting not many months after I picked up a Nikon D600 and associated full frame zooms, 90% of the occasions no longer consist of tripod-mounted or otherwise nearly stationary photo excursions. Add to that the fact that the parallel micro-4/3rds system I started is able to produce 80% of the image quality using only 30% of the weight. Case in point, I came on this vacation with my Panasonic GX1, accompanied by the 14-42mm power-zoom and the 20mm f/1.7. Absolutely tiny, but a versatile kit for many shooting situations.

However, a few things irk me about the GX1. The first is completely of my own doing. I did quite the number on the touchscreen, having, at some point in my carelessness, scratched it ruthlessly, it would appear. Switched on, it’s barely noticeable indoors, but outdoors, where the LCD is already trouble enough to see when lighting is tough, the scratches only exacerbate the issue. The second issue is that while I love the size and weight of the GX1 kit, compared to the full frame D600, composing through the LCD (even if it weren’t scratched) at arm’s length is awful. I feel less involved in the shot, my composition and framing gets lazy, and good thing the combo is light, because there’s no added stability with it hanging off the end of my arms. Lastly, unlike its brethren over at Olympus, the Panasonic cameras have never been known for great out of camera image renditions, when it comes to colours, white-balance, or default noise reduction. I find myself shooting in RAW 99% of the time, then it becomes a chore to post-process, especially when many pictures these days are simply snapshots. It’s a significant contributor to why so few pictures appear anywhere from me and why I have something like 100GB of RAW photos, yet to be processed. I really want to get out of the business of being a hunch-backed, pixel-peeping, camera-computer nerd.

So, I’ve been on the look-out for something that:

  1. Has great out of the camera quality photos (let me use the OOC JPEGs, please)
  2. Is sized much closer to the GX1, rather than the D600
  3. Sits within a system that has great lens options
  4. Provides an eye-level viewfinder, electronic is fine, if it’s good
  5. Doesn’t have a scratched screen (hopefully this one’s a given)

Best I could come up with so far is the Fuji X-E1. It helps that it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at and reviews of it largely conclude at a singular point: it gets out of the way and allows a connection between photographer and subject.

X-E1_BLC-XE1-web
Doesn’t this hark back to the good ol’ days?

The upcoming Panasonic GX7 is also technologically very interesting, but it doesn’t quite satisfy my #1 criteria, assuming Panasonic’s in-camera processing doesn’t deviate from their current trajectory. The Sony NEX series, the NEX-6, in particular, is also attractive (tons of technology, great sensor squished into a surprisingly small and cheap package), but its lens system is quite mediocre. Contrast the 3-year gestation for the NEX lens line-up to the slightly-more-than-one, for the Fuji X-series interchangeable, and you’ll see why I’d rather put my money on the latter. Fuji still knows great glass.

Design

It’s been over a year since I’ve made much in the way of changes to this site’s design, and even at that time, it was but a minor bump in the architectural road. (sidebar: I’ve also just noticed, pathetically I might add, that I’ve posted a total of 12 times this year, a run rate barely surpassing the totally anemic 17 posts I wrote in 2012.  Shame on me for not putting my thoughts down into words more often.) WordPress has, meanwhile, moved on to add some pretty neat features in subsequent Three-Dot releases. For example, in this most current iteration (3.6 “Oscar”), they’ve improved the auto-save, multi-user editing, added HTML5 audio and video players, and integration with services like Spotify.

But above all that, the particular update that has spurred me on, at least in thought, is the Twenty Thirteen theme. My own lackluster attempt at creating content-aware styling (shorts, photos, normal writing) is showcased in the current design, but it was done with little time and effort. I can now see a wonderful starting point in Twenty Thirteen to take my site’s design where I want. I’m truly looking forward to it. I’ve not had a design project to sit down through the wee hours of the morning, essentially, since university.

front-page
Look at those colours, man.

It’ll probably also help to reinvigorate my use of this blog, photography and generally get me to better document what the heck’s been going on, year after year.

Cars

Combining my recent car search with photography, and you naturally get… photos of cars!

mbc300

I’ve had the C300 for just about a month, and it’s been a wonderful ride thus far. I have much to write about, but in a nutshell, driving the Volkswagen CC to its lease return appointment made that difference between the two cars all the more noticeable. That’s not to say the CC wasn’t a nice car; I really liked it; there’s simply more than the MB badge the extra money gets you. Meanwhile, feast your eyes on these mouthwatering images of a yellow Porsche Cayman running through Swiss and Italian scenery.

Summer

As seems to coincide each year, the week of Canada Day and Independence Day brought along with them warm, muggy weather. Hasn’t seemed to make a difference that I’ve moved most of the way across the continent, this week marks the real beginning of summer weather. We’ve had a week of hot, sometimes muggy weather, as days gyrated between overcast and gloriously sun-drenched.

I took the new C300 on its first road trip to Central Washington, cherry and blueberry picking, over the weekend. Unlike the inconsistent weather closer to the coast, it was plain and simply hot and sunny. Temperatures were up in the low 90’s Fahrenheit (low to mid 30’s Celsius). The dark interior of the car didn’t help matters, sitting parked for a few hours. That said, I always enjoy the escape to instant (and nearly guaranteed) summer and sun in the interior anytime between May and September. It’s an easy 2 hour detour when the skies just aren’t working out on the coast. Note the desert shrubbery.

Mercedes C300

The pick your own cherries at Bill’s Berry Farm was especially fun. We went for Rainier’s (some people say they taste like little peaches – I didn’t quite get that, but that are very juicy and sweet) and it was satisfying to find a branch filled with fruit basking in the sun, because they were especially rosy and ripe. We also happened to be there during the Blueberry festival, with food, various booths set up, selling arts and crafts from the area. If I were younger, I’d probably be excited about getting up close with the farm animals or the hayrides, etc.

With July 4 falling on a Thursday this year, many folks, myself included, took the Friday off to create an extra-long weekend. It’s the longest I’ve been away from work since the Christmas holidays, so it was a refreshed mind that I returned to work this week. There’s one last deep breath to push through RTM, later this summer, as Tami announced. It’s an interesting time.