Tuesday, November 29, 2005

XBox 360 And the Digital Hub

The Xbox 360 is out to much hype. Gamers the world over are probably drooling at the prospect of HD-resolution games, and the additional computational power providing for superior game processing, resulting in a better experience. (I’ve seen better performance in iterations of Halo – Halo 2 makes use of the Xbox’s architecture much better than the built-for-PC-ported-later first version).

Personally, though, the aspect of the Xbox 360 that has interested me most in the Media Center Extender (MCX) part of it. The Windows Media Center Edition (MCE) with the extender is a solution to a problem that’s been begging to be solved for a generation of PC-users now – how do you get content from your computer to your TV? The PC is a much richer source of content. With newer online on-demand services coming, and cable IMO not really up to scratch in terms of niche content (no cricket on US cable yet, for instance), the TV as a display device for your computer makes a lot of sense. The problem of course is moving the computer from the study/home office to the living room/den where the TV resides.

Custom solutions are nice, but with the Media Center providing great platform support for this, Microsoft can look to being an important part of the digital hub.

The key thing here is really advertising. There has to be better advertising of these features so that people know of the awesome capabilities a MCE with a MCX can provide. How neat is playing all your songs on your computer, streaming it through your speaker system and controlling all this via a remote, using the TV as the display? This while your computer is in the study, and you are in the den/hall. Add movies on demand, Apple’s video downloads, and (for us cricket fanatics) streaming video, and there is a new, compelling reason to spend on some really useful hardware - not just wow factor 'stuff'.

I feel this is an important part of the future of the company. If MSFT can play its cards right, that is.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Haribhau Poddar - Bhag Sahavva

It’s a relief. After the last Harry Potter which was like a dark cloud hanging over everything, the new book comes like a sliver of sunlight poking through on a particularly gloomy morning. The Order of the Phoenix was tinged with sadness all around – even Potter’s tête-à-têtes with Cho Chang were colored with gloominess and her mooning over a dead Cedric Diggory.

This book returns to the basics in the best way possible. The mundane troubles of school continue with diversions galore. Raging hormones, house pride and petulant women make this a better read than the two previous Potters. (Azkaban remains a personal favorite). Without giving too much away, the end came as a huge surprise to me, as I was expecting things to not quite happen the way they did. Of course, everyone knows that a key character is bumped off (I knew who the character was, too), but the way in which s/he dies was a bit of a surprise.

The denouement promises to be interesting, with Harry looking to take a fairly unconventional step. The slightly apocalyptic nature of his life means that it is unlikely for Harry to go back to living a normal life after he’s fulfilled his destiny. I’d still be surprised if the guesswork in some circles (that he dies) is correct. It would be too much, considering this is supposed to be children’s literature. But children’s literature has never been known to be squeamish (read: The Brothers Grimm).

I know people give me a strange look when I talk about reading and enjoying Harry Potter. The general perception among many people seems to be:

a) It’s for children.
b) Chicks read it.

Things like that never stopped me from enjoying a perfectly fun series of books to read. Creating a world out of words isn’t something that is easy, and Rowling IMO does a brilliant job of it.

I am still waiting for an opportune moment to start on Tolkien’s Omnibus trilogy, since the Magical World and Muggle-Land combined doesn’t hold a lumos-lit wand to the gargantuan place that is Middle Earth. (Obligatory Tarantino: “You know, I've always liked that word..."gargantuan"... so rarely have an opportunity to use it in a sentence”).

But, but, but, Potter still has nothing on Haroun Khalifa.

Previous Potter soundings-off here .

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Write on

Blogs have opened up this whole new world of writing.

You now have access to all sorts of writers. Amateurs. Professionals. Amateurs so good that they ought to be professionals, and people who should be banned for sullying the written word.

There are blogs that are so beautifully written that reading them is intimidating. “Will I ever write anything half as compelling?", you ask yourself. "Keeping at this isn’t making my writing any better. Should I just stop, and go back to mundane, unjournalled existence?”

Then there are blogs that stun you with their simplicity . (Unfortunately, he just stopped blogging). That ache to capture the simple moments of life which make it all worth the while is manifested only in the attempts of a chosen few. For the rest of us mortals, there is only amazement.

This accessibility of material and simplicity of prose is dangerous. It makes you think that with practice, you may actually write that well. Hope isn’t such a bad thing though. Neither is ambition. But delusion is.

Head down. Blog on. Always remember "de parvus grandis a cervus erit".* There may be hope for you yet.

*from small things arise great ones

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Dazed And Confused

Life kind of seems at a standstill for the past few days. The problem isn’t that there’s nothing going on. There’s too much going on. Kind of like a Karan Johar song where a million Farah Khan protégés are dancing in slow motion, and the hero/heroine/best friend are the only ones singing at a normal pace, life around me seems moving at a place slower than it ought to, while I am still frantically trying to keep up.

It might be the weather. There’s a nip in the air, reminding me of late December in India – especially the evenings. The days are much colder, and ‘dressing in layers’ never made more sense. There are less people outside, unlike in the summer where all of Seattle's famed 'outdoor' culture comes to the fore with people jogging, biking and walking their way, soaking up the weather.

Maybe it’s the impending holiday season, and the need for a vacation delayed longer than it should have been. (Ennui at work thankfully hasn’t been a problem, and there’s enough on my plate to keep me at it happily.)

Maybe it’s just a feeling that you aren’t in as much control over your life as you think you are. That all the things you do to seek cheap thrills and that rush of adrenalin, and all the things you do to shake your comfort zones aren’t working. That even after seeing a good chunk of life and interesting and weird times, there are things that still throw you off and confuse the hell out of you. That maybe you aren’t as smart as you thought you were. Especially about things you assumed came to you naturally.

To paraphrase Rushdie,

“There’s more to you Life,
Than meets the blinking eye”


There is an inner voice in all of us, that tells us things.It is a tiny little voice, which is much smarter than you think.

You realize that it's telling you things, that you choose to ignore because cold 'logic' dictates otherwise.

Do so at your own peril.

The problem is, it takes courage to listen to this voice and act on it, and not act on anything people say to you, or what convention says is the correct thing to do. Go ahead, listen to yourself very very carefully. The voice is right, and it will be your highest calling.

Even if it isn't, you'll never regret it. It is better to be proven wrong this way, than not to have acted on that hunch at all.

Abhayam. Asokam.

No fear. No regrets.

Saturday, November 05, 2005


Russell Peters is a name probably familiar to most NRIs in the US and Canada. For those who come in late, he is a Canadian desi stand-up comic who has gained quite a reputation among South and East Asians for his comedy routines, especially since they draw heavily on the immigrant experience. (Think of a desi Mencia). It's come to a point where some of his standard routines (circulated widely via peer-to-peer and otherwise) are now common lingo among Indians (and even East Asians) here.

For those in the know, "Be a Man!" Watch these videos, finally out in the public where junta can actually enjoy his comedy. Or "Somebody gonna getta hurt real bad...."

Video1 (the one that really made him) - RealVideo, some issues with watching in Firefox. 20 mins+.

There's a bunch more videos here... enjoy.

I was fortunate enough to catch his show last month at the Moore Theater in Seattle. Sold-out show. A crowd of yellow and brown faces (maybe 10 whites in the crowd). Pointed, occasionally below the belt jokes about Indians, Chinese, and everyone around. Laughter till my jaws hurt. Paisa vasool. The opening act was Daniel Nainan, who was pretty good too. But Russell Peters was something else.

For some reason, posting about it without offering a sampling of the videos seemed cruel. Now that the videos are easily available online, share the love. Forward these links to everyone you know.

On a tangential note, this is an excellent example of how word-of-mouth publicity due to bootlegs and free downloads can help build a star. I (and many other people I know) wouldn't have paid the money we did to see a comic on reputation. The videos sold me on watching this man.

Check here if you have a show in your area.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The past two weeks

- Worked on making a collage for the local CRY chapter (where I volunteer) despite having no skills worth writing home about. It actually came out well, due to a couple of very creative types who did the hard work. Me? I just cut stuff.

- Played poker. Am proud that I wasn't the first one to lose all my chips. I also won one round since I had a pair. Considering this was only my third time and for the first time with serious players, I'm not too beat up about it. It was for charity, so no complaints. I still didn't buy more chips. There's only so much humiliation you mind bearing, even for charity.

- Attended a Celtic music concert. I wear my Tartan heritage proudly on my sleeve. But the bagpipe isn't exactly my (musical) weapon of choice. Lalit bullied me into it, though I ended up thanking him later. I enjoyed it tremendously. There was, in addition to the headlining Keith Highlander Pipe Band, an Irish folk music band An Tua with a flute, banjo and piano who were great. There was a solo piper who positively lit up the place with his playing. Add some Irish and Highland dances, and it made for a highly entertaining evening.

- After despairing over the past few months, India is back, and how! We didn't buy the series package this time, and I think all of us are now slightly scared of breaking the jinx. If India is winning without us watching, so it shall be.

- My new baby rocks. It is actually a couple of months old now- I finally got some decent memory to go with it. It is hard to believe, but I waited almost a year to buy a camera, though photography is something that I've been interested in for almost two years now.

Now I have to pick up the skills for me to be worthy of it. I'm not hopeless, but then this isn't your regular digital camera. It's not a SLR, but this will scale nicely with my ambitions. Today, non-automatic modes, tomorrow the world?

"May you live in interesting times" - Old Chinese Proverb

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Work News

The IE blog is carrying a post on a feature that I worked on testing. It hasn't been all fun and games, but the decompression work that has gone into WinInet should yield significant improvements for both programmers using it and for IE users. There has been some serious hard work put in for better HTTP spec compliance and performance improvements in this edition. It's amazing how a few months of work on something make you feel protective and proud.*

I've been dogfooding IE7 extensively, and I must say that it is shaping up pretty well. It is fairly ironic that as a rabid Firefox proponent, I should end up working with a team that works on a vital component of Internet Explorer. However, as I like to say, we are part of the solution, not the problem. Expect a rocking new version of Internet Explorer for XP (and a rocking IE in Vista) soon.

* No, I entertain healthy skepticism about a lot of things at my workplace. I am not on the official Kool-Aid. There are things that I love about this place and there are things that drive me up the wall. And yes, Microsoft is a client of my employer, just to make things completely clear.