Dan Appleman: Kibitzing and Commentary

My personal blog

Goodbye Thinkpad, Hello Thinkpad

Like many, I have very mixed feelings about IBM’s sale of their PC division to the Chinese company Lenovo. Like many professionals, IBM’s Thinkpad is my notebook of choice. And it’s not just the features, or quality of construction. Or the incredible compatibility with everything. Or great support web site. Or excellent reliability. The real amazing thing is their technical support. Whether it was replacing a forgotten custom power cable on a few hour’s notice in Chicago, or being able to get a real person on the phone late on a Sunday night to deal with milk spilt on a keyboard, IBM provides a level of support that few if any can match.

My first thought when I heard of the deal was – so long Thinkpad. Because I couldn’t imagine that anyone else could maintain the overall quality that the brand name “Thinkpad” has earned.

But then I read their press release. Yeah, it’s the usual marketing fluff, full of nice semi-promises that don’t really mean anything. But there were a few facts that surprised me. First, that the new PC division would be headquartered in NY. Second, that an IBM VP was becoming CEO of Lenovo. Third, that IBM is maintaining a pretty significant ownership stake in Lenovo.

In other words, this looks less like Lenovo just buying the PC division and more like them trying to, in effect, become a major multinational company, like Microsoft, Sony, and dozens of others including IBM itself.

You see, the one flaw with Thinkpads is that they aren’t cheap. So it occurred to me that it’s possible, just barely possible, that this new company might be able to keep all the things that make Thinkpads so great, and just maybe do it at a lower price. Ok, I know it’s a long shot, but one can hope.

I’m going to be due for a laptop upgrade next year, and I’d really hate to start shopping around again. However, just in case – if any of you believe that another laptop line is overall as good as Thinkpad has been, I’d love to hear about it.

Big heads & Little heads

Joel Spolsky has an interesting discussion on his site in which he challenges the Microsoft Solution Framework (if not software development methodologies in general) using the Hebrew terms “rosh gadol” and “rosh katan” to describe the characteristics of two types of developers.

While I would hesitate to try to translate the two terms (I think Tamir Nitzan does a much better job than I could), I thought I’d share my own way of looking at it. Though it may be a bit of an over-generalization, when it comes to approaching a task there seems to be a spectrum.

On one end you have the individual who solves problems. When they have a task or goal, and run into obstacles, they will solve them, overcome them, bypass them, work around, above or right through them, even if it means redefining the problem to do something just as good or better than the original task or goal. These people would, I think, be Joel’s “rosh gadol.”

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the person who stops at the first excuse. In other words, as soon as the individual as a justifiable reason to stop looking for a solution, they are finished. While this can be intentional (Joel’s example of a “work to rule” situation applies), it is more often just part of their nature. These would be the “rosh katan.”

There are, sad to day, a lot more of the latter than the former.

And this also supports Joel’s assertions regarding software methodologies. A true “rosh gadol” won’t actually be suppressed by a restrictive methodology – he or she will likely solve their problem by finding a better company to work for. A “rosh katan” won’t have trouble with it either – as the more complex a methodology is, the more opportunities there are to find excuses (uh, the additional 3 week project delay was caused by the requirement to review and rename every local variable to have camel casing…).

Of course, this isn’t just applicable to software development. It’s part of the human condition. In fact, I strongly suspect that this is part of one’s character that is formed when very young, because I don’t know of any reliable way to convert an adult from a “rosh katan” into a “rosh gadol.”


Ok, I admit it, I’m a Trekkie from way back. Not an extremist, mind you. But I grew up on the original series, and by the time I was old enough to recognize how cliche it was, Next Generation was there as a deserving successor. Deep Space 9 was better yet, almost (but not quite) reaching the level of genius found in Babylon 5 (the best SF series ever made).

I must confess though, Voyager was a let down. I started watching, ready to give it the benefit of the doubt, but somehow it just didn’t work. Every other episode consisted of alien race threatens/invades ship, Janeway & Co. save ship, ship gets a few miles closer to home. Yes, there were a few gems in there, but on those occasions I watched I was more often than not disappointed.

With Enterprise, I started out hopeful, but again it seemed uneven. I almost gave up, but at the end of the last season something happened. Whether it was the introduction of multi-episodic story arcs (a key element of the success of both DS9 and Babylon 5), or just more sophisticated storytelling, I actually began to look forward to seeing it. With this week’s conclusion of a three part series illustrating a key historical event on Vulcan, I feel they’ve reached a level as high as any of the other shows.

So, for those of you who have abandoned Star Trek in one of its later incarnations, but remember one of the older shows fondly, I think it’s time you pay the franchise a visit. You may be pleasantly surprised.