June, 2008

Larry Osterman's WebLog

Confessions of an Old Fogey
  • Larry Osterman's WebLog

    BillG Memories, part 1…


    I’m going to be out of town tomorrow, so I won’t be able to post this on Bill’s last full time day at Microsoft, but I wanted to post a couple of anecdotes about Bill.

    This one actually comes from Valorie, it was her first interaction with Bill…


    Valorie was an intern back during the summer of 1985 in the Word group (she was working on testing Word for the ATT 3B5 minicomputer (yeah, we had a version of Word for Xenix machines back then)).


    She was late at work one night and she noticed this madman skipping down the hall leaping at the ceiling tiles trying to tip them out of their frames.  She thought this was weird, but back in those days all sorts of strange things happened.  Employees used to have softball games in the hall (which were eventually stopped when someone accidentally smashed a relight with a bat), the Windows team used to climb onto the roof of the building and have impromptu jam sessions on the roof of the building.  Stuff like that happened fairly regularly, so a crazy man running down the hall swatting at the ceiling wasn’t a big deal.

    She asked Libby, the person in the office next to her who the madman was and Libby replied: “Oh, that’s just my brother.” 

    Valorie chalked it up to nepotism – over the years were a lot of siblings working at Microsoft (just off the top of my head, I can think of at least 4 pairs of siblings working there at the time), so she thought nothing of it.


    Until a couple of days later when she noticed that her neighbors nameplate said:

    Libby Gates

    Valorie had several more interactions with Bill when she worked with Nathan Myhrvold, but this one was by far the most memorable.  I absolutely love the image of Bill Gates, skipping down the hall swatting at the ceiling, it’s SO different from the stereotypical image people have of Bill.


    I have a couple of other BillG stories I want to tell, but they’ll have to wait until I come back next week.

  • Larry Osterman's WebLog

    Hold on, Oliver the Wonder Pony and his rider are ranked 14th in the Nation?




    In the past, I've written about Oliver, the pony we bought a couple of years ago for my daughter to ride.  Sharron's long given up riding, but fortunately a young woman in our barn, Margaret Odom decided to take a flier on Oliver and the two have fallen in love.


    Margaret's been doing really well on Oliver and we've always known that she's a skilled rider and that Oliver is a talented horse, but we just got notified that she's been invited to compete for the National Junior Dressage Championships in California next weekend (June 21-22).  Margaret is one of 12 junior riders nationally to receive this invitation.

    She'll be competing in the same venue as the US Olympic dressage team will be holding the trials for the US National Dressage Team, and she'll be competing before the same judges as the National team.


    8we05 odom oliver ceb (Small)

    This is absolutely huge, and I want to give her and Oliver a huge shout out.  I'm just bummed that we can't be there to watch her compete.


  • Larry Osterman's WebLog

    Who's on that banner?


    For whatever reason, various groups at Microsoft love to run banners and posters that promote their products on campus.  I'm not sure why they do it, I'd think that their money would be better spent advertising to (say) customers as opposed to advertising to co-workers, but hey, I don't control their budget.

    Recently there's been a relatively cryptic series of banners circulating near my building that originally was a series of pictures of the back of people's heads, and recently changed to a series of faces (all with no text).

    Yesterday I was on a shuttle with one of the PMs in my group and the conversation went something like this:

    PM: Do you have any idea what those banners are advertising?

    Me: Yeah, I figured it out a couple of weeks ago on my walk. They're Microsoft Advertising.

    PM: I know it's Microsoft advertising, it's blindingly obvious that they're advertising something.

    Me: No, it's Microsoft Advertising.

    PM (somewhat exasperated): I know it's advertising.  I'm just trying to figure out what they're advertising.

    Me: Microsoft Advertising.

    PM: If you don't know, then why did you tell me you knew what they were?


    Bud and Lou would be proud.

  • Larry Osterman's WebLog

    Off to the 5th Avenue Awards tonight!


    Tonight we're going to be attending the 2008 5th Avenue High School Musical Awards show.  It's the local equivalent of the Tony awards for High School musical productions.  This year Daniel won an Honorable Mention for his performance as Brownlow in Overlake's production of Oliver!  In addition, his cast mate Nick Wright has been nominated for an award for his role as Mr. Bumble.

    It's cool to see Daniel and Nick's hard work being recognized.

  • Larry Osterman's WebLog

    News Flash: Spaces are legal characters in both filenames and passwords!


    I recently figured out a problem that I've been having with one of our internal tools.  The tool is used to automatically deploy our daily builds (extremely handy when you're doing that every other day to several test machines).  As a part of the tool, you need to include the password for a test account.

    We normally use the tool from an automatic test harness, essentially I enter the 4 or 5 parameters to the test and it automatically runs the tool (and other stuff if necessary).

    The problem I had was that I would enter my account and password but the tool kept failing after reporting invalid parameter errors.  It worked perfectly when I used a different account that is used by our testers, but when I tried using my preferred test account it kept on failing with some kind of command line parsing error.

    Eventually I tracked down the actual command line being passed by the harness into the tool and I was immediately able to see the problem.


    Being a security geek, my "password" is actually a passphrase - the theory is that passphrases are harder to crack than passwords because they are drawn from a larger dictionary.  So my passwords tend to be things like "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain".

    In this case, the test harness took my password and passed it to the tool as follows (assuming that the command line for the test tool is "testtool.exe -useuser <username> <password>:

    testtool.exe -useuser testaccount The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain

    Doh!  Either the test tool or the test harness wasn't handling the spaces correctly.  I tried an experiment and ran the test tool manually:

    testtool.exe -useuser testaccount "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain"

    and it worked!  So it appears that the problem was that the test harness wasn't correctly handling the spaces in my password.


    So I went to the maintainer of the test harness and described the problem to him.

    His response?  "I never knew you could have spaces in a password!  Wow, I didn't even think of that."



    On Microsoft operating systems, spaces have been legal in filenames since MS-DOS 2.0 (about 1982) and in passwords since MS-NET 1.0 (about 1984).  I'm astonished that 25 years later there are people who still don't know that.

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