Linkdump for July 25th through September 21st

Sometime between July 25th and September 21st, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

Markdown is the new Word 5.1

From Markdown is the new Word 5.1:

There’s a way out of this loop of bouncing between cluttered word processors and process-centric writing tools, a way to avoid having cater to Clippy’s every whim while not having to hide your own work from yourself in order to concentrate. People have been saying for years that Word 5.1 needs to be ported to Mac OS X; that having that program running on current hardware would be the ideal solution to all of these problems with writing tools.

The truth is, there’s a solution now that’s most of the way there: Markdown and a good text editor. That’s the new Word 5.1. Think about it: a program like TextMate (I use TextWrangler. –mh) has almost no window chrome, and opens almost instantly. You start typing, and that’s all you have to do. I bring up Gruber because he invented Markdown, which lets you do basic formatting of text without really having to sweat much else. The types of formatting you don’t need aren’t even available to you when writing Markdown in a text editor, so you never have to deal with them.

Markdown will never be unreadable by a program, because it’s just ASCII text. It’s formatted, but if you’re reading the raw text, it’s not obscured the way a raw HTML file is. Any decent editor will give you a word count and can use headings as section and chapter breaks. With MultiMarkdown the options get even crazier: render your text file as a LaTeX document, or straight to PDF, or any number of other things. All from a text file and an editor with a minimal interface.

Almost all of my writing for many, many years now has been in a text editor using Markdown-formatted text. I’m using Markdown formatting for this blog post (which WordPress then automatically translates into HTML), I’ve written many, many discussion board posts for school in Markdown format before pasting them into BlackBoard, and I use Markdown formatting whenever I’m writing email messages.

I’m in that set of people who fondly remember Word 5.1, and miss the days of having a word processor that was actually a word processor, not an overblown attempt to do absolutely everything ever related to desktop publishing all at once (even Apple’s Pages, while far preferable to any post-5.1 version of Word, is far more than just a simple word processor). My senior year of high school, I booted my Mac Classic into Mac OS 6 with one 1.44 MB floppy; another 1.44 MB floppy held Word 5.1 and every paper I wrote that year.

Those days will never come again, admittedly. But a simple text editor and Markdown formatting is all that’s really needed.

Microsoft Excel .xls and .xlsx weirdness

I’ve been attempting to troubleshoot some issues with sending Excel files back and forth between my Mac at home and a professor who uses a Mac at home and a Windows PC at school. Even though we’re both using current versions of Excel, and though the files opened fine on her Mac, she was having consistent problems on the Windows machine.

After a few days of back-and-forth and trying to narrow things down, here’s what I’ve come up with.

For some reason, though Excel:mac2008 (hey, that’s how the ‘About’ screen writes the product name, don’t blame me) uses the new XML-based file structure, when saving files, it uses the old standard .xls file extension. Oddly, at least on my machine, it is behaving like this even though Preferences… > Compatibility > Transition > Save files in this format: is set to “Excel Workbook (.xlsx)”.

(And as an aside, why must there be an open workbook to access Excel’s preferences dialog box?)

Current versions of Excel on the Windows side of the fence, however, use (and expect) the .xlsx extension. Same file types, but different extensions, and this causes confusion. When Excel (Windows) sees the .xls extension, it expects a different type of data than it does when opening a document with the .xlsx extension, and it chokes when attempting to open the file.

The solution? Manually change the extension to .xlsx before e-mailing the file.


Windows 7 + Digital River = Headaches

Yet another item in the “why I’m a Mac user” file, and the “we’re never buying another Windows-based PC” file.*

Back on September 18th, I bookmarked an article detailing a special program Microsoft had set up for college students, offering the Windows 7 upgrade for $29 dollars. While I’m definitely a Mac user, we do have Hermie, our PC laptop, and this seemed like a reasonable deal. I went to the website, put in my college e-mail address, and got the process started, placing an order for the digital download and paying the extra $13 for a physical installation DVD to be set via snailmail.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long before things started to go all pear-shaped. The following is the text of a support request I sent to Digital River, the company handling the digital sales and distribution for the program, through their website:

Selected Reasons: Order question – I received an error message.

Shopper Email: [me]

Shopper Comments: Store error?

I just had what appears to be a catastrophic error when attempting to place my order for the $29 Windows 7 special student price. On my first attempt, I made it through to the final ‘checkout’ button, when the store stalled for a minute or two, then came back with an error message (unfortunately, I didn’t save the message, so I can’t relate exactly what it was).

When I reloaded the store and again attempted to place my order, I am now being told that I am not eligible for this upgrade, even though the initial check of my e-mail address indicated that I was, and allowed me to place the order (until the error message appeared).

At this point, I’m not sure if my order has been placed or not. I’ve not yet received any sort of e-mail confirmation, which seems to indicate that my order does not exist, but the ‘ineligible’ error message might mean that the system thinks I have placed an order, and is preventing me from placing a second order.

Additionally, I’ve been receiving the following error from the webserver while attempting to submit this error report:

Access Denied

You don’t have permission to access "" on this server.

Reference #18.64d32d0.1253551495.12f2e3d

This forced me to find this customer service page on the main Digital River website, rather than being able to use the customer service page on the Windows 7 US Online Store.

Any assistance, including confirmation of whether or not my order has

actually been placed, would be greatly appreciated.

Three days later, on September 22nd, I got the following response:

Thank you for contacting the Windows 7 Offer online store.

We show that the payment for order number XXXXX has been received and is awaiting clearance through the bank. This process may take up to 14 days from the date payment was received. Once the payment has cleared, you will be notified via email. If you purchased a digital product, it will become available for download after the funds have cleared.

Order Number : XXXXX


Mark V.

Windows 7 Offer online store

Customer Service

Email ID: 11915177

Time passes…

I never did get any e-mail confirmation of my order, and the payment took a lot longer than 14 days. Yesterday I checked my bank accounts online, and saw that the charge from Digital River had finally gone through on October 27th, more than a month after I had placed the order. Still, at least that was confirmation that they had received and processed my order. I went to the Digital River site, plugged in my order number, and was finally able to download the Windows 7 installation.

So, yesterday morning, I get the upgrade process started. The initial download was a small, 346k installation manager. I open that, and it begins the two-hour process of downloading the full Windows 7 installation package.

Two hours later, it’s ready to go. I run the installer, it chews on things for a while, checks for online updates, chews on things a little longer, and then tells me that I need to complete two steps before proceeding: I must uninstall iTunes, and restart Hermie because of some system updates the installer had changed. Okay, fine. iTunes goes away, and I restart Hermie.

Once Hermie restarts…um, well, now what? The installation process didn’t automatically restart. There’s no standalone installer that I can see, either on my desktop or in my Downloads folder. Odd. Maybe it’s all handled through that initial little download manager? I open that up, and a few minutes later, I’m watching the download counter slowly crawl through another two hour download process, as apparently whatever it downloaded the first time disappeared during the restart process. At this point, I have to head off to school, so I just let a few choice words fly and wander off, letting the machine do its thing.

That night, I come home from school. The download is finished, so I start the installation process again. This time the installer seems happy, and proceeds chug away, after warning me that the process will take “a few hours.” A few hours indeed — two hours later, it’s still installing, and I go to bed.

Which brings us up to this morning. When I check Hermie, it looks like the install has gone swimmingly, and Windows is happily sitting and waiting, asking me to type my Windows product key. “You can find your Windows product key on a label included with the package that came with your copy of Windows. The label might also be on your computer case.”

Hm. Well, since this was a digital download, I don’t have a package. Maybe, as this was a digital download, they just need the old Vista product key? I dig out Hermie’s box, find the Vista product key, type it in…no go. Okay, so apparently, I’m actually supposed to have a Windows 7 product key somewhere. Not really surprising, but I’m more than a little curious as to where it might be.

Back to Digital River’s site. I poke around the customer service pages and find out that the product key was supposed to be e-mailed to me. Hey, I’ll bet that that was part of the e-mail that I never got because the website crashed! Oh, goodie.

So, the following two e-mail messages go off to Digital River, this time directly to “Mark” at the e-mail address that replied to my first message:

Hi Mark —

On or about September 20th or 21st, I submitted a support request through Digital River’s main site regarding my issues ordering the special $29 student price edition of the Windows 7 upgrade. You replied to me on the 22nd, letting me know that despite my problems with the website, my order had been received and was merely awaiting clearance through my bank. I’ve included the discussion thread with my original request and your response below.

The good news is that the order did finally go through — I saw the entry on my bank statement yesterday, and was able to log in and download the Windows 7 installer. I let the installer run overnight, and everything seemed to be going well. Unfortunately, the bad news is that (I assume) because of the issues with the website when I originally placed my order, I never received an e-mail confirmation or receipt for my order. And, of course, it is this e-mail confirmation that contains the Windows 7 Product Key necessary to complete the install and activate Windows. At the moment, I have a computer that has a legally purchased and installed copy of Windows 7, but is of no more use than a doorstop because of the lack of a product key.

I’ve tried every avenue I can think of to find the key on the Digital River website. While I can log in and view my Order Details page, which verifies my order number, date, status, and billing and shipping addresses, that page does not display my product key. It does offer a helpful-looking button titled “View Invoice”, however, clicking on that, rather than showing me my invoice, instead sends me to the main Registration page on the site that asks for my educational institution e-mail address to verify that I’m eligible for the program.

I’ve paid for the software, the money has been deducted from my account, I’ve installed the software, and my computer is now useless due to some bug in the Digital River system. Please have someone find my invoice or receipt and send me my product key so I can use the software I’ve purchased…and my computer.

An addendum to the attached message that I sent approximately 40 minutes ago:

I have just checked my physical e-mail box, and though the charge from Digital River was deducted from my bank account on Oct. 27th (incidentally, more than a month after I initially placed the order), I have not yet received the physical DVD that I ordered (which I’m hoping would also have the product activation key as part of the package, though at this point, I’m less than optimistic). Do you have any idea when my installation DVD shipped, the expected shipping time, or (best case scenario) a tracking number?

In addition to sending the e-mail off, I also decided to see if I could call Digital River and actually speak to a customer support representative. Of course, Digital River doesn’t have a customer support phone number anywhere on their site that I can easily find, so I turn to Google…and boy, was that an education. Searching for ‘digital river customer service phone number‘ brings up a whole lot of reasons not to trust ordering anything from Digital River — including this battle from 2001, indicating that in eight years, they still haven’t managed to figure out their process — something that I wish I’d known before starting this whole process.

I do find a phone number for Digital River customer service listed on this customer service contact page from an entirely different company. Calling that number just gets me a recorded message from Digital River telling me that the number is no longer in service…but at least they are kind enough to give me another number to call.

For the record: as of November 6th, 2009, Digital River’s customer service phone number is (952) 253-1234.

So, at 7:57 a.m., I call. I speak to a polite young Indian lady who tells me her name is “Jay,” who checks and verifies my order, and tells me that I should get an email at my CWU email address in “about fifteen to twenty minutes” with my product key. The whole phone call takes all of about five minutes, so some small kudos to Digital River on that score: once you can find someone, they’re relatively polite and efficient. I thank her, and start writing this blog post. It’s now 8:52 a.m., long past the “fifteen to twenty minute” window that I was given, and no email has arrived yet. Yeah, any points Digital River got from their phone etiquette have been quite handily counteracted.

And that’s where the matter stands right now. I’m lucky in that Hermie is a backup machine, not a primary for either myself or Prairie, so it’s not catastrophic that it’s currently out of commission. I’ll keep fighting with Digital River, but if this goes on for more than another day or so with no product key, no physical installation DVD (with product key), and an inoperative computer, then I’ll be using the backup install DVD that came with Hermie to go back to Vista and start arguing for a refund instead.

What a completely crappy experience. Thanks, Digital River, and thanks, Microsoft, for choosing such a stellar business partner.

Update: After waiting for a full hour after the stated 20-minute window, I called back and spoke to another representative. This time, I had him send the email to my Gmail account, and kept him on the phone until it appeared. When it did appear, the email was very helpful in explaining how to download and install the Windows 7 upgrade…but said absolutely nothing about the product key. I explained this to the representative, even narrating exactly what happened when I followed the link in the email he had just sent me, until it finally sank in that yes, I had downloaded Windows 7, and yes, I had installed it, and yes, I still needed the product key!

Finally, he admitted that there seemed to be something going wrong, and read me my product key, character by character. Once again making sure to keep him on the phone, I read the product key back to him as I entered it in…and, finally, success! The box blinked away, and Windows 7 finally finished installing.

So, an eventual acceptable ending. But wow. What an incredible amount of frustration to get there. Any bets on whether that physical installation DVD ever shows up?

* A quick aside to the zealots: yes, I’m perfectly aware that this post details an issue primarily with Digital River, and only slightly with Microsoft. However, as I’ve never had a customer service experience quite this frustrating with Apple or an Apple-related company, and as I wouldn’t be having this experience were it not for attempting to upgrade a Windows-based PC, the Microsoft/non-Apple-PC side of things ends up being the target of my ire. Perhaps it’s not entirely fair, but that’s just how it is.

Bloggers’ Rights and Blogophobia

With the news of another weblogger losing his job because of posts on his weblog — this time Joe of the Woolamaloo Gazette — the issues of what webloggers can and cannot expect to be able to post on their weblogs has started bubbling ’round the blogosphere again.

This time, Ellen Simonetti of Queen of Sky, who lost her job as a flight attendant due to pictures she posted on her weblog, has started a project she’s called the Bloggers’ Bill of Rights. I’ve had a few people e-mail me about this (including Ellen herself), but I’ve been holding off on posting anything about it until I’d had some time to think about it.

The Bloggers’ Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights reads as follows:

We, the inhabitants of the Blogosphere, do hereby proclaim that bloggers everywhere are entitled to the following basic rights:



  1. If an employer wishes to discipline an employee because of his/her blog, it must first establish clear-cut blogging policies and distribute these to all of its employees.
  2. Blogging employees shall be given warning before being disciplined because of their blogs.
  3. NO ONE shall be fired because of his/her blog, unless the employer can prove that the blogger did intentional damage to said employer through the blog.

Blogophobic companies, who violate the Bloggers’ Bill of Rights, will be blacklisted by millions of bloggers the world over.

After running this around in my head for a couple days to be sure of where I stood on this, I’ve got to admit that I may end up taking a rather unpopular stance — but I can’t help but think that while I appreciate the ideals behind this, this particular effort seems rather silly, pointless, and unlikely to be of any real consequence.

First off, there’s the simple fact that this is not a real “Bill of Rights” in any real legal sense (which Ellen has made sure to call attention to). Well-intentioned as it is, it carries no weight whatsoever beyond that which the participants give it, and as the sole participants are going to be those webloggers who sign on to it, it makes the whole thing pretty one-sided.

As for the three points of the Bill:

  1. If an employer wishes to discipline an employee because of his/her blog, it must first establish clear-cut blogging policies and distribute these to all of its employees.

    While a specific, targeted, “clear-cut blogging policy” sounds good, and there are a few companies starting to implement such things, I ‘m not entirely sure if it’s a necessary thing in most cases, and it seems rather redundant if you’re working under a Non-Disclosure Agreement.

    Terrance has been thinking about this side of it more than I have:

    But what should a corporate policy on blogging look like? That’s something I never quite got back to wrapping my brain around but seeing this list of people who were fired for blogging got me thinking about it again.

    For employers, assume that your employees are going to blog, and establish clear guidelines to guide them should they choose to do so. Make the penalties for not abiding by the policy clear, such as under what circumstances an employee will be warned and under what circumstances an employee will be terminated where blogging is concerned. And, of course, one of the best things to do is to set an example by starting a company blog if appropriate.

    If you’re publishing something to the ‘net, then you need to think very carefully about the fact that you’re publishing something. The ‘net is a public forum. You’re not talking to one or two friends over a pint in the local bar — you’re putting that information out for Google and the entire world to see. Even if you generally only have a small handful of friends and family visiting your website, if the site is publicly available, than you have a potential audience larger than any printed newspaper or magazine on the face of the planet, and once a post is made, it makes no difference whether your words were printed with ink on paper or electrons on a screen.

    If you’re under an NDA, than it’s blindingly simple: don’t talk about anything covered by the NDA. Period. Hopefully nobody’s foolish enough to question that.

    If you’re not under an NDA, it may seem a little hazy, especially without a blogging policy in place. Many people think that attempting to blog anonymously, using pseudonyms for their co-workers or employer will keep them safe. I tend to think that that’s a somewhat naïve belief, something that I’ve talked about in the past (when I chose to start weblogging under my given name, and again when I was wrapping up my experiences with Microsoft). Really, it’s very simple, and boils down to common sense: if something you write might get you in trouble, assume the worst before you post it for the world to see.

    Maybe it seems a little overly paranoid — but while there are times when it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission, that’s not a game that I think is very reasonable when it comes to your employment.

  2. Blogging employees shall be given warning before being disciplined because of their blogs.

    Oh, how I wish I’d been given a warning and the opportunity to delete my offending post! I don’t have any problem at all with this clause — in fact, I think that in quite a few of the cases where webloggers have been dismissed from their jobs (including mine, Ellen’s, and Joe’s), a warning or even mild disciplinary action on the part of the company would have been far preferable to simply firing the offending employee.

    However, that’s a decision that is solely up to the company. We as webloggers can sign all the agreements, petitions, and Bills of Rights that we want, but it’s the employer that makes the final call, not the employee. My one hope is that as more of these cases come to light, more employers will realize that they’ll receive far less bad publicity and word of mouth by requesting that the offending material be deleted and reprimanding the employee, rather than simply cutting all ties as quickly as possible. However, until and unless that happens — and some companies may decide that it’s not worth the risk of keeping the employee around, even with the potential bad press — it’s far better to err on the side of caution (at least if you’d like to continue receiving a steady paycheck).

  3. NO ONE shall be fired because of his/her blog, unless the employer can prove that the blogger did intentional damage to said employer through the blog.

    First off, and most importantly, again, this is solely up to the discretion of the employer.

    That said, how does one define “intentional damage” — and why “intentional”? What if an employee were to blog about a project of a co-workers that they’d been peripherally involved in, only to find out later that it was a secret project? They weren’t part of the main team and hadn’t signed a specific NDA regarding that project, so any damage that publishing that information may have done to the company wouldn’t have been intentional — but that wouldn’t mean it was any less damaging to the company, or that the employee was any less at fault for having disclosed the information.

    What we as employees, customers, and webloggers see as damaging might be (and likely is) far different from what a company would see as damaging, especially if we can be seen in any way as representing the company. Joe Shmoe on the street saying “Product X sucks” is one thing, a programmer on the Product X team saying the same thing in their weblog is very different, even if the average reader might not know that the weblogger is associated with that project.

In the end, it really boils down to something very simple: it’s the employer that holds the cards. That certainly doesn’t mean that they should be able to get away with doing anything they wish (as has been demonstrated many times over the years through unions, strikes, and so on), but it does mean that the employee needs to take their employer into consideration before publishing work-related subjects to their website.

Lastly, about this “…blacklisted by millions of bloggers the world over” bit. Nothing personal to Ellen or anyone else who’s signed, but so far, there’s all of 44 signatories to this — a far cry from “millions of webloggers.” Plus, even if this did gain traction and there were millions — or even thousands — of participating bloggers…blacklisted?

So, anyone who has signed or is about to sign this thing is pledging not to mention or support any of these companies in any way? That’s going to be interesting to see. Apple‘s on that list, so there better not be any Mac users — and if there are, then I hope they’re not planning on covering the Macworld Expo that starts tomorrow. Microsoft might be on the list, too. With both Apple and Microsoft on the list, I assume that everyone who’s signed up so far are either currently using Linux, some Unix variant, BeOS, or Amiga computers, or about to make the switch. Starbucks is on there — that’s going to seriously cut into the number of Seattle webloggers that sign up.

Anyway, you get my point.

Is Microsoft ‘Blogophobic’?

Apparently, there’s been a fair amount of back-and-forth discussion in the comments to Ellen’s list of Blogophobic companies as to whether or not Microsoft should be listed, with my experiences being one of the more prominent arguments for why they should be. Ellen e-mailed me tonight to ask my opinion.

In short: Absolutely not.

What, you’re surprised? The guy who got booted off the Microsoft campus for posting a picture on his weblog doesn’t think that Microsoft belongs on the Blogophobic list?

Damn skippy I don’t. I’ve had the same opinion of what happened to me ever since the incident took place: I made a mistake, and while I think Microsoft could have handled the situation better than they did, they were entirely within their rights to do what they did.

From my wrap-up posted two days after I was ushered off campus:

Who’s to blame? In the end — me. I really don’t blame Microsoft for their actions. By my best guess, they saw me as breaking the rules…and decided that rather than give me a second chance and run the risk of me doing something similar in the future, it would be better to just cut me loose before I could do any more damage. […] I may not like the way that they handled this. […] However, I cannot fault them for making the decision that they did, however much I wish that that they had made a different decision.

As the old saying goes, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” Not only did I happen to be one of the first highlypublicized cases of a major company dismissing someone for a weblog post, but that company was Microsoft, which added a whole new angle to the stories. Not only was Microsoft dismissing someone for reasons that many people would find trivial, but the person they were dismissing was an admitted fan of traditional rival Apple’s products — and it was a photo of those very products which triggered the entire thing! You couldn’t ask for a better setup than that for another round of Microsoft bashing.

However, as with most things, it’s hardly that simple. There are two major reasons why I don’t believe my experiences should put Microsoft in the “Blogophobic” category.

  1. I was in the wrong.

    As I’ve said before, I made a mistake. I may wish that Microsoft had taken a different approach after finding my post, but it was my mistake, and I paid the price. Life goes on.

  2. Microsoft supports weblogging.

    Robert Scoble has been a prominent and prolific Microsoft weblogger for quite some time now, since long before I was dismissed. He’s also quite good a what he does — I may not always agree with him (apparently they forgot to stock the snackroom in my building on the Microsoft campus with the right Kool-Aid), but he’s a fan of Microsoft’s work, and he writes what he believes.

    He also doesn’t just blindly fawn over everything Microsoft does (though, admittedly, there are times when it seems like it). However, he knows the difference between saying something like “Product X sucks” (as in my example above) and saying “we need to work on this.” It may seem like a minor thing, but there’s a huge difference in tone there. I know I’ve seen him say that there are areas and products where Microsoft could do better, but I don’t think I’ve seen him out-and-out slam Microsoft for something.

    (There’s also one huge difference between Robert and I — he is employed directly by Microsoft, while I was a third-party contractor. The gap between being a Microsoft employee and being an employee of a temp agency who contracts you to a second company who happens to provide on-campus services to Microsoft is immense.)

    Beyond Robert, though, there are a multitude of Microsoft-employed webloggers. currently lists 1,239 different weblogs — that really doesn’t sound like a company that’s afraid of letting its employees blog to me. I’d bet that every single one of those webloggers knows where to draw the line between what is and what is not permissible to talk about on their sites, too.

    Much as it pains me to point this out, too, I have to ask — are there any current Apple employees aside from Dave Hyatt weblogging? Not that I’m about to chuck my PowerMac G5 out the door, buy a PC and drink the Kool-Aid (at least that flavor, I’m still quite happy with my Apple-flavored Kool-Aid) over an issue as trivial as this, but if you really want to use this as a basis for comparing whether a company is blog-friendly or not, Microsoft really isn’t doing badly at all.

So, to sum up: The Bloggers’ Bill of Rights, while well-motivated, doesn’t look to me to be all that useful in the real world; Microsoft isn’t ‘Blogophobic’; and I talk a lot when given the opportunity. Geez. See what happens when someone actually asks my opinion on something? Over 2,400 words on whether people should be surprised when they get canned for being snarky about their job on their weblog.

You’re probably better of leaving me to play with silly online quizzes and memes. Less pain for your newsreader, at the very least. ;)

XBox2, G5…and Virtual PC?

Nick just dropped me a quick note to let me know that I’m showing up on Slashdot again. It seems that word just hit the ‘net that Microsoft has released the SDK for the upcoming XBox2, and said SDK is being distributed running on Apple PowerMac G5 dual-processor machines running a customized NT kernel. This prompted Mr. Muskrat’s comment

Michael Hanscom almost blew the XBox2 story wide open back in October.

Remember when Microsoft fired that guy because he mentioned that they bought G5s. Too bad he didn’t know anything about why they bought them.

I did wonder a bit about the G5/Xbox2 link back in November, when news first broke that the Xbox2 would likely be running on the G5 chip. At the time, I was idly wondering about the possibility of an Xbox emulator for the Mac (similar to Connectix’ old Virtual Gamestation software that allowed Mac users to run Playstation games on their home computer).

Now, though, the news that the seeded G5’s are running a custom NT kernel has me wondering along different lines.

In February of ’03, Microsoft bought Virtual PC, the PC-emulation software for Macs that allows them to run Windows software inside an emulated PC. They’ve continued to support and update Virtual PC for the Mac, along with releasing Virtual PC for the PC, allowing Windows machines to run multiple virtual machines on one physical box — handy for software testing purposes. Unfortunately, Virtual PC depends on a feature of earlier PowerPC processors that is not present in the G5, so there hasn’t been a version of Virtual PC released yet that will run on Apple’s flagship G5 desktop machines.

Last month, Microsoft announced that a new G5-compatible version of Virtual PC would be released along with Office 2004. Considering that the Xbox2 SDK is apparently running a customized NT kernel that runs on G5 systems, could some of those same customizations be worked into Virtual PC 7, making for a major speed increase, as more of the low-level code would be running natively on the Mac rather than having to pass through an emulator? I don’t really know enough about the innards of how software like this works, so I could be entirely off-base here — the differences between the emulation required for Virtual PC and the customizations needed to get the NT kernel running on the PowerPC processor may have absolutely nothing in common — but it was enough to get me wondering.

Even more interesting, though, would be if someone could leak some form of benchmarks, even rough ones, showing what kind of performance this customized NT kernel was getting on the SDK machines. I’m assuming it must be at least somewhat respectable, as the machines are being used for creating software for the Xbox2 — but how respectable?

And going even more wildly out of the bounds of reality…for years now, there have been rumors of Apple porting the Mac OS to be able to run on Intel-based PCs (realistically, that’s not likely to ever be released publicly, but the technology is there). However, what about going the other direction? What if Microsoft were to take these customizations to their kernel and and eventually supplant Virtual PC with an actual build of Longhorn for the G5, either as a “red box” that would allow you to run Windows applications concurrently with Mac OS X applications (we can already run Mac OS X apps, “Classic” Mac OS apps, Unix command-line apps, and Unix X-11 apps all at the same time as it is), or as a dual-boot option (Which OS would you like to run today)?

Likely? I seriously doubt it. But fun to play with.

And I’d still love to find out just how zippy those G5s are running NT. Wouldn’t it be a fun little tweak if they were running as fast as (or faster, even) than high-end PCs?

Fifteen minutes of fame

#1 and #2 on Blogdex!

Wow. The past day has been absolutely incredible — naïve as it may seem, I really didn’t expect all of this response to come from my little adventure.

While I had to give up on linking back to every site that linked to my post simply because there were too many of them to keep track of, some of the biggest so far have been MetaFilter, The Register, and Slashdot. Crazy. I’ve also had interviews today with both MSNBC (ironic, no?) and the Seattle P-I — I’ll post links to those articles when they become available.

Seattle PI Front Page, 10/30/03

Update: The article in the Seattle P-I is now online (and it’s on the front page of the print edition — yikes!).

Update 2: The MSNBC article is also online.

Following up on some of the many comments that have been left on my site and others where this has been mentioned:

Yes — I made a mistake

This has been pointed out many times, sometimes more politely than others. My posting of a photo taken at the Microsoft campus was (most likely) a breach of contract. The only reason I qualify that with “most likely” is that, due to my particular employment situation (a temp worker contracted to a vendor who had an account at Microsoft), I never went through any Microsoft-specific orientation or “rules and regulations” session, so I can’t say for certain that there is a “no cameras” clause as a condition of working at or for Microsoft.

No cameras?

Now, even without knowing about a “no cameras” clause, common sense does come into play here. Had I been foolish enough to take pictures inside any of Microsoft’s buildings, of the buildings themselves, of the offices of any of the employees, or anything similar, than I would fully expect to be terminated. As I mentioned in my Of blogging and unemployment post, I thought that the picture was taken in such a way that it would not cause any issues, revealing only an unmarked truck with some computers, and a small section of loading dock that could be nearly any loading dock on any building across America.

In fact, it may very well be that the picture itself is not what caused Microsoft to decide that I was no longer welcome on their campus. Again, as I mentioned in the ‘Of blogging and unemployment’ post, it appears that it was the combination of the picture with the information about what building I was at when I took the picture that prompted them to make the decision that they did.

NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements)

Many people have posited that my ultimate downfall was a breach of an NDA. This may or may not be the case. Again, because of the circumstances of my position at Microsoft, I never signed a Microsoft-specific NDA — however, this does not mean that I was not bound by an NDA. I would not be at all surprised if there were some form of NDA clause as part of the contract between Microsoft and their vendors. Now, I’m not sure if my post, the picture, or the combination of the two would constitute a breach of any NDA clause that I may have been bound to. I didn’t think so when I made the post, however given recent events, that may very well have been where I was wrong.

Who’s to blame?

In the end — me. I really don’t blame Microsoft for their actions. By my best guess, they saw me as breaking the rules — whether those rules were a “no cameras” clause, an NDA, or something entirely different — and decided that rather than give me a second chance and run the risk of me doing something similar in the future, it would be better to just cut me loose before I could do any more damage.

I can (and would) swear up and down that I would never divulge any internal Microsoft information. Heck, during my tenure at the printshop, I saw a lot of information that would have gotten me fired faster than this did if I’d been so foolish as to publish it. As “evil” as Microsoft may be popularly perceived, I don’t think it’s any secret that they have many incredibly intelligent people working for them, who come up with some truly astounding ideas. I’ve seen advertising campaigns in their preplanning stages weeks before they hit the press, I’ve seen internal documentation on programs that are still in development, and I’ve seen ideas and technologies that I would love to have available on my Mac at home. None of those have ever been mentioned here in my weblog, and even now, this is the most I intend to say about them.

However — while I may not have seen my post as violating Microsoft’s security standards, someone there did. Because of that, they may feel that it’s not worth the risk of continuing to allow me access to proprietary information that I could, in theory, leak to the world.

I may not like the way that they handled this. While I didn’t plan for my post to generate the amount of attention that it’s received, it has, and now Microsoft is facing a certain amount of bad press because of that. It may have been far better for them (on a PR level) to reprimand me and have me take the post down. However, I cannot fault them for making the decision that they did, however much I wish that that they had made a different decision.

I goofed. I regret it, but the damage is done. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. ;)

Future employment

I’ve seen a lot of comments suggesting that I apply to Apple — even some stating that Apple should just give me a job. As amusing as this idea is, I have to say that even I find it entirely unrealistic.

First off, as some have pointed out, my post could be seen as indicating that I have a propensity for disclosing internal company information. That’s not likely to put me very high on the list of prospective candidates for any business, let alone one run as tightly as Apple.

More importantly, though, is the simple fact that as my resumé shows, I’m woefully under-qualified for many computer-based positions. I don’t have a college degree. I don’t have any sort of computer certification. Aside from the past eight months, I haven’t even held a position that was primarily computer based. Instead, I’ve spent ten years working in the quick-print industry, running high-end digital copiers.

This isn’t to say that I’m a computer illiterate, of course. I’ve been a fairly typical “computer geek” for most of my life. I have experience with a wide range of systems, starting with CP/M on an Osborne 1, a few different flavors of *nix, DOS and Windows based PCs, and my primary focus, Apple Macintosh computers. I like learning about how all of the bits and pieces work, and how they work together. I’ve been fascinated with HTML for years — my first website went up in 1995, and I’ve been “blogging” in one form or another since 1998 or 1999, though I only have archives dating back to November of 2000 — and while I may not be much of a designer, if I may toot my own horn for just a moment, I think that my HTML code is damn good. I’ve spent a little time mucking around with Perl, Java, and Javascript, not enough to be a programmer (by any stretch of the imagination), but enough that I can take a look at the code and at least get a general feel for what it’s doing.

All of this, though, is self-taught. And self-taught doesn’t really get you jack, for the most part, especially when it doesn’t show on your resumé. My biggest regret with all of this is that, as my position for the past eight months has been working in a prepress environment, getting digital files print ready, I was finally getting some resumé experience that could show that I really did know something about computers. Now, however, I’ve lost that position, and I’ll just have to hope that if I’m lucky, those eight months might be enough for someone to give me a chance again at some point.

In the end, it all comes down to hitting the streets, throwing my resumé around town, and seeing what comes up — and hoping that when an interviewer googles my name, all this brouhaha doesn’t scare them off!

Rent (or “Wow — you all rock.”)

While I’m sure after reading the article at The Register that many people will find this hard to believe, I originally only mentioned financial matters because I had had enough people inquire that it was easier to do it in a single post than e-mail everyone. I’ve never expected donations in the past, and I wasn’t expecting donations this time.

Quite honestly, I’m floored.

An incredible number of people have tossed a few dollars my way, and I really don’t know how to thank you all. It’s enough to ensure that my rent for the month is taken care of without having to hit my emergency stash, and just a little over (which will go for good cheap eats — like Top Ramen, the bachelor’s/college student’s/first-time-apartment-dweller’s food of choice!). Many, many thanks, karma points, and mojo out to all of you. You rock.

Surviving Slashdotting (or, “Commercial time!”)

Lastly, but definitely not least, I’ve had quite a few people inquire about the weblog itself — specifically, who hosts it, and how it’s managed to stand up to the abuse of a Slashdotting as well as it has.

My site is hosted by TypePad, from the same good people that produce MovableType. I used MovableType for quite a few years on a personal server running out of my apartment (thank goodness I’m not using that setup now — my poor lil’ G3 webserver would be in puddles on the floor by now!), moved to TypePad when I got the invitation to be part of their public beta test — and have stuck with it since.

As I’m a confessed HTML geek, I find TypePad’s pro level perfect for me. They take care of all the niggling little details of server management, and I still have full control over all the HTML code produced by the system. I can be as picky (ahem…anal) as I want about the code that my site produces, and I do what I can to ensure that the pages are as clean as possible — minimal graphics, standards compliant code that’s easy to read if someone should dive into the source, CSS for presentation, and all the rest of the current buzzword goodies.

I can’t recommend TypePad enough — or MovableType, if you prefer to handle the server end of things yourself. I’m also very grateful to them for handling my Slashdotting (their first, apparently!) with such aplomb. As far as I know, there were very few glitches over the course of the day.


So what have I learned from all of this? Well, firstly, and most importantly — keep my big fat mouth shut! ;)

Some people have made comments along the lines of, “this is why I blog anonymously.” I have to say, that I don’t honestly think that that’s necessarily a perfect solution. Given the well-known power of Google, it’s very easy for me to believe that many anonymous blogs are — or at least could be — far less anonymous than their authors might believe. A comment here, a phrase there, a certain choice of words, and suddenly, someone’s put the pieces together (“They said that their birthday was on or around this date, they got together with this group of friends here, they took a trip to Disneyland here…”) and they are suddenly “outed”.

I made the conscious choice a few months back not to blog anonymously. Prompted by a post by Anil Dash, I decided that given the All-Seeing Eye of Google, I would rather do what I could to “own” my own name. I stopped using my prior online pseudonym of ‘djwudi’, began using my given name of Michael Hanscom whenever leaving comments on sites, and registered the domain name. To me, the ability to have some amount of control in ensuring that information that is connected to my name is actually connected to me is worth the risk of situations like what I just went through.

Basically, it all boils down to making sure that you know just what your employer would or would not be comfortable with you mentioning on your weblog — and if there’s any doubt, don’t mention it. I didn’t, and it got me canned. You shouldn’t let the same thing happen to you.

Thanks much for all the attention, comments, and food for thought over the past few days. It’s been a bit overwhelming, but one hell of a ride.

Thank you!

First things first — many, many thanks to the many people who have passed on words of encouragement to me in my time of trial. With a normal readership of about ten people that I know of, I wasn’t expecting to get much response beyond my family and a few friends. The ‘net being what it is, though, tales of my trials and tribulations seem to be spreading, and I’ve gotten many nice comments, e-mails, and phone calls, not to mention links on a growing number of sites.

Mentions that I’ve found as of 10/29/03 @ 0234:

I’ve spent part of the day updating my resumé (a task that I have to admit I always dread), and have polished it up to the best of my ability and posted it here. With any luck, between the temp agency, my own efforts, and what little notoriety I may gain in my fifteen minutes of fame, this stretch of unemployment won’t last too long. In any case, I’m certainly keeping my fingers crossed (though it does make it a bit harder to type, I can use all the luck I can get right now).

To address some of the concerns and questions I’ve received:

Legal recourses

A couple people have inquired about possible legal recourses. This is an avenue that I don’t particularly want to investigate, for a few reasons. First, I don’t think that the time and trouble is worth it, and second, I’d be willing to bet that somewhere in the labyrinthine red tape of contracts among my temp agency, the vendor, and Microsoft, this situation is probably covered in one form or another.

In the end, what it boils down to was a slight misjudgment on my part. While I (and many other people) may find Microsoft’s reaction to be extreme and unnecessary, chances are they had every legal right to make the decision that they did. I would certainly have preferred that they simply request that I take the offending post down (which I would have done in a heartbeat), but for whatever reasons, they chose not to take that route.

Future plans and possibilities

Thankfully, this appears to be solely an issue between Microsoft and myself. While I got the news from my supervisor, it was made clear to me that there was nothing he could do about the situation, and he was sorry to see me go. As I’d been a valuable member of the team in the print shop, able to cover nearly any position outside of administrative duties, losing me will be a bit of a blow to the shop (now, I’m not so amazingly egotistical to claim that the place is going to go down in flames just because lil’ ol’ me isn’t chipping in anymore, mind you — I just know that I was able to help out wherever I was needed, and I enjoyed doing it).

Seeing as how he was also caught off guard by this situation, he’s said that he’ll ask around and see if there might be any other open positions outside of Microsoft that I might be able to be shuffled into. This is no guarantee, of course, but it’s certainly nice to know that he thought highly enough of me to at least take a few minutes to ask around about possibilities.

I’ve also received a couple of requests for my resumé via e-mail, which have been sent out to everyone who asked for them.

In the end, though, I’m still crossing my fingers, waiting to see what may come down the pike.


A few people have inquired about how I’m doing financially. I have to admit — things are a little dicey here. Rent is due in a week, and while I’ll be able to dip into some emergency money to get me through this round, I will need to have stable income by the time November 5th rolls around or I’ll be in very dire straits. It’s quite typical, in a Murphy’s Law kind of way, that this would happen just a few weeks after I blew my savings on a new computer. Ah, well — there was certainly no way to plan for it.

Now, I’ve never been much of one for asking for money — I’m quite stubborn by nature (according to my parents, one of my first words as a child was “self!”), and generally, if I can’t handle something on my own, well, that’s just the way it goes. Besides, I can more easily see a website/weblog requesting donations when they focus on a specific topic, rather than being the essentially random collection of technical babble, political indignation, personal musings, and occasional bad humor that this site tends towards. ;)

That said, however…(oh, sure, first the disclaimers, then the heart rending plea for help, complete with a John Williams score — oh, can I get Steven Spielberg to direct the TV spot?)…I have had a PayPal donation button in my about page for months now, as well as the Amazon links at the bottom of each page. To date, these have netted me all of — hold on, let me check — approximately $12 from my Amazon Associates account, and absolutely nothing from the PayPal button.

Now, that’s about exactly what I’d expect to see, and I certainly don’t expect it to change. Heck, with the economy the way it is, there’s not a lot of people out there who have the spare change to help support some anonymous bloke whose sob story they just stumbled into while wandering around the ‘net. But — and there’s always a but, isn’t there? — should anyone feel moved to make small donation, whether through the PayPal link or by using the Amazon banner on my site to go shopping, I certainly wouldn’t complain in the least.

And I believe that brings us up to date. Once again, thanks to all of you for the kind words. Often, those are worth far more to me than anything else.

Of blogging and unemployment

UPDATE: Please take the time to read my followup post, Fifteen Minutes of Fame, for my thoughts on what happened after I posted the picture, why it happened — and most importantly, why I don’t blame Microsoft for their actions. Thanks!

The day started like any other day — get up, dink around for a bit, bus into work, and start working through the stack of jobs. Just shy of an hour after I got in, my manager came in and asked me to step into his office when I had a chance. Sure, no biggie, and I headed over as soon as I finished the job I was setting up.

“Okay, here’s the first question. Is this page,” and here he turned his monitor towards me, letting me see my “Even Microsoft wants G5s” post from last Thursday, “hosted on any Microsoft computer? Or is it on your own?”

“It’s on mine. Well, it’s on a hosted site that I pay for, but no, it’s not on anything of Microsoft’s.”

“Good. That means that as it’s your site on your own server, you have the right to say anything you want. Unfortunately, Microsoft has the right to decide that because of what you said, you’re no longer welcome on the Microsoft campus.”

And that simply, as of about 2pm today, I once again joined the ranks of the unemployed.

It seems that my post is seen by Microsoft Security as being a security violation. The picture itself might have been permissible, but because I also mentioned that I worked at the MSCopy print shop, and which building it was in, it pushed me over the line. Merely removing the post was also not an option — I offered, and my manager said that he had asked the same thing — but the only option afforded me was to collect any personal belongings I had at my workstation and be escorted out the door. They were at least kind enough to let me be escorted out by one of my co-workers, rather than sending security over to usher me out, but the end result is the same.

More frustrating for me is that, having read stories here and there on the ‘net about people who had for one reason or another lost their jobs due to something on their weblogs, I thought that I had done what I could to avoid that possibility. To my mind, it’s an innocuous post. The presence of Macs on the Microsoft campus isn’t a secret (for everything from graphic design work to the Mac Business Unit), and when I took the picture, I made sure to stand with my back to the building so that nothing other than the computers and the truck would be shown — no building features, no security measures, and no Microsoft personnel. However, it obviously wasn’t enough.

So, I’m unemployed. I am somewhat lucky in that I’m not technically unemployed — I am still on the roster for my temp agency, who has been very good to me so far (and hopefully will continue to be), but as their ability to place me anywhere does depend on the current job market, it’s not a foolproof guarantee of employment coming in quickly. I’ve put a call into them and let them know of the situation and that I’m available and willing for whatever can be found, so with any luck, they’ll be able to find a placement for me. However, it appears that it’s also time for me to start hitting the streets and shopping my resume around again.

Wish me luck.