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Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! Every year about this time I say to myself, why didn’t I put out a Christmas letter? I receive some from some amazing folks every year and every year, I think about and fail to reciprocate. Well this year is different. Well, kinda different. By different I mean that I’m putting this blog post up and I’m going to post it on Facebook and email it and such to reach the people that I should have taken the time to write out a proper Christmas letter to.

It’s been an interesting year to say the least. The whole family has changed and grown up in ways that I am still trying to get used to and it’s a good thing.

CollinCollin, my oldest, is 18 and in college now. He figured out that he could skip his senior year and go directly to the community college and start getting college credits since he was 18. He’s loving college and doing really well. He’s also gotten a job at Baskin Robbins. He’s closing on the weekends and seems to be enjoying at least the paycheck if not the job. It was awesome this year to watch him shopping for his siblings on his own with his own money and the pride that he took in that.

SeanSean is 16 and a Junior in high school. He’s gotten big and is, much to my dismay, borrowing my shirts a lot these days. The house, thanks to him, has become one of the social hubs for Interlake High School and is a regular drop in zone for boys and girls. He’s working on finding a job but as Collin found out for him, this is a really tough job market for teens. He, much to my pride, has come up with several ideas for startups that he’d like to pursue. I’m anxious to see which one of them sticks.

MiriamMiriam is 14 now and is in 8th grade. She’s involved in *everything*. She’s a “WEB leader” which is a welcoming committee/mentor program for the 6th graders coming into her school. She’s loving the responsibility and is adorable talking about her 6th graders and how important her work with them is. She’s also in the choir at church (Holy Family Name in Kirkland, WA), youth group, multiple sleep overs a month, anime club and anything else that she can talk us into taking her to.

MauraMaura is 11 and growing up fast. She’s in “5th” grade and is our “A” student which is funny because “A” is for “adaptive”. Many of you may know that she’s got special needs. You can read all about it on my wife’s blog at Suffice to say she’s got global delays but we’re thrilled this year that she’s outgrown her seizure disorder. She was on meds twice a day for the last 7 years of our lives but this summer we weaned her off of them and couldn’t be happier about them.

Phoebe HolmesPhoebe is doing really well here. We both miss Ireland and it’s hard to imagine that it’s been a year and a half since we moved but it has. Phoebe has finished one book which she has at an agent right now and we’re hoping that it’ll get picked up and shopped to publishers. She’s most of the way through the second but as you know, she’s already got a much stronger following than I do on her blog. I wish that I was half the writer that she is and 10% as prolific as she is with 5% as amazing material as she produces. I, and all of her followers, love her sense of humor that envelops every topic and has you laughing and crying at the same time.

Josh with his guitarI’m still at Microsoft working in TED (Technical Evangelism and Development) on a team called Strategic Engagements. It’s about as fun of a job as I can imagine. My job is, no word of a lie, to full time write open source software and I get paid by Microsoft to do it. If I rewound even a year ago, I wouldn’t have believed it but here I am. And I’m getting to play in a space called Internet of Things which you can translate as I’m getting to play with all the fun toys. Someday they’ll figure out that they’re paying me for this. 🙂 I’m still mountain biking and working on vintage motorcycles as much as possible. Someday, I’ll “retire” and do the motorcycle work all the time. I’ve got an engine to overhaul this winter and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Merry Christmas to all of you!

Tessel 2 Nitrogen

I’ve been playing a ton with the IoT space over the past 4-6 months. It’s been a ton of fun from a number of directions.

  1. I love to play with devices. I’ve got Arduinos, Raspberry PIs, Minnow Boards, Galileos and more. But my latest is the Tessel.
  2. I love playing with large scale cloud infrastructures as well.
  3. I love learning new technologies.

This last bit has pushed me in all three of those areas. I’ve been working with Tim Park on an IoT framework called Nitrogen which is built in node.js and runs in Azure. Working on Nitrogen has really pushed my node.js knowledge and I had never done anything with Ember prior to this. And then pile on top of that the vast number of devices out there and there’s something new for me to learn every day. 🙂

Yesterday I started playing with my Tessel and seeing if I could connect it up to Nitrogen’s MQTT gateway. Ivan Judson was kind enough to stand one up for me that I can start playing with. It was ridiculously easy to get going from there.

I started with the Climate Logging over MQTT project found on the Tessel site and modified it for Nitrogen.

The big change with Nitrogen is the format of the topic for subscriptions. Rather than being a simple string is a JSON object. For example, rather than just being “temperature” or something like that, is a subscription to messages routed to this particular device.

var subscription = ‘{“to”: \”‘+deviceId+‘\” }’

Check out all the code on Github at

Following your passion…

There’s a video and cartoon that go through Alan Watts’s little speech about “What if money was no object”. The summary is that he challenges students to forget about money and focus on their passion. You can watch the whole thing on “The Mind Unleashed” ->

There is a part of this that I agree with and a ton of it that I vehemently disagree with.

The part that I agree with is that if you are simply chasing money, you’ll never be happy and fulfilled. The flip side of that is that if my son exclusively followed his passion, he’d be turn 30 still living my basement playing video games. And if expanded and everyone just followed their passions, who would build sewers, collect garbage and so on.

Passion Pay Potential TriangleThe best manager that I’ve ever had, Nathan Hancock, once drew a triangle on the board with the corners labeled Passion, Pay and Potential.

What you want to do is be dead centre of that triangle.

For example, I’ve got a tremendous amount of passion around playing soccer. And the English Premier League pays really REALLY well. But I have little to no potential.

I also have a lot of passion around being a vintage motorcycle mechanic. And I’m pretty good at it. But it doesn’t pay well enough to support my family.

I have zero passion around politics as a whole. At the higher levels it pays well and I’d be really good at but I’d hate my life.

Programming, for me, is something that I’m passionate about, if I’m on the right projects and working with the right folks, that pays well and I’m good at. What pays just as well that I’m more passionate about is software architecture and teaching people. Architect evangelist make a great job for me because it’s pretty close to the centre of that triangle.

There are lots of people who at really happy handing out on the right hand side of the triangle. This includes artists, people who run charities, the good teachers, clergy and so on. We need those people in our lives. They make us better as a society and enrich our lives in amazing ways. But that’s not everyone and it shouldn’t be anyone with responsibilities such as kids.

You don’t have to look far to see people on the left hand side of the triangle. Watch any of the reality TV shows such as “The Voice” or “America’s Got Talent” to see people who have a lot of passion and are trying to get into something that pays well but have zero potential.

There are people who choose to hang out at the bottom part of the triangle. These people have made money their passion and mistakenly think that it’ll make them happy. There are professions that are more full of these people than others. A tremendous number of lawyers for example, have done this. There are definitely lawyers who are passionate about helping people in need and serving the law is how they do that.

If I had followed my passion exclusively, I would be in a theatre somewhere and would have never tried programming to be honest. Following the money helped me find something that was in the centre of the triangle. But I didn’t just go become something that I thought would pay well. I looked for something that I love doing and continued to refine that over and over again until I found what I’m doing now. I’m going to continue to refine that over time as I continue to endeavor to be in the centre of the triangle.

In short, life is not black and white. It’s not one and only one thing that you’re passionate about and you should pursue that without regard. If you honest with yourself, you’re passionate about a lot of things. Find one of those things that pays decently and get good at it. If you do that, you’ll be in a good place.

Passion in a Startup – A Double Edged Sword

The Wall Street Journal is one of the few newspapers that I still give the time of day but I still stay mostly in their business and tech sections. Yesterday they posted an article that really nailed it about how an entrepreneur’s passion can destroy a startup. The title is a little click baity for my tastes but passion and startups are definitely hot buttons of mine.

Key points out of the article:
Passion is what drives most startups but it can blind you to the gaping issues.

Issues that you need to pay attention include (but not exclusive to) the following areas in no particular order:

  • sales experience
  • marketing experience
  • technical experience
  • business experience
  • industry knowledge
  • network of folks
  • family life
  • and much much more

Reality is that we get excited about an idea and want to run with it but without a full team that keeps their eye on all of the various issues, you’re doomed to fail.

If, on the other hand, you’ve got a diverse team with a range of skill sets who are working on the project together and helping cover each other’s weaknesses, you’ve got a much better chance.

One of the big things that a lot of startups forget though is family life. There’s the old adage, “An entrepreneur is someone who works 16 hours a day for himself to avoid working for someone else.” This means that family can easily fall off the side when you are deep into it. Long after you’re startup has been gone (success or failure), your family is going to be there for you. Make sure that you spend some time with them and are sensitive to their needs as well.

The two things that really stood out to me as far as data points in the article:

  • 52% of founders are replaced by their third round of funding.
  • 78% of experienced founders would either wait longer to get funding or bootstrap themselves the whole way.

Both of these data points hit me as a lot of times my advice to startups is to wait on taking investment and these two give me a little ammo as to why that’s sound advice. I always ask startups two questions when it comes to investment:

  1. do you have a clear plan as to how you’ll spend every penny?
  2. Are you 100% sure that the potential investor is on board with your vision and bought in for the long haul?

If you’re just taking money from anyone with a checkbook, that’s a recipe for failure.

In short, make sure that your passion, while an amazing thing and the driving force behind any successful startup, is not blinding you to the potential train wrecks.

I built a Cigar Box Guitar…

When I build the next one, I’ll do a fuller write-up but I wanted to get these pictures and video up.
Cigar Box Guitar
I built a Cigar Box Guitar. My friend Joe Rames had built one and I thought it was cool and then I saw some while in London that just looked amazing. I loved the idea and decided to build my own.

I started with a 1×2 piece of poplar wood and started trimming it down. The head needed to be back far enough to make some tension on the nut (the piece at the top that the wires run over).

And then I needed to carve out the bottom of the neck because I wanted to make a through neck and that required carving it down to let the cigar box close. This was a little tough as I didn’t have power tools and did it by hand with a saw and a chisel.

Then I pieced glued on the bits for inside the box so that it was nice and sturdy. I probably need to redo this at some point because it’s about an 1/8 of an inch short of the bottom of the box and so is not quite touching and stable. But it works for now.

The tuning pegs were the first “guitar” part that I bought. Almost everything else was from home depot, radio shack and my local cigar shop. Figuring out where to mount these was harder than it should be. My next one is likely going to be headless with the pegs inside the box so that it’s a much more compact design.

Then I carved out the cigar box for the neck to fit in. Next time the neck will likely go all the way through the cigar box and out the other side but for this first one, the neck goes through and stops just inside the other wall.

Then I installed the 1/4 inch jack for the pickup and built my own pickup out of a piezo buzzer. That was fun and it works great (watch the video)… The next step was building the amp itself.

Yeah – the guitar looks good. 🙂 but I actually had a lot of work left to do at this point. I don’t have good pictures of putting the frets in. However, that wasn’t as hard as I was afraid it would be. I found an online template maker where you enter in the measurements of your guitar and it’ll print a template for where your frets should be.

I decided at this point to build my own amp as well. I have an amp but it’s big, heavy and doesn’t travel well. Oh, and it’s not in a cigar box… 🙂


It’s a slightly different shape than the other cigar box but I think it looks class. I’ll likely switch out the green light for a red one in the near future but at the moment I like the green as well.

This was actually the first circuit I’ve ever soldered so that was a learning curve as well. Reality is that now that I’ve done it, I’m not sure what I was so scared of all those years. I started with design for a Cracker Box amp and modified it to have an on/off, the little LED and a few other little bits and bobs.

And there you have it – finished product. I’m pretty proud of it. Now to learn to play it…

New job for Josh

I’m very excited to announce that I’m on the brand new Enterprise Architect team in the Developer Experiences (DX)team (rebranded from DPE).

This means that I’m no longer the go to guy for Internet Explorer dev relations stuff, for that make sure that you reach out to @IEDevChat for anything you need related to Internet Explorer. There’s a great team in place that are based directly on the engineering team that are taking over the work that I was doing there.

So the new team is a deeply technical and and focused on delivering solution that customers will use. We’ll be finding issues in the wild that really need some help and solutions and working on helping our customers develop open source solutions in those spaces. It’s going to let me go really deep into technology and still work with customers.

This is really an exciting new position and a growing space. I’m employee number 3 on a team that’s growing quickly and could be 50 people by the end of next year. If you’re interested in talking about the team more, feel free to reach out to me either through the comments or on twitter

Good day at Build

This was a good day. I’m at the //BUILD conference in San Francisco. Handful of really good things happened today.

One, I got to catch most of the keynote today and there were some really good surprises even for me in there.

  • Windows/Windows Phone is free for devices with screen smaller than 9”. I’m loving this. It greatly enhances our reach and all of the sudden it doesn’t matter that we’re buying Nokia to other device makers because they are getting the same price we’re giving Nokia…
  • Great new enhancements to Windows Phone. I’m not blown away by Cortana but it’s interesting. I’m LOVING the new notification center and all the little fit and finish with WP 8.1 and with IE11 on WP.
  • Great story around the “universal runtime” stuff unifying all the platforms development story. I think this is awesome and makes live much better for anyone trying to develop on any of our platforms.
  • Awesome store enhancements such as the being able to buy on WP and it just works on Windows as well and the like…
  • and a couple more things that are escaping me now. What was your favorite?

Two, I now have a CEO who stood on stage and fielded architecture questions about how to build a cloud solution. YES!!! This was awesome.

Three, I got to meet a ton of great folks and catch up with even more. Too many to name because I know I’d forget some. Leave a comment if we connected. 🙂

Four, I got to speak this year. This is actually the first tier one MS event I’ve ever spoken at. It went really well. I’ll link the video when it gets posted to Channel9.

I got to help launch the beta of This is a great site that will keep you up to date on Internet Explorer’s roadmap of features.

Perception verses Reality

One of my first mentors, Denny Williford, told me a story. Over the years, I’ve retold this story dozens of times and I’m sure that some of the details have changed over time but here’s my current version. 🙂

The management for an expensive high rise apartment complex had an issue. Their tenants who lived in the upper and most expensive floors were complaining that the elevator was “just too slow”.

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