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Long Race for Longhorn

Sunday, May 16, 2004

It is the third Saturday in May, in Maryland, and that spells Preakness with a capital P. 100,000 people descend into north west Baltimore. Many of them will end up in the infield for an endurance test of drinking, dancing, betting, gawking, passing out from sun stroke, and all sorts of debauchery.

I enjoy an occasional trip to the track. I never win very much, or loose very much, because I bet pretty conservatively. I determined years ago that betting on horses is not my forte. I look at an evening at the track as an evening of entertainment, more expensive than a trip to the movies – but not if I can win just a couple races. I like to stand outside near the track where I can actually see the dirt fly off the hooves.

The hard part about watching outside is I find it difficult to keep track of the horses. I used to try and stay focused on the horse who could give me the best financial outcome, but by the time they reach the backstretch, I’ve lost sight of the horse. I’m trying to listen to the monotone announcer but it always sounds like “blah blah blah your horse blah blah blah”.

So I’ve decided it is more fun to watch the people around me. As the race gets further along, people become more excited. Some of them clap, some of them stomp, some of them “talk” to the horse. They start to yell and jump and make all sorts of rehearsed gyrations intended to bring good luck. My favorites are the people who have an imaginary whip.

I don’t return my attention to the horses until I can see them well down the backstretch. The horses are beautiful at a night race when their coats are gleaming in the lights and dirt is flying everywhere. I can usually pick out my horse for the last 10 seconds and root him on with a few well timed leg slaps.

Longhorn reminds me of the horse races. I don’t know when this horse will cross the finish line. There are many people who want the product to hurry up, and many people who want the product to go out to pasture. The press tries to create controversy and scandal with all sorts of speculations. At the races, when I can't see what the horse is doing, I start watching what the people around me are doing. With Longhorn, that means putting together little applications.

It is fun for me to see what interesting software people are building with Longhorn. There is the Squarified Treemaps app, the NNTP reader, the Calculator, the Virtual Pet, the TranslateIt!, and I took a crack at it myself with the VSS Label Diff (a real yawner in comparison). By release time I’m sure we will all be in a frenzy.

Anyway, congratulations to Smarty Jones, winner of the 2004 Preakness. If you were my horse, I would have named you Starman Jones - like the Heinlein novel, but at 3 – 5 odds I still would never have bet on you.