Project Aardvark

And Then There Was One

Friday, August 19, 2005 posted by Tyler Griffin Hicks-Wright

Well, looks like the summer has come to an end.  Ben and Yaron left last week, and Michael finished his last day yesterday.  The office is a lot more quiet now, but also a lot brighter since we were finally able to remove the window tinting we had up for the documentary filming.  I'm going to miss having the other Aardvarks around.  Thanks to everyone for making this a great summer!

For those of you still interested in keeping up-to-date on Fog Creek Copilot, we'll be starting up a new blog at http://www.copilot.com/blog/ in a couple of days.

I suppose that end's this intern broadcast, thanks for reading!

Hasta la vista.

Friday, August 19, 2005 posted by Michael Lehenbauer

It seems the summer has come to an end. I'm sitting in the airport right now, waiting for my flight back to Indy. And in two weeks, classes start back up at Rose-Hulman. I've had a great summer. It's amazing how much has happened in the past 10 weeks. There are definitely some things I'm going to miss...
  • Ben, Tyler, and Yaron. It was a pleasure working with them and we definitely had some good times.
  • The documentary filmmaker formerly known as Lerone. I never really got the hang of being interviewed, but he put up with me anyway and it really was fun and interesting to be in a documentary.
  • Fog Creek! The people, the fun trips, the awesome computer, the free lunches, COPILOT!!!... It was all great.
  • Public transportation! Subways are cool.
  • Excellent food within short walking distance of anywhere you happen to be. (I'll definitely miss this when I'm back at school)
  • Entertainment (broadway shows, comedy clubs, random people doing random things in random places, ...)
There are also some things that I think I'll somehow manage not to miss:
  • The noise!!!
  • Having unknown substances drip down on me while I'm walking down the street. It's amazing how often this happens. Hopefully it's just dripping air conditioning units, but it's hard to be sure.
  • Elevators (I hate all the waiting).
  • Crazy cab drivers.
  • The lack of grass and trees and chirping birds.
  • Prices (and sales tax!).

I seem to have mixed feelings about New York, but I have a feeling I'm not leaving it behind forever. In any case, it's definitely been a great summer. I couldn't have asked for much more from an internship and while I'm looking forward to going home, I'm definitely a bit sad to leave. I owe a big thanks to Joel, Michael, Liz, and the rest of the Fog Creek gang.

I guess that's it. Farewell and thanks for reading!

Last Post

Friday, August 12, 2005 posted by Yaron Guez

So today is our last day.  Well, the last day for me and Ben at least.  Mike is staying another week, and Tyler is starting full time (he already graduated).  I’m amazed at how fast this summer flew by.  Then again, we accomplished so much.  Launching Fog Creek Copilot version 1 on Monday was incredible.  Techsmith put up a page on their site about Project Aardvark and the Usability Tests and  I had to correct the fact that it said we had only four months to pull this off.  No, not four months, we did it in 10 weeks. 

 

At the same time it’s very frustrating.  The product is finally live so there’s so much more for me to do if I had another month.  We don’t want to start any web advertising until a month after launch, so we would have stats to compare with when choosing what type of advertising arrangements to go with.  Besides, we already have a good amount of internet publicity as it is.  There are two upcoming  articles in Crain’s New York Business that mention us, there are a few other press possibilities that might pan out, we had 750 beta testers, 14 usability testers, 190 future release preview testers (so far), 586 bloglines subscribers, and we’re already getting a steady number of Day Pass sales a day.  The most exciting thing is the number of corporate license inquiries that I’ve been getting.  The list grows in bounds everyday.  We had to set up a filter in FogBUGZ because it was taking too much time to keep putting names on the list.

 

For those that have been asking, hosted and unhosted licensing and other account payment options will be available in future versions of Fog Creek Copilot.  Accounts will be available for those who plan on using the service often and don’t want to purchase a Day Pass each time.  There will most likely be a way to purchase month passes, and/or chunks of connection time that can be used separately.  Licensing options will most likely range from a certain amount or unlimited number of invitation codes a month, to a hosted portal designed to match a company’s current support site.  Since 3/4 of us are leaving, there’s no explicit timeline for these releases just yet, so be sure to keep up with Joel’s blog for future release dates or e-mail support@copilot.com and ask to be added to the corporate license contact list. 

 

See!!  There’s so much more ahead with this product and I’m going to be missing all of it. It’s depressing.   I’ve got such a vested interest in this.

 

I've spent most of this week working on a graphical tour.  I’ve been recording videos of how to use Fog Creek Copilot for a Flash walkthrough on the website.  It’s turned out to take a lot longer than I thought it would.  This is mainly because of all the different user routes that need to be captured.  It certainly doesn’t help that I have to turn the air conditioner off every time I record any narration.  And of course every time I’m juuuust about done recording a big section, someone coughs, or a door slams, or a phone rings, or a question is asked, or the doorbell rings…you get the idea.  I’m almost done though.  This is my last thing to do for this internship.  Finish this flash movie and I’m done for the summer.  Crazy.

 

I saw the first few pieces of the film that Lerone (I mean Doug) had edited the other day.  The piece opens up with an interview of me at school a few days before going home talking about what I was expecting for the summer.  I can’t believe how much has changed since then. 

 

For starters, I learned an incredible amount this summer.  I’m a CS major, not a business major.  So while the other guys started here with a whole lot of formal education on their trade, I only started with what I had from three past summer jobs, plus any innate business sense that I have.  Yet, we launched a product from inception to release.  The official title Joel gave me was Product Manager, as opposed to marketing intern and I soon realized why.

 

“So, what are you doing this summer?”

“Four of us are launching an online service this summer.  Three top software developers are writing all the code and I’m doing everything else.”

 

I remember one friend, interning at Boston Consulting Group, laughed when I told him that and responded, “well, whatever you’re doing, it’s not enough.”  It was daunting, but I learned so much along the way.  It’s been such a great experience.

 

Secondly, when I came here, New York was a place you visit now and then.  You take Metro-North from New Haven for an hour and a half once in a while to meet up with friends for an evening, or to see a show once in a blue moon.  Now?  I love New York. I absolutely love this city.  I can’t wait to move here.  It seriously does not sleep.  You can go out at any time of night on any day of the week and find interesting things to do and people to meet.  I made a great friend who lived in the building this summer.  We found so many cool places through out the city.  Last night we were in a taxi going to the lower east side to meet up with some people and as I was looking out the window it occurred to me that I knew where I was and recognized places that we passed.   And I realized that had pretty much been the case for the past three or four weeks.  The city seems so much smaller now. 

 

So what did I do this summer?  Launched a product, learned a ton, made some great friends, and decided I’m moving to New York City.  Talk about a great internship.

The Thing About New Yorkers

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 posted by Benjamin Pollack

I normally try not to post random observations about New York on the grounds that Joel seems to have that pretty well covered, but sometimes, all of the creative juices are just flowing in the same direction. So, today’s topic: New Yorkers are insane.

Strictly speaking, that statement is at least partially false. New Yorkers are smart enough not to root for the Cubs, for example, so at least their anti-masochist synapses are firing. The real issue is that you can’t tell who really is insane anymore. It used to be easy: people talking to invisible pan-dimensional beings and hyperintelligent shades of blue were insane, and most everyone else not actively murdering people was basically okay. Nowadays, though, the people in the business suits have cell phones, and these cell phones have miniscule ear-mounted mic/earphone combos, so you are greeted with, for example, the sharp woman in a $1000 business suit I saw this morning who was having a lively conversation with a rather bored parking meter. This is a common enough experience that most New Yorkers try to get used to it by consuming copious amounts of sissified alcoholic beverages with names like “the Orange Sunrise Flamingo,” which is about 9 parts orange juice to 1 part Bacardi Citron served with a full-size umbrella for $15 plus tax, which comes to $28. The semblance of insanity therefore is the norm in New York.

The assumption that everyone is insane has lots of perks, but the one I want to focus on today is that no one cares how you dress. This concept isn’t hard to understand: when everyone’s insane, it’s impossible to go wrong. Simple.

This can work to your advantage in the extreme. The Marymount, in addition to busting people for having parties, going to the roof, letting guests exit the building without escort, walking too quickly, going to the bathroom too noisily, and using the garbage chute to dispose of mobsters without first asking permission, also has the largest single collection of broken washing machines and dryers in the greater New York area. Last night, I had to do laundry, so I thought, hey, I’ll do the laundry. (I can be very impulsive sometimes.) I started at 11 PM, so I should have been done by 12:30 AM and finished sorting by 1 AM.

Sadly, the icicle of reality cooled off my expectations like a very large piece of ice being put next to something warm. First, a washer malfunctioned, simply filling up and then draining without that whole pesky spin-and-tumble thing. The next washer I used, in addition to having the no spin thing, also decided that draining was clearly for pansies, leaving me with a pile of dirty wet clothes and drenching what I was actually wearing. The annoying thing is that even when you realize the washers are malfunctioning, you cannot do anything; the door locks once the cycle starts, since these are side-loading washers, so even if your realize 5 minutes after you start that something is wrong, you have to wait it out.

Ninety minutes of broken washers later, a machine that I knew worked had freed up, so I transferred my clothes to that. By that point, though, I was out of money on my laundry card, and the machine that lets you add money only takes 5s, when all I had were 1s and 20s. I went to the corner grocery and bought $4 worth of groceries (a Plen-T-Pack of Doublemint gum and an ice cream sandwich) (people outside New York are going to think that that’s a joke, so I want to emphasize that a Plen-T-Pack at a corner grocery costs $1.25, the sandwich was $2.50, and tax is about 10%, so this is not hyperbole) to break a $20, then went back and finally got my clothes washed.

If that had been the end of it, I’d have been angry, but relatively calm. My troubles, however, weren’t yet over. As you probably have guessed, the first dryer I used malfunctioned. What really irked me was that it was very coy about how it malfunctioned: it heated up for the first 5 minutes, when I was standing there watching intently for any sign of deviance, and then as near as I can tell simply stopped running entirely almost as soon as I left. Fortunately, I discovered that it had failed after only about 40 minutes, not the whole hour, but I still had to throw them in another dryer and try again.

To shorten this already very long story, I actually finished everything at maybe 3 AM and got to bed by 4. That would not have been an issue, except that I got up at 7:45 so that I could meet my sister to ship a bunch of our stuff back home since summer’s ending.

How does all that relate to weird clothing? Because I was very, very, very tired when I got up, so I put on my shirt inside-out with the collar half flipped up European-style and half actually tucked under the rim of my shirt, and somehow failed to notice. I looked completely idiotic.

Here’s the really fun thing, though: no one said anything to me. Not only that, but despite the fact that I seemed to have the intelligence of a rather specially enabled jar of marmalade, the man at the UPS store was very kind and treated me like a normal human customer. Anywhere else in the country, one of the following two discussions would have taken place:

 

Possible Conversation 1

UPS Man: Sir, not to bother you, but your shirt is on inside-out.

Me: Oh, thanks. Sorry; I’m really tired today.

UPS Man: Yeah, no problem, I’ve had days like that too.

 

Possible Conversation 2

UPS Man: Your shirt’s inside-out.

Me: That is because I am demonstrating that I go against the grain of society, using my clothing to symbolize the inversion of social mores and my establishment of my own ethos.

UPS Man: [Hypothesizes about my sexual orientation.]

 

But in New York, I actually looked, overall, pretty normal. Certainly more normal than some of the people I ride with in that fermenting tin can of human sweat known as the New York Subway.* In fact, if we had had a conversation about it at all, it would have gone like this:

 

UPS Man: Dude, your shirt is inside-out.

Me: It’s because, you know, people in cities are so cloistered, I’m trying to set a new trend and wear my emotions, my being, my soul, on the outside. I am symbolizing that by wearing my shirt inside-out, exposing my interior to the world.

UPS Man: That’s deep, man.

 

And a clothing manufacturer would overhear this discussion and think, Hey, if artists can get away in the MOMA with putting some basketballs in a fish tank, I can probably get away with making a fashion out of shirts worn inside-out, and suddenly you would be able to buy shirts that had been deliberately manufactured to be worn inside-out, and they would cost $250, and you’d start seeing them all on TV and in magazines and on those ads they put here on the inside door of toilet stalls, and young teenage girls would be begging their parents to let them get designer “Invertz” shirts to complement their caterpillar-skin handbags.

New Yorkers would call this new style “sophisticated.”

 

Overall, I think I am a big fan of the everybody-is-insane mentality of New York. Sure, I guess it has some drawbacks, but what’s the alternative? Are you gonna slop the hogs? Are you gonna tip the cows?

Well, if you are, I know you'll have a lot of fun.

Just remember to wear your Invertz.

 

* I actually love the subway, and enjoy mocking people who take cars all the time about how I can frequently get around faster by subway than they can by cab, but it really does smell pretty bad right now due to the heat.

We're live!

Monday, August 8, 2005 posted by Benjamin Pollack

Family or friend have a problem? Not really in the mood to drive halfway across town just to show someone how to install Firefox? Wish you had a solution to fix their machine that didn't involve you reconfiguring firewalls, setting up an SSH tunnel, and walking them through a bunch of Windows control panels before you even had a chance to get to the real issue?

After months of hard work, the Fog Creek Copilotsmservice is now live! That's right, people, we are now officially at Fog Creek Copilot 1.0! So now you don't have to ever be in that situation again. From now on, helping others with computer problems will be fast and painless. Check it out at http://www.copilot.com/ for all the details.

Working Hard

Monday, August 8, 2005 posted by Michael Lehenbauer

Life at the Creek has been kind of crazy lately. The summer is almost over and we’ve been working hard to address the feedback we’ve been getting from the private beta while also trying to get the service into a releasable state. I’ve finally finished all of the payment processing stuff for the website and as Ben mentioned, we’ve just given the application a bit of a facelift. It’s looking pretty slick.

We’re not the only ones who have been working hard though. With the end of the summer approaching, Lerone is running out of time too. Yesterday he filmed Tyler and I running through Central Park and I think today he did some sort of cockroach reenactment with Yaron and Ben...

Speaking of the documentary, I’ve heard some people voice doubts that a documentary about software development could be all that interesting... But I think you’ll be surprised to find out about the crazy stuff that go on. Fortunately, Lerone’s been here to catch them on film. See for yourself.  This is a shot of me hanging out of the window the other day:


Keep in mind that this is just ONE FRAME of the documentary! So take the awesomeness of this and multiply it by about 100,000 and you’ll have an idea of how great the entire film will be.

Okay. All seriousness aside, I think Lerrone’s been doing a great job and I’m looking forward to seeing the final result. If you’re in the New York area and interested in seeing one of his other films, you should check out the theatrical premiere of No Child Left Behind on September 25th. Sadly, I’ll be three weeks into my fall quarter by then and won’t be able to attend. :-(

GUIs and BMPs and ICOs

Thursday, August 4, 2005 posted by Benjamin Pollack

It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted anything on this blog. That’s not been because I’ve lost interest; it’s been because we’ve all been extraordinarily busy. As of today, we enter code freeze: no new features can be implemented in the host and helper applications unless they are fixing severe bugs, and even those fixes have to undergo a code audit (at least theoretically). As a result, we’ve all been in a kind of blitz to get as much possibly done before today as we could.

 

For example, we have this cool interface art for the Helper and Host apps that our graphic design artist made for us, but none of it was implemented at the beginning of the week. In a long stretch from 9:30 AM to 11:15 PM on Monday, I managed to implement all of it except for one animated panel in the Helper. Those of you who use the new beta that we just released should be greeted to a much nicer interface.

 

The weird thing to me is how much those bitmaps make the application feel more professional and solid, even though graphics obviously have nothing to do with an application’s stability. Code-wise, making the interface look pretty is extraordinarily time-consuming, but not because it’s programmatically difficult. The code required to modify the UI was, with one or two exceptions, trivial compared even to some of the simpler network components, and does not begin to compare to some of the more complex changes we’ve made to general functionality. What makes it time consuming is how hard it is to make everything line up and look just right. The human eye has an amazing capacity to notice when items are mere pixels from perfectly aligned because you slightly miscalculated a bounding box, or when items flicker subtly because you didn’t think you really needed to double-buffer that redraw. The result is a nearly endless cycle of seeing something that doesn’t quite look right, quitting the application, tweaking a couple layout parameters, and firing the application back up, only to discover that now your components are messed up in an entirely different area—again only by a pixel or two. Blech.

 

Thankfully, all of that’s now implemented, and I have to say that I personally think that the applications really look top-notch. In addition to simply having a generally slicker interface with new graphics and full support for Windows XP themes, we’ve also added a nice toolbar that finally allows sending an explicit refresh and the Windows Three-Fingered Salute.

 

The really cool thing is that we’re finally getting reviews, and the reviews are positive even without all of the spit and polish that’s in our most recent builds. Ryan Hartwich at FusionAuthority overall is quite positive about the Fog Creek Copilotsmservice. Go check it out. (On a random note, Joel, who read the article before we had a chance to, came out of his office enthusiastic yet visibly confused and told us, “Hey, you guys got your first review! I didn’t quite get why he thinks you should be boiled though.” That sounded rather ominous, so we all quickly loaded up the review fearing the worst, only to find that the sentence actually read, “Overall, the interns at Fog Creek have done an admirable job and should be poached upon graduation.” So, to any recruiters: please ensure you understand the difference between poaching other people’s employees and boiling other people’s employees. I think I speak for just about everybody when I say we appreciate it.) Reviews like that make all the pain worthwhile.

 

It’s going to be very sad to leave Fog Creek next week. I cannot believe the summer ended so quickly. There are so many features in Project Aardvark we’ve not had a chance to implement yet that it feels, with quite a bit of justification, as if we’re leaving the project midstream. Tyler will be staying on to single-handedly take all four pieces of the Fog Creek Copilot service from 1.0 to 2.0, and it will be sad not to be around to watch that happen. Nevertheless, I feel very proud of what we’ve all been able to accomplish. The four of us have managed to take a product from conception to running beta in only about four weeks, and now, at the tenth week, we’re days away from an official 1.0 release. I know that I made an awful lot of mistakes on many things, but I also learned an incredible amount about programming and, more importantly, about development in the grander sense. I think that Project Aardvark, over the span of the summer, has reflected both the mistakes and the learning that followed. There have been some rough spots, but we’ve pulled through all of them, and Copilot really is looking like a solid product now.

 

Will Project Aardvark and Fog Creek Copilot stand the test of time and grow to become a major service? I certainly hope so. But whether it does or not, it’s been a wonderful summer, and it will be very fun to watch what happens to our products in the coming years.

Blocked by China!

Monday, August 1, 2005 posted by Tyler Griffin Hicks-Wright

Some feedback from a beta tester:

"We have been looking for a way to connect to labs in China, the 'Great Firewall of China' has blocked all attempted. We just made our first connection [with Fog Creek Copilot] before losing it due to power failure in the lab..."

Later, when the tester tried to connect again, he discovered something interesting and sent us another message:

"Still trying to connect with China, are connecting, but every once in a while the connection is lost...It looks like the Chinese Gov't has already blocked downloading from the www.copilot.com web page so I have had to send them the connection file."

Apparently, someone in the Chinese government noticed that the Fog Creek Copilot service made it a little too easy to get through the "Great Firewall of China". Reports are that it still works, but the website has been blocked.

About Project Aardvark

Fog Creek Copilot
Aardvark'd Movie

Instead of wasting their talents giving the the usual dull and unimportant tasks of a typical summer internship, we decided to let the interns create a complete new software product, from beginning to end, over the course of one summer. Read More