Monday, April 30, 2007

When the Chips are Down

I have been thinking back to the times when I have had my hands full, when I have felt that I was in over my head. Actually, I don't have to think back too far because it has happened to me all this week. Working on the Zune has really been challenging, and these past couple of weeks have been tougher than any other during my time at Microsoft. I remember when I tried to take that class on Stochastic Methods. I tried so hard to get my head around some of the new concepts but I just didn't get them so I gave up on the class. I don't want to give up on my current project but if I am to succeed, I need to get my ducks in a row. This means the following:

1. I shouldn't panic or get flustered
2. If I need more time, i should just ask for it
3. If I need help, I shouldn't hesitate to ask those who already know

Finally, I need to learn to have a good time, because at the end of the day, just one life to live, right?!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Greed, Control, the Government and the Black Market

I am reading a great book by Gregory David Roberts - Shantaram. As the story unfolds, I am stricken by a thought that involves economics and governments. There is one established fact about human nature - we are all greedy. Even the saintly ones want to be recognized for their sainthood, and reap the benefits that their exalted status affords. Humanitarians, charities, every institution erected by man suffers from some need for recognition, and therein lies its greed factor.

I digress; I wanted to address the related concepts of greed, regulations and control. Governments, like the one established in India, have made a science out of imposing ridiculous regulations on the market. The British invented many of these regulations and took these along to their colonies. It's sad to see that India continues to adopt such regulatory practices almost 60 years after independence. Contrast this with America, where everything British is reviled. Therefore, there are almost no regulations, translating into unrestricted flow of anything (goods, people, cash) from one part of the country to another. This free flow is what stymies the growth of the Black Market in the US. Everything you need can be easily obtained locally or from the Internet. Free enterprise and easy access to goods for the entire population are the anathema for smugglers, and the death knell for the black market.

Going back to India - everything in the country is regulated. I remember the first time I was to leave Bombay for New York to get my graduate degree. A limit was imposed on how many dollars I could legally purchase for my fees and travel. An entry was made in my passport with the details, and I couldn't be caught traveling with any more US currency than stated in my passport. Now, what if I needed more to kick-start my life in this foreign land? I would have to go through unofficial channels; fortunately that wasn't the case, but if I was in such a situation, I'd have no recourse except the Black Market.

What I have not yet grasped is why the Indian government (and for that matter, any government that stipulates unnecessary regulation) would knowingly force my hand, and make me resort to an illegal activity. Come to think of it, the government should be most concerned with getting more of my money when I am willing to part with it. I'll go further in saying that the government should encourage me to use its services over the aforementioned private concerns. Instead, it focuses its attention on increasing taxes to buoy its revenue, taxes that businesses do their darndest to evade. Sometimes I wonder if governments secretly want illegitimate businesses to thrive; that way the politicians (and government employees) have multiple revenue streams - one official and another unofficial...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Earth Day 2007 - Do your bit to Save the Planet

There has been a spate of recent press articles on how our planet is being ravaged by increasing green house gas emissions. I think it is time that individuals do their part to reduce their carbon foot-print; I decided to start by reducing my energy consumption. Saving Energy is easy and every little thing you do helps out. You can:

1. Ride the bus once a week
2. Replace incandescent lamps with compact fluorescent lamps
3. Put your computer to sleep/hibernate
4. Turn the lights off in a room as you exit it

I either walk, ride my bike or take the bus to work everyday. I have started buying compact fluorescent bulbs and I turn the lights off if I don't need them. The one thing I have been trying to get right is putting my home machine to sleep when it has been idle for a certain period of time. In honor of Earth Day, I decided it was time to research putting my Media Center PC into Standby mode. Using the default Power Management options in Windows XP MCE resulted in my first encounter with the Black Screen of Death. The system would go into standby but when it would resume, the drives would power up but the system would hang.

After many abortive attempts at fixing this problem, I have found a working solution - "The MCE Standby tool". My PC goes into the Standby state after 15 minutes of inactivity, wakes up in case a recording has been scheduled and goes back to sleep if I am not around. The homepage for the tool has a detailed description of how the tool needs to be configured and how it should be used.

if others benefit from the hour I invested researching this, I would consider my time well spent. This is my energy saving story for 2007. What is yours?



Full Form:
Thank God For White Women

Not to be confused with "White Girl", a coloquilism for crack cocaine, though White Women are equally addictive.

She's such a hottie. Dude, TGFWW...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Sanjaya got THROWN

... And not without good reason; his performance this past Tuesday was absolutely abysmal. I share Simon's excitement at the dismissal of the weakest link from the competition.

In this time though, his popularity has soared; though he has no musical talent whatsoever, he can definitely ride out this wave of popularity and become a millionaire. The trail of talentless millionaires grows longer...

Glow in the Dark for Charity

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Caffeine Abstinence - Week 2

This has been a really tough week to get through. The headache started on Saturday night and it has stuck - never for once leaving my side, no wait, my head! I could've pounded the back of my head with a rock yesterday and not felt the pain. Today, my temples have throbbed all day. Focusing on work has been well nigh impossible and my verve has ebbed and flowed all day. I had my weak moment yesterday - I wanted a cappuccino so bad but I got through it, I had to get through it. Caffeine withdrawal isn't for the weak of heart...

An unexpected side-effect of the withdrawal has been a sudden spike in my appetite. Looks like this is going to be the toughest week of the detox process. Now that I think of this, the net-net is I am going to give up my favorite beverage and only vice for no foreseeable benefit. The proof is in the pudding and with the passage of time the pudding will be gone and I'll know what it was worth.

For those interested in the documented symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal, here is a good starting point - Symptoms

If John Hopkins University considers Caffeine Withdrawal as a Disorder :link:, so do I! This isn't to be treated lightly; like I ever take anything seriously...

Port 25 : Windows Media Player Firefox Plugin - Download

I struggled last week to view Windows Media Player content on my Vista machine at work. After trying multiple things to get WMV to playback from Firefox, I threw in the towel and fired up IE. Well, I don't need to do this any more because of the great Microsoft folks who developed the "Windows Media Player Firefox Plugin".

Get it :here: now.

Monday, April 16, 2007

How To - Zune And Podcasts

So many folks have complained about the lack of Podcast support in the Zune that I decided to provide these instructions to the Blogosphere.

How Do I Manage Podcast Content in Zune?

Podcasts are substantially similar to other downloadable content available on the Internet, except that podcasts are refreshed periodically (a weekly radio show, a song of the day, and so on).

Finding, Downloading, and Storing Podcasts

Podcast content is automatically downloaded to your PC by a podcast application you have installed on your PC. If you are new to podcasting, there are several popular podcast applications on the Web. To find one, simply search the Web for "receive podcasts" and you will find several to choose from.

Podcast applications typically store downloaded podcasts in a default Windows folder (for instance, C:\Podcasts). Many also allow you to change the storage directory to the folder of your choice.

Just like with other audio content, podcast content must be stored in a folder monitored by Zune if you want to automatically import it to the Zune library (see "How Do I Import Content to Zune Software?").

If the content is downloaded to a different folder:

  • Direct the podcast content to a monitored folder in the podcast application.
  • Direct the Zune software to monitor the default folder selected by the podcast application.

To find out which folder the podcast application downloads content to, or to direct the podcast application to download to a folder monitored by Zune, refer to the documentation or support offered by the podcast application provider. To find content you’ve directed to a folder monitored by Zune, follow the instructions in the previous section, "How Do I Import Content to Zune Software?"

Synchronizing Podcast Content to Zune

Once podcast content is downloaded into a folder monitored by Zune, the synchronization process is automatic if you’ve chosen to sync audio content automatically. To learn more about how to sync audio content to your Zune device, see the previous section, "How Do I Sync Content to Zune Devices?"

Enjoy your Zune!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A New Word Every Day?

Want to learn a new word every day? Stumbled upon a word you want to share with the community? Look no further - visit A Word A Day and satisfy both urges.

Comments and suggestions welcome...

The iPod and the Vacuum Tube Sing a Warm Duet

The article talking about new vacuum tube amplifiers for the iPod isn't the reason why I am blogging about it. It is the nugget of truth that is contained in its final paragraphs that needs to be underscored...
The Cocoon, the Fatman and other vacuum-tube amplifiers for iPods are relative newcomers to the United States consumer market. For instance, Lyric HiFi in Manhattan, a center for high-end audio equipment, does not handle any vacuum tube-based docking stations. But Leonard Bellezza, co-owner, said the accessories might soon be popular.

“Everybody has an iPod,” he said. “So anything you can attach to an iPod sells.”

What to do on a sunny Seattle day

Roller blade
Play Tennis

But first, call all your friends in the hope that at least one will come out and enjoy the sunshine. Turns out, today wasn't my day to find such a "friend". Called enough folks in the hope of finding a tennis partner to no avail. Maybe it's time to find a new circle of friends who actually have hobbies.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

American Idol goes Latin

Update: I was right, Haley got CUTTT!
Last night's mentor was J-Lo (I personally can't stand her but that's me) and all the contestants performed their renditions of their favourite Latin song. My personal favourite was Blake's version of "I Need To Know", originally sung by Marc Anthony. For once, I thought Sanjaya wasn't all that bad.

The Crown for the Worst Performance of 4/10/2007 has to go to Haley. She tries to compensate for her lack of musical talent by showing more skin each week. How long can this cabaret singer last? I think the Vote for the Worst site needs to set its cross-hairs on Haley instead of Sanjaya. I can sing better than she can :)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Caffeine Abstinence

Today is the third day of my No Caffeine existence. I was miserable on Monday, had a severe migraine yesterday and started today groggy, but I think I have made it through the more difficult phase of caffeine withdrawal. The question that looms large now is - what drink is going to substitute my daily cup of coffee? This is a large cup to fill, I'll have you know! The beverage has to be as satisfying as coffee minus its addictive qualities. How am I going to find a drink like that? Crap!

The reason I started drinking drip was because I didn't want to drink milk. Which is the bigger evil, milk or coffee? Frak!! Why am I wasting my bandwidth on such stupid stuff?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

300 - The Movie

I saw 300 on Wednesday night after a most hearty dinner at Ristorante Machiavelli. I had only watched the trailer a few weeks ago; that it was based on a Frank Miller novel piqued my interest. Before I proceed, I'd like to say that I like ancient history; stories extolling the exploits of the Greeks and Romans give me goose bumps. A heady mix of valour, honour, and the epic canvases - go figure why I like such stuff.

300 is a guy's movie all the way, an adrenaline rush from the get go. The movie starts with the story of a young Spartan boy fighting with this father in the foyer of his house. The dad treats his young adversary with respect as he teaches him the subtle aspects of warfare, of the importance of having no mercy. Like other Spartan boys, this boy, Leonidas, is sent to warrior training, which is a Spartan boy's right of passage before he becomes a man. Upon his return, he is crowned King of Sparta, and it is his battle against Xerxes that is the subject of this movie.

The usual suspects make an appearance: the movie has its fair share of motivational speeches and there is enough gore to make those with weak stomachs throw up. The battle scenes, shot in gratuitous slow-mo, are ridic! The fountains of red blood spouting out of ever slain soldier seem to come right at you, with the screen acting as your shield. (Tarantino's work in Kill Bill is going to haunt movie-goers for years to come.) The screenplay has borrowed elements from other movies in its genre - the hunchback guy bears striking resemblance to Gollum; Leonidas is very much like Russell Crowe in Gladiator; the council of elders look like Orcs :); all the pieces fit well together and that's all that matters. As they say, imitation is the best form of flattery. 300 pays homage to past works in its genre, and dare I say, does them proud.

Leonidas and his battalion of 300 "body-guards" know at the outset that they are fighting a losing battle. They are up against a humongous army (the Persians); a juggernaut that had rolled over the rest of Eurasia. Their bravery, and the fact that they hold this unassailable army for a few days inspires the rest of Greece to come to their rescue and fight Xerxes. I am not one to draw parallels to the modern day but as I see it, Xerxes's army is a metaphor for the iPod Juggernaut. Can the plucky upstart, Zune, hold the juggernaut at bay? Upstage it even?

How to punctuate a sentence

When preparing for my GRE, understanding when to use the ';' to punctuate sentences was the one thing I couldn't quite get my head around. That was 1999; after blogging for the last 5 or so years, I think I have a firmer handle on how to use the ';' to punctuate sentences. For all of you out there taking the GRE/GMAT, here is a the key rule (the others are useful too):
Rule five

Complete sentences that are joined without a coordinating conjunction need a semi-colon instead of a comma; the semi-colon shows the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next. Semi-colons are often followed by a connecting word or phrase; however, a connecting word or phrase is not necessary. Sentences joined with only a comma are called comma splices; they’re among the most common errors that come up in college writing.

Good luck with the exam prep, your writing assignments ... life.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Zune Job?

Interested in working on the Zune team? We are looking for individuals passionate about the music business, about creating an appealing device that has the potential to touch the lives of millions in the future. Every successful product started off as a simple idea, a singular vision, and had a humble beginning before it exploded into the mainstream. I know that the Zune is on that path; if you share my belief and have the requisite skills to be a member of the team, send your resume my way. Embedded in the pages emanating from this blog is my email address. Find it, email the resume and you've cleared the 1st hurdle. Where we go from there is ...

Monday, April 02, 2007

Microsoft extends empire with Vista coffee brand

Microsoft extends empire with Vista coffee brand: "Microsoft extends empire with Vista coffee brand

Watch out Starbucks. And no, this is no April Fool's"

What are the harebrained Vista Marketing folks going to think up next?

The Zune Chronicles - Chapter 1

Every weekend this past month is spent in a very similar fashion. I can't seem to get myself out of bed so I can eke out a few more minutes of sleep. The mental exhaustion overpowers the desire to do anything else; my eyes usually sore from having stared at the computer screen for hours on end. I wish it were physical exhaustion - I sparingly go to the gym during the week; the lack of a car means I rarely workout over the weekend.

When I eventually wean myself out from under the sheets, it takes me a few minutes to get out of my discombobulated state. The rigors of the week gone by are only partially behind me and it's only a matter of time before I am completely rejuvenated. A long shower followed by a warm meal and it's time to go back to office again. This time, it's to tie up some loose ends, catch up on personal email and spin some tunes on the fantastic DJ console in the atrium.

Working on the Zune has been exhilarating, strenuous, demanding and viscerally stimulating, all at the same time. The magical aah I experienced when I saw my feature finally work is hard to describe (here's what the console said - 1 Test SUCCEEDED). I had made a contribution to the release, a change that might seem small and inconsequential to the naked eye but one that heralds my passage into a new role. A role of creator and designer of future features, one that hopefully lends me the opportunity to better A customer's experience. Oh the possibilities...