September 25, 2007
Up-Front Apology: My apologies for the language in the title, but I genuinely could not come up with a better term.
Techno-Speak Warning: I’m adding this after re-reading my post and realizing that many of the references, which I have tried to cross-link to more detailed explanations, will go way over the head of a large majority of the readers of this blog (with readership numbers in the low double-digits, it’s fun to say things like “large majority” — these are the things that humor a data geek like myself).
My cousin, Chris, has long been the reigning braniac on my dad’s side of the family. When I was a kid, and my sister and I would go visit my aunt and uncle and their three kids in Naperville, IL, every couple of summers, we never knew what Chris and his best friend, John (Jon, maybe?), would be up to. I think I was in junior high when Chris explained the difference to me between an EPROM and an EEPROM. I’d never heard of either one, but that was the sort of thing Chris needed to know…as he was working on building a robot. I don’t know if the robot ever got finished or ever worked, but there were enough wires, circuit boards, resistors, capacitors, chips, and other components floating around that he clearly was teaching himself how to hook things up to make them do what he wanted. I, of course, did what any pre-adolescent, envious cousin would do — I referred to Tae Kwon Do as “King Kang Boom.” Chris was fairly into Tae Kwon Do for several years, and, for some reason, my fun-poking got a rise out of him.
Chris and John both headed to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, both studied computer science, and both worked at NCSA on Mosaic (Chris was a co-author of the first Windows version of the browser), where they met and worked with Marc Andreesen, who went on to found Netscape. John was an early employee. Chris, for his part, went to Spry for a year or two before joining Microsoft, where he’s been working on Internet Explorer off and on ever since.
(Note: the above information is at least 90% accurate — gleaned from my own first-, second-, and thirdhand knowledge of Chris’s career)
A couple of times while we lived in Austin, Chris would be in town for a meeting of one sort or another. At dinner at Chuy’s one night, when he was in town for a W3C working group meeting, I made a comment to the effect of, “You’re, um, the Microsoft representative on this standards group?! Doesn’t that pretty much mean that you carry 100 times the clout of any other participant.” Chris sort of chuckled and did his best, “Aw, shucks” brush-off (“Aw, shucks” is not his specialty), which was enough to tell me that, yeah, he’s a bad-ass. Again, apologies for the language. As I write this now, I can’t help but think of meeting David Stone from Wal-Mart at several data warehousing functions and discussing how he was the Wal-Mart representative on Teradata’s customer advisory board. David, too, as much admitted that, when Wal-Mart speaks, their IT vendors not only listen, but they jump, do handstands, and try to fly. David, like Chris, is super, super sharp. So, in both cases, it seems like a good example of free markets doing well — the cream rises at major companies, and that cream then gets used to influence what hits the market and how. Come to think of it, my friend Tom Pratt at Dell is another guy who’s in a similar situation (think CDs, DVDs, and any other form of optical storage). There really are some sharp people behind the technologies that are making our world a better place to live.
Somehow, Chris occasionally follows and comments on this blog. It makes sense that he was an early adopter of RSS…since he was a senior architect when it came to incorporating feed-reading functionality into IE 7. After his most recent comment, and on a late Saturday night when everyone else was asleep and I’d snuck off to listen to the end of the UT-Rice football game, I started doing some poking around to see if I could find Chris’s blog, which was not hard. I subscribed to it…but I also recognized that it looks like Chris has gone ahead and moved on from traditional blogging, which is becoming passé, perhaps, to micro-blogging on Twitter. Alas! I don’t “get” Twitter any more than I get Second Life (“I’m busy enough as it is in my first life, thank you very much!” <groans> “I’ll be here all week, folks!”). But, presumably, I’ll be a Twitter aficianado in another couple of years, once that, too, has become passé.
Anyway, I stumbled across Chris’s lecture at MIX07, which is Microsoft’s big user conference. It’s an hour long, but it’s downright fascinating stuff (see warning at the beginning of this entry). I’ve spent the last eight or nine years heavily involved with the web, and I’ve gotten some level of dirt under my fingernails with HTML, CSS (Chris…um “developed the first CSS implementation in Internet Explorer”?!!!), and, more heavily, with web analytics, which is all about trying to capture what people are doing with their web browsers. So, it’s pretty fascinating stuff for anyone who actually works on the Web.