The funeral home can’t play MP3’s

Funny, when we got to the funeral home Alberta (my mom's best friend and minister at today's events) was playing music through a boom box at the front of the room. Later she explained to me why she wasn't using the much more sophisticated sound system built into the funeral home: they couldn't play MP3s.

Turns out she had a bunch of my mom's church music on various CDs that were made on computers. Another reason she didn't use it? It was too complex. Later I went back and looked at it. It indeed was far more complex than the boom box.

That reminded me again of two principles software engineers should ask ourselves. 1) Can it do what we need it to do? 2) Is it simple to use? I understand how those two can sometimes be in conflict. It's why a professional camera has a lot more complexity than point-and-shoot cameras. Lately inside Microsoft we've been arguing out some of our decisions on how complex to make interfaces. These aren't easy things to solve. Make something easy and it might not be useful. The problem is that you have to decide what market to go after. If you aim a camera design at the mass market it better be simple, because that's what nine out of 10 photographers want. But, there's 10% that need more features. Leave those features out (like manual shutter speeds and exposure overrides) and you'll lose the pros. Not every product can be as simple as an iPod. Sometimes we forget that, which is why I ask product designers "what's your philosophy?"

I just saw this article over on TechDirt about how complex our cell phones are becoming. Yeah, I've seen people walk into stores and say "I just want a cell phone, no email or Web or anything like that." But, then, I look at my own phone and how much I've come to love its ability to do other things. I would never give that up. It has changed my world and I think that over the next 18 months will provide more technological change than any other device (the Xbox is cool, but if you gave me a choice between a new Xbox or a new cell phone, I would take the cell phone in a second).

The experience at the funeral home reminded me too of just how much our lives had changed due to technology. Would Alberta know what an MP3 file is just a few years ago? I doubt it.

Regarding the services, the day was beautiful and the services were interesting and moving. I found myself thinking that I love living in America where you can practice any religion you want. And my mom and her community sure practices a form of religion I doubt many of you would recognize. Heck, I don't recognize it.

Another funny moment? A cell phone started playing a song in the middle of the ceremonies. If my mom were there that would have earned a dirty look. Instead Maryam gave me a dirty look for giggling (after biting her own lip for starting to giggle herself).

Later she told me how in Iran giggling at a funeral is a big sin. A no-no. I told her that my mom didn't want us to be sad at her funeral, so I found it helpful when that cell phone went off.

When I got back to my mom's house I found I wanted to get back on my computer to get back in touch with the world. There the harsh reality reminded me of what awaits when I get home. 469 emails. Yikes. I haven't been answering email much for two weeks.

One of the first things I did was check in with Dave Winer's blog. He's writing about the O'Reilly Web 2.0 service mark controversy. That led me to Tim O'Reilly, who groused about bloggers' lack of professionalism. I've been thinking about similar things a lot. What are my responsibilities as a blogger? Did I sign up to do the equivilent of the New York Times here? How do I keep true to myself in a world that values (and uses) those who have audiences.

It's why I was depressed a month ago, though. The idea that my blog had become a media property or something I had to do. Or something I had to do a specific way.

I'm glad I went through this personal time after my mom's stroke. It helped me refocus on what's important and what my blog means to me. This blog is mine. It is what I'm thinking about, and what I'm seeing in my life. It isn't a news article. I am not vetted. It isn't done by a committee. I am not being held to any standards.

On the other hand, I don't like the lynch mob. It's going to take a strong blogger to stand up against hundreds of blogs who are urging action one way. But, we need that kind of diversity of ideas if we are going to make this a truly strong media.

It's important for me to say that when the lynch mob isn't aimed at me, either. I might end up at the focus point of such a mob in the future, so hope that someone would stand up for me in such a time.

One last thing before I sign off for the night and start driving with Maryam back to Washington: thank you for putting up with me for the past two weeks. Sorry for not answering my email. Sorry to my coworkers for increasing your workloads as I focused more on my family.

I'm looking forward to getting back and thinking more about the technology business again. My experiences these two weeks demonstrate that what we do is important. Even in a funeral home.


Indonesia needs our help

I was away from news feeds and TV all weekend long so didn't hear this news, but I see the Global Voices blog and Ed Bott talking about the deep need in Indonesia due to a major earthquake that happened there.

As we prepare to go to my mom's funeral today, this is yet another way you can help improve the world. We'll donate some in my mom's name to the Red Cross.

Tonight, after the funeral in Bozeman, Montana, we'll be driving home. My mom lives just down the street from Seattle, but it's a long street! (Highway 90 goes from Bellevue, WA through Livingston, Montana — we'll spend about 12 hours on that highway driving home).