Back on Android (thank God) after the iPhone 5

An extract of this article was published on SemWiki Sep 7, 2013.
curseI was on the fence between an iPhone 5 and a Samsung S3. My friend Dan, the owner, curator, and big blogger on SemiWiki talked me into the iPhone 5. I cursed him daily for 6 months. I’m now back in the Android fold with a Samsung S4 and am much happier because of it.

I hate typing on the phone. When I see people banging away with two thumbs I want give them a swift kick in the pants. Having the phone respond to my voice is important. Siri nefariously understands you on occasion so you don’t totally give up. However, with a voice command more complex than “call Dan mobile” (don’t forget the mobile!) Siri will generally be hopelessly confused.
jumpA couple of weeks ago I was picking up my son at the Dublin BART station. I made the mistake of using Apple maps, as it’s reasonably well integrated with Siri. Shockingly it understood me when I said “navigate to Dublin BART”.  Unfortunately Siri told me that no exit off 580 was required. It told me I had arrived as I was passing the station that is between the East and West bound lanes. I quickly jumped out my window and was able to meet my son on time.

If you don’t use Google Voice you are missing out. You can easily forward your calls to multiple phones, you can block calls, you can get voice-mail transcribed – all sorts of good stuff. However, the iPhone doesn’t enable Google Voice to use your Google Voice number for outgoing calls. My real cell number, which I don’t want exposed, was always used by the iPhone. Now that I’m back in the Android fold, my GV  number is used for outgoing calls, as it should.

I save myself a ton of time by using Google Contacts. It’s well integrated with gmail and Google Voice. Guess what? It’s not integrated with the iPhone. It made me crazy not being able to “call Dan mobile” unless I explicitly added him as a contact on my iPhone. With Android and Google all the syncing between your life on your Windows PC and your life on the phone happens for free. I like MacBooks but they aren’t used at work, so I find them  generally more trouble than they are worth.

If you haven’t checked out Google Now, it’s a treat. Remember, Scott McNealy one of the founders of Sun Microsystems? He famously stated “there is no privacy on the internet, get over it”. Once you accept that fact you’ll appreciate Google Now snooping through your online life, including email. It will tell you when shipments you ordered from Amazon are enroute, if you plane is leaving on time, how far you are from home – in traffic, all sorts of good stuff WITHOUT YOU ASKING.

My next step is to replace my iPad 3. I do like this device, but the fact that the battery lasts all of two days makes me a little nutty. I’m not really a Samsung fan, but the Android goodness may be irresistible.

Getting Gouged by the Dog Sitter

The post is in reference to Heather Smalley, the owner of the pet sitting service For the Love of Dog… and her mother Heidi.






We had a poor experience with Heather July 27, 2013 – Aug 3, 2013. The words below were also posted to Yelp. If you think she deserves more than 2 stars, please let me know.

If you like a measure of inconsistent responses to queries about your trip and your pets, combined with a little dishonesty, Heather is for you!

Last year we were charged $80/day. In April we we contacted Heather for this year, and she quoted $90/day. Heather opted to send us a new invoice for $120/day 3 days before we left for our trip. We had no choice other than to bite the bullet as there wasn’t time to line up someone else.  During our trip she  sent us yet another invoice, including an additional $30/day. (Now $150/day!)

It’s not all doom and gloom. Heather and Heidi did a very nice job with our dogs and our garden, both last year and this year. We thought we had found a real diamond in the rough (last year) as our garden requires up to 30 minutes/day of watering and attention, and many dog sitters don’t carefully attend to it.  We had surmised it wasn’t a big deal as Heidi was supposed in the house most of the day.

The first alarming data point was when I attempted to confirm the trip, several weeks before we left. It took several days to get a response, and that was simply “I’ll set something up with Heidi”. After hearing nothing for another week we attempted to contact her multiples time via phone, email, facebook, text and got no response. We were panicking as we didn’t know if we should start looking for alternatives. She finally go back to us, via email, the Wednesday before our Sat departure.

We met with Heidi a couple of days before we left, for an overview of garden care. We mentioned that a friend of ours be would dropping by a few times over the course of the week to say hello to the dogs, and asked if there was a best time. Heidi told us she was working full time, and wouldn’t be at the house from 9:30AM -6:30PM  every day! She said not to worry as Heather would drop by mid day.

I emailed Heather telling her we were surprised by this information, and told her we needed to understand that our dogs would not be left unattended for more than 4 hours at a time. They are very large (Great Danes), and can do some real damage when they get upset. Heather didn’t respond to this email until she sent us her new (higher) invoice, well into our trip.

We left Heidi a note with details about house incidentals with a sentence right at the top saying “please email us when you arrive at the house”. We received nothing from Heidi, even after she promised to send us pictures.

Lastly, if being charged $150/day to NOT have someone there most of the time is isn’t galling enough, our dogs don’t require any walking! They are perfectly happy running up the big hill behind our house to investigate the neighbor’s dog. As the water in our hot tub was warmer than when we left, and the Bougainvillea behind the tub was half dead, I can only speculate that quite a lot of hot tubbing was going on while we were away.

Needless to say, we will not be using Heather again.


8 Reasons Why I Hate My iPhone 5


What’s in for Me: Why Should I Bother?

I’m part of a Collaboration 2.0 group which started on linkedin, and was moved over to yammer. One of the rules of the group is that you need to work at a big company and do this stuff for a living. This is a great premise! The owner/moderator is thoughtful and engaged, but the group doesn’t see a lot of traffic.

Why is this?
I believe there are a few reasons. (I’ll of course relate this back to OneStop.)

  1. The feedback loop is not well defined.
  2. The value proposition is not crystal clear.
  3. There isn’t enough in it for me.
  4. Metrics

Feedback Loop:
I’ve posted twice to the group. I thought the posts were insightful and would get a discussion going. No responses. I need feedback! Apparently the “what’s in it for me, let’s use the acronynm WIIFM” quotient wasn’t high enough for people to respond.

Value Prop (WIIFM)
I’m part of a half dozen linkedin groups. The vast majority of the posts are from consultants. The value prop for them (WIIFM) is that they are trying to raise their visibility level, (their web based stock price so to speak) and indirectly line up some work.

I started to get active on linkedin when I thought there was a chance my job would disappear. Would I have reached out otherwise? Probably, but not as aggressively. Would I have joined Collaboration 2.0? Not sure. I would probably have monitored (or lurked) to pull out good ideas.

I initiated my blog when I was up for a promotion to Principal Engineer. I didn’t do it out of the goodness of my heart or that I was inately keen on community contribution.

Organizational Credit
One of the reasons people bother to author OneStop pages is that it’s cool. (WIIFM++) They get their pictures at the top right of the pages they author, and become much more visibile in their area(s) of expertise. Most of their managers are supportive as it’s obvious that this sort of information sharing is of high value add to the company. However, this value add need to be demonstrated through…

When you see a couple of hundred hits on your page every month it becomes much easier to make the time. It also become much easier for your manager to support your efforts.

At the upper right of the header for this blog it mentions that “carefully crafted processes to make this work in the enterprise.”. Part of the process is rules of engagement. For most communities there really isn’t enough WIIFM, at least from the start. In many cases participants need to get “organizational credit”, or maybe just a direct push from their managers, to participate.

Salesforce Chatter, the “magic of Facebook and Twitter brought to the enterprise.”

Sub theme: Connecting My Professional and Personal Lives?

Wow, really has it together! I recently finished Behind the Cloud, by Marc Benioff and was blown away. These people really understand community and collaboration, and how to leverage it effectively. Marc’s very readable book is organized as a series of 111 plays (as in a football playbook). He catalogs how to build the entire business, but the playbooks on Sales, Marketing,and Technology are especially rich with collaboration examples.

As I was trolling through my morning news I was drawn to the TechCrunch Ten Technologies That Will Rock 2010. Number ten is:

Social CRM: We’ve seen the rise of Twitter and Facebook as social communication tools.  This year, those modes of realtime communication will find their way deeper into the enterprise. is set to launch Chatter, it’s realtime stream of enterprise data which interfaces with Twitter and Facebook and turn them into business tools. Startups like Yammer and Bantam Live are also making business more social.

If you are reader of this blog you noticed I started getting excited about  Twitter and Facebook in April of 2007. My enthusiasm quickly waned as most of the social networking tools did not seem very relevant to the enterprise. I got a little tired of reading the “I’m taking my daughter to the dentist” tweets. We’ve been experimenting with a twitter clone, internally, but it hasn’t gotten much traction. (We’ve been able to search it in real time for the last 18 months. :))

One of the more popular features on OneStop (read about OneStop in prior postings) is the Worth a Look section on the homepage. I try to post 3-5 items day, mostly current news items that are related to Sun. Part of my role is the “synergizer” and “consolidator” of interesting stuff. I spend a couple hours a day aborbing news. This ranges from the sources listed in Daily News in my prior post (Reading Recommendations From People You Trust), to Google alerts, to dozens of internal aliases at Sun. This also enables me to ensure that OneStop has the appropriate breadth, and the right products and technologies are covered. My thought is the users (Sun employees, mostly SEs) are busy, don’t have an hour to spend, and find the highlights useful.

Maybe too much background, but yesterday I was posting a Worth a Look item and thought “this is silly, why am I not posting this item to Facebook or Twitter?” so it will get picked up automatically by interested consumers. (Including my wordpress blog at The answer of course is that some of the items are not appropriate for outside the Sun firewall.

Will the Semantic Web solve this problem? Will content be consistently tagged with group and access control information, perhaps utilizing SecurID? Some sort of AI needs to be built in, as tagging everything manually is incredibly burdensome.

The lines between our personal and professional lives are blurring, but it still seems necessary to have distinct contexts on both sides of the enterprise firewall. Will Sales Force Chatter help fix this problem?

Reading Recommendations From People You Trust

Voracious readers, don’t you love seeing a list of Must Reads from someone you trust, who has interests similar to yours? Whenever I see such a list I get all excited, login to and buy most of them. I’m a big amazon fan and find the ratings and reviews very useful, but there is no substitute for that recommendation from someone you admire.

Note that people you respect and admire is not necessarily the same as the list of your friends, or is even a logical community or group on facebook or linkedin. It often isn’t someone you know personally.

Recommendations often come from blog posts, but they are scatter-shot. One of my favorite bloggers is Brad Feld a VC at the Foundry Group. He posted a list of his favorite books about a month ago, and I gobbled them up. He (fortunately) has a Books link on his website.

So this is the OneStop Secret Sauce blog, mostly about Building Web Community (@Sun). How do reading recommendations fit in?

Isn’t this a natural for some sort of community? It’s not a community as per facebook or linkedin, but there should be some way to consolidate reading recommendations. Therefore, we’ve established a community on SunSpace called “READ”, and we’ve seeded it with the reading lists from a bunch of notables.

For this community we hope to leverage the organization, in particular roles and job titles. The assumption is that many people will care about the books a Principal Engineer is reading, at least the technical ones. I’m interested in the business books that the execs are reading. To take this a step farther, I also care about the news sources (blogs, etc.) that the people I respect consume.

It’s important to include meta information about the books, particularly date and a short description. Categorization (and soon tags) will help a lot.

The tables below are on the Mike Briggs page of the READ community, categorized into Daily News, Business Related, and Fiction or Just Good Reads,  Sorry, the community is only available on the Sun internal network. Maybe Brad will do one for his large external audience. :)

Daily News

Name Description
TechCrunch Ode to Mike Arrington. The emphasis is “obsessively profiling and reviewing new Internet products and companies”
Business Insider started as the Silicon Alley Insider. Run by Henry Blodget, the former equity research analyst, now barred from the securities industry. This one is my favorite and the one I read first.
TechMeme includes current popular stories (particularly blog postings) on technology. Story selection is accomplished via computer algorithm extended with direct human editorial input.
GigaOm launched by Om Malik in 2006. Known for providing in-depth analysis of developing news stories

Business Related

Title Author Published Description
Googled: The End of the World as We Know It Ken Auletta Oct 2009 The best google book I’ve read by far. Thoughtful and content full
A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers Lawrence McDonald July 2009 Learn a lot about Wall Street from a real trader. Very well written.
The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook. A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal Ben Mizrich July 2009 Very simplistic. A fast read. Not Mezrich’s best effort.
Behind the Cloud: Untold Story of Marc Benioff Oct 2009 Awesome. Contains a catalog of how to leverage community and collaboration.

Fiction or Just Good Reads

Title Author Published Descriiption
South of Broad Pat Conroy August 2009 Every bit as good as Conroy favorites such as Prince of Tides, Lords of Discipline, and The Great Santini
The Guinea Pig Diaries A.J Jacobs Sep 2009 Jacob’s book Living Biblically is also a fun read.

Better Search with Predictive Typing: Can We Do it Better Than Google ?

Many of my favorite sites including google, linkedin, and netflix now have excellent predictive typing support. It strikes me that we should be able to do the same thing on SunSpace, and maybe do it better.In the case of Google, the suggestions returned will be what others are searching for. This list is  influenced  by your own search history.

The Netflix engine searches the universe of Movies and Actors. The list displayed is influenced by the popularity.

Your Linkedin type ahead universe is populated mostly by your connections.

We should be able to take the best attributes of the above!

On SunSpace we have more information to work with. Like Netflix we are searching a bounded universe. There are tens of thousands of movies and actors to select from, verses hundreds of millions of documents in the google index. In SunSpace we have less that 150,000 objects to work with, and lots of information on each object.

On SunSpace we know. (This is all tracked via opaque handles)

  1. Search terms used, for you and for all users on the system.
  2. The documents and wiki pages that were found via search and the search terms used, for you and for all users on the system.

Thanks to Community Equity we also know a lot about each user and each wiki page and document in the system.

  1. Information Value of each document or wiki page.
  2. Meta data for each document and wiki page. (author, tags, last modified, etc.)
  3. Equity value for each user. (based mostly on Information Value of the documents they own.)

As an example, let’s say we are searching for Cloud Computing. Google gives the the following list of recommendations:

Cloud Computing
Cloud Computing Companies
Cloud Computing Wikis
Cloud Computing Leaders
Cloud Computing Stocks
Cloud Computing Architecture

In SunSpace we can provide you not only with the recommendation of the search term, but also

  1. the most popular cloud computing documents people have found with search
  2. cloud computing documents with the highest information value
  3. interesting meta data for each document.

I believe that people generally utilize type ahead as a time saver, verses as a recommendation engine, so we need to make sure the “expected” results appear at the top of the list. If a user as typing in “cloud computing” in a prior search, that term, and the document the user selected from the results list should appear first.

As a bonus, we can match against the corporate directory in real time, and provide phone numbers and locations for individuals. This is normally a 10-20 second endeavor using the IT supported tool.

Posted at 06:09AM Dec 29, 2009 by Michael Briggs in Sun  |  Comments[0]

Disintermediation is the Friend of a Good Website

dis·in·ter·me·di·a·tion [dis-ˌin-tər-ˌmē-dē-ˈā-shən]
According to Wikipedia, disintermediation is the removal of intermediaries in a supply chain: “cutting out the middleman”.

This morning I ascended the bully pulpit and gave our team a speech as to why our OneStop pages are an order of magnitude more popular than other pages we produce. (We produce pages for different sites/user communities including the public, partners, and sales people.)

As I’ve written about, prior, people like OneStop because the content is complete, accurate, up to date, and is in a consistent format. Easy enough, right? Not really. The question is, what ingredients are necessary, in the secret sauce, to produce this quality content?

The page(s) need to be owned by the content expert, or minimally some who is well versed in the content AND in the needs and expectations of the users. On OneStop we have the person’s name, picture, and country flag on the page. The quality of the page is a direct reflection of the author.

Most of the sites our group works with are based on a structured update process. The content creator needs to submit a request with the update. It then goes through a couple of people for approval on correctness and completeness, and then goes to a web person for posting. This process can be time consuming, and often something is lost in translation. On OneStop the owner does the actual posting. The corollary to this rule is that it Needs to be Easy.

The owner needs to be a user
The best pages are the ones that the owner uses every day. This is the only was to get a gut feel for whether the page works. Are the items in the right order? Is it easy to find the highest priority items? Are there bad links? Is response time fast? Is the page always available? Many of the best pages on OneStop are authored by SEs. As SEs talk to customers every day, and use OneStop to look up information to support these customers, they can do an optimal job of creating a page that is useful for other SEs.

Needs to pass the what’s in it for me test

It can be a decent amount of work to maintain a popular OneStop page. Having an author’s name and picture featured prominently on the page gives credit where credit is due. Note that in a intermediated site the content contributor is often invisible.

Working feedback loop

I’m a glutton for feedback. [Particularly positive feedback. :) ] Bloggers are heavily reliant on comments and stats, often via google analytics. Internal content contributors often aren’t so lucky. On OneStop we make a big effort to make as much data as possible easy available. I think of it as positive reinforcement.

Ask the users
On OneStop it is necessary to login, so we know who views, updates, and comments on a page.
In my experience, users love when you reach out to them. It shows you care and want to increase the quality and effectiveness of the page. There is always what I call a gem in the responses, a really good idea that you can readily implement.

As a closing thought, I like to emphasize people over tools and mechanism. It’s not that I don’t like mechanism, I’m a huge google fan (search, gmail, talk, reader, docs, etc.) However, I’d bet dollars to donuts that the developers use almost all the tools – on a daily basis – to do their jobs. See owner needs to be a user above.

Wiki Gardening in the Enterprise

Web heads refer to the term wiki gardening. This is basically controlling the content in your wiki. Wiki gardening is easily manageable for wikis that are internal to an enterprise, but is more challenging for wikis that contain company content that is shared with partners and customers.
Sun has a large and vibrant website for partners, called Sun Partner Advantage Membership Center or Partner Portal. Partners can utilize the Partner Portal for everything from pricing information, to training, to product and program information. “The Portal” , in general, utilizes the walled garden approach. The Sun Partner  team both accepts and solicits content, massages it appropriately, formats, and publishes it. The advantages are obvious. The content is consistent, reasonably up to date, and only the appropriate content is shared.

But wait! There are occasions where more and better resources are available to employees, than partners. This is because publishing content to an internal wiki (yes, I’m referring to OneStop. This is the OneStop Secret Sauce blog after all.) is easier. It’s much faster as there is no process or approval involved, and there are no worries about confidentiality or appropriateness of content. There are no forms or mechanism, it’s basically WYSIWYG and update in place. It enables Self publishing so that the content expert is able to make the changes directly. Nothing is lost in translation, as compared to content making it’s way through the process.

With our PartnerSpace project we hope to offer the best of both worlds. The goal of PartnerSpace is to make appropriate partner ready content that is behind the Sun firewall easily available to partners. The core of PartnerSpace is an easily consumable (by content providers) set of publishing guidelines. These guidelines include:

  1. Publishing Rules, including privacy and confidentiality guidelines.
  2. Content traits, as we need to happily coexist with PartnerWeb.
  3. Style suggestions, for consistency.

Perhaps the most important part of PartnerSpace is the definition of roles. Each wiki page, or family of wiki pages, that are made available to partners has a moderator. Content creators and owners stage a page in a Sun only area, and only when it is scanned and approved by the moderator does it become available to partners.

OneStop for Partners is the first instance of the Partner Space project. We are already seeing interesting phenomenon that we didn’t expect. It turns out that some of the low hanging fruit is content that doesn’t  fit easily into the existing Partner Portal or Sun organizational model. Two examples thus far are the Partner HPC Resource Center and the Solutions area. We are moving aggressively to complete OneStop for Partners with the traditional core of product, technology, and program information.

Technocrat for Partners

The Technocrat is an internal Sun newsletter primarily targeted to customer-facing engineers. The goal is to make them feel plugged in with respect to products, technology and tools. As of June, the Technocrat is available to Sun Partners.

Aren’t newsletters so 90s?
Yes and no. Newsletters certainly don’t offer the virtues of social networking and collaboration. What they do offer is a push mechanism that enables us to highlight current news, what’s working with our tools and communities, and snapshot summaries.

The most popular regular feature in the Technocrat is Interesting Stuff You Might Have Missed. It comprises interesting bits (white papers, feature articles, etc.) from various websites including and BigAdmin. The majority of items are links to good blog postings.

People are busy and it takes a long time to scan the latest and greatest on web sites, blogs, and wikis. The world is getting there with better search, feed readers, and the Semantic Web, but as of now there really isn’t a great substitute for having a human with similar interests do this for you.

Lightweight is Good
The Technocrat offers a lightweight mechanism to share content. The editorial review is quick; the main rule is that the content be relevant and interesting to customer-facing engineers. If a contributor wants to spend (substantially more) time on a more formalized vehicle, BluePrints, White Papers, or writing a book is the way to go. You can always do a blog posting, but unless you’ve spent the time to acquire an audience, not many people will see it.

Most articles are between 500 and 2000 words. Does anyone remember Jeff Goldblum’s character, Michael Gold, in the 1983 movie  The Big Chill? Michael was a writer for People magazine. He stated that articles were never longer than you could read during the average bathroom stay.

The Brand Means Something
We’ve been publishing the Technocrat for seven years, and internally at Sun it is acknowledged as valuable. If your article is included, there is a good chance people will see it. To receive the Technocrat, you have to subscribe — we don’t spam mailing lists or aliases out of principle. The subscriber base is currently around 2000.

To Come Full Circle
My heart was warmed when I received an email from Trevor Pretty, a Partner SE in New Zealand. He was a Sun employee for years, and was regarded by many as a star. The Subject of the email was Technocrat for partners – Feels like I’ve never left :-). I’m truly excited to be able to provide a mechanism that helps our customer facing engineering community share their considerable knowledge and expertise with our partners.