Articles posted November 2006

When Good Codenames Go Bad

I'll admit it: I've never been good at coming up with codenames for projects. Sure, I've worked on projects with good codenames (Virtual Game Station was codenamed Bonestorm, but you can thank Eric for that one). But they're usually not of my invention.

Except once.

When we were starting work on the first Windows version of Virtual PC, we were brainstorming codenames. Nothing was really clicking. Finally, someone suggested, "Well Aaron's the lead, he should pick the name." Great. Off the top of my head I scrambled and threw out Hedgehog. Not a particularly exciting or descriptive codename, but not an entirely terrible one, either. It stuck. In fact, we even used Hedgehog as the root directory name of our source control tree (this was before we really realized what a bad idea this is, since you're generally stuck with it at that point without some major reshuffling).

Over time, the name grew on me, and on the rest of the team. Turned out to be a pretty good codename after all. As we went through our planning phase for Virtual PC for Windows, we decided to rearchitect the core Virtual PC code so that we could share as much code as possible between the Mac and Windows versions. Furthermore, planning ahead, we realized that we were going to want to consider developing a version of Virtual PC to run on Linux platforms. And we were going to want to craft a new Mac version that ran on MacOS X, which hadn't been released yet.

All of these projects needed codenames. And so, with a bit of cleverness, Hedgehog begat Warthog (VPC for Linux) and Groundhog (VPC for MacOS X). Of course, we still needed to produce a "classic" MacOS 9 version as well. Since that one had been around since the beginning, it was dubbed Boss Hogg.

Conveniently, referring to the whole collection, we could just talk about the whole hog.

After we had produced Virtual PC for Windows, we hooked up with Microsoft to produce a variant of Virtual PC for Windows that would serve as the emulation platform for Windows CE development. This was sort of a stripped-down, mini version of VPC Windows. It was given the codename Piglet.

By now, we had pretty much achieved a state of doneness with the whole hog theme. Or so I thought.

We had one developer, working from overseas, who was off trying to come up with what we all thought was going to be the killer application of Virtual PC: seamless integration with the hosting OS. That is, you would be running Virtual PC for the Mac, and rather than seeing a Windows desktop, you would just see the individual windows of the Windows applications you were running. You could interact with them similar to your Mac application windows, and thus your Windows apps would appear to freely intermix with your Mac apps. This was a hard problem, and we never did come up with a final shipping solution. But we did have a codename for it: Seamless Windows Integration in the Native Environment. Yep, SWINE.

Okay, at this point, all the developers were really done. A moratorium was placed on pork-related codenames. We would come up with a new theme. We began to start talking about what our future products might be. We began development on Virtual Server, and studiously avoided using codenames at all.

Sadly, our project managers did not get the memo. Looking forward, we thought about supporting multiple processors in a virtual PC, and maybe even developing an Itanium-based version. The codenames for these two projects?

Snowball and Napoleon.

Strangely, nobody has ever asked me to come up with a codename since then. I wonder why?

Concert Review: Pet Shop Boys

Last year I wrote about our NIN and System of a Down concert experiences here in Seattle. Lest everyone think I'm only into the loud headbangy stuff, we ventured off to see the Pet Shop Boys in concert last weekend. This time the concert was at the Paramount Theater instead of Key Arena, which definitely provided for a more intimate atmosphere. Vera and I also decided it was time to stop acting old and actually buy floor tickets. On the plus side, this meant getting closer to the stage and no worries about standing in front of people who didn't want to actually move to the music. On the minus side it meant dealing with tall women wearning giant dunce gaps and blocking our view, and fending off at least one slimy, sweaty, drunken guy who was either hitting on me or Vera or both, we couldn't quite tell.

There was no opening act, which mirrored the experience we had at our last PSB concert which we saw down in San Francisco during the Release tour. Apart from that, however, the show was quite different. On their previous tour, they were in seriously stripped down mode, just the two of them on stage, and Neil really the only thing to pay attention to. This time around, they brought along a troupe of backup singers/dancers to add some more visual interest to the proceedings. It was for the most part choreographed and costumed in a droll sort of over-the-top seriousness with tongue firmly in cheek. Definitely a lot of fun to watch.

I was especially surprised to hear at the very beginning when Neil shouted "Hello, Seattle ... We've waited 21 years to say that!" Apparently, they had never been to Seattle before. Which explains why I was getting a lot of interest in my T-shirt from the previous tour, and why I didn't see anyone else wearing one.

Overall, the guys covered their extensive catalog pretty well. I've actually been a Pet Shop Boys fan since their first album, well before I was even into any kind of electronic music, so it was especially nice to hear a lot of tracks from Please and Actually. They opened with "Psychological" from the new album, which was fitting and a lot less obvious than "The Sodom And Gomorrah Show" would have been as an opener. A bit later on, they did a nice segue between their new spelling song "Minimal" and their original spelling song "Shopping", with a cool animated backdrop.

The biggest surprise in the concert was the sudden downtempo performance of "Dreaming of the Queen" from Very, done with hat in hand before a giant projected image of Diana's funeral. I happen to love that song (and "The Theater" from the same album), so it was quite a nice switchup during the performance, and did the song justice.

The absolute highlight of the show was their new song "Integral" -- definitely my favorite track off the new album, eminently danceable, and the crowd was totally into it. They almost hit that high again during the encore of "It's a Sin", but it didn't quite reach the same level.

It's been a week, let's see if I can remember the songs they played:

Nothing from Behaviour or Nightlife, but I guess you can't have it all. :) I'm sure I missed one or two from that list.

Once again, a great show. With this being our second Pet Shop Boys show, they join the elite cadre of bands we've seen multiple times (along with Depeche Mode, They Might Be Giants, Rush, Tori Amos).

The only minor gripe I have has to do with merchandising: I'm perfectly willing to fork over the obscene prices for a concert T-shirt ... but it has to at least indicate that it is a concert T-shirt. If it looks like something I can buy off the web, I'll buy it off the web for much cheaper, thank you very much! I left empty-handed.