Saturday, December 6, 2008

Detroit Bailout - Kill five birds with a small stone

Bird 1: (Baghdad)
Lets setup an IED prize in Baghdad. If a local Baghdadi helps the US prevent one IED explosion, he wins a brand new GM Suburban. If he submits 50 automatic rifles, he wins a Chevy Impala. For 25 grenades, a Buick.

Bird 2: (Afghanistan)
Same concept but the possibilities are wider, deeper and much more interesting. Even prisoners can be exchanged for good vehicles. How about a Hummer for ........ Yup.

Bird 3: (Dealers and Local Economies)
Uncle Sam to buy these vehicles from individual dealers at MSRP. This will direct inject cash into local economies. I see no harm in Uncle Sam applying for credit at the local credit unions and paying monthly installments on these cars. This will get credit going. And my favorite uncle will even improve his credit score by taking on so much credit.

Bird 4: (Big Three)
When the sales come in, their balance sheets will be more balanced. They will have cash, credit, and good numbers for the next 18 months. By then there will be so many GM cars in Iraq that spare part business will boom. And if they don't come up with energy efficient cars after this.......well, what can I say.

Bird 5: (Human lives)
Imagine if someone puts this idea into motion. How many lives will this save? How many injuries will it prevent? The cost of prevention alone may pay for the cost of the cars. There is no doubt that this will work.

Small Stone:
The same bailout money, if applied differently, can provide a 5X leverage to our economy. Its easy to understand, easy to plan, easy to execute and easy to measure.

Any takers?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Times change. Even for Google.

Less than six months ago, Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google said this, when asked about the recession and general slowdown:

"What recession?"

Today, when the stock price is down more than half, and growth is shrinking, Google is "ratcheting back spending" and cutting new projects. Eric Schmidt said this in an interview:

"We have to behave as though we don't know what's going to happen."

I think he never did know what was happening or what was going to happen. I am glad he's caught up. He should use Google to look up more information on the economy.

Reminds me of the famous Orson Welles quote, "I started at the top, and worked my way down."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I am not the only one missing a copy of the New York Times

The New York Times does not make daily deliveries where I live. So I get it only on weekends. But on the day after the election, I ran to the local Starbucks to get a souvenir copy of election results. The shelves were all empty.

Today I read that there is actually an aftermarket for the copies of NYT for Wednesday. Someone is selling them on eBay for 20 Dollars a pop.

Senator McCain made only one mistake

He failed to realize that his real opponent was President Bush, not Senator Obama.

Can't sneeze can't cough. Can't laugh.

The hernia repair surgery was done last Thursday. It was supposed to take one hour and they were supposed to let me go the same day.

The surgery took only 20 minutes. But they kept me in the hospital for two days. Today after one week, I am off the narcotic painkiller and trying Tylenol. I cannot cough, cannot sneeze and cannot laugh. If I do, I see glimpses of my ancestors.

During the two days at the Hospital, I walked around the ward for hours. Saw interesting ways of using technology. Now health care staff put all patient information into a software system through laptops. Good start I say. The laptops are fitted on tall moving trolleys and attached with external keyboards. When nurses do their rounds, they pickup any one of these laptop equipped trolleys, get your vitals and input the information.

I would be much more impressed when the thermometers and the blood pressure machines can logon to the central network and update patient information without requiring a human to key it in. Its possible and practical.

While doing my "rounds" around the ward, I saw more than a few laptops stuck with the Windows error dialog box.

There has to be an open source version of Linux, just for hospitals and healthcare givers. This will reduce the overall costs. I just checked MEDLINUX.COM. Someone is hosting a bogus advertisement landing page.

Someone needs to come up with a method of repairing ventrical hernias by laser welding. I have been thinking about it. The part I cannot figure out is, how can the surgeon externally pull torn muscle together? A laser beam doesn't have traction. I guess the thing to invent would be an external traction apparatus.

Today I was tempted to get back on the inversion table and see how many degrees I can recline without experiencing stretching in the abdominal wall. At the last minute I decided against it. Instead I am now writing this blog entry.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Chronicles of Hernia

I guess I overdid my inversion training. I now proudly host a ventrical hernia. If you don't know what that is, think of it as a hole in the muscle around the solar plexus. It doesn't hurt, it doesn't do much, but its a hole and it needs to be patched up. Under severe conditions, "stuff" from inside the wall can squeeze out through this hole and .......I am not sure what will happen if this happens.

This is my second hernia in the same place.

First time I got it in 2007 ago probably in the Gym. I must have done one too many pull ups. This time, I was doing crunches while hanging upside down on the inversion table.

The thing with ventrical hernia is that it doesn't hurt when you get it. And many times, it can be there for years before you find out. In my case, I started feeling a soft bulge in my stomach but didn't pay attention to it for more than six months.

I love inversion but now I don't know if I can go inverted again. The surgery is scheduled for October 30. I was depressed for about a week. Had too many plans for October.

If you are thinking of buying an inversion table, don't let this scare you. Inversion is the next best thing after humans learned to walk upright. Just be careful if you are over 30 though.

I have a Teeter Hangup 5000. Its a rock solid product. Good design.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The media has it all figured out

I just read Campbell Brown's: White House caught napping on financial crisis. Her piece is sprinkled with sunshine quotes (from earlier this year) from President Bush and Secretary Paulson.

My question to CNN is: What would you have preferred instead? Predictions of doom and gloom? Moreover, what were you (in the media) doing while the White House was napping?

You too were disinfecting the public with Sunshine. Weren't you?

But right now is not the time for the media to see what role they have played in this mess. Right now is the time to find the scapegoat, shampoo in the charges and rinse.

In her article, Ms Brown writes, "We need serious scrutiny and debate, and that should happen whether we are talking about a giant piece of legislation that is going to affect us all, or whether we are talking about presidential and vice presidential candidates."

Yeah right. I am glad you figured this part out.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Blaming around the Bush

It is unfair to blame President Bush for the ills of our financial system. He did not invent them and he did not cause them. The root of the problem is "excess."

If you induct super intelligent MIT and Harvard graduates and ask them to fabricate instruments upon instruments of speculation, they will happily do so; and even believe in what they are doing. Eventually the reality catches up with you.

As for tomorrow, sun will still rise, trains will still run, people will still go to work, factories will still produce their goods, and this too shall pass.

But for today, lets commend President Bush and his team for swift action, taken at the right time.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

mysql gem on leopard

There are many posts on the subject, but this one works flawlessly:

sudo env ARCHFLAGS="-arch i386" gem install mysql -- --with-mysql-config=/usr/local/mysql/bin/mysql_config

Here is a link to the post where I got this from.

If you try to use the gem, it might fail (which means you have been trying to install it before you read this post.) No problem, there is a short cut to fix it. Look for the gem files here:


Delete the first bundle. It got copied twice.

Don't ask me why it works but it does.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Inversion training has begun

I am now one week into inversion training. Earlier I had bought an inversion table (Teeter Hangups) from Amazon. Last week Nosheen helped me assemble it and we could finally get on it.

Starting yesterday, I could feel my spine decompressing within 2 minutes of going vertical. This is unbelievable. I am not sure what kind of buildup time I need to be able to invert for up to 30 minutes at a time. That would be "yogi" grade inversion.

Its getting to become a bit addictive. Actually 2 minutes into it, the spine does relax and results in a general sense of well being. As for the proverbial buzz in the head, I do feel pressure build up but the buzz is not there.

I will post more on inversion once I have built up to 10 minutes.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Been counters get it. Rocket scientists don't.

According to BusinessWeek magazine's "The best places to launch a career" this week, Ernst & Young is the number 1 employer with the "Right Stuff." Google is number 7 and Nasa is number 16.

Their ranking is based on three surveys: Employer survery (filled out by employers and lists salaries and benefits) Campus Career services survey, and Student survey. The surveys are weighted in this proportion: Employer survey 50%, Student survey 25%, Career services survey 25%.

I respect BW for their smarts, but I think their weightage is completely off the mark. According to student surveys alone, Google is number 1.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A great article about writing

Just saw this come on. An article about article writing. The thing I find most interesting is the idea that you work on many articles in parallel. I think this is how all professionals do it.

The thing with ideas --any kind of ideas-- is that they don't come when you summon them. You could get one in Walmart, and the next one in a traffic jam. But when you take a long thinking vacation in San Diego, you remain blank.

Out riding

Slow day. Had a few afternoon meetings. After that I got on the GS and rode out to Gengras motorcycles. Met a very interesting guy who is also a GS rider. Rode around, and got back home in time to take care of errands.

It was 96F today. A hot day for summer but a nice day for September. Fall is approaching fast and there won't be many more like this. Got to take every single opportunity to get out and ride.

By the way if you live around Hartford, you will not find a better dealer than Gengras. Their whole team is superior, friendly and professional.

Their service department is unbelievably helpful and professional. Its run by a guy called Don Garneau who happens to be a BMW enthusiast himself. I think he owns a 1975 R75 if I am not mistaken. The other service staff specially Joe and Lynn always accomodate. What a team.

If you are in the market for a BMW, Triumph or a Ducati, go talk to Dave (Sales Manager) or Forest Ridley.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Copywriting Dojo

Thinking is the mother of all Martial Arts. It renders itself in countless ways. You see it in a Kung Fu kick, in a Karate chop, in a Judo throw , in a software program, in a public speech and in a written paragraph. These are all different levels of the same skill. It starts at the physical level and ends --for the sake of this post-- at the written word.

An explosive Karate kick can blow your brains out and change your consciousness for a few minutes. An explosive speech can blow your mind change your consciousness for ever. A Kung Fu master can overcome many opponents. An influential paragraph can sway the masses. Sometimes the whole world. Bodies overcome by Kung Fu are long gone. Minds overcome by speaking and writing live on and relay the messages, generation over generation.

The history of the written word goes back 6000 years. And traceable history of physical martial arts goes back 5000 years. It must have taken a thousand years for mankind to make writing powerful and meaningful. If that is true, then both forms became an “art” at the same time.

What does it take to learn learn Kung Fu and get good at it? Dedication, Attitude, the right school for the chosen style, the right teacher, the right number of practice hours. Incidentally you need the same stuff to learn to write and get good at it.

It is the teaching of these arts, which has diverged. And that is the point of my post today.

The teaching of physical martial arts has become a science. Its reliable, measurable, and repeatable. On the other hand, the teaching of writing as an art --after school and college-- is haphazard, not measurable, and a victim of quick fixes. As in “Write your mystery novel in a weekend” and “Writing killer sales letters in 24 hours,” “Write your breakthrough business book in 90 days or less.”

If you can’t learn to be a black belt Kung Fu practitioner in a weekend, how can you learn to be a black belt writer so quickly?

If I were to remodel the teaching of writing, I would do it like this:

Copywriting Dojo
Lets say I am a grandmaster copywriter who wants to teach his art successfully. I will model my teaching after the teaching of martial arts. I will never sell a course on copywriting. It will be an ongoing enrollment into my Copywriting Dojo.

Unit of work:
The unit of work will be a thousand page document. Lets call it Hazari Document. Or Hazari for short. One Hazari would be a single, one thousand word document, produced in one sitting.

A 10 Hazari student would be someone who has produced ten Hazaris in my dojo. Think of Hazari as a brick. The more you lay, the farther you get.

How I will teach:
There will be weekly 20 minute sessions on a conference call. I will provide the students with a very basic idea of what to do. Then give them their assignments. I will not check the assignments but let a smart computer program do the checking for me.

How I will not teach:
I will not drill writing into anyone’s head. Just show them their next assignment and let them do it.

Students will be able to enroll at any time, leave at any time and re-enroll at any time. But they will have to enroll in the right level for their skill set.

Since this will be an open enrollment program, I will verify past work on applicants’ blogs, google docs or printed papers. I will just count the Hazaris.

The levels will be setup like this:

White Belt:
In this level students will not work with me, see me or hear me. They will work with a Brown Belt assistant who will need to help them through their level.

The student in this level will have to produce 50 Hazaris and he/she will be awarded the white belt. The content of these documents is not important at this level. Just the ability to write about anything but produce the right quantity is enough.

Of course their Hazaris will have to be grammatically correct.

Yellow Belt:
The student will have to produce 50 Hazaris on subjects that I choose for them. These subjects will be unrelated to their core competencies. Quick internet research will be required for most assignments. Extensive self editing will be introduced.

Red Belt:
50 more Hazaris. This time they will be writing articles. I will give them the angles and the constraints. They will produce the body and sub headings. From this level on, skills acquired in one level will be applied to higher levels. This will be mandatory.

Green Belt:
50 more Hazaris. This time they will be writing short reports. Still a thousand pages each. I will give them a problem statement. They will think of a solution and outline it in special reports. They will have to make all paragraphs connect.

Blue Belt:
50 more Hazaris. In this level, I will provide the title of an article. The students will come up with an angle and write complete articles.

Brown Belt:
No writing. Be my assistant and teach other newbies to write 50 Hazaris and get their white belts successfully.

Black Belt:
50 final Hazaris. They will choose the content entirely and produce the documents independently.

At this point there will be a ceremony and the final belts will be awarded.

Dojo Transfers:
If the dojo concepts catches on, I will happily accept transfer students from other copywriting dojos.

Since this will be an open enrollment and “work at your own pace” program, the burden of discipline will be on the students and not on me. I would charge $100 per month. If a student can do each level in one month, he or she can get a black belt in $700.

My dojo will make much more than 700:
Although writing 50 Hazaris in a month is quite possible, most students will not be able to. But the goal is so finite and measurable that they will still remain with the program. Delays on their part will mean extra monthly income for my dojo. I’ve got bills too, you know.

And students who work hard to make their targets, hell, I would give them free scholarships. All in the name of goodwill and smart marketing.

Easy buy in.
The whole process is laid out upfront. The students will know exactly what they have to do, to get to the levels. They will know what they are getting into. If they go with the program, they will have produced 350 articles on various subjects.

If someone can write 350 articles on related and unrelated subjects, have acquired quality as a side effect. According someone very special, its like jogging. The more you do it, the better you get.

If someone goes through the program and says he or she didn’t get the value out of it, I will refund their money. If someone signs up and wastes their time, I will only have a note of consolation for them.

The first sale:
If something like this existed today, I would be the first one to signup.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

To be beaten is hellish. To be ignored is worse

There is unforgettable beauty in learning new words of wisdom, immediately after they've been caned into your hands. Yes, caned. As in you standing with your hands stretched out. And your tutor demonstrating how a stick of wood can break the sound barrier as it reaches the palm of your hand. Practical physics 101: Free with every caning.

This particular acquisition of wisdom is specially memorable. My Math tutor Mr. Riffat Pervaiz gave it to me in Lahore on 07-07-77. The caning at 4:01 pm and the words --that he most graciously inscribed in my journal-- at 4:16 pm. The root cause of this incident was Math. Or rather my inability to do it fast enough and accurate enough that day.

I could go endlessly about math, caning and wisdom, but right now I just want to mention a disaster that I successfully foiled at home.

My younger daughter (now in eighth grade) showed me her math book. She knows my affinity for math. Anyway, the first thought that came to mind was that why is an eighth grader lugging a book heavier than a college calculus book? The second thought that came to mind was: why so few exercises, and yet so much verbiage?

Isn't it true that:
  • If you want to learn swimming, get in the pool. Practice. Later on you can read a book on it.
  • If you want to learn writing, start writing. Practice. Later you can read books on improving the writing.
  • If you want to learn riding, get on a horse and start riding. Practice. Later on you can read books on it.
To me, math comes under the same category. That is, practice first, read about it later. Math, specially Algebra, cannot be taught by explanation as the primary vehicle. I think 80-20 would be a good rule to apply. 80% of students' time should go into practicing sample problems. 20% of their time should go into listening to explanations. But this may be old fashioned. Things are different today.

To my kids, I am opinionated. Maybe someone who doesn't get it. Someone who should not talk about this stuff at all. Specially with their teachers. They love their teachers. When we talk math, it ends up in big arguments, two brilliant angry kids, a pissed of wife who --from her demeanor-- wants to cane the math wisdom out of me. Every intellectual [math] discussion turns into a disaster within two and a half minutes.

Anyway, like I was saying, I thwarted this one before it happened. I just kept quiet.

Sir Riffat Pervaiz said that someday I would remember him and thank him for for not ignoring me.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

If Quickbooks is bad, Netsuite is worse

Frustration with Quickbooks --lack of interoperability-- was the reason why I looked into Netsuite in the first place. This was few years ago. I needed to integrate our billing with an our accounting program. QB was just not up to it. We were using Excel to generate the final invoices and then rekeying everything into QB. I figured there should be a better way.

I started searching for NETLEDGER and ended up on the Netsuite site. Later it turned out that Oracle had purchased NETLEDGER and converted it into Netsuite. So I made the call to Netsuite.

The first thing I noticed about Netsuite as a company was that they were extremely professional. I had recently re-read SPIN selling workbook and could not help but notice that the sales staff at Netsuite was using a sales process based on a combination of SPIN selling and Customer Centric Selling. "....very interesting...."

Their product itself was ok. Nothing extraordinary, but still interesting. But when I worked out the pricing (I hate per user pricing models) it turned out that it would be cheaper for me to develop an inhouse billing system than to sign up with them. In the meantime I discovered sql-ledger (

While I was trying to decide between the costly hosted package versus free open source, someone from Netsuite called me for follow up. She was very nice and cordial. When I told her that I was considering an open source alternative, she said she was sorry for me. Sorry as if I had come down with an incurable disease. I think this response was scripted and well rehearsed. So I got a bit peaved and decided I would not go ahead with Netsuite no matter what.

That was the end of it until I got a routine email blast from Netsuite. This was peculiar.

The mail came from: Lesly Nagie
The header was addressed to: mark at vteams (me)

In the body, the email started like this:

Hi Douglas.......

blah blah blah blah

Kind Regards
David Probyn.

If you haven't caught the inconsistencies, let me outline them for you:

The email came from Leslie
The email header was addressed to Mark (me)
The body addressed to some Douglas
The body was undersigned by David Probyn

So here's the million dollar question: Can I trust an accounting system, which cannot even send the right email to the right name? The answer is no.

So its back to Quickbooks, a software that everyone owns, and loves to hate. Myself included.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

More MBAs less Engineers

Enrollment at MBA programs is at an all time high again. IT enrollment is on the decline. This means that around 2010, there will be severe shortage of engineers. Even today good engineers are getting hard to find.

This time the shortages will be worse than the post dotcom scenario.

Look cool campaign 300MM

Rumor has it that Microsoft is spending 300 Million Dollars with Crispin Porter + Bogusky --a hot advertising agency-- to make Vista **look** cool, specially to consumers.

Why don't they spend the 300 Million inside their usability lab and actually **make** Vista cool?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Get your data out of a blown up MacBook

If the logic board on your MacBook or MacBook Pro is blown up, and you are out of warranty, and don't have a backup, you are not completely screwed. At least you can get your data back.

In principle, it works like this: Take out the hard drive and put it in a 19 Dollar USB enclosure. This way, the hard drive from your MacBook instantly becomes an external USB drive. Now you can connect this drive to your new Mac and access all your files.

If you don't know how to take a hard drive out of the MacBook: there is a cheap and cheerful way Take it to the nearest bookstore at your local university campus. They usually have a technology and repair department. For a few dollars, the friendly technician will take care of this for you.

If your hard drive is blown up: I can feel your pain.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Read a business book in 3 days. Cover to cover.

From great failure, comes great success. And my success in learning how to quickly read business books came because of my utmost failure to read the book on photo reading.

Like many small business owners, I would find myself gravitating towards the business section every time I visited the local bookstore. During slow business months, my eyes would lock on to the "Sales & Marketing" shelves. At other times, I would scan through the Operations and Management books. Regardless of how business was doing, I would walk out with at least two books. But somehow I could not read these books past the first few chapters.

Slowly, the stack of unread books expanded into a shelf. And the shelf expanded into a wall full of shelves. Shelves weren't the only thing expanding. My guilt was expanding in proportion. The guilt of starting a book but not finishing it. Along with the fear of not benefiting from the thoughts of great business thinkers of our time. This was getting all too much. Then the photo reading idea hit me.

If I could Photo read all my books, I would come out ahead. So I bought a book on photo reading but could not get past the third chapter. Then I tried to photoread the book and I did. Only one little problem: I couldn't recall any of it.

This was a private failure. Nobody knew. If you have a stack full of unread books, you know what I am talking about. Anyway despite my guilt, the shelves kept expanding with no end in sight.

One fine day I picked up a random book from the shelf and read the whole thing in 3 days. Then I rested for a day and picked up another one. Then another and another and another. Eventually I started reading a book in 2 days instead of three. With every book read cover to cover, I could read the next one in even less time with more retention. This new found capability made no sense.

I mean there was no "Eureka!" moment. An apple didn't fall on my head. My Apple notebook did fall on the floor once but that doesn't count. Does it?

Anyway, the point of this post is to show you how you can do it. Its easy and fun. You will have a hard time wiping that smirk off your face every time you finish a book in record time.

But first, there is one exception: In your lifetime, there will be around 17 books, which you should read at least 7 times each. This method does not apply to these books. And it should not.

For all other business books, you just have to instill 6 core ideas into your head. One you get them, you will be reading effortlessly. Here they are:

1: Double Pareto
80 percent of all the business books are written for big companies and hopefully you are not one of them. Of the 20 percent books written for small business, only 20 percent of their material is specific to your business. Your goal is to extract this material and discard the rest. Nothing more.

2: Level with the author
Many business books grow out of business articles. A recent example is The Long Tail. Your goal is to identify such books and read them in the same time as it would take you to read the article. Just because an author expands an article into a book doesn't mean you have to blindly read the whole thing.

Many big name authors write big books to land big consulting gigs. Most of their stuff is a sales pitch for their expertise. Don't take it seriously. In fact use a crayon and draw big X's on the pitch paragraphs.

3: Forget grade school
You won't be tested on this material. There are no trick questions embedded in dark corners. Relax and breeze through. If something is relevant to you, you can slow down and reread it. All else is irrelevant.

4: Cheat
You are not supposed to take this shortcut. But take it anyway and do it with conviction. You are getting even with the publisher who made the author write the extra stuff to make the book look more valuable. You are beating the system.

5: Make notes
If you come across important ideas in a book, underline them and also write down your own notes on a separate piece of paper. Keep this paper with the book. This page will become more important than the book itself. Someday you can collect all these notes and write your own book for free.

6: Set a short deadline
It is well known that long campaigns, long wars and long projects invariably fail. Keep the deadline to 3 days or less. Remember that quickly reading a book from cover to cover will give you far more know how than thoroughly reading only the first two chapters.

That's it. And remember that if you are applying the double pareto to *this* post, then please take away only one thing: Go half ass all way instead of going all ass half the way.

Now back to the success and failure thing. Can you recall any failures of your own. Can you convert them with a shortcut?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Ubuntu 9.1 Smooth Shuffle

Hello, I am talking to you. Yes you, the one with a powerful laptop running a dysfunctional copy of XP. I know you want to start using Linux. Not because of all these cool features and programs, but because you want to rid yourself from viruses, bugs, trojan horses, security flaws, stolen credit card numbers, bloated applications and what not.

You want to get rid of it but there is too much data on it. Too many bookmarks, too many documents and cookies and pictures. I know you don't have the time to make a full backup. Maybe you don't even know how to make a full backup. Maybe your IT requires you to run a special VPN program, which only runs on Windows. You are stuck.

On October 28, you will be unstuck. You will reclaim your PC without losing your windows installation, data and settings.

Introducing Ubuntu 9.1 Smooth Shuffle. Here is how it works: You download the CD, pop it in your laptop and attach an external USB drive and reboot. The installation program is completely automatic and starts running. Now you go out to your favorite Starbucks and enjoy a fine beverage. While you are gone, Ubuntu installer will convert your Windows installation to a virtual machine format, copy it over to the external drive, install Ubuntu as the main operating system, bring back the windows virtual machine on the laptop as one of the applications, make a full backup of everything, reboot itself and wait for you with a shuffling card deck screen saver.

When you return, you will have a brand new operating system which will run XP as one of the applications within it. You will run XP when you want to, or have to. At other times you will continue to enjoy the worlds finest operating system along with free and stable applications.

On October 28, you will not be the only one; millions of users around the world will reclaim their independence from XP. You will join them in celebrating your newfound independence. You will call it the smoothest shuffle you have ever made.

Important Disclaimer:
None of this is true. I have nothing to do with Ubuntu except in that I am a big fan. This is all a figment of my imagination. However, if they did come up with something like this, they could put the genie back in the bottle. Literally.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Microsoft doesn't fear motorcycle mechanics. It fears cardiac surgeons

I saw something at a customer site, which felt strange at the time but I couldn't put my finger on it. Their IT folks are running Ubuntu as their main operating system and Windows Vista as one of the virtual machine images inside Linux. What felt strange, was their reason for doing things this way.

"We need to run the GTD extension in Outlook. So we use the Vista image to run the GTD side of things. Otherwise we are completely using Linux."

By the way, GTD is: Getting Things Done. If you haven't read the book, or if you don't know what it is, you are missing out on a great personal productivity paradigm. The GTD extension is an Outlook add-on, which helps people implement this paradigm in their day to day worklife. I haven't looked into it to know any more.

Anyway back to the story.

I can recall many discussions with other friends, customers and vendors who use Vista (or XP) for similar reasons: "We need outlook contacts, all our contacts are in Exchange. We need scheduling. We need our folders..."

They cannot simply abandon their "settings" and "configurations" just to move to open source even though they would like to.

And while I am thinking about it, my own configuration is strange in the same way. I use MacOS as my primary operating system. A vmware Ubuntu image for development. A vmware Vista image to run Quickbooks online version. And if Quickbooks online ran on Safari or Firefox on the Mac, I would not need Vista at all. So even though I am not tied to Exchange, I am in the same boat.

My own needs notwithstanding, there is usually one application or one specific need, which Microsoft fulfills in one way or another and customers are stuck with Windows because of it. There is no getting out alive.

On the other hand, open source projects like Firefox and Thunderbird are producing excellent products, which are business grade, stable, and usually more reliable and more documented. And here's the part I didn't get until earlier this evening: If open source products are better and cheaper (free,) then why is there so little relative buy-in from the business community?

Its the same reason why Microsoft makes Billions of dollars and Open Source Projects usually struggle. And same reason why Microsoft doesn't fear Open Source as of yet.

Let me illustrate the point:

A mechanic was removing a cylinder head from the motor of a Harley, when he spotted a world-famous heart surgeon in his shop. The heart surgeon was waiting for the service manager to come take a look at his bike. The mechanic shouted across the garage, "Hey Doc can I ask you a question?" The famous surgeon, a bit surprised, walked over to the mechanic working on the motorcycle.

The mechanic straightened up, wiped his hands on a rag and asked, "So Doc, look at this engine. I also can open hearts, take valves out, fix'em, put in new parts and when I finish this will work just like a new one. So how come I get a pittance and you get the really big money, when you and I are doing basically the same work?"

The surgeon paused, smiled and leaned over, and whispered to the mechanic..... "Try doing it with the engine running!

Open Source Developers: Using your favorite Regular Expression, replace "engine" with "business."

Friday, August 22, 2008

iPhone droppings

In my last trip out West, my iPhone dropped more calls in San Diego than we have dropped bombs in Tora Bora. Yesterday I was relieved to find out in a BusinessWeek article, that I am not the only one having a case of excessive iPhone droppings.

Until July 18, I was also carrying two phones at all times. A Nokia N95 for telephone calls, and the iPhone for checking mails. The combination was expensive but superb. Then I had to give up my T-Mobile account because the service won't work properly in my office.

According to the BW article, many others are also carrying two phones: One for phone usage, and the iPhone for email and surfing.

I think I have a clue as to why the calls are dropping. AT&T will have to figure out the details but here are two pointers:

1. Hundreds of calls dropped in San Diego but no call drops in the Hartford area.
2. Calls drop when there are many iPhones in close vicinity.

Since San Diego has more GSM connections than Hartford (I think) the problem has to reside in the interoperability of iPhone with the wireless switch under high loads. Or iPhones go berzerk when there are many in close vicinity.

Apple is already on to it. The last iTunes update requested permission to transfer iPhone diagnostic information, anonymously to Apple.

I hope that the problem can be fixed in software.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ring Central Part 1

Two weeks ago, I saw a Ring Central advertisement and decided to evaluate its VOIP service. I signed up for a one week trial under my company name NEXTWERK. I got myself a Phoenix number because key members of my team telecommute from Phoenix. My company however, is based in Tolland CT and San Diego.

Earlier this week, I forced to extend the evaluation for a month. I say forced because when I signed up, I had to provide my CC# for a one week free trial. On signup, I tried their user interface for 15 minutes and decided it was not for us. I tried to figure out how to cancel the trial but couldn't successfully do it. I think they required me to call them during regular business hours. Anyway at this point I forgot all about it until I got an email from them that I was now a bonafide paying customer.

Now that I am paid up for this month, I am having Tomara on my team evaluate the system to see if it can replace our live answering service. And the first thing I will evaluate is their business ethic:

I got a weird voicemail on the new Ring Central telephone which is unknown to the world. Here is a transcipt:

Hey Mark how are you. My name is Joe xyz. I found you on I am a rep that deals with computer repair companies for for AT&T. Give me a call back we've got a program that puts you in front of 2500 people a month in Phoenix looking for computer repair; both business and residential. I only deal with computer repair companies. My number is XXX-XXXX. Thanks a lot and I look forward to hearing from you.

My first reaction:
+ How the did my company name (with this #) show up on superpages so fast.
+ How did this guy from AT&T get this number.
+ Why were we categorized as computer repair?

I went to and searched for my company name. It shows up as Computer Software but with the correct San Diego address and the correct 858 number. Then I made a reverse lookup on the new Phoenix (test) number to see if my company shows up. It didn't. Instead the number points to Geek Squad.

Conclusion: This must have been an "inside" job. Ring Central internally sold my contact / company information to someone else so that they could unleash their telemarketing.

Next week I will post a detailed note on their service, which so far has not impressed me at all.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The case for keeping some site content on a blog

Here is an idea for owners small business sites (myself included.) I am convinced that some site content should only be kept on a hosted blog like blogger, with cross links to and from the business site. Here is why:

Site URLs are subject to change:
If you are running a small business site, you will have to upgrade it sooner or later. It could be a redo of the navigation or a complete system change: As in moving from static pages to a CMS like Joomla. 

You can lose your ranking:
If you have a good ranking page, you are probably stuck with an old (and not so good looking site) only because the page is indexed well and you don't want to lose the ranking.

One of my own sites used to rank first page on a google search even though we did no optimization on it. But as soon as we moved the static htmls to Joomla, we lost the ranking. There was no practical way to rename or remap old file names to new URL names. And by the time we found out what had happened, it was too late.

But blog URLs are permanent:
Once you create a blog entry and a permalink is created, it remains the same unless you force it to change. Your customers can subscribe to the permalinks and always get updated content. 

And you get some cool features for free:
Hosted blogging systems keep changing and improving every month. You get free features like picture albums, themes and widgets. And the list of free stuff keeps getting bigger and bigger every month. Moreover, if people comment on your posts, you get extra content for free.

One possible way of doing it?
Partition your site content and keep the permanent stuff on the blog. The business site could have the "header" material with links to the blog. And the blog could reference back to the site links. For example, FAQs, How-to guides, special reports and article type material could go straight to the blog. Time sensitive and dynamic material like inventory counts, specials etc could go to your site.

Here is what you get:
Lets say you migrate major site content to your company blog. In this case you will not call it a blog but something similar. Now you are free to keep upgrading and changing your site as often as you wish. If you are replacing an old business site with a new one, you will avoid losing the rankings on the content which is hosted on the blog.

In conclusion:
Whoever invented the Web Logs, was probably not thinking of this application. But until someone else comes up with a way of managing companywide URLs, this could work.

What do you think?

If you speak Farsi, can you translate this?

Many decades ago, I heard a verse in Farsi which translated to something like this:

If you want to write beautiful...
Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing.

The word for writing --as I remember it-- was Navees.

Does anyone in this world know what the original verse was?

Day 5: Back to Connecticut. 1546 miles. End of trip

Rode out of Missisauga at 2:16 pm(Yesterday August 18.) One hour delay on QEW and one hour delay at the US Border. Kept riding and riding. One of the attendants at the toll booth told me he has an 1150 at home. Another guy driving a 1 series BMW shouted at me that he's got an 1150 parked at home and would much rather be riding that instead of driving.

Got lucky with weather. Either I was leading thunderstorms or trailing them. Only got wet for 15 minutes near Lee Massachusetts. Arrived at home at 3:00 am Tuesday morning. Total miles logged 1505 (or something like that.)

Woke up this morning with a thousand aches and pains. Getting old.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Day 4: Missisauga 1050 miles

Woke up and headed straight to the hot water machine in the free breakfast area. My travel kit includes a full box of green tea bags. 

Headed out to Square 1 (a big shopping mall) which is 10 km from the hotel. Went straight to the bookstore (Chapters) and spent a few hours there. I love the Chapters. Their book selections are a bit different from what you would see in Barnes & Noble or Borders. 

While browsing for interesting books, I heard a mesmerizing voice singing in French. I had to have this music. It turned out that this song was from an Album by Carla Bruni -- the French first lady. Now I know why Sarkozy looks so fresh on TV. She probably sings him to sleep every night. I figured if I bought the CD and listened to thinking didn't go farther than that because the album was sold out completely.

In the meantime Hamad showed up. He and I had business to discuss. So we sat outside the attached Starbucks and talked shop in the sun. Then Afzal showed up and we continued our meeting.

Dinner at Bombay Chopsticks. Desserts on Gerrard street sidewalk -- Old fashioned kulfi.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Day 3 Toronto: 1024 Miles

Woke up in The Hampton Inn at Sandusky Ohio. Skipped free breakfast and headed out for a meeting with Mike at the local Starbucks. We discussed and planned software development, virtualization and other items on the agenda. Came back to the hotel and checked out at 1:00 pm.

Hampton Inn is a pretty decent hotel. Clean rooms, good service.

Started the ride towards Toronto at 1:16 pm. The weather forecast was good but I wasn't sure if I would make it today. First stop near Erie PA for gas. Then another rider overtook me and I just trailed him all the way to the Angola rest area near Buffalo. He was making good time. Nice guy who knows how to drive fast.

By 6:30 I was in Niagara Falls (Canadian side.) Met up with the family and we all went for dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. The food was terrible. 20 years ago, their food used to be excellent.

The AT&T service works for a few miles into Canadian Niagara Falls. So I kept checking weather forecast for Toronto and Eastwards towars CT. Its supposed to rain tomorrow so we all decided to drive back to Toronto. I figured if I were going to be stuck due to weather, might as well be stuck in Toronto where I can get some work done with Afzal.

Drove down to Missisauga and parked the motorcycle at 1:20 am Sunday morning. Trip meter says its been 1024 miles since Thursday.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Day 1: Erie 507 Miles

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But after 253,440 steps (120 miles), one invariably asks himself the universal question, "What the bleep did I get myself into?" According to Norman Vincent Peale that's the first invisible barrier to every great effort.

The great thing about encountering this barrier while riding is that by the time you are finished cursing and regretting, its already behind you by 10,560 steps (5 miles.) You just shut up and ride on.

In case you are about to embark on a similar journey, there are 5,280 feet in a mile and 2-1/2 feet in a step. My math is accurate even though your own invisible barrier may appear on a different milestone.

My great motorcycle trip is going to be about 1,500 miles. I have to ride up to Cleveland OH for a business trip and then ride North to Toronto. Then head back home to Storrs Connecticut. Today was day 1.

For starters, I had a late start today. I had to double check everything even though there wasn't much to check. Just a motorcycle, some clothes, one book and riding gear. The invisible barrier came immediately after crossing Albany on route 90. And went.

I have driven to Toronto on I-90 many times before and have always been unimpressed by the scenery. This time the view was more than decent. By the time I reached Buffalo, it turned dark and started raining hard.

On the bike, you experience the finer aspects of rain. As you ride into it, you start to feel invisible moisture. Then a few small drops here and there on the visor. Then bigger drops which look wet but you are completely dry because you have the right gear on. As rain gets strong, you get free acupuncture on your arms and front. Then the suit starts getting wet. Then the inside of the shoes. Then the visibility gets impaired. And last but not the least, all of a sudden, you are all wet all over. In my case, one minute I was completely dry, and the next minute, I could feel water dripping and sliding into body parts I didn't know I had. That's when I pulled aside under a bridge to figure out what to do.

There were only two options: Wait it out, or ride through. I moved my wallet, phone and passport to the fanny pocket which was completely dry. Now I know why the Germans built it on the jacket. Got back out from under the bridge and kept going.

Its funny how critical factors change when the mode of transportation is different. Rephrase that. Its not funny. In a car rain didn't even make it to the consideration list.

By the time I reached the Angola rest area, rain had subsided. I was happy to have kept riding. Somewhere in the back of my head, I was recalling something that somebody famous had once said. It was something like the best way to overcome a situation is through it.

A few more hours and I was in Erie PA. Checked into a motel and laid out my gear all over the room to dry it. Went to the nearby bar/restaurant, ate and hit the sack.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Your first motorcycle. Factor these factors:

If you are considering a motorcycle as a possible solution to your midlife crisis, and you don't know how to ride, read on:

Let me guess your situation:
Your are not sure where you got the motorcycle bug from but you've got it big. Money is an object but not a big one. You already have two choices in your mind. One is the cool sexy bike and the other is the more practical bike. You secretly watch videos of your cool sexy choice at night on YouTube. You discuss the practical bike with your wife at breakfast and corelate your choice with the rising oil prices. You have been to a few dealers. Your think you are acting weird because you point out different motorcycles on the road and talk about them.

Its not an easy decision:
Its harder than buying your first car or your first camera or your first TV. Its hard because usually there is a conflict between the image you want to project and the motorcycle you can comfortably and consistently ride. Its also hard because you are trying to make the right decision and you know that once you buy your motorcycle, you will be stuck with it until you find a way to unload it.

Recommendation: Take your time. If this riding season is almost over, don't worry there are plenty more to come.

First myth debunked: used bikes:
If you are patient and you can wait for the right time, there is no particular need to immediately buy a used bike. Unless ofcourse, you are getting impatient. Even then, at least read through this post before forking out the money to a stranger on craigslist.

Motorcycle companies arrange for demo rides throughout the year. Get yourself on the mailing list of major dealers. When the demo truck comes to town, you can get to ride cool new models. I personally skipped this step.

Second myth cannot be debunked: The MSF:
The Motorcycle safety school is a good investment in safety. You may have driven cars all your life but few hours of classroom and 2 days of riding can help become a safe rider.

Be warned that the classroom part is boring and taught in a regimental style. You will need plenty of Espresso to stay awake through the classes. A good time to sleep in class is when they darken the room to play videos.

Recommendation: Take the motorcycle safety school. It will lower your insurance and teach you a few things about safety. If you have never been on a motorcycle, then it will also teach you beginner skills.

And now on to critical factors:
Go over this list and see if it makes you think about your choices.

1. Image and Peer Pressure:
If everyone at your workplace rides a Harley (or any one cult brand) and you want to be accepted easily in the group, stop reading this because your decision has been made for you. If you are a newbie rider, it will be hard to ride anything else and be accepted in the group.

Recommendation: Go with the flow or be prepared to earn respect in every way.

2. Where you live:
This factor is bigger than you think. So think twice about it. If you live in New York City, your riding will be different from someone who lives in a sleepy New Hampshire town.

Just go to the local Starbucks on a Sunday and talk to local bikers. If you are in a big city like NYC, try to locate solo riders. Observe them and their gear.

3. The roads more chosen:
Your road choices will agree with the 80/20 principal. 80 percent of your riding will occur on 20 percent of the road types. And the type of road and duration of journey will decide power and comfort factors.

a) Freeway riding.
b) Metro street riding (NYC, LA, LV)
c) Scenic state routes (eg PCH on the west coast)
d) Dirt Roads and Trails

On freeways you want heavier machines. In NYC you need a light machine, which you throw around and maneuver easily. For scenic routes, you can go with big iron.

4. How much you will ride:
If you are going to ride daily, you will want a low maintenance machine which is easy to ride and good on the gas mileage. If you will only wage weekend wars, you can choose exotic machines. Here are additional factors:

a)Will you commute to work?
b)Weekend riding?
c) Long distance riding (Like going on 1000 mile trips)
d) Adventure riding (Like the Long Way Down)
e) All of the above?

The number of hours you ride per week will determine how exotic you can get. More hours mean more upright (dual sport) bikes.

5. Your favorite position:
To be clear, I mean motorcycle riding position. According to my unscientific and non-methodical reasearch, there are four riding positions:

a) Flying Fetal Position: You will observe this position on Japanese sports bikes. Rice Rockets if you will. The riders are suspended on the bike in --what appears to the untrained eye-- a flying fetal position. If there is a passenger, the combination looks like a twin fetal. If you are driving behind such a bike, you can tell by searching for a butterfly tattoo on exposed skin. On high speed roads, the butterfly appears to be fluttering its wings but I assure you that its not the case.

b) Delivery Position: You will observe this position on beautiful and cool looking choppers and other exotic machines. The riders sit on a wide seat with hands above the head tied to the handlebars, legs wide open and elevated. To the untrained eye it almost looks like the rider gave birth to the motorcycle he is riding.

c) Horse Position: You will observe this position on tall motorcyles. The riders are sitting upright as if riding a horse. This is the most boring position --to look at, that is.

b) Cafe Racer Position: You will observe this on motorcylces whose geometry is a cross between Horse-like bikes and Crotch-like bikes. This is the oldest position in the game. The rider is upright but slightly bent forward.

In my opinion position is the biggest factor in choosing your motorcycle. Because guess what, you will always be in that position no matter what. I am guessing one of these positions has inspired you to look into motorcycling.

There is only one position that evolution has bred into bipeds like us: The horse position.

6. Sound:
Do you care about how your motorcycle sounds? Do you like the 13,000 RPM sound of a dentist's drill machine zooming on the freeway? Or do you like the jack-hammering sound of big American muscle breaking sound barriers on small town streets? In my opinion, sound is the second most important factor.

Italian bikes own the franchise on sound.

The final factor:
Now that I have given you the critical factors, I am supposed to give each one of them a prostate exam and tie it to a specific motorcycle choice. But I will skip the analysis and give you some quick choices. But first, let me tell you about the final factor that factors all above factors:

Its good for human relationships but bad for machine marriages. You can never be a one motorcyle man (or woman.) If you ride through your first 10K miles, you will buy other motorcycles. Three is a good number. Two can work well with each other. This also means that you don't have to fret over making your first choice the right choice. There will be other motorcycles in your life. Trust me on this.

I don't know what you want, but here's what you need:
As your first bike, you need something that is comfortable to ride, gives you confidence to learn how to ride, and has the throttle capacity to keep it fun for a few seasons. You need something which has character beyond the manufacturer's brochures.

And here are the choices:
If you live in suburbia and sometimes ride 100 mile runs on all kinds of roads, the right motorcyle for you is the BMW 650 XCountry. Its comfortable (horse position) its practical (mpg) its fun and highly maneuverable.

If you live in the city and mostly ride city streets, the right motorcycle for you is the Ducati Monster. If you are lighter than 180 pounds, go with the new 696. If you are on the heavy side, then definitely the Monster S4R. The Ducati sound will mesmerize even after you've lost your hearing.

I don't know much about motorcycles or motorcycling. I only know a lot about the stress and excitement that goes along the process of buying your first motorcycle. Hopefully these words will help you have less stress and more excitement.

If you like my unscientific thinking, stay in touch for more:
In order to further my understanding of human-motorcycle relationship dynamics, I will be riding from New England to California this October. In the meantime I will be writing about my own motorcycle choices and experiences. Keep in touch and let me know what you think.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Another update on AT&T network

I have been a big fan of AT&T's 3G data service. But the quality and reliability of their voice service leaves much to be desired. I recently switched my voice number from T-Mobile to ATT and boy have I got issues.

T-Mobile service is spotty on the East Coast. Recently when I moved my office to Tolland, I didn't realize that my cell phone stopped working in my office. I could get out of the building and go 100 meters East or West and it would start working. So after much consideration, I decided to switch to AT&T.

I was already an AT&T customer because I had an iPhone account. So I switched my number and AT&T service finally started working in my office in Tolland. But it doesn't work that well in the rest of the country.

Last week I was on the West Coast. Drove from San Diego to Phoenix to Flagstaff to Salt Lake City to Vegas to San Diego in one week and met with key vteams customers.

AT&T's quality disappointed me through and through. Even in metro San Diego, I was dropping connections on the freeways.

I guess I'll just have to live with, owing to the "arranged" marriage between AT&T and Apple.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

AT&T 3G network near Grand Canyon

The AT&T 3G network works very well on Route 89 around Grand Canyon. I am using this connection to write *this* post. We are going North and car speed is varying between 70mph and 100mph. The connection is 4 out of 5 bars. Not bad. Me and my friend Michael are driving to Salt Lake City. I've got some meetings and he needs to take care of his own stuff.

Until last year I was using the Verizon data network. ATT is by far much faster although their coverage still leaves a lot to be desired.

A few months ago me and Michael [again] were traveling by road between San Diego and Phoenix. I had a 30 minute video conference on Skype with my Lahore office. It worked beautifully.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Employer Destruction Department : California EDD

OK Folks, this is a true story. I have only changed the abbreviation to completely unprotect everyone involved.

Two years ago I received a notice in the mail that a certain form XYZ was not filed correctly a few years ago. I ignored the notice because Paychex manages our company payroll. A few months later, the EDD sent me a bill for $1400 because.........they have high speed laser printers and envelop stuffing machines. I don't think they need to pay for postage either.

After a few hundred --as it seemed at the time-- hours of holding on the telephone, finally got someone on the line who told me to pay the fine and also prove to EDD that the form was in fact mailed to them.

I paid the fine and mailed them my only copy of the form. Now I am getting mails from the EDD which say that EDD thinks they owe me some money but need to see proof of the original mailing again. Since I have sent the original proof to them already, I am not sure what I can do.

My only fear is that if they don't hear from me, they will slap me with another fine. And of course I will pay it again. And then they will send me a notice that they think they owe me even more money.

...there's a pattern here...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Saturday, April 12, 2008

CompUSA and its micro void

Last month I saw a “going out of business” sign outside the local CompUSA. That’s the first time I noticed that they were really going out of business. It was kind of sad because I have been their customer since the 90s (in San Diego.)

A few days later I made a shopping list and went over to help them unload some motherboards. But after 5 minutes of browsing inside the store I realized why they were going out of business: They carried the wrong stuff at wrong prices. For them, going out of business was the obvious outcome.

The whole atmosphere inside the store was depressing and I got out of there in 10 minutes. Since they were the only big game in town, I figured I should go to Office Depot and Best Buy and see if they have taken advantage of this imminent void. Sadly, their shelf spaces were same as before.

An idea for remaining computer retailers: When another computer retailer goes out of business in your area, please take immediate advantage of it. Talk to the departing store owners, let them put up your banner as the new alternative. Double your inventory. Do some radio advertising. Don’t let this opportunity pass you buy.