Sep 07


FoxKeh!  On the world!I don’t normally blog about my work travel here, because what are you gonna do, come with me?  This one’s different though.

I’m flying out to SFO tomorrow morning (oh AC757, we’ve really gotten to know each other, haven’t we?) in anticipation of Mozilla24, a 24-hour all-mozilla, all-the-time conference at which I will be speaking amongst a group of shockinglymoreawesome people.  I will be talking about security UI, natch, and I would love to see all your smiling faces (though I’ll forgive the folks who saw the OSCON version for having their laptops open).

One of the many cool things about Mozilla24 is that it’s global – California, Tokyo, Thailand, and Paris, sure, but also online – so that if you are interested in the open web, and the directions we can take it, or if you’re just getting your feet wet, you can get involved.

Go sign up!  Why not get into the thick of it?  I’ll wait here.

PS – The blog photo here, Foxkeh, and indeed the whole Mozilla24 shebang, comes from Mozilla Japan.  They’re trying to make the rest of us look bad, bringing their A game.  Their A++++ OMG WOULD DO BUSINESS AGAIN WOW game.

Sep 07


Dice by OlivanderWhen I was coding at IBM, we had pretty clear quality metrics that had to be met before a product went out the door.  We had to execute all of our tests, and pass 95%, for instance.  No, not 100%, because good developers ought to write tests even if they know the current code won’t be able to pass them – that’s far better than not writing the test, and someone at IBM got that.  We also couldn’t ship with any P1 defects, and all P2 defects had to have a “disposition” – a workaround, or at least clear documentation on alternatives.  We were, after all, IBM.

I remember one product cycle where things were particularly tight.  Maybe they’re all “particularly tight.”  In this case anyhow, some teams had fallen far behind, to the point that our team was being brought in to do triage and QA on their code as well.  It was a stressful time for the product managers, for the whole department.

We were also not meeting our quality goals.  There were significant P1s that still didn’t have fixes, and our pass rate on tests was mid-80s.  We were asked to “focus.”

Whether it was encouraging “focus” per se, or just competent, dedicated people trying to do their job, we made some headway.  Tests-passed got into the high-80s, not many P1s got fixed but a couple more P2s had workarounds written.  Not enough, but better.  Still, we were about to run out of time.  That’s when we got an email.

“We test our code to make sure that the intended functionality succeeds,” it started (or words to that effect.)  “Obviously, it wouldn’t make sense to test functionality we never expected to have.  If we were releasing a word processor, and wanted to get inline spellcheck in, but just couldn’t do it, well then it would hardly be sensible to wring our hands about failing the inline spellcheck tests, would it?”

Oh…kaaaaay… we thought, all of us together.

“So if there are tests failing that we know we can’t fix in time, then that’s functionality we don’t intend to ship.  So it doesn’t make sense to include those in our tests.”

With those tests removed, of course, our pass rate went way up.  Ahem.

There was still the matter of the wayward P1s and P2s, but every developer in the room knows how those were fixed.  One morning we all came in to a bunch of bugmail saying that our P2s were now, coincidentally and en masse, P3s; our P1s were all either P2s or P3s depending on how plausibly a workaround could be written.

And the product shipped.  And customers complained.  And tech sales wept.  And a year after shipping we had no active, deployed, reference customers.  And we did that thing, where we taught our customers not to trust our X.0 software, to wait for at least two service packs before trusting us.  I hate doing that thing.

This isn’t about me throwing stones at IBM, it’s about underscoring how hard metrics are to get right, and how prone people are to gaming them when their incentives are misaligned.  I bet the product managers got congratulated for shipping Another On-Time Release. I’m sure, too, that the blame for the market failures was spread broadly enough to be much less impactful, so it’s hardly surprising that PMs would act this way.  I know that’s not novel insight, but I’ve always held on to that story as one of my own favourite examples.

The Mozilla community has amazed and impressed me with its active awareness of, and resistance to, these kinds of games, but it’s a never-ending battle.  We, too, will second-guess our decision to mark some feature as P1 when we get down to it, or our decision to mark some bug as blocking.  But I feel like there’s a cultural difference in game-awareness that’s important; those decisions generally seem to have “Are we gaming things here?” as part of the discussion.  Can anyone tell me how we get there?  IBM is not full of idiots nor of self-serving cycnics.  If someone can tell me how to bottle that awareness, and cultivate it in software companies, and make it stick, I’ll write the book and give you a cut.

Jun 07

Blatant Self-Promotion

PeacockThe Society of Technical Communication has published my latest article in the June edition of Intercom. I wrote it back at IBM, with my coworker Rick Goldberg, and it’s a pretty short piece, but because of the timing of submission and my job change, it’s the first article in print that identifies me as a Mozilla employee. Which is sort of cool.

As a happy coincidence, it happens to be one of the articles they chose for free online distribution, so you can get a full copy of the text in PDF format, if you’re interested.

Kicking and Screaming: Modernizing Today’s Help Systems

Please note, we had no role in choosing the photo to accompany the article. What’s the deal there? Two small CRTs, and a television? With an optical wheel mouse? Aroo?

Also, while trumpeting, I wanted to mention to anyone visiting OSCON 2007 that I (or a person with a similar, but misspelled version of my name) will be giving a talk on Wednesday the 25th about Security UI in general, and Firefox 3 security UI in particular. It would be really keen if I had an audience! Astute readers will note that phrases like “rogues’ gallery” are outside of my normal lexicon. The description was written by Gerv who, in addition to being British and using phrases like “spend the readies” as though they have semantic content, was going to give the talk before I showed up, but graciously bowed out so that I could sink or swim on my own two feet, as it were.

[Photo Courtesy of Billy Brown]

May 07

The W3C, Dublin, and Incidental Beauty

Image #1 of the cabled roofBeltzner and I are sitting in the departures lounge, drinking preparatory Guinness before our flight to Dublin, for the w3c Web Security Context workgroup sessions this week.  The group is trying to put together a set of recommendations for web browsers to implement, so that we all have the same conversations with users about security.  This is preferable to the alternative which, historically, has been some combination of gross balkanization on anything new, and lowest-common-denominator (ref: padlock) on anything old.
Unsurprisingly, I’ve proposed Larry – an identity indicator in the primary UI – as a candidate recommendation, but others concern themselves with favicons, EV certificates, and “safe mode”  web browsing.  You can see the full list on the WSC wiki, here.

We’re also hoping, somewhere along the way, to visit the storehouse.

Anyhow.  Among all of this trip prep and security talk and bugmail, I looked up from my laptop in the lounge.  As you can see, we’re right at the edge of the terminal and, as such, have a unique view of the architecture holding the whole thing up.  This massive building, with its gently curved, elevated roof, is held up by these beautiful legs-on-cables.  It’s hard to describe, but luckily, beltzner had a cellphone camera.

Image #2 of the cabled roof

Call me a Make: magazine writer if you must, or chalk it up to the Guinness, but there’s beauty in that roof, and I’d like to shake the architect’s hand.

May 07

Unseen Backwards Flying Pigeon Kick

We have returned safely. Pictures are here, for your considered appraisal. On first glance, my personal favourites include this one,

Westminster Abbey

this one,

He Suspects Nothing

and this one,

Oh noes!

Apr 07

Frognal Cockfosters

sleepyWe’re nearly halfway through our trip to London, and thus far it has exceeded my expectations. Last time I was in London for less than 8 hours, and I knew I wanted to see more. Now that I’m here, the feeling is only stronger – I could live here quite happily (not that I’m planning to move in the near future.)

Things I will remember for a long time:

  • St. James Park & Trafalgar Square – Epitomes of public space
  • The tailors on Jermyn Street
  • Crivelli and Rubens at the National Gallery
  • The shocking splendour of Westminster
  • Standing on the spot where 4 centuries of kings and queens have been crowned, with Newton to my left, and Chaucer to my right.

It’s a wonderful city, and through and through extremely civilised in a way that is sort of difficult to describe. Tomorrow is a day of shopping: Oxford Street, Harrod’s, M&S, and maybe back down Jermyn street. With luck, there will be time left over for the Waterstone’s on Piccadilly, Europe’s largest bookstore. The next day we hope to give over entirely to the British museum.

In the meantime, we are absolutely bushed. We’ve walked everywhere thus far, not for cheapness (though London is an expensive city,) but for the sheer proximity of it all. Imagine half your world, half the things you’ve heard about growing up, street names, famous buildings, etc. being within a 15 minute walk.

We’ve taken plenty of pictures, and while I have (evidently) brought my laptop along for the trip you’ll notice, if you pay close attention, that I have left my camera cable at home. Hence no pictures for you, the reader, save this one up top, taken moments ago, which nicely sums things up.

Apr 07

Party Like It’s 2008

Birthday Cat!Among my alarmingly-stable, astoundingly-long-term and unsurprisingly-incestuous social circle there will be, over the next 18 months or so, a large number of birthdays. This, in itself, is not surprising, or particularly noteworthy. What is noteworthy though, is how many of those birthdays will involve ye olde tens columne rolling over from the youthful and carefree “2” to the urbane, sophisticated and terribly mature “3”. I, for one, welcome fogeydom, or will, I suspect, when the time comes.

To that end, there has been some discussion of late, at the Sousa’s most recently, but in other environs as well, about the idea of having some kind of gargantuan bash to ring in our triumphant ascension in group form. We could, of course, get together and just drink more alcohol than usual, but the impression one gets from these discussions is that more moxy is desired.

Continue reading →

Feb 07

Getting the Band Back Together

Internet UserSo it turns out that Mozilla, having been an open source project before it was a foundation, let alone a corporation, has a pretty heavy IRC presence. IRC is (reasonably) universal, (reasonably) democratic, and (usually) free, so it’s a natural fit.

But several of the people who read this blog, and you know who you are, will recall that even before Mozilla existed, there was an IRC presence of a different sort in #42. I acknowledge that I wasn’t there from the very beginning, but I was there when people like Lemmyn and AuntieMae were still around, I was there before we left QNet, and without meaning to upset anyone, I will remind you all that this stuff was happening > 10 years ago. Heck, this page is 7 years old, and that was very late in the game.

But I digress. The point is this: I am, by virtue of my newfound employment, and indeed have been for some time, a perpetual resident of irc.mozilla.org. And wouldn’t you know it, my mIRC install still wants to auto-connect to #42 wherever I go. I’m the only one there at the moment, of course. But that could change.

I remember when Heather and Linds tried several years ago to get things up and running again, and I think it mostly fizzled out because people had forgotten how to have a conversation that way, and besides which, you couldn’t really count on anyone actually being there. Well I may be idle, or I may be otherwise occupied, and I may be uninteresting even when I am present, but I can offer some reasonable level of assurance that for a high percentage of the next several years, I will be lurking in #42.

You could come join me, if you wanted to.

And of course, if you happened to have some code, writing, bugs, or ideas to contribute to Mozilla’s various projects while you were there – well everything would just be that much more convenient, wouldn’t it?