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


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...