Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Review System

I have waited more than a week since I received my last performance review, and the resentment towards the system, and the bureaucracy that drives it hasn't subsided. Essentially, the review deflated my enthusiasm, and completely knocked the wind out of my sails. I thought this organization was different from others because of the nature of the project, and the relative infancy of the team. What I didn't account for was the fact that most of the team was comprised of senior employees from all over the company. You can build a new team, attempt to coat it with a new veneer, but the proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the mindset of the people you staff the team up with. Old School employees of this company are cut from the "arsehole" cloth, and they are quick to form cliques wherever they go. If you disagree with their philosophy, you're growth will stutter.

Not like I haven't learnt a lot in my new role. Au contraire, my technical growth has surpassed my expectations. I am still prone to small errors, but who isn't?! What has dawned on me though is that I need to get out of this morass-infected system, and work for a company/organization that values my input, regardless of my provenance. Prejudice manifests itself in many forms - some overt, others covert. The denizens in the latter category affected my review, and that is not something I can ever stand for.

To start the 30th year of my life on such a sullen note was a wake-up call that mandates action on my part.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Dollar Falls to New Low Against the Euro

Investors dumped dollars yesterday, sending the euro to a record high and putting the American currency at par with the Canadian dollar for the first time in more than 30 years.
No more shopping sprees in Canada for all you shopaholics. There is something to be said about the falling dollar, the ricketing economy, and the generally lackadaisical attitude of the administration. Good thing the stock market is soaring...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Look in your rear-view mirror Sox Fans...

... cuz the Yankees are hot on your heels. It's only a matter of time before you'll have to stare at the Juggernaut's tail-lights. This is a storied year for the club - from being written off for most of the season to being toted as the team in a renaissance year, this season has seen the emergence of the next generation of Yankees greats. Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, Joba Chamerlain, and Phil Hughes all herald a bright future for the pinstripes. The rest of the baseball world has been warned...

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Word of the Day - Frisson

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fris·son (frē-sōN') pronunciation
n., pl. -sons (-sōNz', -sōN').

A moment of intense excitement; a shudder: The story's ending arouses a frisson of terror.

[French, from Old French fricons, pl. of fricon, a trembling, from Vulgar Latin *frīctiō, *frīctiōn-, from Latin frīgēre, to be cold.]

Saturday, September 08, 2007

It's American to be CHEAP

I was listening to the WSJ "This Morning" podcast, and a story really caught my attention. Americans are now proud to say they are cheap, want to live below their means, and will drive the extra mile to get a bargain. Finally, the rest of America is seeing the light of a lifestyle that is synonymous with being "Indian".

I was surprised that a podcast by the WSJ didn't only talk about business and the stock market. Instead, the stories featured by this podcast cover a wide gamut of news categories. Subscribe to it via this URL:

Is Apple the new Microsoft?

The tide is turning in the technology industry. Microsoft, the most feared and revered company of the 1990s, no longer inspires the awe it once did. Competitor offerings have trounced Microsoft in select vertical markets. Google is the king of the web services space, and Apple has established itself the top dog in the world of digital media. Hitherto the darling of the press, and considered by many to be a true innovator of consumer products, Apple is suddenly in the hot seat. The dominance of iTunes, the iPod, and the mixed message sent by the pricing of the iPhone have left a bitter taste in the mouth of consumers, analysts and the press alike.

Regardless of how you dice it, the American populace has a thing for the underdog. I sense a brewing, and swelling discontentment with the status quo that could lead to a groundswell of support for Apple's competition. The biggest beneficiary of the move away from Apple would be the Zune; if positioned correctly, the Zune can ride the changing tide, expose a few chinks in Apple's armor, and challenge Apple's hegemony.
Apple not only "bundles" iTunes with multiple products, it forces you to use it. At least with Internet Explorer, you could always just download a competitor and ignore IE.

Not fair, you might say. Any hardware device that syncs data with a PC as part of its core functionality has software to facilitate that syncing. True enough. But operating systems have browsers as part of core functionality, too. Doesn't Mac OS X come with Safari? Doesn't the iPhone?

And "bundling" works. Steve Jobs bragged this week that Apple has distributed 600 million copies of iTunes to date. The overwhelming majority of those copies were iTunes for Windows. And iTunes for Windows' popularity isn't driven by software product quality. ITunes is the slowest, clunkiest, most nonintuitive application on my system. But I need it because I love my iPod.
Apple's reputation of being innovator par excellence is slowly getting tainted too. As PC World's Mike Elgan eloquently states:
Apple the copycat

Ten years ago, Microsoft haters complained that Windows followed the Mac OS to market as a graphical user interface, copying the Mac's features such as folders, trash cans, resizable windows and other elements. That complaint was repeated with each new version of Windows -- Apple was the innovator in the operating system space, and got there first with a host of key features. Microsoft just came along later, duplicated features that Apple pioneered, and reaped the benefit because of its monopoly power.

But who's innovating now? The LG KE850 was winning awards for its full-screen, touch-screen, on-screen keyboard before Jobs even announced the iPhone.

The best thing about the iPhone and iPod Touch -- the warm-and-fuzzy multitouch UI with gestures -- wasn't new, either. Various labs have been demonstrating similar UIs for more than a decade, and even Microsoft demonstrated a fully realized 3G UI in May, well before Apple shipped the iPhone. Microsoft will ship its tabletop UI, called Microsoft Surface, in November, and Apple will likely enter this space with a 3G UI months or years after Microsoft does.

And Wi-Fi in a media player? Ha! Microsoft's funky Zune had that almost a year before Apple did and SanDisk's Sansa Connect with Wi-Fi was released last June. Apple even stole the name for its iPod Touch product, according to HTC, which sells a touch-screen smart phone called the HTC Touch.
Apple is in the eye of a press storm, and as an investor, this could bode well for the short term. You don't have to be psychic to see a plethora of class action lawsuits against the company in the future. Only a study of past events would make you think that an anti-trust lawsuit against Apple is looming over the horizon.
A consumer walks into a local retail outlet to buy a Christmas present for dad. The Apple iPod "section" of the store dwarfs the section where all the also-ran players are displayed. IPod is clearly the trusted standard. The consumer buys a shiny new "Fatty" iPod nano with video.

Dad opens the present and is excited. He follows the directions, installs iTunes and immediately splurges on a few dozen songs at the iTunes store. He loves it, and is an instant convert to portable digital music.

The only downside is that he works out every day at the gym, where cardio machines face TVs that broadcast sound over FM radio. Six months later, when his iPod is stolen, he goes to buy another player -- this time, he hopes, with an FM radio in it. Several competitors offer this feature, but not iPods. He's about to choose a new player with an FM radio when it hits him: None of his files -- now totaling 300 songs and 50 movies -- will play on the new player. He bought and paid for all this content, but it only works with iPods and iTunes.

Apple has an iPod customer for life. Microsoft never had this kind of monopoly power.
Let's see how this plays out...

Friday, September 07, 2007

Sore Knees

need ibuprofen, or so I am told. I had my first taste of meds to relieve pain, and they worked. i hope this doesn't become a habit, and instead of popping pills, I discipline myself to stretch before and after working out...

It's a sad day for me though :( Oh big deal says my alter ego, 2 pills ain't gonna kill you!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Apple's iPods for Holiday 2007

The Million Dollar Question

Can Apple roll out incremental features to its iPod line and get the market excited once again?

The Immediate Aftermath of the Announcement

Apple shares remained stagnant during the event and then closed down almost nine points. This on a day when the company refreshed its entire iPod lineup with new "models."

Did Apple just suffer along with many other tech stocks in yesterday's downtick, or was it something more? Apple CEO Steve Jobs has a wonderful way of making the world think each 'new' Apple product is somehow a first or one-of-a-kind, but most aren't any longer when it comes to the iPod line (save the iPhone, which is easily a revolutionary product).

Basically, Jobs trotted out the same products -- from the iPod Classic to the iPod Nano to the iPod Touch -- with incremental feature upgrades and more marketing glitz than a glazed donut. The market seemed unimpressed, all things considered. But, there's more.

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What say the analysts? The Stock Price?

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) will have to recover from yesterday's announcement of a $200 price cut on the iPhone. Analysts may have now to adjust models and maybe even price targets, although some, like Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray, think it's the right strategy. In the mean while, Apple will also have to deal with the wrath of the first adopters, the ones who ran to get the iPhone on the 29th of June, stood in line for hours and paid $200 more. If you ask me, Apple stands to alienate quite a few of its fan base, the ones who did buy the iPhone for $599.

In a phone interview Thursday, Pacific Crest analyst Andy Hargreaves said Apple's stock declined Wednesday due in part to people adjusting their expectations for the company's revenue and gross margins for the year. Hargreaves doesn't think the iPhone price drop will have a huge impact on Apple financially, because he assumes unit volume will make up for the price change.

Hargreaves added that the sudden price cut -- which is unprecedented for Apple, as it tends to add features to products while keeping prices stable -- might make customers think twice about becoming early adopters of its products.
"When people are waiting outside the store two days ahead of time it becomes a story and they get, essentially, free marketing out of that. If all those people decide they don't want to wait outside the store because they got burned last time, Apple loses that marketing," he said.
Also Thursday, Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry downgraded his rating for the stock to "Equal Weight" from "Overweight," saying in a client note that the company "is probably unlikely" to meet its goal of selling 10 million iPhones in 2008. Chowdhry also reduced his price target to $130 from $150.

Chowdhry said consumers have reported that the iPhone is missing some key smart phone capabilities like voice calling, and users have noted issues with AT&T's service that include dropped calls and very slow Internet access speed.

He added that some PC-using iPhone owners reported receiving rude customer service at Apple's in-store Genius Bars, after which they returned their iPhones. In a phone interview Thursday, Chowdhry said the price cut means Apple is struggling to get iPhone adopters. And those who already have them aren't happy about the sudden price decline, he said.
"People who bought the iPhone early, stood in the lines -- they are not smiling. They're feeling ripped off," he said.
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RBC Capital Markets analyst Mike Abramsky, in a client note, kept an "Outperform" rating on shares with a $175 target price.
"While the lower price itself was not unexpected, the speed of the cut - coming 68 days into launch - was a surprise; given our recent checks (this week) suggested sustained sales momentum," the analyst wrote.
But Abramsky thinks the cut will pay off in time, because it widens availability of the product, strengthens Apple (nasdaq: AAPL - news - people )'s competitive position and might drive users to upgrade as the holiday season gears up.

Morgan Stanley (nyse: MS - news - people ) analyst Kathryn Huberty likewise said the price cuts could generate strong holiday demand. She has an "Overweight" rating and $150 target price on shares.

JPMorgan Securities Inc. analyst Bill Shope was a bit more concerned about the price cut, saying it could be a sign of slower-than-expected initial demand.

"Yesterday's event gives Apple an impressive product line up for the holiday season, but it also supports our view that margin and iPhone expectations were too lofty," the analyst wrote.

He kept a "Neutral" rating on shares.

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Coupled with the ridiculously capable new iPod Touch -- which has every major feature of the iPhone except for its phone capabilities -- will any other manufacturer stand a chance?

Analyst Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, thinks not.

"I don't see how anyone can respond to a product lineup like this," he said. "Who out there has the ability to compete with this? Microsoft and the Zune simply can't compete. And Sony's new video Walkmans (announced earlier this week), they pale in comparison."

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With the analyst opinions all over the map, I can't really trust any of them. So it's down to what ...

The Zeitgeist says

But it’s frustrating that the highest capacity iPod Touch holds a mere sixteen gigs, making it an unlikely choice for hardcore iPod fans. The so-called iPod classic now tops out at 160 gigs, but with no Wi-Fi. Why? To get above sixteen gigs or so, you need to switch from flash memory to battery-draining hard drives — and presumably, the combined battery burden of Wi-Fi and hard drive was just too much.

It’s cool to be able to buy music almost anywhere, but in the end, today’s iPod and iPhone selection still represents a compromise, limited by current technology. Ideally, you’d have a eighty-gig-plus iPod or iPhone that would allow you to surf the web and buy tunes at high speed wherever you are — but free Wi-Fi everywhere is just a fantasy, and the iPhone isn’t even capable of running on fast 3G phone networks. Another dream: Imagine paying ten dollars a month for an iTunes subscription — all the music you want, streamed wirelessly, anytime. Give Apple (and maybe a competitor or two) a couple more years, and we might just get there. In the meantime, as singer KT Tunstall told us yesterday at the Apple event, the iPod Touch is “a nice piece of kit.”

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On the Steep Price Cut

Such steep cuts, coming just two months after the iPhone's much-hyped launch, may risk angering the Apple faithful who lined up to buy an iPhone on the day it came out. As Apple customer Rachel Kane, who bought her iPhone in August, said,

"It's not the losing $200 that bothers me. What bothers me is the idea that the company grossly overpriced their product and took advantage of the faithful few hundred thousand who initially purchased the iPhone."
Now what they originally called this end-all-be-all of phones is being price-slashed for the holidays as a stocking stuffer," Kane continued.

Customers aren't the only ones rattled by the price drop. Despite the iPhone grabbing a 1.8 percent share of the smart phone market in June alone, the stock market seems to think that the 33 percent price cut is a sign of weakness: AAPL share prices dropped 7.4 percent for the day.

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Is Anything Missing?

“I know the iPod Touch is cool looking but [without] a 60 gig drive it is worthless to me,” says one comment.

“One thing that is conspicuously missing from the iPod touch (as well as the iPhone) is any sort of games. One would think that the touch-screen platform would be perfect for something like bejeweled or solitaire. Seems odd to me, and is one of the few features missing from the iPhone that most other cell phones have,” adds another.

A third drawback: “No Mail! WTF! That's all I can say,” says one disgruntled commentator on “There's Safari [Apple's web browser] but no Mail!? I don't get it.”

On Times Online, too, most commenters were sceptical. "Instead of introducing new iPods,

Apple should support the thousands (millions?) of broken iPods out there," one reader says.

"My iPod Mini died in August, just 5 months after the warranty expired. So did many other iPod Minis of the same vintage. But Apple refuses to recognize this as an 'event'. Their Tech Support suggested that I purchase a new one."

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Could this be a mistake?

Four Mistakes Apple Made With The IPhone Price Drop

But, what about the rest of us who waited it out and will now profit from the price cut? Personally, I don't see this as a mistake, rather an admission by Apple that the cell phone market is more volatile and capricious than the computer market. Cell phones are bought on a whim, and though $400 is a HUGE whim, it requires less thought (and preparation) than $600.

Will this affect Apple's bottom-line?

$100 returned on 1 million phones - that's a $100 million dent in their profits. But, the price cut will catapult iPhone sales into the stratosphere (comparatively speaking). If Apple manages to sell twice the number of iPhones in the rest of this quarter than was originally forecast, this blip will be just that, and nothing more.

To Conclude

The jury is still out on the new products. I personally think "fatty" is sucky, but I reserve true judgment till I actually hold the new Nano in my palm. I still want an iPhone though, and can't wait till it is untethered from AT&T.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

What makes a product great?

What is it about a product that makes you want to go to a store and buy it? Some people would contend that there are various categories of products in our lives; I can think of three broad categories - the essentials, the luxury items, and the items we covet. Turns out, the items I covet are the ones that have established themselves as "great" products.

Regardless of the criticism leveled at great products, they usually are worthy of the hype that surrounds them. Take the iPhone for instance; it is reviled by a certain segment of the market, but it is hard to argue against the device's merits. From the moment I saw the first commercial for it, till it was pried out of my grubby hands, I was in complete awe of not just its capabilities, but also the attention to detail that had gone into its creation. If a device could have oomph, I'd say that device is the iPhone.

Forget the technology world. My tempur-pedic pillow, a Ferrari, Microsoft One-Note, Quicksilver for the Mac, True Religion jeans - these are all examples of great products. I think I have one part of the "why is this great" equation down. I know a product is great when using it gives me an "Ah-ha" feeling, a rush even. This brings me to a thought I've had all day - our philosophy at Microsoft is to think up a whole bunch of features when we start planning a product, and as we get closer to the ship date, to put certain features on the chopping block. Very often, the features that get cut are the ones that were conceived to give the user that Ah-Ha. Hopefully, the new Zune isn't headed in that direction. I digress...

Back to the thought that triggered this verbal avalanche. Another characteristic of a great product is the process of continuous discovery. As you use the product, it reveals subtle details about itself. Turning and holding the key on most BMWs and VWs rolls the windows up - I learnt this five years into owning one. gViM, my text editor, has many such features, but one I use everyday is auto-indenting (=%).The first time I was entering data on a web form, and I got a drop-down list with previously entered information, that discovery made my day. When listening to music on the iPhone, I happened to receive a phone call. The music's volume faded away as I heard the phone's ring. All these aren't core features, but discovering them endeared each of these product to me.

All of this leads me to my final reason for what makes a product great. When a product I own goes from being a luxury to an essential, when I can't imagine my life without something that I don't own, and ergo covet, it's a sure sign that it is great. It's not that life wouldn't go on without it, life just would be a little less enriched.

So, what do you think makes a product great?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Defending champ Sharapova upset by Radwanska - US Open Tennis

... and she looks like *SHIT* in the interview! Loser all around...

What does one do on an Immaculate day like this?

It's 24 degrees Celsius outside my window, and had it not been for the sudden bout of nausea after lunch, I would have stayed out in the sun. There might have been other days like today in the August gone by; not that I would have know because the only coherent details from the month gone by revolve around work, the drive to and from work, and ... my mind draws a blank.

The good news is that we've hit code complete. I left for the gym last evening at 5:45pm, knowing for the first time that I didn't need to come back for another session later in the evening. All my work was accounted for, completed, reviewed and checked-in; for the first time in months did I feel relieved, and overcome by a strong sense of accomplishment. All I need to do over the next month is fix bugs, but I am proud of my contribution to this project. The sense of fulfillment is hard to describe.

A quick nap, a bike ride to the gym, weight training, and a protein shake are next on the cards. I celebrated my reprieve from work by hanging out with Amru this afternoon; first she unpacked, then she cooked, all while I relaxed and watched the tele. Here's to more shiatsu massages in the afternoon...