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!