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


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.


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, 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.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Removing a DVD Stuck in your MacBook Pro

There are multiple fixes for this problem, but before I prescribe solutions that require the use of tools, let me inform you of those that require pressing key combinations while the computer is running or booting up (courtesy Macrumors and some other sources on the web):

- Drag its icon to the Trash can in the Dock or select 'Eject' from the File menu.
- Go to System/Libary/CoreServices/Menu Extras/ and select Use the entry for your DVD in this Menu to eject the drive.
- If you are running a virtual machine, e.g. VMFusion, ensure that the CD is disconnected from the virtual machine. This will sometimes allow the CD to now show up in Mac OS X.
- Hold down the Trackpad button while the machine reboots. Holding down an external Mouse button will not work. This may take some time, but keep your finger on the mouse button right up until the disc comes out or the log-in screen has appeared.
- Sometimes you can successfully use the eject disc button in iTunes even if the disc is not visible to the Finder
- Open Disk Utility and choose the disc you wish to eject in the left-hand pane, then click on the Eject button.
- If your Mac's drive has a paperclip hole, insert a straightened paperclip into, manually triggering the eject mechanism.
- Open Terminal and type "drutil tray eject" to eject the disc/tray, and "drutil tray close" to close the tray.
- If you have a G4 Powerbook, restart the computer while holding down Command-Option-O-F, to enter the Open Firmware prompt. Type "eject cd" without the quotes, and press return. The disk ought to eject. To start into OS X, type "mac-boot" without the quotes. Press return, and the computer will continue with the startup.
- If your computer has an eject button on the keyboard, restart the computer holding down the Option key. When the startup disk selection screen appears, let go of the option key and press the keyboard's eject button.

If none of these worked for you, here is the solution that is almost guaranteed to work: Simple Blade Fix.

If this doesn't work for you, try this solution Trial and Error Fix.

Good luck!!

Why do the Moto GP riders have all the luck?

So, not only do these guys ride at speeds that far exceed my wildest dreams, but they also get the attention of some of the hottest girls I have laid eyes on. Wonder why the combination of adrenaline, speed and motorbikes is irresistible to women??! :)

I doff my hat to my favorite rider Valentino Rossi for winning his 7th straight Italian MotoGP race at Mugello.