Category Archives: Software

By @ 03/23/12 in Software

Hi, my name is Grant and I fixate on problems.

It all started when I was young. I wanted a way to automate all the math problems I had to solve in school. That started my affair with computers. Rather than sitting down and solving the math problems myself, I could just teach the computer to solve them and then it could solve hundreds of variations on that problem. I was never much one for games but I loved the idea of computers playing games to solve problems. My intuition was often brute-force search, which, though I couldn’t do it in my head, a computer could do it in seconds.

My early successes with computers were habit forming. Whatever the problem was I thought I could solve it with a computer. I grew up in an area (Cupertino) where computers were all the rage anyways. Everyone spoke of them and their infinite potential. Would a computer become sentient? Would one cure cancer? When would we start learning from them? Though I now see that their major use is making money in business and consumer markets, I hold on to the hope that their making the world a better place.

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By @ 09/27/11 in Mission Year, Software

I’m excited to announce the launch of a new website designed to help us with fundraising for Mission Year!

Good Shoppr is a fun new shopping site that aims to give you a great shopping experience: a wide range of products, the ability to influence what we carry, and the knowledge that every purchase is in fact a good deed. You can browse and shop on Good Shoppr knowing that a portion of your purchase will go to the not-for-profit organization we highlight at the time.

We started Good Shoppr as a creative way to raise funds for charitable organizations. We are not in it for personal gain (other than the ability to support causes we care about), and all our proceeds will go to our chosen charities. (As we grow we may need to offset some taxes and expenses, but our aim is to keep those to a minimum).

Our affiliation with Amazon assures you of secure purchase transactions and reliable shipping. When you are ready to checkout, you’ll actually use and enjoy the benefits of your existing Amazon account.

Shop for goods, shop for good on

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By @ 05/09/11 in Software

My wife teaches Chemistry at a local Public High School. With that, we often discuss the schooling and education systems in America. I’m fascinated by many things in the broad subject. Last weekend, my wife commented on how difficult it is to have large classes. My wife explained that students do better in smaller class sizes. The extreme however: 1 student per class is not optimal. Students need a social atmosphere but at 30 students per class, teachers struggle to maintain an orderly classroom and grade assignments.

I started doing some math (just back-of-the-envelope stuff) to determine why class sizes are so large. A startling realization was how little schools benefit from increased production. Most manufacturers will recognize the biggest profits in economies of scale but for education this doesn’t work so well. The issues are numerous: locality, non-linearity (students learn at different rates), quality/standards, etc.

Having come to a realization that most educators already have, my wife further explained that the tradeoff is usually: smaller classes or cut after-school programs. In her experience, parents would be livid to learn that sports programs or special-interest clubs had been cut. But their not so upset to learn that class size has increased from 30 to 35. Reflecting on this, I realized that we’re most sensitive to the absence of a thing than to a degrade in quality.

There are interesting implications to this: you’ll pine for something you don’t have more than you’ll want a higher quality thing already in your possession. Not only is this exhibited in education but also more broadly in products.

I work at Microsoft and one of the best things we’ve got going for us are features. Features. Features. Features. Our big product units are all centered around delivering good customer experiences which we deliver through features. Compare our products with another software line and we’re likely to go straight to the features for a comparison. This strategy has been wildly successful. I think, in part, I now know why.

As much as we have features, we have bugs. Microsoft is always getting lambasted for poor quality. Though we work very hard to produce high quality products, we don’t always meet the bar. But somehow Microsoft is still making billions. The reason is this: too many missing features and you won’t buy but all the features you could dream of at poor quality and you’ll just buy it and complain.

I’m reminded of a story I heard about a conference that took place years ago. An upset man in the audience called out, “When are you going to stop producing this crap software?” The speaker responded, “As you soon as you stop buying it.”

By @ 03/05/09 in Software

The future looks pretty cool.