Sunday, August 2, 2009

Community Spotlight: Randall Arnold (Texrat)

The former (now has had its share of discussions 'gone wild' with respect to new product launches, no product launches, rumours on next products, d-pad location/absence and the like. And usually at the centre of those discussions was our very own Texrat. Randall Arnold (Texrat) is a proud user and promoter of the Maemo based Internet Tablets. Formerly employed by Nokia, where he was involved with the successful launch of the N800 at CES 2007, Texrat brings a unique combination of persuasive discussion, technical insight and plain old humour to the discussions in the forums. Let's get to know the rat a bit better, shall we?!

1. So, Texrat, what is your background in terms of your education, and work experience?

Most people don't know I was a plumber for 10 years, from household repair to large-scale commercial construction, starting at age 15. Obtained my journeyman license at 21 and scored the highest on the testing of anyone the company employed. During that time I went to community college to become a drafter-slash-robotics technician. I got the opportunity to join Texas Instruments as a cooperative education student in 1987 and it changed my life. I spent 7 fascinating years in their former defense division, and then after they sold it to Raytheon I bounced around the product development world until I happily landed at Nokia in 2005.

2. I know that you were employed by Nokia, and were involved with the launch of the N800. What exactly were you responsible for? Were you involved with the N810 as well?
I started as a Quality Feedback Analyst at the Fort Worth Alliance factory in September 2005, responsible for SQL Server database design and upkeep, statistics report development, production process improvement and local application development. When it became obvious the US plant had no future, many prominent people left pre-emptively and our staff shrank. That got me more involved with process improvement for a while, which was a lot of fun. I helped solve a pilfering problem for Wal-mart, for instance.
After the closure was formally announced, my manager (Donna Neary, the best boss a guy could ever hope to have) rebranded me as a Quality Engineer. I inherited the 770 and became enthralled. I recognized immediately that this was a potential game-changer and threw myself into gaining a deeper understanding of the product than I was required to. And when I was given the N800 to babysit, I was in seventh heaven!
My job with the N800 was to catch defects at the front door and inside the operations, and keep them from leaving the building. I wish I could tell you the successes of our hardworking auditors but I am required to keep the gory details under my lid. Suffice to say we were highly successful in minimizing field failures. Amazingly so. When you hear of quality defects, I can assure you they made up a tiny, tiny percentage of the whole. Plus, the factory closed not long after and production relocated so we can't take credit or blame for the products produced after January 2007. ;)
I had no direct involvement with the N810, but was rewarded with one for what a senior manager described as the most successful product launch in Nokia's history. I take great pride in that. Too bad it was forgotten by November 2008...

3. Working within the giant Nokia corporation on Internet Tablets must have been exciting. Are there any 'all-nighter' type stories, or other interesting anecdotes that you can share with us with respect to the work you were involved with on the tablets?
I was salary so no overtime pay, but I worked double shifts some days to get 200 N800s out on time and to CES with zero defects-- with zero complaints. I was that enthused about the device. Plus I was hoping someone would notice and give me a chance to stay with the company somehwere after the plant closure. Someone did. ;)
The production process auditors and product inspectors had never seen anything like the tablets. I had to develop a test plan from hell to make sure everything was covered, and training was intensive. I give kudos to some very sharp people under my direction. One was even rewarded with an N800 by me for really stepping up. I could not have pulled off my part without them.
Oh! and I got to cook ten N800s in a high-temperature oven to gage the reaction of heat on the LCD reflector. There was concern the Texas sun could warp it. Five of the LCDs had some obvious warp. I was allowed to keep all ten and made several co-workers very happy... even with the slight warping. The rest of the story is that LCD reflector thickness was subsequently doubled.

4. OK - I am going to ask, and please tell me to bugger off if you cannot answer this (due to any lingering NDA, moral or ethical obligation, etc). Do you know what was the Easter Egg on the N800, and N810?

Video out was supposed to be one, I was told, but that's all I know. And I can't even validate that. As we are all aware now, video out was impractical. If there were others I don't know of them.

5. Devices running Maemo 5 haven't been released yet. There is a lot of pent up emotion over at related to the fact that nothing new hardware-wise has dropped in our hands since the N810 almost 2 years ago. Do you consider this time period normal for this industry? Can you share any of your own thoughts on the subject?
You are touching on my biggest beef with the project! I am not going to blame the Maemo folks though-- not their fault. The product development and release schedule comes from higher up and is part of Devices. But no, I don't consider the gaps normal at all. You won't see them, usually, in Nokia's other lines. There's more I could say on this but won't. Sore subject.
I'm on record on my blog and other forums as supporting an N800 refresh. I asked about this as an employee and never received an answer. Obviously I was not owed one at the time.

6. Fremantle - what are your expectations for this iteration of the OS? I know Nokia is attempting to make the devices more mainstream with each iteration. Do you think Fremantle will have enough whiz-bang to lure people over to the Maemo display cases at their local electronics stores?

I have mixed feelings on Fremantle. I love the features it will bring but hate that it's transitional. I do think it has the eye-candy appeal for mainstream consumers that wasn't quite there with out-of-the-box Diablo. But sustainability is the key here, and I'm still not completely convinced it's going to be there. Trying to be hopeful though.

7. Some information surfaced a few months ago, revealing that the Maemo 5 lead device (RX-51), codenamed Rover, would be a phone and not an Internet Tablet as we know it. If true, I think it makes good product strategy since you can grab more users with a full-featured phone, rather than a phoneless-tablet. There is certainly a market for Internet Tablets as we know them, otherwise most of us would not be lingering around t.m.o. What is your opinion - do you think we will see a tablet, or an evolved tablet-like device from Nokia running Maemo 5?

Again, this goes back to the release gap issue. Some readers may recall I advocated a multiproduct platform, similar to the E series and regular N series (I think making the tablet an N series device was a huge error). In my opinion you best serve the customer with at least the easy choices. Consider that you can get full-featured Nokia phones as standard flip style, slide, "candy bar" and some unique variants like the venerable E70. This is what your various market segments expect. I think something similar is necessary for tablets. You may have noticed that the tablet community is sharply divided over "slate" format versus keyboarded. Supplying both simultaneously is a no-brainer. By the same token, sure, offer a cell-enabled variant BUT keep one or two with the legacy functionality as well. So in short: gaps bad. Overlap and platforming good.

8. Unfortunately you had some time off from regular employment. That is a tough situation to be in. But I hear that you are working again now - congrats. It seems that you've taken up blogging in that time. How is your blog doing - in terms of visitor stats, Planet Maemo karma?
Not well, usually. ;) I see that some articles I felt were Maemo-relevant were thumbed down by a few folks. I even teased them about it in one post. But I don't take that to heart. The comments section of the blog is my feedback focus. Right now the read-to-comment ratio is horrible but I am processing what feedback I have received and plowing that back into subject matter. That appears to be working: I just hit 612 readers in one day after the "Why I love my Nokia internet tablet" article (small for the big guys but huge for me) which was a significant improvement in eyeballs. Now to translate that into tongues. Karma is fine but not inspirational.
The hardest part with Tabula Crypticum has been shifting from the approach and coverage I could use in my former Nokia internal blog to something for public consumption. I've always leaned toward transparency (Quim Gil is groaning right now, with good reason) and I have to watch that now. There's so much I want to share but can't. But I do have a huge backlog of Nokia articles that can be repurposed and if I can recover them from backup without too much work I may do so. I also want to thank Quim for pushing me to even do a public blog. I just wish he would stop in some time and visit. ;)

9. You've also taken up music recording! And it actually sounds nice. Can we expect a tablet-ballad at some point? Or is that just too nerdy?
Heh... I have been writing lyrics for over 40 years but just got serious enough during my "time off" to get my first album going. Thanks for the compliment, too. I enjoy making music more than almost anything. I'm even trying to learn music theory and quit hacking.
I have managed to steer mostly clear of novelty songs but who knows-- maybe I can sneak in a geeky tablet reference without it sounding trite. Or maybe I'll just write something just for the tablet community. In fact I'll team up with Tim Samoff. ;)

10. Anything you want to say to the internet tablet community? Here is a chance to set the record straight, ask for a presidential pardon, make an inspiring speach... anything.

I just want to say I love you guys. Sincerely. The tablet community fussed all over what I considered my baby and really made it shine. I have never associated with such a passionate, dedicated, talented group before and I sure hope I am fortunate enough to meet some of you in person in Amsterdam. I applied for sponsorship and I'm crossing my fingers...

'Post'-Mortem by EIPI:

Thanks Texrat, for taking the time to participate in this Community Spotlight.

There are few on that attract large virtual audiences when they jot down a few thoughts in a discussion thread. Texrat is at the top of the list of people that do just that. Anyone who has seen his discussions, or spoken to him about Internet Tablets quickly sees the passion that he has towards these products. So much so, that he has spoken openly numerous times about how he sees this line of products evolving. The fact that he is still promoting these products after his employment at Nokia is a benefit to us all. Keep watch for his Maemo related blog posts on the Planet - they are highly informative... just watch out for the odd one dealing with blog statistics! ;)


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timsamoff said...

As I was mentioned in this interview, I hate the fact that I'm the first commenter, but... Oh, well...

This was a very fun and informative piece. Thanks! :)

EIPI said...

Thanks for the positive feedback Tim! When can we expect to have Texrat and you collaborate on that musical number?!

Texrat said...

Tim and I are talking. Don't rush perfection!

And thanks again for the opportunity here, EIPI!