Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Loving My Eee 1000H

I was attracted to the "netbook" market with the release of the initial Eee PC from Asus.  The laptop was cheap and very small.  Unfortunately, it had a really small screen and an even smaller keyboard.  Then the next generation of netbooks was announced including the MSI Wind and the Eee 1000.  These are a bit pricier but still light.  They have bigger screens and keyboards and look quite usable.  I'm tired of carrying my 6 lb. laptop around on trips and so I decided I would take the plunge on one of these new devices.

At first I was attracted to the MSI Wind.  It is a little lighter than the 1000H and was supposed to be $150 cheaper.  When the Wind didn't ship, then shipped with only a 3-cell battery, then raised the price, I looked around and settled on the Eee 1000H.  What follows is my review of the 1000H.

The screen on the 1000H is gorgeous.  It's 1024x768 and is bright and clear.  It has a matte finish so it can be used with your back to a window or even outside.  It is bright enough that I usually run it on 1/2 brightness and it still works just fine.  The Eee has a really cool feature which allows you to change the screen resolution with the press of a button.  You can set it to 1024x600, 800x600, 1024x768 (which seems to cut off the bottom of the screen, and 1024x768 compressed.  This latter mode is very useful for programs that insist on a square aspect ratio.  One other nice feature is there is a button to turn off the screen.  This comes in handy for privacy or saving battery life.

The keyboard on the 1000H has received some criticism for being a little loose.  There is a little flex in the right-side of the keyboard.  It doesn't seem to be fully fastened to the tray beneath it.  It's not bad but does take some getting used to.  The keys are plenty big that I can easily touch-type on it.  The one downside is the right-shift key.  It is located to the right of the up arrow key.  There's no easy way to touch-type like that.  Luckily, there is a very cool utility called SharpKeys that allows you to swap the two.  After doing that, all is well.

The 1000H comes with a 1.6 GHz Atom processor.  This appears to be plenty fast enough for browsing the web, coding, writing documents, etc.  It's not going to set any land speed records but it works fine.  It does run quite cool though.  The Eee doesn't get hot even after hours of use.  I've tried a few older games on the system and it plays them fine.  Anything modern is probably too much for the Intel 945 graphics chip.

The 1000H ships with Windows XP SP3 Home.  I upgraded to Professional so I could join the domain at work.  I intend to try Mojave Vista on it which reportedly works, but I'll wait for my 2 GB memory to arrive first.  I must say that after using Vista for a few years, XP feels very antiquated.

The speakers have some sort of "Dolby Sound Room" thing on them.  I haven't looked into what that might actually be but I can say that the sound is much better than you would expect out of a laptop.

I find the size and weight to be just about right.  The Eee at 3.2 lbs is not quite as light as I expected, but it's pretty light.  The size is small.  It's literally 1/2 the size of my previous Dell Inspiron 6400.  The battery sticks out slightly which actually makes a great handgrip when carrying it.  The system is well balanced and feel very sturdy.  The case is a high-gloss black and does attract fingerprints. 

Finally, the battery life.  I took it to an all-day conference on Friday and it lasted all day without a recharge.  The battery is rated at 4.5-5 hours and that seems to correspond well with my experience so far.

So, am I glad I bought the Eee over the Wind?  Yes.  The Wind is lighter and the keyboard probably doesn't have the flex in it.  However, the Eee has many advantages.  It has 802.11n wireless networking.  The compressed screen resolution is nice.  The touchpad is a little bigger than the one on the Wind.  The Eee can be overclocked via software.  Another advantage is that the Eee can be upgraded (memory or hard drive) without voiding the warranty.

If you want more information, check out these great forums:


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

10 Pitfalls of Using Scrum in Games Development

Interesting article about using scrum to manage game development.  Many of the pitfalls are true beyond games development.  The article is well balanced and has advice for how to overcome the pitfalls.  I don't agree with all of the advice, but it is thought provoking.  For example, the article makes a good point that daily standup meetings can be disruptive to the thought process.  It therefore recommends using an electronic means of tracking people that can be filled in at leisure.  I think it too quickly dismisses the collaborative effect of a standup meeting and overplays the disruptive nature.  Sure, it's a disruption, but so is lunch.  Schedule the two together.  :)  I've found that for many projects a daily meeting is unnecessary and instead meet only 2 or 3 times per week. Less disruption, same benefits.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Becoming a Manager: Losing Direct Control

When my wife was expecting our daughter, someone gave me this advice, "When you have your first child, you lose all your free time.  When you have your second, you lose all the free time you didn't realize you still had."  Becoming a manager* can be a similar experience.  When you become a lead, you lose direct control.  Instead, you have to trust what others tell you.  Very recently we had a small re-org at work and I'm transitioning from a lead** to a manager and I'm quickly finding out that I have now lost all that control I didn't realize I had.

As an individual contributor, you have complete control.  Maybe someone tells you what to do, but when it comes to executing, everything that you do gets done exactly how you want it to be done.  As a result, you know first hand the status of your part of the project.  Becoming a lead results in a loss of this control. Instead of doing the work, you have to tell others to do the work.  This results in work being done in ways you may not have intended.  You no longer have direct knowledge of the state of the project, but rather have to rely on what your team is telling you.

Becoming a manager amplifies this state of no direct control much farther.  As a lead--it turns out--you still have a lot of control.  You get to tell your team what to do and (sometimes) how to do it.  You then get to directly monitor their work.  As a result, you have direct knowledge of what they are working on and how they are attempting to accomplish it.  If something isn't to your liking, you can request a change.  As a manager of leads, there is an extra level of indirection added to the mixture.  This extra level of indirection is known as a lead and all of your instructions will be filtered through this person.  They will be applying their ideas of how things should be done before passing on instructions to the individual contributors who will then apply their own opinion before anything is actually accomplished.  This adds a lot more variance to the outcome.

As a brand new manager I don't yet have any tried and true strategies for dealing with this loss of control.  I suspect it means being a lot more careful with what you measure.  At the lead level you are interacting with the individual contributors often enough (you are having 1:1s aren't you?  and scrum standup meetings?) that you have a good pulse of the project.  You don't need to be terribly precise in what you monitor because you can measure almost everything.  As a manager, your purview is too large to measure everything.  Instead, you'll only be getting a small amount of information from each individual contributor.  Thus, picking the right things to monitor becomes a critical factor in your success or failure.

As with the lead, there is a fine line to be walked between being aloof and micromanaging (or interfering as it might be known at the manager level).  When the work is being done by people who are not direct child nodes of yours, how do you interact enough to know what is going on but not so much that you disintermediate the relationship?  These are all interesting questions I'm now facing.  As I gain more experience, I'll try to revisit this topic with some advice on what does and doesn't work.


* For the purpose of this post, a manager is someone who manages other managers or leads.  This position is sometimes referred to as an M2 or manager of managers.

** A lead in this context is someone who manages individual contributors but not other managers.