Tuesday, September 27, 2011

About Me

I love building things.

I have co-founded four startups, assembled and managed teams of developers and delivered products that millions of people use every day.

Some bits of trivia:

Remember that pinball game that shipped with Windows from Windows95 through XP? That was made by me and my co-founders at my first startup, Cinematronics. We were later acquired by Maxis.

My second startup, Eclipse Entertainment, created the first browser-based 3D graphics engine. It was acquired by WildTangent.

I built a compressor called Quantum and for a few years in the 90s it was the best-performing lossless data compressor. It was the first compressor with a workable solution to the optimal parsing problem and typically outperformed PkZip by 20%-30%. Borland, Microsoft and Novell licensed it. Microsoft used it for their .CAB files (it knocked two diskettes off the size of Windows) and almost all of their products were compressed with Quantum.

I created World Class Chess which was the first commercial chess program which offered a user-configurable opening book library. I made it configurable so my chess-playing friends would populate the opening book for me. That plan back-fired in an amusing way: They tended to enter whatever obscure openings they were studying at the time. As a result the program liked to play openings it couldn't understand and when it exhausted its book it proceeded to waste time rearranging its pieces to match its own ideas about pawn structure, mobility and king safety. (If you're a programmer you might enjoy thinking about how to represent a chess opening book library in just 8 bits per move. It used to be important to fit it in as little space as possible.)

I created Launch, a Windows shell that replaced the dreaded Program Manager. It sold well for a few years and had a community of enthusiastic users.

I created Savant, the first Scrabble game that was fast enough to do a tree search in the end-game. Its middle-game was weaker than the best program at the time but it made up for it with near-perfect end-game play. Computers are faster now and the best Scrabble games today do Monte-Carlo simulations at all stages of the game.

I built and shipped (in Encarta) a natural-language search engine at Microsoft. Its accuracy outperformed our best keyword-based search engine at the time.

Optimizing for performance is one of my passions. You can read about a couple of my programs at the following links:

There Ain't No Such Thing As The Fastest Code
http://downloads.gamedev.net/pdf/gpbb/gpbb16.pdf

It's a Wonderful Life
http://downloads.gamedev.net/pdf/gpbb/gpbb18.pdf

I wrote much of Borland's Turbo C run-time library. I often think back to what a great experience it was to be a part of that team. The stars were aligned for Borland in those days. It was magical and, in many ways, you could say that I've spent much of my career attempting to recreate that magic. I've come close but have never been totally successful. Such things are rare. I was too young to appreciate it at the time.

My interests are focused around machine learning, natural language processing, information theory, high-performance computing and scalability.

I lived and worked in Japan for two years though I've pretty much forgotten what little Japanese I once knew.

I enjoy games and puzzles: Go (Weiqi/Weichi/Baduk), Chess and Scrabble.

In 2002 I took a year off and rode a motorcycle around the world and had some adventures. I was interrogated by the Russian secret police and told them everything I knew in great detail. They grew bored and let me go.

Some things I believe: Working with good people is soul-enriching. Mentoring younger people is a way of repaying those who mentored me. Shipping is hard but real artists ship. Nothing can replace perseverance.

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