Thursday, April 28, 2005

A place for my head

The first thing that impressed me about the US when I came here first was the highways. The roads were wide, well-maintained and very systematic. Exits were clearly marked and numbered with warnings coming from a couple of miles before so that you could move lanes safely. Not surprisingly, this country has built itself around the availability of easy access via road. (This leads to its own set of challenges and problems, but that's for a different time).

Over time, another thing that has blown me away to a much greater extent is the public library system. The availability of books even in relatively modest-sized town libraries is impressive. Even relatively new books are pretty easily available, and the systems in place are extremely convenient - online catalogs, hold notifications via email, extended borrowing privileges across libraries (i.e. inter-library loans within the same area), extended hours (the Redmond one runs all seven days - weekdays from 10-9 and shorter hours on weekends) all make reading books much cheaper as one doesn't have to buy every book one needs to read. As an added plus, many libraries have a good selection of audio books, music and movies as well.

Libraries also provide more facilities - reading rooms and magazines (of course) and importantly, well-qualified librarians can help with research - something school children will find useful - especially with the wealth of encyclopaedias available both in paper and online format. Most libraries provide internet access as well as meeting rooms for activities.

While denizens of Pune or Mumbai might think what the big deal is about, these are facilities smaller towns in India would kill for. There are local libraries, of course, but my experience in the local library at Baramati (even with dusty library cards and not online lookups) were nowhere as good as the ones here - especially in terms of the availability of really new books.

Enough rhapsodizing though. William Gibson beckons - Neuromancer is just getting interesting.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Mavericks all

An interesting look behind the scenes at the one tech company that's a noun, verb and indispensible for almost all Internet users today. The article talks about the much storied start of Google, and gives more details on how VC legends Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins almost didn't make it to the A-list of VCs investing in Google. Reason? Each wanted Google all to itself. They were made to 'share' by a pair of upstart graduate students at Stanford. Equally interesting is the set of conditions Page and Brin had for the CEO - that is, when they decided they had to have one from outside. It's no coincidence that Eric Schmidt is a PhD and earned his chops in serious technology (Sun and Novell).

All in all, Google has led its young life on its own terms so far. This about sums it up:

" The character they instilled in Google could be summed up in three phrases: Technology matters. We make our own rules. We’ll grow up when we’re damn good and ready. "

Now begins the second phase - as Google grows post-IPO with the heavies(Yahoo!, Microsoft) bringing their might into search , will it remain the media (and geek crowd) darling, or will, like Microsoft, it's power over the Internet cause it to grow to be feared and disliked? It's happened with Microsoft, and with Wal-Mart (it wasn't like they weren't doing 'evil' things earlier. It was just that they were being overlooked Everyone loves the underdog, don't they?)

And, there is at least one person who has the opinion that Google is the new Microsoft in the making.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Youve Got Mail!

The paper mail had been insipid lately. My subscriptions have moved over, but nothing new in the past few days. Mundane bank statements (I wish they'd just put them online, and not add to the dead trees) and regular utility bills.

Today, a most unusual item in the mailbox. A letter from, of all places, the state of New Jersey. It had the typical packing of a check (tear off two sides and the top portion etc.). I am not even expecting a refund on my state taxes, so what could it be? Turns out, it is a refund! Neato...woo hoo! The government isn't so bad after all. At least until I remember that interest rates on my floating rate student loan went up 25 points. Death, taxes and debt are inevitable.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Hack on

MIT is at it again. "I know, geeks" is what people will say and shrug it off. But this thingie seems really cool, although it is one of the more serious ones MIT's done.

If you want to look at some serious pranks, try MIT hacks. MIT has the reputation for pulling some of the most awesome pranks ever, and the most surprising thing is that they manage to find time for it in spite of their crazy schedules. What, they don't sleep, you say? Ah. Now it makes sense.

Update - two days after I wrote a draft of this post:

Another addition to the MIT repertoire. A few grad students went ahead and wrote code to automatically generate a technical paper. It was even accepted in a conference. I find this absolutely hilarious, considering how cool I thought it would be to get a paper published as a graduate student.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Additions to the Blogroll

Microsoft-followers and developers have their favorite blog to counter Slashdot's rabid zealots. It is Channel9, populated by MS developers and run by the good folks at the company. The nomenclature is interesting - Channel 9 is the audio channel on a flight on which you can hear the pilots communicating. So, Channel 9 on MSDN is presumably where you get the dirt on Microsoft's offerings from the guys at Microsoft itself. Also, I add Robert Scoble, Microsoft evangelist, who also says that the Apple Powerbook is cool.

A couple of other blogs to add to the list, just as shameless self-promotion - the Web Transports group that I work with, and IE . Watch out for IE7, expected out by the end of this year. That will be interesting. The browser wars will be back, I promise.

And to top it off, an Alhad pick, Larry Osterman. Pure geek. Writes about software, and stuff. Fun to read, very insightful on programming stuff.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

News for me

In the age of RSS syndications and content personalized to you, it is easy to get greedy. One does. I've started following many websites, esp. blogs just on the feeds, and it's great. No annoying popups, no ads hurting your eyes, and plain text reading. However, one always looks for more. It would be great if one could have feeds on websites for each columnist. The Indian Express has a set of columnists writing about issues that interest me, and these are brilliant writers. The same goes for the NYT as well. It would be great to have feeds so that I could read articles only by these people, bypassing the rest of the information. Just a thought. You end up missing a few articles if you forget to go to the website often enough.