Google’s Folly

If you leave your door unlocked and someone enters your house for nefarious purposes, can you blame your lock manufacturer? Will you switch to a new brand of lock? Or if you open the door and pickup the the strange package you weren’t expecting from your doorstep, take it into your home and open it, do you sue the contractor or architect who built your house when it explodes? Do you declare your house to be unsafe and abandon it to live in a shed?

Well, it seems that if you’re Google, you do.

PC World reports today that Google has announced by leak that they will abandon Windows, blaming Microsoft for the Chinese invasion they suffered in January. Anyone with the slightest bit of brains knows this is an economic and political stunt and has nothing to do with security. The Trojan that Google claims allowed the Chinese hackers into their computers was, according to Symantec, entirely preventable.

Now, five months later we learn that rather than admitting the embarrassing fact that they either left the door unlocked (had un-patched machines) or invited the hackers in (opened attachments on vulnerable machines), Google is announcing that they will toss out their rival’s OS to spite their own face. Instead they will jump on the Linux for the Desktop and Mac OS bandwagon.

That’s fine. It’s a free country. But Google is just as big a target now as they were then and any honest security expert will tell you that Linux and Mac OS vulnerabilities exist and are ripe for exploitation. When Google is attacked again after having put its head in the sand, who will it blame then?

The bottom line is that you cannot blame your security failures on the lock manufacturer or the contractor who built your house if you’re not even willing to lock the door or question the anonymous package left at your doorstep. This is Google’s folly. They have opted for an effectively placed marketing jab against an opponent while leaving their left flank exposed for another Chinese hack attack. When it comes, will they blame the President of the United States or the Secretary General of the U.N.? Or will Google take responsibility for its own security?

Convert Pressure to Deliver into Positive Energy and Thinking

Lately I've become alarmed at the negative level of my thinking at times with respect to my work which can then spill over into my personal life. I've been wondering how I can more consistently harness all the latent energy in the pressure to deliver within the constraints of limited resources, tight deadlines and even tighter budgets and convert that to more positive thinking.

I know the value of positive thinking and the resultant self-reinforcing confidence. It leads to greater achievement, productivity and happiness. And yet negative thinking can so easily overwhelm us when the deck seems stacked against us.

I was pondering this question when I remembered a post from Seth Godin called The Problem with Positive Thinking. Here's part of it:

“All the evidence I've seen shows that positive thinking and confidence improves performance. In anything. ... Key question then: why do smart people engage in negative thinking? Are they actually stupid? ... Negative thinking protects us and lowers expectations. ... If positive thinking was easy, we'd do it all the time. Compounding this difficulty is our belief that the easy thing (negative thinking) is actually appropriate, it actually works for us. The data is irrelevant. We're the exception, so we say. Positive thinking is hard. Worth it, though.“ (Seth Godin, September 2009)

Tomorrow, I will actively think more positively. I will lay aside negative thoughts and entertain only the positive. I will convert and harness the energy of the pressure to deliver and channel that energy into positive, productive valuable thinking. Wish me luck!

Analysis Paralysis: Ten Strategies for Getting Off the Thought Pot

Do you have a hard time making decisions? Even the most decisive of us can get caught in the headlights of the oncoming project train, unable to choose left, right or straight ahead. Here’s a few strategies that I’ve found useful and sometimes forgotten about while stuck on the software development analysis thought pot.

  1. Ready, aim, fire! Research, evaluate, decide. Hesitation breeds doubt. Doubt is the father of indecision. Make a reasonable degree of confidence your standard and avoid looking for absolute guarantees. There are none.
     
  2. Put away fear of failure and accept the fact that there is more than one acceptable outcome to life’s challenges, including your project. Learn from mistakes but don’t be too afraid to make new ones.
     
  3. Begin. Make a start. Act. No journey or decision can ever be taken without the first step. Make a small decision, take action and then improve on your progress by evaluating regularly. Take digestible course correction decisions. Don’t derail your project by overcorrecting and rolling the bus at full speed.
     
  4. Set a decision deadline and stick to it. Lay out an incremental research and evaluation plan with a list of questions you need answers to in order to make your decision. If you don’t have a perfect answer, enumerate what you have anyway and incorporate it into your final decision.
     
  5. When the problem is too big and the decision too overwhelming, break it down into smaller, more specific pieces. Apply the strategies you find effective on the more manageable elements. Do that until you’ve put all the pieces together and before you know it, the puzzle will be complete.
     
  6. If the outcomes of the decision, regardless of the choice, are equally acceptable, flip a coin. Move on. Don’t waste time dwelling on equally acceptable paths to different but relatively satisfying conclusions.
     
  7. Go crazy. Make a choice even if you don’t have a reasonable level of confidence. Get off the ice berg and start swimming. Something will happen and that will lead to something else. It might turn out to have been a mistake, but at least you’ll have momentum on your side. A moving car is far easier to turn around than one that is parked.
     
  8. Put things into perspective. This project decision you’re worrying about, the one keeping you up at nights. Can it compare with watching your kid’s school play? Will your client attend your kid’s wedding? Or your funeral? Beyond successful completion or abject miserable failure on the project, will the outcome have a permanent impact on your life in the long term? Will it matter to your grandkids? Perspective can be a powerful decision making tool.
     
  9. If you can’t take the plunge off the high dive, run an experiment. Try out your decision on a smaller scale. See what happens. Take the results and boldly make the real decision.
     
  10. Change your point of view. Look for a distraction. Take a walk in a Japanese garden. See a movie. Read a good book. Take your wife on a date. Go to church. Do something to get away from it all, even if just for a few hours. Then come back with a few oxygenated brain cells and make a decision. Ready, aim, fire!

What strategies have you found useful when stuck, unable to make a critical choice on a project? I’d love to hear from you.

Update: I know these are generalized platitudes, but sometimes a good platitude can spark the inspiration one needs to find a specific solution to a real problem.

Why I Would Like to Work for Warren Buffett

In his annual letter to shareholders, Warren Buffett wrote (emphasis added):

“We tend to let our many subsidiaries operate on their own, without our supervising and monitoring them to any degree. That means we are sometimes late in spotting management problems and that both operating and capital decisions are occasionally made with which Charlie and I would have disagreed had we been consulted. Most of our managers, however, use the independence we grant them magnificently, rewarding our confidence by maintaining an owneroriented attitude that is invaluable and too seldom found in huge organizations. We would rather suffer the visible costs of a few bad decisions than incur the many invisible costs that come from decisions made too slowly – or not at all – because of a stifling bureaucracy.

There are times when working in an enterprise can be frustrating because there are individuals who deliberately and regularly hinder your work while hiding behind the plausible deniability and comfortable safety of that stifling bureaucracy of which Warren Buffett so sagely speaks.

The question is what to do when you find yourself in that situation. There can be only three answers, I believe. Either you succeed in spite of the efforts of well seasoned bureaucrats and hope that attrition wins the day or you fail while trying or even give up somewhere along the line, resigning yourself to failure. The third alternative is that you find another ball field and another team on which to play and never look back.

Which one would you choose?

Critical Distinction Between IEnumerable and IQueryable in LINQ to SQL or EF

I rarely just parrot-link another blogger’s post, but I’m going to make an exception here to give props to Chris Sells and his excellent “The Performance Implications of IEnumerable vs. IQueryable.”

Chris, the venerated Microsoft Legend, walks us through a great example of where the use of IEnumerable vs IQueryable can get you into trouble. With a simple swap, Chris goes from returning every row in a table to a simple count(*).

The critical thing to learn is that IQueryable is “composable” meaning that you can make one from another before executing the final “outer” query and having the composed expression parsed and executed.

One additional note, however, is the gotcha that can bite you on the keester if you’re not careful. With an IQueryable dependent upon a data context, don’t lose the context or you’ll end up with:

ObjectDisposedException: Cannot access a disposed object. Object name: 'DataContext accessed after Dispose.'.

So watch out for the dangling context. :)

Third Party UI Libraries Can Be Overkill

The question of the value of third party UI libraries has often come up in my career. At one time I was an eager advocate of using a comprehensive UI library. Now my attitude is a bit more pragmatic.

Third party UI libraries are sometimes a boon and sometimes a bane. Even for well seasoned UI frameworks. UI libraries for web applications tend to be particularly troublesome because they so often have a clumsy, heavyweight configuration and API that end up requiring more time to use than they save while the vendors race to win the feature count contest.

For some years, the trend seemed to lean toward the use of UI libraries because building a UI by hand was hard regardless of whether you were working with spaghetti script or with Win32 and MFC. Now Microsoft's toolset supports a much richer set of UI paradigms making the delivery of a great UI much easier right out of the box. The trend seems to be gravitating away from reliance on third party controls toward a more simplified user interface style with a more elegant framework relying more on convention than a feature bloated configuration and black box API.

One area where UI libraries seem to continue to do well, in my view of course, is with Silverlight and WPF (XAML) applications. These UI frameworks and their supporting third party UI control sets seem to have been made for each other. Both rely heavily on the powerful UI declarative language XAML. The rich user interfaces that can be spun up using Silverlight or WPF can be intoxicating.

Ultimately, we need to use UI libraries judiciously, being careful not to overuse them where requirements and the effort needed to learn and configure them are not warranted. One could argue that the limited way in which many third party controls are used in a variety of applications provide us with a bountiful set of examples of the gratuitous overuse of these libraries. Sometimes all you need is a good closet and the kitchen sink that comes with that room builder toolkit is just plain old overkill.

iPad is Ender’s Desk or Its Precursor

I love Orson Scott Card’s books. My first and still all time favorite is Ender’s Game.

If you’re not a fan, go read the book anyway. If you are, you already know what I’m talking about. The iPad is Ender’s desk, or perhaps its precursor.

Here’s a composite I just made thinking of this concept. One image from Apple and the other from a very innovative early childhood education software company called Imagine Learning.

endersdesk

I’ve never wanted to own an Apple produce product (slip of the finger, but an apple is a fruit after all) or develop software for it until now.

When I think of the amazing ways that educational content and interactivity could be delivered to students using this device, I get very excited. And I imagine a very smart kid hacking the device and sending rude messages to another student. That makes me more excited for the future of technology than anything I’ve seen lately.

Silverlight 4 Enterprise Stack: WCF RIA Services, MVVM and MEF

The .NET technology map keeps expanding, but I have my eye on one particular continent, a little piece of the .NET 4 world I’m calling the Silverlight 4 Enterprise Stack. There seems to be focus coalescing on this important piece of technology real estate.

The Patterns & Practices team blog has a great post looking into the enterprise crystal ball. Be sure to check out their Prism (Composite Application Guidance) on CodePlex.

The primary pieces of the Silverlight 4 Enterprise Stack are:

Other supporting players in the stack are:

With the eminent release of these technologies on April 12, we the Enterprise Software rank and file have much to look forward to in terms of new toys to play with while delivering some amazing new user experiences in the enterprise world.

If you want to keep tabs on the Silverlight 4 Enterprise Stack, be sure to set your RSS reader to tap into these key bloggers:

For us enterprise software geeks, the year 2010 is shaping up to be a very good year!