Sunday, May 25, 2008

A New Chapter Begins

My first day at Microsoft was January 28 2002; my last day at Microsoft is May 28 2008.

The last six years have treated me very well, and when things haven't worked out on the professional front, I have found something else that inspired me to continue. This past month has seen many changes in my life, so I decided to stop, take stock and start afresh. What better way to start afresh than quitting your current job to enjoy the summer?

I owe a lot to Microsoft, but more than anything else, I stand behind my decision to join a large company with a diversified portfolio of software offerings over a start-up or niche development firm after graduating from RPI. I worked on 6 different projects during my tenure at Microsoft, each unique in its release cycle, management style and work culture. Had it not been for my most recent management chain, I would have never considered quitting; in a twisted way, I have them to thank for being so belligerent and cantankerous and helping me take such a bold step.

The summer is going to be spent finding my inspiration. The thing about life is once you start forcing yourself into doing something, you tend to get exasperated both by your inability to perform at your peak level and with the task at hand. With age and yoga have come the realization that I must let things come to me, and let things run their their natural course. My summer is going to be spent letting things come to me, and in reconciling some of the conflicting forces in my life.

If you were a part of my Microsoft existence, I want to thank you for making the last few years memorable, and request you to continue helping me chart the new territory I tread.

If $4 Gas Is Bad, Just Wait

I remember my manager telling me that "junior" developers like me can't be working from home because it sends the wrong message. I pointed him to the employee handbook, and though this is all water under the bridge now, I think it is time that he wake up and smell the coffee. If predictions for gas prices are correct, gas is going to cost anywhere between $5 and $7 a gallon in the not so distant future, and commuters are going to rethink how often they drive in to work. Let's face it, the public transport infrastructure is abysmal in many US cities. Among the cities that do have some form of public transportation, the routes are inefficient, the fleet has aged, and local governments claim to have bigger fish to fry than fix public transport. Here is an excerpt from the article on Marketwatch:
If oil hits $200 a barrel, which is the upper end of Goldman Sach's prediction for prices over the next six months to two years, the gasoline picture changes quite dramatically. At $200 a barrel, crude alone would cost $4.76 a gallon. Add on the costs of refining and distributing as well as taxes, and pump prices could rise to a range of $6 to $7 a gallon.

U.S. drivers haven't radically changed their behavior, and it is unclear at what price it becomes unprofitable for Americans to go about their usual day-to-day activities, said Eric DeGesero, executive vice president of the Fuel Merchants Association of New Jersey.
'Maybe at $6 or $7 a gallon, it becomes less attractive to go to work,' Mr. DeGesero said. 'We haven't hit that point yet, but we might soon.'
Retail gasoline prices have topped $4 a gallon in Alaska, California, Connecticut, Illinois and New York ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report. Nationwide, gasoline averages $3.831 a gallon.
The uptick in gas prices might serve as the catalyst for change in the mindset of both the car purchasers and manufacturers. After almost 11 years of increasing numbers, the sales of SUVs and pickup trucks have finally begun to slide, adversely affecting the bottom-lines of US car manufacturer Ford. Consumers are increasingly choosing fuel efficient hatchbacks over their gas guzzling sedan counterparts, and sales of Hybrid vehicles have never been higher. "Necessity is the mother of invention" - I envision a time when the differentiator between car manufacturers that thrive and manufacturers that are relegated to a niche audience (or perish) is the Hybrid/alternative fuel strategy taken by the manufacturer.

The Big Oil companies can't be left out of this discussion, and if they continue to have their way, our dependence on fossil fuels is never going to end. It was a few years ago that Royal Dutch Shell posted record profits and earnings; unless something changes, there is no stopping the company from continuing to shatter its own earnings records. No wait, it might be trumped by another Big Oil Company...

Drug taken to stop smoking is linked to traffic mishaps

To say that I like the show House, M.D. would be understating the fact. I watch the show with my laptop at hand so I can quickly lookup any new term that is intoned by Dr Gregory House, and I am amazed at the medical accuracy of the show. The appeal of the show is that it is grounded in some form of reality. Most other shows I watch have roots in Science Fiction, or are light hearted entertainment that I consider background noise. But the medical mysteries in House pique my interest because the characters are the only fictional element in the show; the symptoms are real, the diseases are real, and at some point in the future, an episode of the show might play itself out in my life. The human body is fascinating, and by association, I am attracted to the medical profession because of its attempt to tame the underpinnings and functioning of the human body.

A few weeks ago, I caught a re-run of the episode - Distractions, in which a teenager gets severely burnt after an ATV accident. House eventually figures out that the kid was taking a prescription to rid himself of a smoking habit. The medicine was laced with anti-depressants that caused him to stroke. Reading this article in today's LA Times re-enforced how real the cases depicted in my favorite show can be:
"Daniel Williams hoped Chantix would help him quit smoking and become healthier. Instead, he believes, it nearly killed him.
By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
May 25, 2008
WASHINGTON -- Daniel Williams decided he'd listen to his girlfriend and his 8-year-old son and finally quit smoking, with the help of a new prescription drug called Chantix.

He started taking the medication, and a couple of nights later, as he was driving his pickup truck on a country road in Louisiana, Williams suddenly swerved left.

His girlfriend, Melinda Lofton, who was with him, later told him that his eyes had rolled back in his head and that it had seemed as if he was frozen at the wheel, accelerating.

Moments later, they were in a bayou, struggling to escape the murky water, Williams said."
The effect of anti-depressants on the serotonin levels in the brain is described :here:
Jan. 7, 2002 -- Doctors already suspected potential problems could arise from combining drugs that affect the brain chemical called serotonin. And now there are reports of severe headache and even stroke from combining some very popular drugs.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston reported on three people who developed a sudden, very severe headache and brain changes after taking two or more drugs that affect serotonin levels.

Serotonin is an important chemical messenger found in the brain and throughout the body. Some drugs -- such as antidepressants -- work by increasing levels of serotonin , while others cause the chemical to rise as a side effect.

Increased levels of serotonin in the body are known to cause the blood vessels to narrow. When this narrowing occurs in the brain, it can lead to headaches and even strokes from a lack of oxygen and nutrients.