Monthly Archives: February 2006

My Biggest Software Failure

Dianne fesses up.

Bill Wagner offered “What is your biggest failure” as an appropriate interview question. I like it. I especially liked his answer! But in calling his bluff, I promised that I would confess my biggest failure if he did, so I have to be true to my word … not sure that mine measures up as well as his does!

At my first job out of college, I developed software for laboratory instruments. We controlled hardware with our software, as well as doing measurements and analysis. It was really a fun job! In any case, the fact that I was controlling REAL hardware was driven home one day when I forgot to turn the power off to the furnace before raising the piston. Yowza! The two pieces of metal touched and arched. Luckily, no one was injured, but it was fairly scary. This was a lot different than SIMULATING something. Real people were putting their hands in there. Real machinery was moving and under POWER. I’ve always made sure I understood the components of a system after that incident! And in the nearly 20 years (ouch) since then, there have been several times that I’ve discussed this failure with new grads to impress upon them the importance of a broad understanding of the application.

More Praise for Technology

Skype and a family conference call

You know that technology is becoming ubiquitous when your totally non-technical parents are using Skype (! I’ve been promoting Skype for use within my family for a month or so now, ever since my parents got high-speed internet. My dad’s first reaction was “JOANNE! Come look at THIS!”. Somehow, the video component totally overwhelms my parents with coolness. The ability for my parents to see their grandchildren eating dinner is priceless. And since my sister recently moved to Wales (with 2 of aforementioned grandchildren), I think that Skype will end up being a lifeline to them for my mom.

So, this morning, when the entire family was on a Skype conference call, it was a bit like the dinner table at Christmas, quite exuberant! I look forward to many more conference calls in the future, but I suspect that we will end up using the 1:1 video calling more frequently because the video component is an amazing touch for families far away from one another. I’m not really wild about using the video feature for business calls (with 2 small kids, I don’t always get to shower before work!), but for family it’s great!

Ah, but then I read in the news about how Skype calls may (heck, probably are) used extensively by terrorists and such, because of their encrypted nature. EEK. Well, the whole wiretapping thing freaks me out a bit for privacy reasons. Of course, then I go watch an episode of “24” ( and that makes me think about the ramifications of NOT being able to tap into calls (and the geek in me wonders if Skype’s gonna show up in the show soon!).

Anyhow, Skype is cool. Anything that gets my kids’ grandma to use the computer is definitely cool. She hasn’t called us yet using it, but she’s getting close to being comfortable enough to do that. And that’s very very cool.

In Praise of Technology: Sportvision

Just embracing the little ways in which technology has enhanced entertainment!

In Praise of Technology: Sportvision

Well, I have decided that if I could do ANY job as a software developer, I would want to work at Sportvision ( This is the company that developed the 1st and 10 line in football. That yellow line for the 1st down is one of the reasons I like to watch my MEEECHIGAN football at home (in addition to easily accessible bathroom facilities, no traffic, not being squeezed into the small seats at Michigan stadium, and my husband’s fabulous guacamole!).

My Olympic viewing has also been enhanced by SportVision. I love the “world record line” that the swimmers chased in the last summer Olympics. I love watching the current ski leader superimposed on the screen with the current racer. And the team who developed the technology to “embed” the country flag below the ice for speedskating amazes me. The graphic is SO good. I’m not all that much of a speedskating fan, but I will confess to have watched a bit last night just to get a good glimpse of the flags to see if any shadows, etc. were missing. It just looks flawless to me!

I heard an interview on NPR yesterday by a representative of Sportvison, about the use of their technology at the winter Olympics. It was pretty cool. You can hear the interview at

So … the real geek question is … what language, toolkits, etc. do they use? Wouldn’t you love to know?! (Of note: their website doesn’t work very well with Firefox)