Halloween Pics

Ok, one pic. Kinda nice to go out with the kids and neither one has a weapon in his hands.

Garrett Hockey Pics

Garrett showing his closing speed to poke check on D.

Waiting for the outlet pass (he's gonna wait a while in this league).

Doing what he's best at, celebrating after his team scores.

Ship It

While I shake my head at many of the tenets of Microsoft culture (I will write a book one day, really), one element I really like is the "Ship It" stamps and plaque. For every major release of a product, Microsoft distributes a small ~2"x1" stamp to the people that were part of the release. I like it because it rewards delivery and emphasizes that in the end it's about getting things out to customers as opposed to who can come up with the prettiest PowerPoint presentation (apparently those people get promoted).

This past week I earned my first Xbox Ship It badge, and earned some rest I hope. This is a huge time in Xbox history, not just because of Kinect but with the launch of the Family Plan for Xbox Live, ESPN, Zune, etc. Much of it (Family and Zune Pass subscriptions) flow through the subscription platform I just upgraded. Was fun upgrading my personal account to Family Plan, adding my kids to it, and have it "just work."

Glad to be a part of it. Now what's next?


Boys' Hockey Camp

It was six months ago when Spencer and Garrett took their first steps on the ice over in Kirkland. This past week they spent two and a half hours each morning at the ShoWare Center in Kent attending the 2010 Rob Sumner Hockey Camp (Coach Sumner coaches the Seattle Thunderbirds). In addition to some of the coaching staff, four Thunderbirds players helped out each session.

I must say, one of the best experiences I've had as a parent by far. The kids got to play on the ice of their hometown team, the Thunderbirds players were terrific teachers and role models, the camp drills were well-suited to the kids, and they were nice enough to let a 5 year old and a 9 year old play in the 6-8 year old group. About the only thing missing was having the Jumbotron on.

Garrett going all out to get back on defense.

Spencer driving hard to the boards to keep the puck in the zone (his specialty).

The formidable S-Man on D.

A favorite of kids this age is the "Superman" drill.

Most of the time Spencer and Garrett were broken up into different groups; was nice to watch them on the ice at the same time during one of the scrimmages.


Alan Wake Review

Bitchin'! was an expression that had a short lived life back in my college days. That was the first thing that came to mind when I finished Alan Wake.

I won't go into the plot or mechanics of the game - tons of articles on that already.

But what is Alan Wake? And what made it "worthwhile"?

First, let me say, I wouldn't call Alan Wake "fun"; instead, I'd call it entertaining. In a nutshell, it is a long movie that immerses you and makes you truly feel like you're the character - not the actor - in the movie. I think of Alan Wake as being as groundbreaking to game play as 24 was to TV shows.

The game is partioned into six episodes; think of these as six quests, all serialized. There is no choice in Alan Wake, other than choice of path - you can choose whether to explore that shed to see if there's ammo, but unlike RPGs your actions do not affect the game environment. I have never played a "tunnel" game like this and enjoyed it. That's where the beauty of Alan Wake comes it. They figure out how to immerse you so much that you forget you are playing a game and you instead are Alan Wake himself traversing the town of Bright Falls looking to understand what has happened to your wife.

How does it do it?

First, the graphics are superb. Just phenomenal. Maybe that's why it took five years, but the entire notion of being in the dark with a flashlight and fog is pulled off perfectly. Pure realism. If they could make the character look more real instead of graphics, you would swear you were watching a video.

Second, the episodes are long and single-minded. You usually start an episode knowing your final destination, and it takes 1-2 hours of game play to get to that destination. No "hey I made it in 15 mins but here's a twist so go on another quest for 15 mins with yet another twist etc." Coupled with the graphics above that make you feel like you truly are armed with a flashlight in the dark, and you are absolutely drawn into the game in an intense way. It is creepy and it is emotionally draining.

Third, the fighting requires real work for two reasons: a) you can't take a lot of damage, even in easy mode, and b) if you are careless about what you're shooting at, you will run out of ammo. Nearly every shot must count, and you have to be prudent about your weapon of choice. You learn quickly that the shotgun you found doesn't help if you have to reload after two shots, and that you better save your flashbangs to take out at least three bad guys at once.

And because you're in the dark, if you're facing more than one bad guy you're in a state of backpeddaling and spinning trying to locate them. Again, creepy and engaging.

Fourth - and I found this key - while you do have to face bad guys, most of the time you spend moving toward your goal in the dark. I'd say bad guys occupy 25% of your time max. The rest is moving with the fear that bad guys are going to jump you, so you're in a constant state of watching your back. Once again, creepy and engaging.

Orthogonal to all of that is the story. What a great plot. Like a lot of movies, I was less than impressed with the ending, although I won't say I was disappointed. I just thought it could of been better. At the same time, it is always hard in a book or movie that has great suspense to pull off a great ending.

The cut scenes, dialogue, and voice talent is outstanding.

Once you're done, however, I don't see a need to play again unless you're truly after the achievements and exploring every nook of Bright Falls. Again, there are no choices, the plot doesn't change, the environment doesn't change, characters don't change, etc. I'm looking forward to the first downloadable content, but not interested in popping the game back in now that I'm finished.

By the way, play the game in the dark. You will jump more than once.

Thank you, Remedy, for such a great game. And thank you Xbox org for my free copy :)

Five years in Seattle

As the saying goes, "sheesh where did the time go?"

So what's it like to pick up the family and relocate them to another region of the country? Having done it, it's both crazy (initially) and not a big deal (eventually). And both aspects - the uncertainly of reloc and the end result - have been good experiences for me and my personal development.

Seattle certainly walks to a different beast. I wonder if in its collective goal to be unique they are stupid on purpose, but nonetheless it's where we've decided to raise the kids for the foreseeable future.

Interestingly enough, I've gotten to the point where I don't like it if it doesn't rain. At least from fall through spring (the nine months of the year where it rains most every day). It never rains hard here - I've never needed an umbrella, and it's rare if the windshield wipers go past "intermittent." Yet the ground is always wet and soggy. It will drizzle for hours on end. And then go on for more hours. As I type this I don't remember the last time I saw a blue sky let alone sun, and looking at the forecast I probably won't for another week. And strangely, if I did see blue sky, it would be weird.

Once the weather breaks in the summer, however, it's a different story. The best summers in the world (or at least I'm told by world travelers). 70 degrees almost every day. Not a cloud in the sky for weeks.

I'm really surprised myself in taking to the outdoors. I've considered myself an athlete (enjoy playing sports) but not an outdoorsman. But long walks that challenge your mental and physical state for hours on end, in total solitude, with beautiful views of God's creation all around is a great match for both my competitive nature (can I really make it to the top of that 4000 foot mountain?) and my social personality (get as far away from people as possible). Hell I've started looking for real estate in the mountains for my retirement.

When I moved to Chicago I traded in being a Tigers fan for becoming a White Sox fan. That was part of the deal for my wife becoming a Lions and a Red Wings fan. I'm now trying to figure out how to be a Lions fan while my kids are Seahawks fans, and suffice it to say it's hard. When the Lions played the Seahawks this year, I sported Seahawks gear for the kids, cheered externally for the Seahawks, and celebrated internally as Stafford threw for a couple TD passes. I actually went into the game thinking I truly would cheer for the Hawks, but quickly realized where my loyalty lies. No sense fighting it. Damn you Ford for cursing the Lions.

For all the foot travel I've done in the Cascade Mountains, we haven't done as much family travel as I'd like. Still haven't been to Vancouver or the Olympic Mountains or truly visited Spokane (stopped by my uncle's for a couple hours but did no sightseeing). The only exception is that we have been to Lake Chelan on several occasions. With Spencer and Garrett having activities on the weekends, the likelihood of us catching up on weekend getaways seems slim and none.

So here's to us pitching our tent in the Pacific Northwest. Looking forward to the next five years.


My dream job, or how I got hired by Xbox

Maybe not my dream job, but definitely my dream organization. On Monday I start a new role with the Xbox organization (still as a Program Manager) working in Xbox Live. I enjoyed my 21 months in search, accomplished a lot, was rewarded fairly, but now its time to look to bigger and better things.

Xbox Live is the piece that takes gaming to the next level. Multi-player gaming. Downloadable games and movies. Online game shows. And who knows what is in store for the future. It's the piece that excites me about Xbox as an entertainment vehicle, and now I get to play a large part in shaping its future (of which much has yet to be written, with decades in front of us). Way kewl.

But my biggest learning from Xbox Live might have already occurred: don't be afraid to take a chance.

Jobs in the Xbox org are highly competitive. Internally, with the geek culture that is Microsoft, working in the gaming division is the most sought after work in the company. Externally, people in the gaming indusry (ok, some, not all of them) love the idea of working for a company with best-in-the-world perks and benefits. As such Xbox is real, real picky about who they hire.

I have a friend that I've worked with in the past that works in Xbox, and he put me in touch with a hiring manager with an opening. Unfortunately, the position was filled before I got to talk to the manager. So I took a look at the internal job site, saw a position that looked like a fit, and reached out to the hiring manager for an informational.

My thinking was to make some contacts and learn what Xbox was looking for outside the obvious "industry experience" and "real smart folks." Then, use that knowledge to develop my skills while in bing, eventually getting in a position where I could realistically compete for those coveted Xbox positions.

To my surprise, the first informational I requested, I was granted. Then, to my surprise, I was scheduled for an interview loop. Again, my expectations were still low. Great, a loop, a nice opportunity to learn what they are looking for.

At Microsoft, the "last interview" in a loop is never executed unless all the previous interviewers give a thumbs up. The last interviewer (usually a higher up but not necessarily) not only looks at the fit to the position but also to the organization (and for external candidates, to the company). As guardians of talent they also have veto power. Once again, I was surprised when I was told indeed I would be meeting with the last interviewer - I had passed the bar with everyone.

At the end of the interview loop, I was content that I had given it my best shot. It's the first time I've interviewed that I didn't feel I made a mistake, or wish I hadn't said something, or wish I would have added something. Instead, I knew I gave it my all and they had an accurate picture of who I was. Still, even if they were impressed, these are highly competitive positions and they were interviewing many candidates.

As such, when I got the email two days later with an offer to join Xbox, I was a little surprised. It wasn't supposed to be this easy. Well, not easy, but this short. It took a whopping 10 seconds for me to reply back with acceptance and start thinking about my transition plan.

So, why do I think I got in? A few reasons:

  • I'm a gamer. First and foremost, they want people who love video games. In fact, as an almost-40-year old I've been played video games for 30+ years. Not many people on this earth with more experience than that! And three of them I interviewed with :) With most people, I'm embarassed to admit how much time I spend on video games (and have since I was a kid). With this org, I was embarassed at how little I played.
  • I have a track record of being decisive. I sensed that a real challenge they have in Xbox is making tough calls on where to apply precious resources in such a large ecosystem. Everyone (game developers, publishers, retailers, etc) wants to partner with Xbox, but there aren't enough resources to go around. How do you make feature calls? Partnership calls? Can you live with saying no? That's what they look for in PMs.
  • I can deal with ambiguity. My interview question from the Principal SDE was "how do we go about adding (insert big feature here) to Xbox?" From there I had to break it down, know what questions to ask, what the big issues would be, and describes ways of addressing said issues. Which is all about understanding the process of resolving big problems rather than specific solutions.
  • I knew exactly why I wanted the job. No, really, I mean it, this is what got me passed the last interviewer. He told me the previous candidate answered that question by saying they just wanted out of their current job. Bzzt. Wrong answer. I had done my homework and new I would be a great culture fit, I had a passion for gaming, and the area (development) was up my alley (as opposed to operations or product management or marketing). Touchdown.

Xbox is going to be a great culture fit for me. Just enough process and documentation, job descriptions are not set in stone, they do not create nice and neat little boxes for people, etc. 180 degrees from where I was, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

I am so ready to "Jump in." Now, upstairs to my Xbox. I have work to do :)


I hope the Red Wings are looking at Calvin Pickard

Just read where is rated as the top North American goalie prospect for the upcoming draft. I've watched this guy stop 50+ shots a night on a pretty bad hockey team. Congrats to Calvin, he's the man.


Purdue had to lose sometime

Winning their first 14 games wasn't totally unexpected (they had a pretty easy pre-conference schedule, with one top ten matchup on a neutral court and another top ten matchup at home). And if there was a game that would break their streak, I figured it would be at Wisconsin. And it was.

After the game, though, I'm a lot less confident that. Wisconsin did not play a good game, especially offensively, and Purdue couldn't even make it a game at the end. If this were an anomaly, then no big deal, but the slow start first half has been Purdue's modus operandi for most of the season. At some point they have to shake it and get out of the gate strong. Good teams are going to pull so far ahead Purdue won't be able to catch them.

I also think yesterday's game highlighted a) Hummel still isn't the offensive player he was two years ago, b) Johnson is the basketball equivalent of Curtis Painter - puts up great numbers against smaller teams, but get some size in his face and he disappears, and thus c) Moore is going to have to carry this team to Indianapolis.

I'd like to see Painter prep this team for a final four run. If that means getting Barlow and Bade more PT, and even Marcius into the mix, so be it. To win a big ten title and not get to the final four because Purdue didn't play its cards would be disappointing.