Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thought for the day

Today’s financial crisis is Obama’s 9/11.

Monday, December 29, 2008

NYE 2009 at Harlot in SF

Juggy, Amru and I hit-up Harlot in the SOMA district this Saturday evening. There is no club in Seattle like Harlot; the closest night-time destination in Seattle that has a similar feel to Harlot is The Apartment. Tastefully decorated, small yet not cramped, Harlot made us feel cozy yet unconfined, so we decided to make it our destination for NYE 2009.

If you're in SF and want a place to party, there are a bunch of sites with detailed event information, ticket prices, etc. Expect to pay upwards of $50 for entry (some places offer free drinks but charge more), and get ready to party it up in quasi-warm San Francisco. As for me, I'll let the ticket stub speak for itself....

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Text Messages should be free

I have maintained that delivering a text message from me to one of my friends, or twitter for that matter, costs the Cellular network providers nothing. 160 characters per message should be easy to transmit when the Cell network is capable of transmitting millions of bytes that constitute our phone conversations. Almost every time I have this debate with someone, their point of view differs from mine; the result is always the same - since both parties don't know the internals of how the Cellular networks are provisioned, there is no conclusive proof that either of our arguments is valid. We take another swig of our respective drinks and move on to other topics.

Well, I no longer have to live knowing that I was siding with the losing argument on this count - delivering SMS messages is "practically" free for the Mobile Service providers, and they don't need to make any new infrastructural investments to accommodate for a huge spike in SMS usage by customers. This line from the linked article says it all:
A better description might be “cost carriers very, very, very little to transmit.”

For a deep-dive into why this is the case, read on...
A text message initially travels wirelessly from a handset to the closest base-station tower and is then transferred through wired links to the digital pipes of the telephone network, and then, near its destination, converted back into a wireless signal to traverse the final leg, from tower to handset. In the wired portion of its journey, a file of such infinitesimal size is inconsequential. Srinivasan Keshav, a professor of computer science at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, said: “Messages are small. Even though a trillion seems like a lot to carry, it isn’t.”

Perhaps the costs for the wireless portion at either end are high — spectrum is finite, after all, and carriers pay dearly for the rights to use it. But text messages are not just tiny; they are also free riders, tucked into what’s called a control channel, space reserved for operation of the wireless network.

That’s why a message is so limited in length: it must not exceed the length of the message used for internal communication between tower and handset to set up a call. The channel uses space whether or not a text message is inserted.

Professor Keshav said that once a carrier invests in the centralized storage equipment — storing a terabyte now costs only $100 and is dropping — and the staff to maintain it, its costs are basically covered. “Operating costs are relatively insensitive to volume,” he said. “It doesn’t cost the carrier much more to transmit a hundred million messages than a million.”
I guess AT&T is pocketing the $20 I am paying for unlimited text messaging, but I know people who have paid $40 in SMS overage charges some months of the year. Cell Phone plans in the US are a total scam compared to the ones my parents use in India, calls are way too expensive, US customers get forced into buying service packages and signing multi-year contracts, and now we discover this!?! As someone said, it is time for this oligopoly to be replaced by an honest Cell Phone service provider that doesn't do its darndest to swindle the consumer out of their hard earned $.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Should charities go for-profit?

I think this article on the changing world of charities misses the key point about why people are up in arms over for-profit charities - charities are exempt from paying certain taxes and they get sops from the government for working with the underprivileged. With this being said, I agree with the general tenor of the article, and believe that good can be done for people by those that don't necessarily work under the charity umbrella.
“Howard Schultz has done more for coffee-growing regions of Africa than anybody I can think of,” Michael Fairbanks, a development expert, said of the chief executive of Starbucks. By helping countries improve their coffee-growing practices and brand their coffees, Starbucks has probably helped impoverished African coffee farmers more than any aid group has.

Mr. Fairbanks himself demonstrates that a businessman can do good even as he does well. Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, hired Mr. Fairbanks’s consulting company and paid it millions of dollars between 2000 and 2007.
The accidental charity-ier; reminds me of the Jesuits who taught us that the best kind of charity is that which no one knows of, not even your left hand. A compelling read...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Season's Greetings

Merry Christmas
Happy Hanukah
Happy Festivus
and...
A Happy New Year
to all!

Yes, I wished everyone a Merry Christmas. I really don't get why people are up in arms about this. Do I care?!

Aye Last Minute Shoppers, looking for Sweet Deals?

I am done with *shopping* for now; was looking for a pair of jeans that made my fat ass look, well, not so fat, but it didn't work. Clothes can only hide so much . If you are still in the market for some shopping, here are some smart tips (courtesy Yahoo! Finance):
For the best deals, check out these retailers:
  • J. Crew is offering 20 percent off through December 24, but it applies to in-store purchases only. That means the stores will be crowded, but you can snag some great deals on J. Crew's colorful winter collection.
  • If you like Lacoste's pastel colors, then you can take advantage of the mark downs on select Polo shirts for men and women. While the classic colors like yellow and blue carry their original $79.50 price tag, Wisteria purple, Storm Cloud blue, and others are on sale for $58.99.
  • The Gap is offering up to 40 percent off, while its sister stores Old Navy and Banana Republic are holding their own sales of up to a whopping 60 percent off.
  • At Target, shoppers can get visit stores to get up to 30 percent discounts--just make sure you check Target's weekly ad in advance.
  • Wal-Mart has put together its list of last-minute gift suggestions with some incredible discounts, including a Garmin GPS device with an mp3 player for $246, marked down from $498.
Good luck, and don't stress too much if you can't make it to the mall. Remember, it's the season of good cheer...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Blog's Word Map

You gotta try this site out - put any content in the textfield and it generates a word map for the text; it looks like this:

Monday, December 22, 2008

What browser to use on the Mac?

I have made the transition to the Mac platform 100%. I use Windows at work only because I must, or at least I lead myself to obey that like it was religion. All went well until I *had* to use my Windows laptop to do something; it had been 3 months since the last time I had flipped its lid open, and I must say, I felt like a duck in water...

The biggest problem with moving away from Windows to any other platform is there are fewer software options. In the case of the Mac, sometimes fewer translates into ONE. There are other options, of course, but they are almost unusable or provide so little functionality that they become non-contenders for my attention. Desktop productivity applications are particularly lacking on the Mac - Microsoft Office is nothing like its Windows counterpart (that's right, I said it!) and when it comes to browsers, Safari is totally a poser. I can't believe I just said that...

Here's why:
- Many sites don't work correctly in Safari. Now one might argue that the sites don't adhere to web standards, but as the user, I give a flying F for web standards. I want to view a page, show me it already! Firefox does just okay...
- The Security story in Safari, particularly vis-a-vis accepting and rejecting certificates is a joke.
- Ditto for Cookie Management
- No Undo Close Tab?
- I am not a huge extensions user in Firefox because most of the stuff is already done for me. Yes, I maintain Elasticfox, so it's only natural for me to pick Firefox, but that's secondary to this discussion. I routinely miss Firefox features when I use Safari.

I could go on, but I don't want this to devolve into a rant. I really like that Apple supports KHTML and I laud its efforts at keeping up with Mozilla's work with Firefox, but honestly, I think it is time for all parties involved to come to an agreement of some sort. I guess I am the only one with the pipe-dream that one day I'll be using a browser with the best Javascript engine, best rendering engine, and best usability possible. I don't care who releases the browser, as long as it has the best of all possible technologies baked into it.

Is that me asking for too much?

P.S. I would use Firefox on the Mac but it prevents my machine from going to sleep. Apparently, fixing that bug isn't on MoFo's radar. Sigh...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snow Week 2008?

I think it's a first for Seattle - it has almost been a week since the first snow flurries descended upon the Emerald city. Today though, nature decided to really open her bosom and let them flurries loose - my driveway had maybe 6 inches of snow, and Beacon Hill wasn't the hardest hit. This snow is going to take more than a few days to clear up. Time to get ready for the aftermath of a snow storm - slick roads, black ice, and jack-knifing vehicles. O Golly!

Been cooped up at home all day is a great recipe for productivity, but after a while, I tend to start tearing through my pantry looking for new things to eat. I think I have exhausted the stockpile of ready to eat food in my house; the thought of cooking tomorrow isn't very appetizing, but if I am to survive another day without visiting a grocery store, I gotta cook. I could take the higher road and not eat but if you know me at all, you know that isn't an option; Manoj Mehta likes to eat.

When asked, almost everyone speaks in such excited tones about the snow. Why doesn't anyone talk about the other side of a snow-storm? The accidents, the general trepidation to venture out of the house, the unnecessary layers of clothing one must put on, the interminable delays in the public transportation system, the reduction in retail sales, the Internet fatigue. Say what - Internet fatigue??

Yes I said it - I couldn't go to the gym and didn't want to watch any television, so I surfed the web all evening and now, I am bored. Yes, I could get a hobby, but how it would have to be indoors, unless you consider snowboarding a hobby. I could be productive indoors, but that's for office hours. What about after? I could go visit a friend, but we're back to the venturing out problem again. So yes, pray tell me, what does one do when they are snowed in like this? By that question I mean, what do *YOU* (imagine my finger pointing) do in times like these?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Switch to Firefox already!

BBC NEWS | Technology | Serious security flaw found in IE: "'Microsoft is continuing its investigation of public reports of attacks against a new vulnerability in Internet Explorer,' said the firm in a security advisory alert about the flaw.

Microsoft says it has detected attacks against IE 7.0 but said the 'underlying vulnerability' was present in all versions of the browser.

Other browsers, such as Firefox, Opera, Chrome, Safari, are not vulnerable to the flaw Microsoft has identified."

Need I say more? Get Firefox :here:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Re-establish Sync Partnership between ActiveSync and Windows Mobile Device

I just spent 2 hours trying to re-establish a sync partnership between my Windows Mobile phone and Microsoft ActiveSync. Too bad there is almost no documentation on how to fix this on the Microsoft website - awesome M$, friggin awesome. Not only is the OS behind the times now, it isn't even as usable as the iPhone OS.

Here is the solution:
On the Device:
- Choose USB to PC and uncheck "Enable advanced network functionality".

If you want to do this on the PC, do the following:
- Delete: C:\Documents and Settings\Your_NAME\Application Data\Microsoft\ActiveSync\Profiles\WM_YourDevice_name

Oh yeah, don't get me started about how changing my device's name causes all messaging functionality to get borked. More pain to follow...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My Dash runs Windows Mobile 6.1

and here are the instructions I followed to update my phone: Setup WinMo 6.1.

If you're late to the 6.1 party, as late as I was, the site has all the info you need. Don't worry about not being able to download the key config cab - it's not that important.

I'll echo my impressions of the 6.1 update when I have used it for a week...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Government announces new loan programs

How is this going to help fix the problem that got the economy here in the first place?
"The government, while looking to reduce fear in the credit markets, is eager to see lenders like credit card companies resume more normal levels of lending to help stimulate the economy. Since September, when credit markets first froze, financial institutions have been hesitant to hand over money for fear they won't be repaid."
This sounds like such a bandaid fix to the real problem - consumers don't have money to spend. By extending a helping hand to the companies that lend money to consumers, the government isn't doing anything to help the consumer other than give the Creditors even more control over consumers. The average American is weighed down by debt - mortgage debt, credit card debt, car payment debt. The American dream comes at a huge price, and I believe one of the reasons the economy has faltered is that both the government and private banks encourage consumers to spend way beyond their means.

A better place to invest at least a part of the 800 billion is in upgrading the infrastructure - this will create jobs, which will reduce the jobless numbers. More people will have a sustainable source of income, a paycheck that they can draw from while shopping at the grocery store or the mall. This is a virtuous cycle in which everyone involved prospers, including the economy. I read somewhere that Obama plans to make large investments in Job creation via infrastructure project; the rate at which the government is spending BILLIONS on bailing out the financial sector, I wonder whether there will be any money left for anything else by the time he is inaugurated.

Regardless of government initiatives, I think it is time that the American populace take back control of their balance sheet from the Credit Card companies by hunkering down and spending on only things they can afford. The "consumer" economy isn't in recession right now - it is correcting itself from the super inflated levels of the last 5 years. People are no longer buying things they *think* they will need a few months from now; people aren't intoxicated by bargain prices on useless items any more. They have figured out what they need and are buying just those things, albeit with an occasional splurge on something they covet. That's how every other consumer is, and it is humbling to watch the American consumer follow suit.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

We’ve Got Nothing but Hope

Reading this brought back memories of the speech at the Democratic National Convention that catapulted Barack Obama to fame in 2004:
"Pure belief will get us through. I can't give you anything more than 'I think it will all work out in the end.' Nor can Warren Buffett. In his oft-quoted New York Times op-ed of a month ago, all he could give us was '… most major companies will be setting new profit records 5, 10 and 20 years from now.' No mention of the trade deficit. No mention of our unhealthy dependence on consumerism. Just belief. Pure belief that everything will be OK.

In the short-term, the doomsayers and short-sellers rule the roost. In the long-term, the recession will pass, and collectively, through optimism and a 'can-do' attitude, we'll work out a way to make the U.S. economy the pride of the world, again."
We all define hope in different ways, but hopefully all our definitions resonate with:

Hope is brave,
Hope is audacious,
Hope is irreverent,
Hope is glorious;
Without hope, we are all lost.

The Yahoo! ship is rudderless

... and that might not be the good news that everyone thinks it is. I don't think it is a coincidence that both Yahoo! Mail and Yahoo! Finance have had outages during core business hours today. These are the only 2 services of Yahoo! I use on a daily basis so I can only speak to their reliability; I wouldn't be surprised if there were outages in other Yahoo! services.

It's a sad day because Yahoo! was an Internet stalwart pioneer, a company that defined what it was to build a true Internet portal. I might be wrong in my analysis here but had Yahoo! not offered so many services for free, the Internet wouldn't have been adopted the way it has been. Yahoo! set the standard for free services, a model that was either replicated by new entrants into the fray or forcibly adopted by established players that charged fees for similar offerings. Creating a market for free services was both Yahoo!'s biggest strength, and in my opinion, the biggest reason for its downfall. With Internet advertising on the downward trend, Yahoo! is seriously strapped for cash. That it can't keep pace with Google's innovation engine is just the 1-2 punch that meant just one thing - "lights out".

Good thing Microsoft never acquired the ailing giant.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Microsoft finally to bring Office to the Web, Windows smart phones

The hype machine is spinning up quite the storm around this release. That's a great thing IMO, but it's a double-edged sword. If the service is not up to the mark on launch, it will be a huge nail in the Microsoft coffin (no one uses Apple's MobileMe service because it is a dud). People's memories vis-a-vis "Software As A Service" products is very long-lived, and Microsoft would do very well by learning from the mistakes of Apple.

With this being said, this is the first time I am craving to be on the beta list for a Microsoft web service. That has to count for something, right? :)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I asked about Mozilla; I should've asked about IE

Gecko is gonna continue receiving attention from Mozilla because that's the only way Webkit will continue to innovate. Where does all this agile development of Web Standards leave Microsoft? Playing catch up costs a lot of money, and it's already doing that with the Live organization. This begs the question - should Microsoft ditch the Trident engine for Webkit? How about Gecko? It all started with the Mosaic engine now didn't it. Is it time for IE to return to its true roots? :)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The New Hotmail

is friggin' awesome. Check it out! Finally, someone at Microsoft figured out how to make a product that doesn't come in my way; instead, hotmail makes reading my email a pleasure! It's fast, intuitive, the interface is uncluttered (spartan even) and dare I say, has all the features of Gmail in a better package!

Kudos to the Hotmail team for releasing this product. I think it is time that they figured out a way to integrate chatting and texting into the mail product. Given the strides made with the Hotmail revamp, I'm sure there is someone working on integrating IM into Hotmail. Any insiders know whether my faith is unfounded?!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Phys Ed - Stretching - The Truth - NYTimes.com

A form of dynamic stretching is something I have been doing for the last year before squash matches. Now that my theory has been validated, I'm going to incorporate dynamic stretches into my daily workout regimen:
A well-designed warm-up starts by increasing body heat and blood flow. Warm muscles and dilated blood vessels pull oxygen from the bloodstream more efficiently and use stored muscle fuel more effectively. They also withstand loads better. One significant if gruesome study found that the leg-muscle tissue of laboratory rabbits could be stretched farther before ripping if it had been electronically stimulated — that is, warmed up.

To raise the body’s temperature, a warm-up must begin with aerobic activity, usually light jogging. Most coaches and athletes have known this for years. That’s why tennis players run around the court four or five times before a match and marathoners stride in front of the starting line. But many athletes do this portion of their warm-up too intensely or too early. A 2002 study of collegiate volleyball players found that those who’d warmed up and then sat on the bench for 30 minutes had lower backs that were stiffer than they had been before the warm-up. And a number of recent studies have demonstrated that an overly vigorous aerobic warm-up simply makes you tired. Most experts advise starting your warm-up jog at about 40 percent of your maximum heart rate (a very easy pace) and progressing to about 60 percent. The aerobic warm-up should take only 5 to 10 minutes, with a 5-minute recovery. (Sprinters require longer warm-ups, because the loads exerted on their muscles are so extreme.) Then it’s time for the most important and unorthodox part of a proper warm-up regimen, the Spider-Man and its counterparts.
There is a great video describing the stretches and the physiological effects of both static and dynamic stretching. Stay healthy...

Monday, October 27, 2008

iTunes Genius Review

Over the past few days, the Genius feature introduced in iTunes 8 has been getting a lot of attention from me. I have a very high bar for a digital jukebox, and when it comes to iTunes, my evaluation of features is that much more critical because of my affiliation with the Zune PC client. With this being said, I am known to give everything a fair chance; read this with a grain of salt if you must.

On the whole, Genius is a great addition to iTunes. The idea of automatically generating "mashed up" playlists isn't a new one. I was first introduced to the idea via Predexis Music Match in Winamp a few years ago; right off the bat, I thought the idea of building playlists of similar songs from my library was way cool. Pandora was the natural evolution of the playlist mashup idea, and in my opinion, Pandora has revolutionized the way people listen to music. My only gripes with Pandora were that I had very little say in how Pandora picked the songs for me, and songs would repeat way too often. My patronage of these top-notch services meant that Genius had to exceed a high quality bar to win my approval.

Genius is pretty unobtrusive and simple to use - the EULA for Genius is short and clearly states that it transmits information to iTunes so that it can build playlists of similar music for you. All of this dialing back home purportedly stops when you disable Genius, so at the outset, this isn't a privacy nightmare. It appears to me that the Genius client within iTunes is very spartan - the iTunes server does the heavy-lifting of analyzing songs in the library and provides hints to Genius on how it can thread seemingly unrelated songs into playlists. As the iTunes server gets better at connecting songs to one another, everyone using Genius gets better recommendations, and as Genius feeds this information back to iTunes, the service gets better at making recommendations. All-in-all, this is a great feedback loop that constantly improves the system.

While this sounds good at first, the fact that the server does a lot of the processing of the library, it becomes the single point of failure in the system. If for some reason, I don't have access to the Internet, there is a good chance that Genius will not generate playlists for me. While using the feature, I also realized that some basic use-cases haven't been implemented. For instance, when I add a new song to the library, Genius doesn't incrementally update its database of recommendations for the new song added. This has two major consequences:

1. Clicking the Genius icon while playing the new song results in a message that informs me that the iTunes server needs to be contacted.
2. The new song doesn't appear in my current Genius playlist even if it is obvious that it is related to the playlist's source.

This is an easy fix for Apple to push through to users, and in general, Genius has made a good start. Here are the few things I really liked:
- The playlists it builds mostly contain related songs
- I can save a Genius playlist in my library, and can continue to refresh it (like a smart playlist). As Genius gets better at recommending songs to me, my lists can be refined. YAY!
- I can sync a genius playlist to my iPod
- Creating a new Genius playlist is EZ

Here are things I would improve moving forward:
- Adding a new song to my library should trigger a Genius update in the background
- Genius recommendations become dodgy after the 20th song in the playlist
- Genius should be extended to a more generic recommendation engine. Like Youtube recommends "Similar Videos", the iTunes store recommends "Similar Songs/Artists", and some Podcast directories now have the "Similar Podcasts" feature. The part about Podcasts is key, because they are hard to find to begin with. It's great when a friend recommends a Podcast, but getting such a recommendation from Apple too would add more meat to that suggestion.

If you've used the Zune's genius-like feature, please share your thoughts with me. Most importantly, mash your library up!!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Google, welcome to the world of OS and client software development

Just days after the T-Mobile G1 smartphone went on the market, a group of security researchers have found what they call a serious flaw in the Android software from Google that runs it.

One of the researchers, Charles A. Miller, notified Google of the flaw this week and said he was publicizing it now because he believed that cellphone users were not generally aware that increasingly sophisticated smartphones faced the same threats that plague Internet-connected personal computers.

Mr. Miller, a former National Security Agency computer security specialist, said the flaw could be exploited by an attacker who might trick a G1 user into visiting a booby-trapped Web site.

The G1 — the so-called Google phone — went on sale at T-Mobile stores on Wednesday.
And they thought this would be a walk in the park...

Friday, October 24, 2008

You Must Run Windows Update

If you are running Windows, please run Windows Update ASAP. Without applying this :patch:, your machine is at risk of being exploited by a worm like the Slammer/Blaster worms of a few years ago. Here is the executive summary from Microsoft's website:
This security update resolves a privately reported vulnerability in the Server service. The vulnerability could allow remote code execution if an affected system received a specially crafted RPC request. On Microsoft Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003 systems, an attacker could exploit this vulnerability without authentication to run arbitrary code. It is possible that this vulnerability could be used in the crafting of a wormable exploit. Firewall best practices and standard default firewall configurations can help protect network resources from attacks that originate outside the enterprise perimeter.
Love the situation or hate it, you must update your computer and restart!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sitting cross-legged on my couch

NPR playing in the background, the light from the kitchen lamps glowing yellow behind me, I sit alone in my living room pondering about everything and nothing. Highs in the upper 50s tomorrow, right now 46 degrees in Seattle, and I have not done anything to write home about this past week. Mind you, if mountains could be moved with thoughts, I'd be in the phone book under "Mountain Mover". I want to take off during lunch and run on the asphalt all the way to the Lake, but I always find a way to stay inside instead. Maybe tomorrow is the day when I also open my investment account; in my defense, I did call my brokerage firm to help me with this but didn't get a call back. It's interesting to note that human inertia is the reason that businesses both thrive and perish. More validation for the aphorism, "one man's food, another man's poison."

Talking about the duality of inertia, my thoughts wander to the stock market. You must be wondering about my decision to invest in this market. I don't fault you for thinking that I've gone bonkers. It's almost impossible to be affected by the dire musings of today's economists - the global economy is in crisis; it's like we're in the Titanic and a collision with an iceberg is inevitable. Most people who were heavily invested in the stock market have witnessed the devouring of their nest egg. The worst is yet to come according to the analysts - most corporations are soon going to feel the pinch resulting in layoffs for some and little to no pay-scale increases for the rest. Small businesses have started going under, retailers are reporting that shoppers are no longer shopping for anything more than the essentials, and it looks like it's going to be a black Christmas. All of this without any respite from increasing commodity prices. Isn't it odd then, sinister even, to see some folks seize the opportunity and find as many ways as possible to turn a profit in this down market? I see the emergence of more and more debt management companies, almost anything can now be rented, condos are being turned into rental apartments, and the biggest surprise - people like me who have waited for this exact moment are now ready to invest. I don't think there has been a better time to invest in the market - the smart investor invests when the prices are at their lowest, when no one else can buy because they are out of funds, when the others are facing a crisis. I promise I'll invest with a heavy heart, stay away from technology stocks, and commiserate with the loss of others around me. You, the one reading this - have some money to spare? Invest it already! If you make a profit, do the right thing and donate some of it to a local shelter...

Friday, October 17, 2008

In the words of Mr Buffett, now is the time to invest!

I know almost nothing about the stock market, like so many other aspects of life. Early in my life, I learnt that I don't need to know everything (probably because I can't) - it was far more important to identify an expert in a particular sphere and factor that person's better judgment in my decision making process.

I am not alone in saying that when it comes to stocks, there is no maven bigger than Warren Buffett. Here is what he says about investing in today's economy:
You might think it would have been impossible for an investor to lose money during a century marked by such an extraordinary gain. But some investors did. The hapless ones bought stocks only when they felt comfort in doing so and then proceeded to sell when the headlines made them queasy.

Today people who hold cash equivalents feel comfortable. They shouldn’t. They have opted for a terrible long-term asset, one that pays virtually nothing and is certain to depreciate in value. Indeed, the policies that government will follow in its efforts to alleviate the current crisis will probably prove inflationary and therefore accelerate declines in the real value of cash accounts.

Equities will almost certainly outperform cash over the next decade, probably by a substantial degree. Those investors who cling now to cash are betting they can efficiently time their move away from it later. In waiting for the comfort of good news, they are ignoring Wayne Gretzky’s advice: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.”

I don’t like to opine on the stock market, and again I emphasize that I have no idea what the market will do in the short term. Nevertheless, I’ll follow the lead of a restaurant that opened in an empty bank building and then advertised: “Put your mouth where your money was.” Today my money and my mouth both say equities.
Not only is the man rich, he's wise and very eloquent. After reading words like his, there should be no guessing what I'll be doing starting Monday and the rest of next week.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

How can AAPL defy analyst expectations in this economy?

The effects of the current crisis can be felt in every sector - no scrip has been spared, everyone's portfolio has suffered. In the technology sector, AAPL's stock nose-dive has been talked about as much as the stock's dramatic ascent over the last year. Analyst are in agreement that AAPL can't meet market expectations because its products are for the discretionary customer that is in the market for luxury items. The abysmal state of finances has translated into a huge shift in consumer spending patterns - luxury goods retailers are reporting historically low sales figures whereas the wholesale chains' profits are soaring (Costco today reported increased sales and profits). Is there a way for AAPL to defy the analysts' predictions?

In recent months, Apple's reputation has taken a hit too. It's "I'm a Mac" campaign has begun to grate on people's nerves because of the elitist nature of the commercials. Contrary to what anyone would have conceived, the PC guy in the commercials has emerged as the underdog, thereby winning the hearts of consumers and critics alike. Steve Jobs' health has become a major issue, and though there are more iPhone sightings today than any other phone, the iPod's popularity is now waning. Unless Apple has a new trick up its sleeve, the next year is going to be doubly difficult for the iconic company.

I don't have a product concept that Apple should bring to market to fill the void left by the iPod. I do believe that Apple can re-establish its position as the darling of consumers and resurrect its reputation of having its ears to the ground if it does one simple thing - slash the prices of its products. And by slash them, I don't mean the sticker price. I am talking about doing something like GM's employee pricing gimmick; the difference would be Apple's spin on the plan. If Apple's marketing whiz-kids can figure out a way to project to the consumers that Apple is willing to bleed with the rest of the country, to take a financial hit so that people's basic needs for computing are served, it's money well spent (profit well unearned). Yes, the reduced earnings report has the potential to send the stock down further, but given the current market situation and analyst downgrades, who is to say that the stock will rebound? By offering the discount, Apple will have, in essence, conveyed to the consumer that it sympathizes with their financial hardship, and is willing to share the burden. Though subliminal, that's a powerful message that is sure to win the hearts of consumers everywhere. And with Christmas around the corner, a tug at the heart's strings is sure to loosen the purse's strings...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

written once, never to be forgotten

to quote Seth Godin:
[remembering]

Is it worth doing?
What was my impact?
Will it matter in the long haul?
What sort of connections did I create?
Wherever you live, whatever you do, you have an obligation.
these are certainly words to live by. I can now find some order in the chaos...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Did we have the money all along?

Senator Sanders speaks to the administration's sudden volte face on the availability of funds:
I mean, for the longest period of time, up to literally a few weeks ago, we had our friends in the Bush administration telling us that the fundamentals of the economy are strong, everything is just fine. And now they tell us we’re on the verge of a major economic meltdown. We’ve got to give Wall Street a $700 billion bailout. And, by the way, of course, it is not going to be the people who have benefited, the people at the very, very top who have benefited financially from Bush’s reckless economic policies who are going to pick up the bailout; it is going to be the middle class, which has been suffering for the last eight years.
...
For years now, they’ve told us that we can’t afford—that the government providing healthcare to all people is just unimaginable; it can’t be done. We don’t have the money to rebuild our infrastructure. We don’t have the money to wipe out poverty. We can’t do it. But all of a sudden, yeah, we do have $700 billion for a bailout of Wall Street.
Hmm, that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach isn't a good one. I guess this is capitalism at its best - bail the rich out with the money from the not-so-rich...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Real World Browser Performance

The last few months have witnessed the resurgence of a browser arms race - Google launched Chrome, IE 8 is now in its second Beta, Mozilla is about to release an update to Firefox, and Apple is making waves with its changes to Webkit (and Safari). With the emergence of blogs, anyone who is someone on a product's team is waxing eloquent about "a" differentiating feature they worked on. For some reason, one of the most talked about aspects of the new breed of browsers is Performance; all this time I thought the user interface is what people cared about most.

Performance is not a bad metric to talk about. This post is not decrying the performance improvements per se; it's a critique of the lack of a holistic approach to performance. The Javascript engine gets the most attention, and the geeks are going to town writing about the nifty engineering miracles they have performed by "Native Runtime Code Generation" or by "JITting Java-script" - all great intellectual stimulation but Javascript performance is just one facet of the Performance cube.

At first, I was closely following the Javascript battle, and all the marketing speak clouded my judgment. An article from an unlikely source, the IE Blog, set me straight; here is the link I am referring to: Performance Consideration in IE: To summarize the article, every browser has unique performance challenges, and the overall performance can't be improved by overcoming a subset of the challenges. For instance, if the bottleneck is the rendering engine, improving the Javascript engine's performance by 200% will not translate into a 200% performance boost for the user. In some cases, the improvement will not even percolate through to the user.

This kind of insight doesn't require you to be a rocket scientist, but the idea is so fundamental, it is often overlooked. Software today is complex with many interacting pieces; fixing one of them doesn't necessarily fix the problems of the whole - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts! Don't get me wrong - a re-ignited browser war is great for me as a web surfer/developer. The emergence of cloud computing, of online productivity applications, of web mail, of facebook and myspace, et al have translated into me spending more time in my browser than most other applications. I foresee a day when code development will also be done in a browser client; for us developers, that's the final desktop bastion.

My request to Mozilla, Microsoft, Apple and their ilk is to keep their innovation engines running. If they are to attract new users, it behooves them to provide the complete story behind their innovations instead of a one-dimensional perspective. Eventually users smarten up, and if they realize they have been lied to, the browser landscape is vast enough for them to defect to another product with impunity.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Microsoft's MixView Beats Apple's Genius

I couldn't have said this better myself; I don't have a PC any more, but the Zune 3.0 software is so compelling, I might actually buy Fusion from VMWare.
"if Apple doesn't wake up and smell the coffee—iTunes is still basically the same concept it was back in 2001—they may find themselves as a runner-up in the software music player user interface front."
I'll let a visual speak to how compelling the new Mixview is...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Eating to stay healthy, with a twist

The eating habits of Americans (and this Indian) are a favorite object of my analysis. Over the past few years, I have made some changes to my dietary choices, to how I shop at the grocery store, and where I dine out. This New York Times article kinda validates the changes I have made, and provides some insight from nutritionists that is worth your attention.

The first change I made was to stop obsessing about the fat and calorific content of food. Since I had already figured out the most "harmful" foods, I caved in to my cravings for them every now and again. The key was to watch the portions I consumed of these foods.
"AFTER decades of obsessing about fat, calories and carbs, many dieters have made the unorthodox decision to simply enjoy food again.

That doesn’t mean they’re giving up on health or even weight loss. Instead, consumers and nutritionists say they are seeing a shift toward “positive eating” — shunning deprivation diets and instead focusing on adding seasonal vegetables, nuts, berries and other healthful foods to their plates.

...

Even the Calorie Control Council, which represents makers of commercial diet foods, notes the percentage of people who are dieting has declined — to 29 percent in 2007 from 33 percent in 2004.

And there are other indicators of a shift in eating habits. In May, the market research firm Information Resources reported that 53 percent of consumers say they are cooking from scratch more than they did just six months ago, in part, no doubt, because of the rising cost of prepared foods.
I had heard of the "Slow Movement", but this is the first time that I actually paid attention.
"Some former dieters say they’ve been influenced by the international Slow Food movement, a 10-year-old group that encourages locally grown, unprocessed food. Over the Labor Day weekend an estimated 60,000 people attended the Slow Food Nation festival in San Francisco.

Alice Waters, of the restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and a prominent supporter of the Slow Food movement, said food habits change when a person begins to cook at home more. Her efforts to encourage home cooking include a new campaign of Internet cooking videos from the Slow Food Nation event, such as one from the chef Bryant Terry, who showed how to strip corn from the cob and saute it with chili."
My new approach towards food required a change to my life-style - I substituted the take-out meal with a home cooked one, and did my best to avoid late night binges. Even though my grocery bills are higher than they used to be, I know that the raw ingredients I use meet a high quality bar, something that I can't be assured of in a restaurant meal. Buying more fruit, eating peanuts or almonds instead of chips, using reduced fat butter - those changes were easier to make.

Even after making these adjustments, it's easy to let yourself go and become over-weight; when you have to cook the huge meals yourself (and clean the dishes after), the process becomes just a little more tedious. Or, you just give up, reach for the phone and dial Pizza Hut :)

Friday, September 12, 2008

To See the Sun Rising

I saw the sun rising from my bedroom window this morning, and it was a sight to behold. No alarms, no prodding required; I woke up all by myself, which is no small achievement :) I always wondered what people that woke up so early in the morning (7am is early for a night owl like me) did. Since you're here, it's obvious you want to know what I did; here's the list:

checked email.
downward facing dog - check.
upward facing dog - what?
scanned the news - nothing's really going on.
snapped my fingers, did my step, and I did it all by myself (??).

The alarm on my phone is going bonkers, so I better go heed to it. It's going to be a great weekend...

Thursday, September 04, 2008

I'm almost asleep and it's not even Midnight!

Waking up early in the morning takes a lot of work - for starters, you need to change your entire sleep schedule; since your sleep schedule has changed, you tend to feel drained during the early evening, which makes you reach out for a conveniently brewing cup of coffee; the seemingly extra hours you are awake also mean you eat a lot more than usual. There is an upside though, and now I can only speak from my own experience, so the change to first person is intentional. I manage my time better, work more efficiently, cook a meal almost every alternate day, work out (not always at the gym, sometimes I play tennis with my dad), and am less cranky than usual by the end of the day. Can't get anything without giving something these days...

The TV has been off since 11pm, its drone replaced by the melody of Anoushka Shankar's sitar, the tune to which I just did an entire session of meditative yoga. The Stock Market, my current job responsibilities, the next hurricane, Senator Palin, the Democratic party's chances, and a new business idea are all competing for my next available synapse. Without yoga, I'd be in no position to sleep; instead my eyelids feel heavy, and my heartbeat has slowed down. As my thoughts slow to a crawl, and forming coherent sentences becomes harder, I am ready to cave in to the exhaustion. Good night and have a great weekend.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Feeling Overwhelmed, Need to Rise Up

My sense of self oscillates between two extremes, and once the downward slide begins, it's very hard to pull myself out of my rut. It's September; another year has gone by; have I not met my expectations? Why am I low again? It could have something to do with recent events. Monday and Tuesday haven't gone as I had planned, and had it not been for the workout this evening (and the chocolate covered raisins after), I'd have gone into a protracted slump. I made a mistake while driving, the trip to St Helens was cut short 20 miles into the drive, work hasn't been easy, and it appears as if my best laid plans are getting foiled for no fault of mine. I can handle things not working out; things get over my head on the days when I recognize missed opportunities while experiencing an overwhelming sense of loneliness. It's surprising that I have staved off depression for this long...

Instead of letting my situation get the better of me, I've resolved to be positive this week. Things haven't been rosy the past couple days - so what?! I have a lot to celebrate - my new house, great friends, a year gone by filled with memorable experiences, and a lifetime of experiences in front of me. For the immediate future, I am going to make a list of things I must do before the 12th of September so that my birthday weekend is relatively stress free. Also on the list of immediate things to do - try and workout 5 times this week. Workout, work hard, eat well, sleep well, spend time with dad and friends - I know no better way to elevate my spirits.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Would it make sense for Mozilla to use Webkit?

Just throwing this thought out there. With so many companies using Webkit now, and the rendering engine's ability to be ported to the Mobile platform no longer in doubt, it might be time for Mozilla to reconsider its development of Gecko. The reasons are too simple and obvious to ignore any more - the advantages are

1. Standards compliance
2. Lower entry threshold for developers
3. Supports plug-ins and is considered more scalable than Gecko
4. Mobile port available
5. Leaner footprint
6. The code was written with maintainability in mind. By the admission of many core Gecko developers, parts of Gecko are extremely fragile due to legacy

Not a clear advantage, but if more developers work on Webkit, more of its bugs will be fixed, and eventually, most Open Source web browsers will use the same underlying technology to render pages. This will improve the web experience for all users, and with the increased exposure, Webkit's engine will be thoroughly tested thereby producing more bug reports, and ... It's a virtuous cycle that will only reap dividends for all involved.

Whether this will actually happen or not is questionable. If anything at all, with Google Chrome (and Android) picking Webkit over Gecko, this has become an issue of pride with Mozilla's developers becoming fiercely defensive of their pet technology. Once egos get involved, no constructive progress can be made towards the solution I am proposing...

Monday, September 01, 2008

Update: Google Chrome and the ramifications for Hosted Applications

Update: Someone actually gets paid to write stories like mine . Here's Ina Fried's lukewarm take on the subject: What Chrome means for Microsoft.

If you haven't read about Google Chrome yet, well, the link I've provided has some screenshots of the leaked beta before tomorrow's launch. Here are the browser choices on Windows today:
- IE 7, IE 8 Beta
- Firefox 2, Firefox 3
- Seamonkey
- Opera
- Safari

Google's chrome browser has some interesting innovations, but some of the tab sand-boxing work has already been released as part of IE 8. Plugin sand-boxing isn't going to be as easy, but that Google is investing in making web browsing safer is very encouraging.

I don't think Google is releasing a browser just because they really care about keep users secure while they browse the web. Don't get me wrong, that might very well be an ancillary consequence of their browser release, but I can't help but wonder about their ulterior motive here. Digging a little deeper reveals the first clue that not all is charity - the Google browser has special hooks for Google Gears, which in Google's own words, "is an open source project that enables more powerful web applications, by adding new features to your web browser". Chrome might very well become THE container to host Google's offerings of Office Productivity Applications. Chrome is based on Webkit, and is sure to have offline application capabilities built in (Google helped define the standard, which is partially implemented in Firefox 3.0). With Chrome, Google will have a PC client with cutting edge rendering capabilities and coupled with Gears, Google's productivity apps can work in offline mode.

In time, more applications created using the Google Gears API will be released that fulfill needs specific to business verticals. These applications will have the robustness afforded by online, redundant storage, the convenience of being accessible from any PC with "Chrome" installed, and the ease of use paralleling that of legacy, desktop applications. Microsoft and Adobe better take notice...

Monday, August 25, 2008

I climbed Mt Rainier (sorta) and I liked it

I'll clarify - I made it to a little higher than Panorama Point which is at 6800 ft. What I was more impressed with is the fact that my dad hiked with me, all the way. Though he was slower on the way up, he was loping on the way down and had the lead till almost the very end. I think the little pep talk on our way up promising him that he'd get a 2nd wind really motivated him. The sight of so many folks on their way back from Panorama Point definitely helped!

It was such a fantastic experience - Rainier up close is stupendous, more so because you see how it towers over the surrounding mountains. The clear view of Mt Baker and a hazy view of St Helens make Panorama Point a truly must visit spot if you're in Seattle. The fifteen odd minutes we spent at the top of our climb soaking in the sights was time very well spent; I only wish my brother was with us to experience the exhilaration my dad and I felt being one with nature. We couldn't have planned the day better even if we tried...

The beseeching of my dad to wake up is the first thing I remember from last morning. It was a little before 8am, and I had to get my act together or else... I dressed, my dad whipped up a few sandwiches, I picked up a few bottles of water, the last Fresca and a towel (you never know when it's gonna rain in Seattle), and away we were. We didn't need a GPS to get to Rainier - it's large enough for you to not get lost X-), and there were enough signposts on the way indicating which way we should turn.

The slightly overcast yet warm weather made for pleasant driving weather, and we made it to Rainier a little before Noon. The drive was boring until we got to the meandering roads leading up to Paradise from the park's entry gates. Meandering roads navigated at high speeds lead to one certainty - the sweet smell of burning rubber in the parking lot. On a whim, we decided to hike up to Panorama Point, which was 2.5 miles up from Paradise Inn. In hindsight, that was a good call - the trail was steep enough to be challenging yet doable, and after a few stops on the way to grab a sandwich or to quench our thirst with ice-cold water flowing through the many streams, we finally made it to the top. I realized something on the trail - hikers are some of the friendliest people you can meet. We were guided and goaded along the way by almost everyone we met, and most everyone on the trail had a smile on their face. I guess being in the outdoors has a calming effect on folks - who knew?! :)

Mt Rainier has its own unique weather system - it was calm on the way up, extremely windy at Panorama Point, and true to Seattle weather, it rained part of the way down. After than four hours of walking, we were ready for the drive back home. While my dad was passed out, and I was driving on familiar roads, it dawned on me that this was a trip of many firsts - first time to Rainier, first time stopping at a town with less than 300 people (Greenwater, WA), first time driving through Enumclaw (hopefully my last), and a first Wet Style Burrito at Bimbo's Cantina in Capitol Hill. The adventure had come to an end, and the exhaustion hit me like a rock as I pulled into my driveway. I took one last look at the pictures of the day gone by, and hit the sack. Aah, the restful sleep after an amazing day...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My first month with Linux

I have spent half my life working on computers, and for as long as I can remember, I've heard people intone their revulsion for Windows because it is a closed platform while heaping platitudes on Linux and lauding its purported "openness". My initial experience with Linux hasn't been very positive. People around me are certified Linux fanbois, yet they shudder to think of tinkering with their current machine configurations. It's not uncommon for folks to spend a solid Man-Week configuring and tweaking their Linux installations so that their peripherals work as expected, and that their development environment allows them to actually build code. As for me, I can't remember the last time I spent two whole days trying to "unsuccessfully" install the same application on Windows. What is even more telling is that the application in question is the widely used system benchmarking tool - sysbench.

You must wonder if the fault lies in me, and you wouldn't be wrong to assume that. I don't think too highly of my Linux skills either. If you did know me at all though, you would realize that I hate being stuck, and I am the first one to ask for help when I am stuck. Ask for help I did - every Linux geek on my floor hasn't been able to succeed at installing this application, and I've trawled the Internet for information on how I can make forward progress. Nothing!

Being of level temperament, I didn't want to dismiss the folks that leveled so much hate at Microsoft for the choices it made and how it embraced standards, et al. My first impression from being outside the confines of the "Walled Garden" is that the Open Seas aren't all that people make them out to be. The seas are governed by byzantine rules, and the navigational tools aren't quite there yet. Everything needs to be hand configured, and some things plain don't work - I can't use the back/forward keys on my mouse, my video driver can't be configured to display images at the maximum resolution supported by my monitor, and those are but two of my problems. I'm already getting sick of hearing, "Hey, why don't you look at that file in /etc/ or /var/log or /proc/foo/ to get your information". Don't believe what you read in the news - Linux distributions have a ways to go before they can meet the requirements of the Average Joe.

As the title says, this is my first month, and I've not let the frustration get to me yet. It's as if every cryptic error message I get from the system strengthens my resolve to tame the wild stallion. As I get a firmer grip on the reins, I hope to become a more productive software developer on Linux. By chronicling my experiences, I hope that others like me that come into Linux's fold will be aided by the bread crumbs I drop along the way. Finally, a positive thought that will help me make peace with the status quo; it's time I rode this A-ha moment into La-la land...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Emotional Departures

Dropping a loved one to the airport is gut wrenching, especially when you know that you aren't gonna see them for at least a few months. My gut still feels fresh from being wrenched - I dropped my mom off last afternoon, and I did my best to ensure that her check-in process was as smooth as can be. I convinced both the ticket counter folks and the Security Check officer that I was the holder of an Elite Skypass, which meant she hardly stood in any lines. As she waved to me from the other side of the security screen, I panicked - I had forgotten to tell her to take good care of her passport (this isn't her first time traveling but I was just being paranoid). After trying to locate her through the glass walls outside the Security area, I finally walked up to the Korean Air ticketing counter and wrote her a note. The note read, "Asha Mehta, Seat #XXX, call Manoj Mehta". The conversation we had was very similar to the one we had when she first landed on American shores. Actually, the tenor of our conversation was the same all day long, and it made the separation that much harder...

Before she could leave, there was one order of business that needed to be taken care of - a trip to Kent. This was my first time in Kent, and I saw firsthand how much of a ghetto that place is. The area where the Indian strip is, how do I put it, decrepit, and I wondered, is this the kind of life these people left India for? I live near the International District, and Kent reminded me of a more rural version of that district. As I looked around I wondered when, if ever, would immigrants living in such concentrated neighborhoods among their own people assimilate into American society?

My mom's bags were 9 kilos overweight, and my dad had to resort to threatening her or else she'd have to face the music, from me. Am I really that intimidating? Over the course of the last two months, it has dawned on me that I am somewhat of a control freak. It's important to want things a certain way, but all good things done in excess become bad. The key for me is to find balance, and I've added this to my list of proposed changes in my life. New job, new house, new Manoj?

Here's an update on my new job. The work doesn't involve much coding, and it's not a management position; there are times when the ambiguity of my role perplexes me. I should have realized this when I saw that the infrastructure is hosted on Linux - there is very little development work done on Linux by most software companies. I don't feel like I am building a product; I feel like I am supporting one, which will take some adjusting to on my part. The jury isn't out yet, so let's see how this cookie crumbles.

I got home last evening to a pleasant surprise - my dad had spent the afternoon cleaning the place up, and had even found time to cook some dinner. Simple meal it was - lentils, a slice of bread, a cup of coffee, chipotle mayo, and a delicious potato sabzi. The two of us ate, talked about our days, about how we were missing mom already, about the nature of relationships between various family members, before it was time to corral squash gear from all over the house. My squash match didn't go well, but I got a good workout, for which I am thankful. I need to write about how great the Pro Club is, but that's for another time.

Another day has begun, and though I haven't got as much sleep as I would like, I'm going to make the most of it. Sitting in a conference room overlooking the Puget Sound isn't such a bad way to spend a working day now, is it?

Monday, August 18, 2008

When focus groups don't work...

Towards the latter half of my Microsoft career, I was bombarded by terms like "Focus Group feedback", "Decision via Committee" and "User-centric innovation". Often times, the focus group's feedback would never make it into our products and processes, and I'd wonder why the process failed. Once I got over wondering why the process failed (it's conventional wisdom that focus groups don't work), I began to wonder about why Microsoft wasted time and effort in organizing focus groups. Though my second bout of wondering might take forever, here is some insight into why focus groups might not be right for your organization.
"Some teams of people look to focus groups, consultancies, and research methods to bring in outside ideas, but this rarely improves the quality of thinking in the group itself. Those outside ideas, however bold or original, are at the mercy of the diversity of thought within the group itself. If the group, as a collective, is only capable of approving B level work, it doesn’t matter how many A level ideas you bring to it. Focus groups or other outside sources of information can not give a team, or its leaders, a soul. A bland homogeneous team of people has no real opinions, because it consists of people with same backgrounds, outlooks, and experiences who will only feel comfortable discussing the safe ideas that fit into those constraints."
There are more gems in this essay, which is insightful without being onerous and has a good dose of wry humor hidden between the lines. Enjoy the read...

Friday, August 15, 2008

My New House, in pictures

Enjoy...



Pictures courtesy Rajesh Mehta and the Nikon Coolpix S5.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ashmina Designer now has a website

This is a huge stride forward for the business, and though the site has its faults (navigation being the biggest one), it's a great first step.

Here's the link, once again: Ashmina Designer Knitwear

Friday, August 08, 2008

Aah, finally a home owner

I am still sore from the packing and moving on Wednesday; had I not had the help of some very gracious folks that passed up other commitments on a Wednesday evening, I might have still been moving boxes. Both Suri and I tried to hire help for the physically challenging tasks, and when we couldn't, I was fortunate that Ashish, Arun, Karthik, Puneet, Sumeet and I were up to the task. The 17ft U-Haul was packed to the brim - the stacking and re-stacking of the first set of boxes that were put into the back of the truck paid off or I would have had to make another round trip between Redmond and my new place.

Not that it should be a surprise, but unloading the truck was a breeze. We built an assembly line that carried boxes from the truck to the garage. We left the moving of the couch and the television to the living room level for last, and looking back, I think that was a wise move considering how much of a tedium moving those up the narrow staircase proved to be. Worse still, the couch scratched up the walls on its slow and arduous journey up the stairs, which totally broke my heart. I hadn't even had a chance to enjoy my new place and its walls were already beat up...

Almost no one I know pays the $14 to buy accidental U-Haul insurance; I always do. I have moved 4 times in the last six odd years, and I sure can afford $14 every 18 months. Seems like a small price to pay considering that the Safe-Move protection plan covers all liability on the truck regardless of the person at fault. Actually, it seems like the smartest "move" when you accidentally ding the side of your U-Haul while driving up the ramp to your house. The sheer peace of mind that the $14 buys you is worth the investment; when the sum lets you get off scot-free - that's priceless!!


I slid into bed a little after 2am on Thursday. Boxes littered every floor, and even though they were as exhausted as I, while I was driving the U-Haul back to Redmond, my parents found energy to locate and lay sheets on the floor so we could get some measure of rest that night. Waking up the next morning was a laborious task, but one that had to be undertaken. I pulled myself together, threw some clothes on, and trudged down the street to work. Fully awake but half conscious, I went about my activities in a daze. Attend meetings - check; review some code - check; drink coffee - check; keep oneself from dozing off in public - check. My thoughts often wandered to how my parents were holding up - had they eaten, had they slept, was my dad's back better.

A beaming smile greeted me at the door when I returned that evening. The boxes were partially unpacked, the living room had been tastefully arranged, the couches and TV had been moved around, the bathrooms had all the essentials laid out, the kitchen was mostly functional, painting were up on the walls, and the dishes had been unboxed and shelved. I couldn't believe my eyes - it was as if my parents had read my mind and had placed items just as I had envisioned. The rate at which they are going with the unboxing, we should be almost done by Saturday evening. Regardless of the end day, their choice of place-setting has created the right ambience for us all to sit down, share stories and laugh with a drink in hand. Finally, a place I can call truly mine in America...

Monday, August 04, 2008

This Monday...

It was made to believe that the event would be the equivalent of signing away my life. It didn't turn out quite as bad as I had anticipated; earlier today, I signed the papers that would entitle me to the keys of a brand new house - my 1st house, and biggest purchase to date. I'll post more pictures soon, but here is one to start things off.



***
Crowded Airports point to a bigger problem...

Most people complain that nothing really happens in India. The lack of infrastructure development is often blamed on politicians dragging their feet so that they can line their pockets with bribes. In the United States, changes are often stalled by neighborhood petitions, and the objections of the rich and famous. No pockets get lined here but the end result is the same...

***
The Blue Angels


I saw the Blue Angels on what was a gorgeous summer day in Seattle. My parents and I drove around for a bit before we found seating on a beach cum park in Medina. Though we skipped out on a lot of traffic, the drive to Leschi is worth it simply because the Angels are often flying right over the park. My parents believe that the air shows in Bombay, now a regular feature, are more spectacular; I can't comment because I haven't seen any air shows in Bombay.

***

The Melting Pot gets 3 out of 4 stars in my book. If you can't get a reservation when you want it, don't fret. Sitting in the restaurant's lounge-cum-bar area gets you all the food you crave without the wait.

***
Crude Prices today

Crude is at its lowest price in the last 3 months today, but this drop in prices isn't going to translate into lower prices for us yet. The lowest priced gas I saw today was $4.14 in South Seattle.

***

And finally, airlines in the US are going to start charging for everything on flights including beverages. About time they strike out the term "customer service" from their in-flight manuals...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What is Cuil?

Early Monday morning, I was greeted with a news story about an upstart search engine called “Cuil” that has set its eyes on dethroning the incumbent search leader Google. The press got wind of the Cuil announcement, and the upstart became a calamity of its own marketing machine. In my testing, the site has been slow to respond to queries, most likely due to an inability to handle the flurry of requests directed at its servers. To add insult to injury, the results aren’t as relevant as even Yahoo’s; in what I consider true irony, searching for the keyword Cuil on Cuil returns no information about the search engine. We’ve gotten used to search results having both breadth and relevance (sounds like an oxymoron), and Cuil’s results seem to be lacking in both departments.

Not that Cuil should throw in the towel already; every launched product has some kinks in its armor. Even established players release products with much fanfare that become PR nightmares – just ask Apple about the MobileMe service. What Cuil has going for it is its pedigree – it is built by engineers who consider Search Engine technology to be their “bread and butter” – and the magazine style layout of the results, complete with an image if one applies. If Cuil is to really challenge Google, it must have a disruptively unique innovation up its sleeve, unless the company’s goal is to be acquired by one of Google, Yahoo or Microsoft. If the plan isn’t to be acquired and doesn’t include a disruptive idea, Cuil is going to go the way of the dodo; that’s anything but cool…

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Mehtas in B.C.

For some of us, being world travelers is an accomplishment. Sadly for me, I've traveled in only two parts of the World - North America and India. Oh well, at least I have a bunch of transit stamps for a whole set of countries, and a fair share of US and Canada visa stamps :) This past Friday, I scrounged together enough information so that my parents get their first Canadian Visa stamp; the process of getting the stamp couldn't have been easier, albeit the wait time to get our stamped passports at the consulate could be shorter. On the whole, I think the folks at the Canadian consulate did a very good job of managing the rush on a Friday morning; the drafters of the US consular process have a lot to learn from their North American neighbors.

After a few false starts to the trip, we finally departed for Vancouver a little before Noon on Saturday. The biggest delay was in booking a hotel room, which gauging from Sachin's reaction are very pricey. The Fairmount Waterfront was sold out, as was the Renaissance, so I decided to make a small compromise and got a *** suite in Burnaby. In hindsight, I made the right choice; the hotel was centrally located, the suite was very comfortable, and my parents didn't experience even the slightest discomfort.

More on the trip later tonight...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Not Leavensworth, North Seattle instead

It’s a Monday morning, and I am riding the 545 into work. I don’t think my body has gotten acquainted with being harangued out of bed at 7:45, but I can tell a change is afoot - I wake up a little after 6am every day; that I go back to bed promptly is but a minor technicality. Oh crap I just realized, I was supposed to be in orientation today, but I am not; o well, it’s going to have to be next week now :-(

The team of three, my parents and I, ventured into North Seattle this weekend. An unexpected consequence of working “again” is my seemingly insatiable appetite; ergo a lot of our activities revolve around “dining”. Nishant shouldn’t have shown me how to whip up pancakes; they are simple to make, simple to digest but very hard to work off. I have decided that if I am going to ingest calories, they had better come from exotic food so that I don’t rue the extra time I spend in the gym :-)

The plan was to venture out of Seattle this weekend, but I hadn’t factored in my participation in the Washington State Games’ squash tournament. My first match was on Saturday morning, and true to my morning record, I lost. It was a close match though, with just one point separating the winner from the loser in every game. Yes, I did make some unforced errors, but all in all, it was an entertaining duel. Losing your 1st match lands you in the consolation draw, so I had to stick around till the afternoon to play another match.

I won my 2nd match without breaking into a sweat, and won the final on Sunday morning too. The score-lines belie the tumult within me, so I deemed it necessary to share my experience. I was calm and relaxed till I stepped out on the court on all 3 occasions, but all hell broke loose once I hit a ball. The adrenaline flowed unabated, my nerves were on edge, and I had a tough time controlling the speed of my shots. I remember the cramps in my hamstrings, the tightness in my wrists, and the lack of confidence I had in one of my best shots. All this in a club level squash tournament; I can only wonder what Nadal and Federer might have experienced during their Wimbledon epic.

After spending a better part of Saturday by the squash courts, we returned home to get some much-needed rest. My mom doesn’t usually nap in the afternoon; that we had to coax her out of bed on Saturday evening was an indicator of our exhaustion level. My parents have been great sports in Seattle, so on my suggestion, they acquiesced to sampling Greek food that first weekend night. Costas Opa in Fremont was where I took them – the food is consistently tasty, and the drive by Lake Union is scenic. We ordered the Souvlaki and a Veggie Combo, which we devoured heartily as we dissected the spices in our food. We would have hung around longer in Fremont had I not had to wake up early again on Sunday.

After wrapping up my commitments at the Squash tournament on Sunday, the three of us drove out to one of Seattle’s local attractions. In the last six years in Seattle, I had heard about the “Locks”, but couldn’t overcome the inertia of driving the 20+ miles. Considering that I had mentally prepared myself to drive to Leavenworth this weekend, the drive to Ballard seemed short and sweet; that I managed to get lost on my way to my destination still rankles. The Botanical Garden and the sight of boats rising with the tide were both spectacular sights. If I was to do this again, I’d head to North Seattle really early to enjoy more of the tourist attractions in the area – the Woodland Park Zoo, Golden Gardens Park, Shilshole, etc. After the "Locks", we walked through parts of Ballard around the Farmer’s Market, and finally headed to Green Lake to feed our appetites. The Indian meal was simple, filling and eating a familiar cuisine was a welcome change for my parents. A perfect weekend was coming to an end, the activities of which had left us all exhausted. A quiet drive home, some televizzle and it was lights off in the Mehta household.

It is 8:45 on Monday morning, and I am on the bus to work…

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A 2nd 1st Day

It’s very unlikely for anyone to start working at a new company on a Wednesday, but as unlikely and unexpected as things go, my starting on a Wednesday was just the tip of the iceberg. Newsflash – I no longer work at Microsoft; who would have thought I’d rid myself of those handcuffs? Who would have thought that I would buy a house? Who would have thought that I would choose to stay on in Seattle after all my bickering about the dreary weather? Who would believe that I am actually glad for a cloudy day this summer?

The sad truth is that comparisons to Microsoft are inevitable; I have accepted the fact that other than Google, no other company has the wherewithal to provide its employees with the kind of services that Microsoft does. The things Microsoft employees take for granted but are considered privileges (or pure $$ cost) to others, listed in no particular order, are – bad-ass recruiters, perenially stocked refrigerators, access to the best of breed hardware, the best benefits plan (ask Nishant), and access to a huge library of software released by both Microsoft and 3rd parties. Not one to jump the gun, I am going to let the new environment sink in before I draw parallels or judge. The one thing that this place has going for it is location – the views from the building are plain spectacular. Well, now that Bill Gates is no longer exercising full control over Microsoft, MS buildings might start mushrooming all over the city – who knows!?!

My first day went by without incident. I drove into the city, parents in tow, and reached my destination a little before 9:30 in the morning. I made it to work around the same time today, and I hope that I can keep this going. As I sat in the lobby, waiting to be ushered into a new world, I fingered through the pages of The New Yorker - “The Economy is in Decline”, screamed out from the Front Page. I didn’t get very far with my reading; my new manager whisked me away from my perch a few minutes after I had landed. Within the first hour, I was issued a new badge and a new laptop, I filled out some paperwork, and took my seat in an office with my manager – I had better come in early now, eh? :)

Everything was new to me, right from the fact that I wasn’t an administrator on my “XP” machine (whatever happened to Vista?) to the tasty cafeteria food to the extensive use of wikis to document internal processes and tools. The organization has a very distinct Unix flavor to it, and this transition to Unix is going to make the ride all the more interesting. When I packed up around 5pm, I couldn’t tell myself what I had accomplished in the day but I had a good feeling in the pit of my stomach. I guess a slow but good start to a new journey is better than a false one.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The iPhone saves my day, again

My license tabs expire on the 2nd of July every year. Since my car has more than 50,000 miles on it, I have to get an inspection done every other year. This year happened to be one of those years, and I hate inspection time. Here is some back-story - the Check Engine light has been on in my car since 2003, and every attempt the guys at Strictly BMW have made at completely diagnosing the cause of the problem has failed. So when inspection time rolls around, I have to jump through hoops to get my tabs.

Armed with my "Waive" inspection report, I reached the licensing office a little before closing time on Tuesday. I think it's daft that the Office doesn't accept payment via Credit Card, and the ATM at the office didn't accept my debit card. "Just my luck", I thought!

I was about to walk out of the office, and was desperately looking around for a way out when I saw a poster that, if it could speak, would say the words, "Manoj, you can renew your tabs online with your credit card". Halle-fuckin- lujah!! The task wasn't easy - there were 6 people ahead of me in line, 4 more were being attended to, and I had 3 minutes to renew my tabs or else they would be ready for pickup only the next day. My iPhone, my ninja typing skills, and a well designed WA DOL website came to my rescue; the last page of the renewal process was loading up as I walked to the lady that called out to me.

The lady at the counter had a bemused look on her face when I told her how I had renewed my tabs. "You renewed your tabs while waiting in line?" was a concept she couldn't quite digest. Unable to contain her "excitement", she proceeded to tell the other girls how I had worked around the ATM problem all thanks to my iPhone. Needless to say, there was definite iPhone envy in that room, and some of them might become future iPhone owners. Maybe I should become a Marketing guy, maybe I should tell the Licensing office that it's time they accept credit cards. One thing's for sure, my car is street LEGIT again!

Monday, June 30, 2008

First Time Home Buyer - Tips to Share

June has been house-hunting month for Manoj Mehta. I started my search around the 1st of June, and 30 days later, I have narrowed my search down to 2 places, which I toured today once again. During the tours, I recorded all my observations, took a multitude of pictures, and gathered the opinions of all involved, but I still can't choose one place over the other. The experience has taught me a lot though, and if you're in the market for a house, here are some tips:

1. Be Patient - I toured approximately 50 houses over 4 weeks, and shortlisted 2. Would I have it any other way? No. I am glad I saw 48 houses that didn't make the final cut; seeing things I didn't like helped me figure out what I liked, and compared to some of the dreadful places I toured, these last two were like breaths of fresh air.

2. Shop Around - This is a buyer's market; everyone involved in a real estate transaction wants your business. You can negotiate prices, the mortgage interest rate, agent commission, et al.

3. Take Notes Once, Read Them Twice - I'd recommend that you take detailed notes while touring places, and review your notes the same evening as the tours. Doing this will ensure that the details of all the places you visited are fresh in your head as you undertake the task of separating the "chaff from the corn", so to speak.

4. Go with a Real Estate agent, someone that is invested in your well-being and can be contacted at "your convenience". I got lucky because my agent Maureen Khan is awesome; let me know if you are in the market for a house, and I'll give you her contact info.

5. Leverage the WWW - there are great online resources at your disposal when looking for a house - Mortgage Calculators, FAQs about everything you want to know about the process, maps that give you directions from any point to your proposed home, MLS listing aggregators - and I am just skimming the surface with this list. Speaking for myself, Redfin and Trulia were indispensable to my property search. I must have browsed more than 200 listings, and I swear by the "Search on the Map" Redfin feature - set your search criteria, and as you move around the map, the view of the neighborhood is updated with listings that match your criteria. Voila!

6. And finally, forgot the age old idiom, "if it sounds too good to be true, it is..." Builders' inventory has never been higher, and they are desperate to sell. Go for the jugular when negotiating down the listing price, and you won't regret it.

Finally, Good Luck; I hope you find a house that says "HOME".

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Where can I get my BMW fixed?

If you live in King County, especially Redmond, Bellevue or Kirkland, own a BMW, and want your car fixed, I recommend you steer clear of the stdealership and take your car to Strictly BMW instead.



Brian and Andrew are extremely professional, will take care of your car like it is their own, and take customer service very seriously. I have owned a BMW for the last 6 years, and I shopped around the first couple of times I had to get my vehicle fixed; nowhere else did I get the same advice on how to fix my car, and the shops I contacted were usually looking out for their own interests rather than those of my car. Though the prices for some of the jobs are slightly higher than the competition (but lower than the dealership), you can rest assured that the technicians at Strictly will not cut any corners while fixing your car - the peace of mind in itself is worth a few dollars more. If peace of mind isn't a convincing enough reason, every service entitles you to a complimentary hand wash and vacuum, which would cost you at least $25 elsewhere...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

It's hard to not write about my experiences

A few months ago, I decided to stop writing about my life, and write about the milieu instead. My life isn't an accurate reflection of the times we are living in; for that matter, it is hard to capture the pulse of an era from the experiences of just one person. I thought writing about technology, about current affairs, about stories that grabbed my attention would help me piece my life together when I looked at it from some point in the future.

Oh well, there are news sites dedicated to chronicling the happenings of the World around me. The NYTimes has opened up its archive to its members, and if Rupert Murdoch has his way, the Wall Street Journal will also be available for free for the World to read. There is really no publication that tracks my life except this blog, which is my soapbox - by that token, if this page doesn't contain a reflection on my experiences, should it should cease to exist?

My parents arrived on US shores (Seattle is a coastal city, so the phrase is literal) on the 18th of June. The timing of their trip was immaculate because of my hiatus from work, and their opinions have proved invaluable in my house search. Searching for a house has to be easily the toughest task I have undertaken in my personal life. While driving through the Alaskan viaduct a few days ago I drew a parallel between finding a house and a life-partner - you have to fall in love, and even when you do, you have to recognize that you are making a compromise of some sort. There is no way you can find a house that meets all your criteria, so the key is that the selection (house or partner) meets the key criteria. Anything more that is on offer is gravy...

After touring approximately 50 houses, I have put an offer on two places that we saw on our last day of touring. Both places are in West Seattle, and funnily enough, I wouldn't have considered that neighborhood in my search had it not been for the insistence of my uncle. Alki Beach is about a mile from both houses, and the area seems both affluent and well connected. Most importantly, West Seattle has a pulse and underground culture of its own, something that is sorely lacking in my current Redmond address. If you are so inclined, please keep your fingers crossed (or say a prayer) so that I can close on one of the two offers I have made.

The three of us have seen most of Seattle due to the house tours, and now that the search is winding down, I am going to start showing my parents the remainder of Washington state that is worth visiting. I have a short list of places that they should see, but if you have any suggestions, please send them my way. Most of all, I hope you are enjoying the Summer - the weather in Seattle has only gotten warmer since the 18th, and I can't get enough of this...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Insecurities

I am watching an episode of Two and a Half Men, and an interaction between Charlie and one of his girlfriends made me realize how insecure all of us are. All it takes is criticism from the opposite sex to derail the ego of even the most confident among us. Every guy I know has heard a girl tell him that his ego is fragile, brittle even. Wait, there are books written about how to preserve a man's ego. I think it's time that someone calls it like it is - women have brittle egos too. The difference is, they don't lash out immediately like men do; women just become insecure, and begin to harbor prejudice towards the ego-basher, until one day, it all spews out.

Freud had one thing right though - men gravitate towards women that are like their mothers, and women gravitate towards men that are like their fathers, regardless of whether they like their mothers or fathers respectively. It's something we don't have any control over, because like them or hate them, our parents are our first role models, so sub-consciously, we derive comfort in the familiar...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Case to Standardize Microsoft Silverlight

The Adobe Flash technology has been in the news a lot lately. Like other document formats owned by Adobe, the Flash format is proprietary; this nature of Flash makes it the sole "closed" technology in the WWW stable of technologies. The iPhone's browser doesn't support Flash because Apple claims it is too bloated and resource hungry - this is the only linchpin Web technology that the iPhone does not support.

The iPhone's Mobile Safari browser is based off the desktop Safari engine, which has its roots in Open Source. Safari strives to include support for new Web standards (most of these are created via committee), and it uses the fact that Flash isn't standardized to exclude supporting it on the iPhone. Enter Silverlight...

I believe a game changing move in the world of online media delivery will be Microsoft standardizing Silverlight, open sourcing the technology if necessary. Standardization gives the technology a better chance of being built into more than just the commercially successful browsers (media appliances, mobile phones). If the plans are for Silverlight to usurp Flash's throne as the King of Media Delivery on the Web, this move is sure to exploit a huge chink in Flash's armor.

Thoughts?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Illusionist - Ridik

One of the perks of being unemployed is you get a chance to catch up on a lot of reading and movie watching. I finally saw The Illusionist today, and just to get this out of the way, I don't know why people think you can't like both this movie and The Prestige. I've seen them both, and the storylines are pretty different. My recommendation - watch them both.

What did I like about the movie? Besides the twist in the tale, I thought the characters played not just their parts well, they played well with each other, making the engrossing script that much more absorbing. Ed Norton is one of my favorite actors, so having him play the protagonist might have biased me a bit. As I was watching the movie, I realized that this is one of those perfect date movies - it's not too gory, there is a definite element of suspense and a love story that tugs on the heart strings - all the things girls are suckers for :)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

To Save Fuel, Airlines Find No Speck Too Small

I wonder why airlines did not implement these fuel saving measures from the get go. Some of the changed mentioned in this article seem to be common sense - don't carry unnecessary loads over *any* distance, maintain a balance between customer comfort and fuel efficiency, etc, etc. Regardless, it's never too late to save fuel; you can reduce your car's fuel consumption by monitoring a few things too:

1. Ensure your car's tires (tyres for the British in us) are filled to the optimum level (32/32 for most US cars)
2. Get regular oil changes
3. Remove stuff from your car's boot (I should do this)
4. Ask your mechanic to ensure that the car's spark plugs are firing optimally

Each of these measures is supposed to increase your car's mileage by up to 1 mile per gallon.

5. Last but not least, ride the bus, train, your bicycle or with a friend :))

Monday, June 09, 2008

House Hunting, Cooking, and Everything in Between

Just polished off (literally, the pan is squeaky clean) a tasty lunch I whipped together from some leftovers and veggies from the fridge. I no longer follow recipes while cooking, but I think it is time for me to open up a recipe book again so I learn how to use new ingredients in my cooking. Being vegetarian is limiting in itself; add to that limitation an inability to effectively digest and process restaurant food has compelled me to add more recipes to my current list of favorites.

I gainfully employed my time last week in finding places to buy in a few Seattle neighborhoods. I am looking at buying a house located between Beacon Hill and Queen Anne (that encompasses most of the core Seattle city area) that is priced lower in the $350k range. There is a glut of condominiums in my areas of interest, but houses that are priced practically have been harder to find. Advice to all first time buyers - don't trust the pictures uploaded to sites because pictures LIE. Redfin has been a great resource, but trust me, nothing works like walking from house to house with an agent, especially one whose opinion you trust. Goes to show how much we crave the human connection when making big decisions in life...

Rafa Nadal really dominated Roger Federer this past Sunday in the French Open 2008 Men's Final. I couldn't help but feel sorry for Roger as I saw his confidence annihilated by Rafa who played like a man possessed by the tennis Gods. I have been rooting for Rafa since I saw him win his first French Open, and I see him (maybe Djokovic) as the only threats to Roger's quest for a 6th consecutive Wimbledon crown. I think the Rafa-Roger rivalry is great for Tennis, and it's time for a new successor to Roger's throne.

The rain continues unabated in Seattle, and though the Sun has made a few attempts at breaking the cycle of wet weather, the clouds have been relentless. A very big factor in my decision to buy a place is how bright the home is, even on a rainy day. Maybe I am more susceptible to being affected by Seattle's weather, but I still find it very hard to motivate myself to do anything productive when it's so dank and dreary outside. I did some research, and found that such constant changes in weather patterns wreak havoc on our circadian cycle, subsequently altering our metabolic rates. If you thought SAD (seasonal affect disorder) was a figment of a depressed person's imagination, think again; the disorder is real and so are its consequences!

Apple announced the new 3G iPhone today - the 2.0 software update, the sleeker phone (didn't expect this), the iPhone application store, et all will be released on July 11 2008. The iPhone SDK is now final and can be downloaded from :here: once you have signed up for an Apple developer account and promised to hand over your first born to Apple :) I have run out of platitudes for Apple's ability to deliver products, software and services that push the envelope; all I can say is "Caveat Competitors".

What should Manoj do next? Suggestions welcome...

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Microsoft: we want more people to use Live Search

Let's recap the Live Search related announcements made by Microsoft over the past couple weeks. First, an incentive was announced that gives back to users a chunk of their purchase price for an item they found via Live Search. Second, when a user visits a non-existent page at http://microsoft.com, they are presented with a custom Live Search box to try their search again, or search the web. Third, a tie-up between HP and Microsoft was announced, the particulars of which included every HP computer bundled with the Windows Live Search toolbar. Now this:
"You search, Microsoft donates: update to Search and Give".

I think this last move makes it official - Microsoft is desperate to wean people away from their current search engine of choice. To take a dictum from the dating world and apply it to marketing, desperation has no bedfellows.

Why is there no news - official or in a blog - about how much better the search results are with Live? Why is there no ad campaign that touts the differentiating features of Live over its competitors? Why does Microsoft's brass think that doling out $$ is the only way to get people to switch? I can't remember the Mozilla Foundation giving $$ away, and look, Firefox's market share is almost up to 20%.

The Unemployed Chronicles - Week 1

It's only during a period like this that one realizes how sleep deprived one gets while working 9 - 5. I am in the throes of an extended sleep-over, all my activities are punctuated by naps, and my overall energy level is on the up. If there is one thing I really want to do during this time, it's spending quality time with the few people that matter most to me. I want to say this even though it might not be necessary - it's because of my friends that I haven't gone into a shell of self-loathing and introspection - I don't know about eternal gratitude, but each of you, you know who you are, have earned a place in my heart for just being there, and saving me from the darkness that lies within.

Maybe you've heard me say this, maybe you haven't, but I live life to the Lees because I know it is too short. Everyone's definition of living a full life is different, but this living a large life concept is a potential reason why I fail at relationships. I keep the exit option always open - if the pain of being in a relationship becomes more than the pleasure I accrue, I get out. I've had 5 jobs in 6 years at Microsoft, and I finally quit because things became irreparably sour. I've dated a multitude of girls in the same time period; all of the relationships were fun while they lasted, but when I was out of them, I felt both sad and relieved. There is a pattern in all of this, and though this might seem self-critical, I am just making an observation.

My thoughts keep returning to the Latin aphorism - nosce te ipsum - to know oneself. I know myself, and I know I did the right thing by calling off my engagement. A lot of time this past week has been spent wondering if I did the right thing. Distance can be but *one* reason for the sheen to wear off, but it wasn't just that. You know what it all boiled down to - conversations. A sustainable conversation thread is one is cerebrally stimulating, that picks on the heart's cords, that ... My relationship failed because at the end of the day, it wasn't that we didn't lust for each other or pine for each other's physical touch; we just couldn't stimulate each other conversationally, and in my opinion, that's the only thing that truly matters.

My insight into the human condition teaches me that our unique attributes make us human, but they also create chasms that we must learn to bridge when dealing with another, intimately. Nothing just works, and not to abuse the term, everything requires work. There are times when you hit a purple patch in a relationship, when you don't have to try and even if you do, the payback is worth the price of admission - that's the relationship you want to keep. Back to me, because this is personal - I want to be in a relationship that enriches me, that wants me to be a better person. We all have our faults, but the one thing that we hate is those faults being highlighted more than our virtues. Call it hubris, call it a deluded sense of self-worth, but this is a verity of life. What might be lacking in me is the will to work things out, to make compromises, to adjust to another's whims and fancies, even grow to like those idiosyncrasies, but in my defense, I do try; maybe I need to try harder.

One could argue that the longest standing relationship I have had in my adult life has been with my employer - Microsoft. No surprise then that it came as a surprise to many when I announced my decision to quit. My colleague Jordan asked me why I was leaving, to which I said that I got tired of a culture that thrived on negative reinforcement. I tried to change the culture, I changed teams till I could find one that thrived on positivity, but after 6 years of trying and failing, I gave up. People at Microsoft are like sharks, just waiting for you to make a mistake at which point, they attack. There is hardly any recognition of good work, of the effort someone puts in to go the extra mile. This is the reason why so many of us had a folder aptly titled "Compliments" so that we could store the rare emails that were sent to us congratulating an accomplishment. That's just sad...

As for what's next, I only know that there are bigger and better things waiting each of us in the future. With so much change afoot, one could argue that I am going through a mid-life crisis, that the structure of my life has collapsed. There might be a measure of truth in such analyses, but being the optimist that I am, I have just one retort - the foundation is strong. Given time, a new structure will rise from the "rubble", and with all that I have learnt till this point, it might just be stronger.