Saturday, December 25, 2004


Call me old-fashioned, but I've yet to download from an online music store.

Is it because I'm a starving student that feels ripped off by the recording industry? Absolutely not. I'm a firm believer in intellectual property rights, and support the recording industry charging whatever people will pay for their products.

So if I'm willing to pay for my music, and I own an iPod, and I use iTunes to listen to my music, why have I resisted so intently on trying the iTunes music store?

To illustrate this well-documented area where DRM (Digital Rights Management) a la iTunes falls short, I'd like to tell you about some books I just purchased through's used books Marketplace.

The three books I purchased retail at $13.95, $33.95, and $16.00 respectively.

I paid $2.21, $13.61, and $0.75 respectively for used copies in "Like New" condition.

That's right. Seventy-five cents for a like-new, hardcover, 176 page book. How? The apparently well-read book was published 7 years ago, and the marketplace has been flooded with copies that owners are ready to re-sell (103 owners in the marketplace alone, to be precise).

By purchasing these books from previous owners, I saved $47.33 (or 74%).

The same phenomenon can be found with CDs. Ever been to a used music store? Or taken advantage of an offer to trade in 5 used CDs for 1 new one? You get the point..

By paying to download music (or more accurately, by paying to license music), you lose the right to resell music you no longer wish to listen to. Even if this "feature" were provided by services like the iTunes music store, you would probably be limited to reselling your music to other iTunes users. Apple has addressed this issue in the past, claiming it's "impractical".

What "impractical" really means is that it is not in Apple's best interest, and certainly not in the best interest of the RIAA.

In fact, while the RIAA has long played victim in the effects of the Internet on their business, in truth they have much more to gain from it. Imagine if book publishers had the chance to get rid of libraries, used book stores, and used online sales (the same kind that just saved me $47.33, or I should say lost them $47.33). This is effectively what online music stores in their current incarnation have the ability to do for the recording industry.

Again, call me old-fashioned, but when I buy a book, I like to be able to resell it when I'm done reading it, or even give it away to a friend (I often give copies to my favorite books to friends, then go buy another new copy to re-stock my bookshelf). I like to be able to read my book anywhere. I like to be able to walk into a store and pay cash for my book in a semi-anonymous transaction, and not have the contents of my bookshelf known to some corporation.

These are all rights that have been taken away with the advent of online music stores. They are also problems to which there are undoubtedly technical solutions if companies were so-inclined to explore them. Unfortunately, nobody has stepped up to the plate. I imagine companies feel that to do so would not be profitable. I would disagree, and in fact suggest that in part because all DRM to this day has been broken, and in part because the music is available from CD without any DRM anyway, the first company to offer the ability to resell, give away, use unrestricted, and use anonymously would gain a clear competitive edge.

Live to dream...

Thursday, December 23, 2004

"Property Irregularity"

So after 12 hours of holiday cross-country travel on delayed flights, I finally arrive in Los Angeles. After a good 30 minutes, the luggage carousel stops moving, and my bags are nowhere in sight.

Great. I have a flashback of packing my bags 15 hours earlier.. "I can just toss my glasses and phone charger in here.. I mean, it's only a short flight.. it's not like I'm going to China.."

I head over to the jampacked lost baggage room, wait half an hour in line, only to be told "Well of course your bags aren't here, sir. They were only checked through to Houston".

I explain to the nice gentleman that I clearly explained to the check-in agent that I was traveling to Los Angeles, and showed him the boarding passes that were issued for both flights.

To which the lost baggage agent replies, "Well sir, it's very important that you tell the agent when you check in that the bags should be sent to your final destination."

At this point, my body thinks it's 4am in this morning, and I don't have the energy to even begin to get upset. So I just nod understandably, and explain to the lost baggage agent, "Gotcha. Next time I check in, I'll be sure to explain specifically that I am traveling to Los Angeles and my bags are traveling to Los Angeles too." This sent a contagious chuckle through the room of other tired, aggravated passengers.

To make matters worse, so many people have apparently lost their luggage that the luggage delivery service is backed up 1-2 days, and the airline won't allow passengers to return to pick up their bags at the airport. The 800 number on my "Property Irregularity Report" (great name!) has been busy all day, and Customer Service has kindly explained that that department's "phones are all messed up". The tracking tool on their web site is broken as well.

My only question is, why didn't the check-in agent's software automatically check my bags through to my final destination? Aren't computers supposed to prevent this type of human error? Double-check my luggage tags? It all just feels so... 1980s.

Cheers, Continental. Happy Holidays to you too.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Travel sites, here's some free advice!

I've been thinking a lot lately about taking a 2-3 week trip somewhere after school. I don't really care where, so long as it's outside the US and somewhere I haven't already been (Mexico, Canada, Caribbean, Ireland, England, Netherlands, France, and Israel).

I'd especially like to see Asia, especially Tokyo and Hong Kong. Perhaps its a coincidence, and/or perhaps it's related to having just finished reading two books set in Japan (Digital Dreams: The work of the Sony Design Center) and China (The Diamond Age), both of which got me thinking about how close we are in the world of technology and the Internet despite our distances and differences. It amazes me how many people I know here in the US that have never visited the East, myself included.

So I got to thinking.. How does one go about finding plane tickets when he knows when he wants to travel, and has a general idea about but doesn't know exactly where he wants to go and exactly how much he wants to spend?

Yahoo! Travel is one of the last remaining travel sites I know of that allows users to search by destination without specifying dates, then sort through the results based on price.

But wouldn't it be cool if there was a site that allowed users to search by whichever parameters they choose (origin, destination, price, date, duration) and sort based on whichever parameters they choose as well?

It seems the major travel sites - Orbitz, Expedia, the airlines themselves - have only incorporated search as an auxiliary function of their E-Commerce driven sites.

Wouldn't it be cool to be able to search for roundtrip flights from anywhere in Southern California to anywhere in Western Europe, not necessarily to/from the same cities (maybe I could fly into London, out of Paris, chunnel between), results sorted by duration, date, price, and destination?

Wouldn't it be cool to enter an originating city, a date range, a duration range, and be shown a map of Asia with a price on every major city? Then hover my mouse pointer over a city to get more information? Or adjust a simple slider to change the date range or duration?

Google's built a sustainable business out of search and advertising. Why couldn't Orbitz? If you're intelligent, you only use Orbitz for search anyhow, right? You search Orbitz for the cheapest flight, then purchase your ticket from the airline directly and save the $7-$16 booking fee you would've paid to Orbitz.

At this point, I'd argue that Orbitz banks on many people not being intelligent and/or not caring (similar to Casinos that bank on the same). But expanding their search functionality wouldn't deprive them of that income stream. And if they don't do it, someone else will come along and do it in their place (Google?).

It would potentially facilitate more ticket sales.. the airlines could sell more tickets on routes for which demand isn't high to consumers that would otherwise not fly.

Though whether that is in fact the case or not doesn't much matter.. if Orbitz, Expedia, and/or the airlines don't do it, someone else will in their place.. eventually.. I hope..

Friday, December 17, 2004 - Sushi Disk


Dynamism is an awesome site for foreign tech imports. They're actually carrying a rebranded version of the HTC Blue Angel phone I just bought off Ebay as well.

(As their inventory changes often, I doubt these links will continue to function indefinitely.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Semiautomated Teller Machine Contraptions

About a year ago, my bank opened a new branch in the Union here at the University of Michigan next to an ATM that had existed as long as I can remember. Opting to be as efficient as possible (human interaction can be so pesky, right?), I continued to use the ATM rather than the tellers at the branch.

One day, the ATM was out of order, and I decided to go into the bank. Strangely, this branch had no tellers. Rather, it had about 4 kiosks consisting of video monitors, a telephone, and a strange looking capsule. The instructions on the kiosk indicated that I was to fill out a withdrawal form, place it in the capsule with identification, and wait for a teller to appear on the screen!

I have to admit, I was a bit taken aback by this contraption that looked like something out of the Jetsons. On top of my confusion and the growing line of people behind me, I quickly realized that I didn't have my account number handy to put on the withdrawal form. I was used to using my ATM card + pin at a machine! Not knowing what to do or how to get ahold of someone on the other end, I sort-of backed away sheepishly.

This encounter made me rather depressed. Here I am, a pretty bright Computer Science student at the University of Michigan, unable to work a Jetsonsesque semi-automated teller machine contraption.

A few days ago, the ATM was out of order again. This gave me the perfect 2nd chance. As I walked into the branch, I realized that yet again I had the same account number issue. Luckily, there was a bank rep there to answer any questions. He said if I dropped my ATM card into the capsule, they wouldn't need my account number. Brilliant. It was a rather exciting experience actually.. sending away my signed withdrawal slip & ATM card into oblivion and getting it back minutes later accompanied by $80. I found myself wondering where the nice girl on the screen in front of me actually sat. On another floor where space is less expensive, I suppose. In the future, maybe she'll be all the way in Bangalore, right? :-)

Anyhow, I can't express how much of an idiot I felt like going through this whole ordeal. Finally, the other day, I broke down and admitted my stupidity in shame to a fellow Computer Science student. His response blew me away. He was also afraid of trying the strange semi-automated teller machine contraptions!

At this point, I knew that it had nothing to do with stupidity at all. Rather, it fit right in with other similar, scary feelings I've encountered from time to time over the last 2-3 years: I'm becoming extinct.

I remember playing Super Mario Brothers on my new Nintendo when I was 5 or 6 years old, and the awe that my parents and every other grown-up had of my Nintendo-playing generation. To them, Pong was revolutionary. Toss them a NES controller, and they wouldn't know what to do with it. Toss me an NES controller, and I knew exactly which one of the 999,999 bushes to burn in The Legend of Zelda to open a secret cave and win 500 rupees.

Almost twenty years later, a 10 year old with a PS2 controller could most certainly hand me my ass on a platter at whatever is the latest version of Grand Theft Auto..

Don't get me wrong.. I try to stay current. The problem is, I didn't use to have to try. I had all day and all night to play on my Nintendo, and later my computer, growing up -- especially during those fantastically long elementary school summer vacations!

Now, while I'm still absolutely ahead of the technology curve among my peers, I realize that I'll inevitably fall behind among members of the next several generations. In 30 years, they'll confidently be explaining their new technology to me as I confidently explain it to my Dad and his friends today.

Even as I continue to invent and innovate, today's kids will take my technology and hack it up for uses unimaginable and unforeseeable to me or anyone else -- like my generation and the generation before me have also done.

When my kids are reading e-books, I may still be reading paperbacks -- because I like the feel.. just as my father liked the feel of writing on his paper legal pads until finally taking that leap into the unknown and learning to use a word processor ("back in my day", they didn't have graphical user interfaces and we had to retrofit the function keys on the keyboard with inserts explaining which keys mapped to which functions -- it really was a leap for Dad).

I can just imagine it now.. "When I was young, we had to drive the cars ourselves! They had foot pedals, and a big wheel, and we had to turn on a flashing light every time we wanted to change direction!"

I hope it's awhile before I start having more of these feeling of extinction experiences.. I vow to always tackle them head on.. But I'll always remember the time when I didn't have to tackle them at all.. the time when it all just came naturally.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

<a noref>?

Check out

Notice anything strange? Well.. maybe not at a very quick first glance. But if you click around for a moment or two, you'll probably realize rather quickly that it's a hate site run by a white supremacist group (the same group that runs - look at how many people participate in their online forums. scary.).

The shocking thing is that in a Google search for "Martin Luther King", the above site comes up 4th (as of today, December 2nd, 2004).

I did a bit of investigating into this a couple months back. It turns out that the reason this site is listed 4th is because of the large number of sites on the Internet that link to it as an example of racism and/or misinformation.

Interesting, isn't it? Web sites of elementary school libraries link to as an example of a site students should *not* use, and in doing so, contribute to its rankings in the major search engines (search engines compute rank in large part based on how many other web sites link to a given site).

This is not a new piece of news. The site has been around for quite some time, and many a blogger/journalist/librarian has written about the situation. However, for my own education, I began a one person email campaign to the maintainers of the sites linking to I explained how their linking to it actually helps it in terms of search engine rank, and in-turn only helps the spread of misinformation -- exactly what many of these people were attempting to combat.

There were 3 classes of people who replied:

A. People who were not aware of the problem, thanked me for the notification, and removed the link (but perhaps kept the text without an actual link).

B. People who actually didn't realize the site was a racist/white surpremacist site and immediately removed the link and thanked me.

C. People who understood the issue (either before or after receiving my email), but decided to keep the link intact for one of the following reasons:
  1. Search engine rank is something for the search engines to deal with. If the search engines are ranking something higher than they should be, it's their own problem.

  2. Removing the link makes it difficult for some users to access the information. They won't understand why clicking on the text does not work.
I certainly agreed with both points. Personally, I think the benefits of removing the link given the situation outweigh both of the above points, but they're certainly valid nonetheless.

So, I started thinking about ways to solve this problem. The fundamental idea behind using number of links to determine page rank is the notion of link structure as a recommender system. That is, by linking to a site, you are in fact recommending it to your users.

But is this always the case? Certainly not. Even Google utilizes server-side scripts to exclude some sites to which they link (such as Blogger blogs) from inhereting PageRank from

So, I came up with this mindblowingly simple solution. Why not provide a simple way for one site to link to another without "recommending" it?

A simple way to do this would be to allow for an optional "noref" parameter in the html anchor tag (<a>). So, a url that would not be seen as a recommendation would look something like:

<a href="" noref>Google</a>

An optional additional parameter would be backwards compatible most if not all of the time. So why not implement it?

Thoughts? Suggestions? Just a thought off the top of my head.. but something that could certainly be built upon..

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Road to Redmond

[Names have been changed to protect the innocent]

I wasn’t quite sure what would happen next when I walked out of my campus interview with Microsoft. I guess that’s something the candidate’s supposed to ask, or the interviewer’s supposed to bring up. I had more important questions to ask at the time, and it slipped my mind. I figured I’d hear back eventually if they were interested. So many applicants.. what were the chances they’d pick me anyhow?

Lots of time passed.. the process was progressing with other companies.. I had had a great final round interview with Deloitte.. and still no word from Microsoft. At this point, I asked Ayush, my MS intern friend, for some advice. He happened to have the regional recruiter’s cell phone number, and suggested I call her up to again express my interest and let her know about the offer I was expecting from Deloitte. I think I caught Nancy a bit off guard, but she was very friendly and helpful. She was in a cab on her way to an airport, but had all the paperwork from my university’s interviews in her backpack, and said she’d get back to me asap to let me know the results.

A few days later I got an email from Nancy telling me they’d like to fly me out to Redmond for a day of interviews! She said a Microsoft recruiting coordinator would be in touch.

I was pretty ecstatic, but remained calm. I knew how many college candidates Microsoft flies out to interview every day, and that the odds of getting an offer were stacked against me something like 6-1. I have one really bright friend at the University who’s interviewed with Microsoft in Redmond for the last 2 years, each time going home without an offer, and another friend who’s an amazing programmer and also made it all the way to Redmond and back without getting an offer.

I exchanged a few more emails with Nancy and her coworker Barbara about the process, and about a week later, I got an email from Hillary, my recruiting coordinator, with a bunch of questions and information to help plan and prepare for my trip to Redmond. The potential dates she provided were a bit outside my decision-making timeframe, so I played a bit of phone tag with Hillary and her coworker Laura until finally agreeing on a Monday that’d I’d be flying out 4 days later!

Touching Down

I got into Seattle around 6:30pm and took a cab out to the Fairfield Inn in Bellevue – just minutes away from Microsoft’s main campus. The hotel was pretty dead, and I desperately needed to eat, so I took a walk down the street to Red Robin where I sat alone at the bar eating a burger & fries and sipping on a Guinness. It was a bit lonely, but gave me some much needed time to reflect on the situation and get psyched up for the morning. Went back to the hotel an hour later, checked my email (free wireless!), and crashed.

I woke up pretty early the next morning. I pretty much remained jetlagged for my entire trip, actually. I knew I was going to be spending the entire day running from building to building interviewing in all kinds of strange places, and decided to take Microsoft up on its advice, and wear something I’d be comfortable in. Threw on a pair of Dockers, a sky blue Banana Republic polo-like shirt, my brown cloth/suede shoes, and went off to breakfast at the Courtyard next door.

Wow, was breakfast a wakeup call! There were college aged candidates swarming around the hotel every which way I turned my head – taxi after taxi driving up and taking them off to the famed Building 19 where all the magic begins. I grabbed some eggs and toast at the buffet, and sat down to eat. Next to me were two Microsoft guys chatting about how their group was severely understaffed, but they preferred to keep it that way because interviewing candidates was such a long, drawn-out process that it just wasn’t worth the effort. Great, I thought. After I was done eating, I walked across the room to a comfortable-looking chair, and whipped out my copy of How Would You Move Mount Fuji? I had already taken the book cover off so as not to look like a complete and total dork. Ah, last minute cramming.

My cab arrived around 10. I split it with another candidate who was applying for a developer position. We chatted a bit about the companies we’d been interviewing with. Good times.

Building 19

Building 19 was just as it looked in the Channel9 videos and just as it was described in my book (except the Xbox was working! Yay!). I checked in, chatted a bit with other candidates, then sat down and whipped out my Gameboy Advance to kill some time. Everyone else was wearing a suit. Great.

Around 10:30, a very nice woman named Jackie approached from behind the nearby smartcard-protected door and introduced herself as the recruiter who would be handling my campus visit. She was totally cool. We went back to her office, and chatted a bit about my interests, her time at the company, and our shared passion for the Pocket PC. Jackie gave me a primer interview question to prepare me for my day, and a few helpful tips. She also gave me some vouchers for a free meal with one of my interviewers later in the day. It was a really fun conversation. I think I’ll call her up and see if she wants to get lunch when I get back to Redmond again. Eventually, it was time to move on, and I hopped on the recruiting shuttle to my first technical interview. Even the recruiting shuttle, by the way, was a fun time. The drivers were all very friendly and easy to chat with, and I got to ride in my first Hybrid vehicle. Waay cool!


My first interview of the day was with Jim, in the Windows CE group. The lobby of Jim’s building had a couple of enlarged Smartphone devices by the entrance. Spiffy, eh? As we went up to Jim’s office, he asked if I needed a drink or anything. I thanked him for the offer, but was ready to jump right into the interview.

Jim was a lead PM in the CE group. We hit it off right away, talking about all sorts of stuff related to mobile devices. The interview was mostly behavioral. He wanted to get a sense of my skills as a PM. He asked lots of questions about my past experiences working with groups on projects. Then, the conversation shifted somehow to a mobile technology proof of concept video I’d seen on a Microsoft Research web site. Here’s the link. We talked a lot about how this technology could be applied to navigation applications, and produced a lot of great ideas. It was a great time.

When our time was up, Jim walked me back down to the lobby and called me a shuttle to another building where I’d be meeting another PM lead in his group, Jack.

At this point, Jim also mentioned something about calling Jack and giving him a heads up I was on my way.


When I got to Jack’s building, I had to wait around for a few minutes.. apparently there had been some sort of scheduling issue with my interviews (Jackie mentioned it as well early on in the day), and people weren’t expecting me at the times Jackie/I were given. I didn’t mind the wait.. it gave me time to gather my thoughts, take in my surroundings, and rest my brain before the next round of challenging questions.

When Jack arrived, he asked if I’d had lunch yet. I hadn’t, but told him I was in no hurry, and that it was only my second interview. I could last a bit longer. So, we went up to his office.

Jack was probably the most technical guy I met with. His office was dark, and every square inch was covered with gadgets. I actually figured him for a developer or a tester initially. Turns out he is a PM, but has access to the codebase as well and likes to tinker. Pretty neat.

All of Jack’s questions were about handling issues that arise during the development cycle – new feature requests, missed deadlines, etc. Everything I’d read in The Mythical Man-Month came in handy here (i.e. don’t just throw more developers at a problem, or shorten the testing time). Jack had some insights I hadn’t thought about much before our interview, and that was helpful as well.

All in all, it was another good interview. Jack called me a shuttle, and I was on my way to another building!

Johnnie B

The next building I got to had an MSNBC kiosk in the lobby. Good thing, too, because it was a good 10-15 minutes before I met my next interviewer, Jose. I took the opportunity to relax again, and prepare myself for whatever the next guy had in store for me.

After a few minutes, a man approached, and introduced himself as Johnnie B (another lead PM). He said that because of the issues with my schedule, I’d be meeting with him rather than Jose, who had gone off to an important meeting.

Johnnie B was very nice. We talked about the project his team was working on quite a bit. He said he worked in a group called Windows Technology Services. He gave me a lot of time to ask questions about PM at Microsoft and the company in general. Then, he posed me an interview question.

Answering Johnnie B’s question was definitely the biggest challenge I faced throughout the day. I’d read up quite a bit on Microsoft’s interview questions and the various coding, design, and puzzle questions the interviewers ask. Nothing prepared me for this question.

I sat in front of him exploring option after option, searching the solution space as best as possible, and yet I couldn’t come up with a viable solution. As more and more time passed, and there was still no solution in sight, I started to worry. Here I was, in the hot seat, with my worst fear coming true: a puzzle question I wasn’t able to answer. He (or I) shot down every potential solution I came up with. In the back of my mind I thought that this was the end for sure, or I hoped that the others wouldn’t take his opinion as much into consideration.

So finally, the clock runs out on me, and I ask him, “How would you solve this problem?” To which Johnnie B answers, “there’s no solution to the problem”. So I sat silent for a moment with a grin on my face, then asked him, “Would you expect, or have you ever had a candidate sit in front of you and tell you that there was no solution to your problem?” He answered that it was more the process he was looking at, and suddenly, it all made sense.

Out of respect for Johnnie B and the process, I’m not gonna post the question on my blog. Even had I expected an unsolvable problem, I probably wouldn’t have answered much differently. What if I was wrong, and there was a solution I simply hadn’t found yet? Give up?

Anyhow, I guess I did alright, because I continued to have more interviews (at Microsoft, the number of interviews you have depends on your performance throughout the day).


After Johnnie B was done grilling me, he walked me down the hall to his coworker Morgan’s office. I was asked to wait outside for a few minutes while they talked about me. It’s alright, I expected as much.

Morgan was another lead PM, same group. We chatted some more about program management, about my experiences, challenges, successes, interests. Morgan also had a consulting background, which I could relate to. The interview still involved being creative and problem solving skills, but it definitely felt good to be back out of the hotchair again.

After meeting with Morgan, I was again offered some refreshments. My throat was getting dry, and I’d realized that it was already late afternoon and I’d missed out on lunch. So I had this bright idea of snagging a Mountain Dew out of the fridge (btw Microsoft has a GREAT selection of free beverages).

Mountain Dew in hand, I was walked over to Jose’s office. It turns out that Jose’s the general manager of the Windows Technology Services group. Again, I hung out in the hall while Jose, Johnnie B, and Morgan talked about me. There was a proof on one of the whiteboards showing how 2=3. Hmm...


Jose had a nice corner office – indicative of his position I suppose. Looking out through the windows, I noticed it was starting to get dark outside. The Mountain Dew was starting to kick in, giving me a much needed second wind.

Jose was a lively, energetic kind of guy. His interview style was very aggressive. It was also getting late, and I could tell he wanted to get home to his family (Friday night.. Shabbat – something we connected on, actually). We spent a lot more time getting to know each other than solving problems. He began the interview by looking at the clock, and saying something along the lines of “I’m gonna tell you about myself in 2 minutes, then you do the same”. He had me rank the divisions of the company in which I was most interested, and asked a few practical questions like “In order for you to accept a job right now, who would you have to talk to?” (I told him: my hiring manager and one of my future coworkers). I think my answer may have led to my next interview with Johnnie R, another PM, actually.

I’m not gonna detail the rest of the interview with Jose. He’s an important guy, and I have a feeling some of the information discussed wasn’t meant to be broadcasted to the world. We chatted for what I recall to be something like 30-40 minutes. Like every other interview, it was pretty intense, but a good time nonetheless.

Johnnie R

Johnnie R was the last person I met at the company. He’s a PM in the same group, and gave me a good feel for what it would be like to work on the team. We interviewed each other for a good 45 minutes, mostly about our interests and experience, and then walked back to Building 19 together where we met back up with Jackie, with whom I started the day. She had her daughter with her too – cute as a button! We chatted for a few minutes, I told her about my amazing and intense day (she seemed very disappointed that I hadn’t had the chance to eat, despite it really being my own fault), and then she gave me some company swag and sent me off in a cab with a few other candidates back to the hotel.

Final Thoughts

I recently accepted an offer from Microsoft for a PM position with the Windows Technology Services group. Everyone I met on the team was bright, energetic, intelligent, and motivated, which certainly ended up being one of the deciding factors. I suppose I was lucky to be matched up with such a great group of people – I’ve heard stories from friends about being matched up with groups that just didn’t do it for them. I guess if there was one thing that could be improved about the process it would be the matching process between candidate and division. I lucked out with Technology Services, but generally it would seem to make sense to match candidates with divisions working with technologies about which they may already be passionate. I would’ve also liked to have spent more time getting to know members of the Windows CE group. The process seemed to grind to a halt with that group as soon as I started interviewing with Technology Services, despite all of the interviews apparently having gone very well. Again though, I lucked out in the end.

One thing I’ve noticed about the company was that almost everyone I’ve spoken with (as part of or outside of the interview process) has been there for 5, 10, 15+ years. Going into the process, I viewed Microsoft as a great place to launch my career. If I was happy staying there indefinitely, great. But more likely than not, I’d move on to other great opportunities after having it on my resume for 2-3 years. After meeting the people, experiencing the environment, and receiving the details of my offer, that mindset completely changed. They very obviously take great care of their employees. Without going into detail, the offer was substantially higher than the others I received as part of the University recruiting process. The benefits were amazing as well. It’s obvious that they value their employees and go above and beyond to keep them happy working at the company.

Finally, I can’t stress how important it was to do some recon before beginning the recruiting process with Microsoft. If you don’t have what they’re looking for, no amount of reading or preparation is going to get you a job. But if you do have what they’re looking for, it might just help it come through in your interviews.

Err.. one more crucial thing. The day definitely plays out based on how the first couple of interviews go. William Poundstone explains this in How Would You Move Mount Fuji?, and I certainly experienced it firsthand. The interviewers email, phone, and face-to-face chat between interviews. I had a great first interview, and the day kept getting better and better from there. Have a not-so-great first interview, and you may find yourself in a difficult position. What interviewer wants to recommend hiring a candidate that his colleague just publicly recommended against hiring? Again, covered in more detail by the book (wow, by this point one might think I'm taking kickbacks or something..).

So again, some great resources:

How Would You Move Mount Fuji?
Technical Careers @ Microsoft
What is it like to interview with Microsoft?
Riding the Recruiting Shuttle
Mock White Boarding Problem

If you would like to read more about my experiences with University recruiting and with other companies, I've written a bit about them in another post.

Monday, November 29, 2004

GBA Havoc (part deux)

So as I'm sitting in my seat playing Advance Wars 2 on my Gameboy while my plane begins to descend towards DTW last night, I spot the flight attendant out of the corner of my eye.

Slowly, he begins to approach.. both of us knowing exactly what's on his mind. Finally, he leans over and asks, "Sir, that's airplane safe, right?".

I gaze back at him with a confused look in my eyes. "Airplane safe? Uh. Sure. Yeah. Of course!"

I hate to beat a dead horse.. but the FAA/airlines really have to get with the times. So you're allowed to use your cell phone when you're taxi'ing now -- even when the aircraft door is shut. Is that their idea of progress?

Oh.. the irony.

On a related note, I recently bought an HTC Blue Angel off Ebay. Even when it's "off", the transmitter remains active unless it is specifically disabled through a "flight mode" setting buried within the device's menu system. My guess is over 90% of consumers don't know this, and are breaking the FAA/airline regulations. Heck, how about the average laptop user who keeps his/her WiFi transmitter enabled during the flight? Is it dangerous?

Finally, how is it that airlines testing in-flight WiFi services aren't affected by the use of electronic devices containing two-way transmitters? Are their flight systems better shielded?

Hmm.. what else..

I played with a Nintendo DS today in my mobile devices class. It was sweeeet. Definitely gotta pick up one of these babies eventually.

Ah, and as for the Blue Angel.. so far I'm lovin' it. It has a German QWERTZ keyboard with a different mapping than the ROM flashed onto it by the Ebay importer. The Y/Z thing isn't as annoying as the constant hunt for which symbol/punctuation is mapped to which key. But I'm starting to get used to it. I bought a 1GB SD card for it. The top 2 items on my PPC wishlist right now would definitely have to be larger SD capacities and integrated GPS.

All in due time, I suppose.. for now, my newfound words of wisdom: "Oh no sir, this device is airplane safe!"

Friday, November 26, 2004

University Recruiting

[I had to wait a few days to post this and the next entry until receiving an official offer from a company. Sometimes best not to show all the cards in your hand. Ah.. the life of a blogger.]

Apologies to my readers for the lack of recent updates. It's currently 5:55am at the Fairfield Inn of beautiful Bellevue, Washington, just minutes away from the Microsoft campus where I spent all day yesterday interviewing.

The last few days have been incredibly intense, with back to back interviews with some of the most competitive companies. I have so much to write that I don't know where to begin. So, I've decided to start at the beginning of my journey as a soon-to-be college graduate looking for a job. Here goes!

University Recruiting - Do or Don't?

University Recruiting is the practice by which various companies make visits to many universities (in my case The University of Michigan) in order to recruit for internships and full-time positions. At U of M, candidates review online lists of positions at companies coming to recruit for which they meet certain eligibility requirements (major, min. gpa, class standing, etc). Candidates submit resumes online to these companies whose recruiters then select out those candidates they wish to interview. It's a very impersonal process, mediated by the University as a 3rd party. Sometimes, candidates aren't even contacted by the companies before their first interview. This is a horrible practice. Most companies begin courting the applicant at the moment he/she has been chosen for an interview. Those that don't, need to take a clue from the rest!

So this past fall, I was very weary of University recruiting. For starters, I'd been through the process while searching for an internship with many of the same companies during the previous semester, and it went horribly. I was selected by about half a dozen companies for internship interviews, and wasn't made a single offer. Even worse, none of the companies that selected me peaked my interest. Who wants to spend the summer in middle of nowhere Ohio as an IT intern for General Electric Aircraft Engines? Well, some people do. I didn't, and shouldn't have submitted my resume in the first place. (Sidenote: I ended up spending the summer bartending and doing some technology consulting on the side. It was a blast.)

Two lessons learned:

1) Unless you're in immediate, dire need of the money, especially for full-time positions, don't submit your resume to companies that definitely don't interest you. Even if it means ending up without getting a job through the university recruiting channels. There are other ways.

2) The search for a full-time job is very different than the search for a summer internship with the same company. The process is longer and more intense, but companies are more flexible and hire more candidates.

This semester, I figured I had nothing to lose, and decided to submit my resume again to various companies -- this time for full-time positions. However, being a busy, stressed-out Computer Science student with 18 credits on my plate, I decided to limit my submissions to companies that truly interested me. They were: Cisco, HP, IBM,, Lockheed Martin, Accenture, Microsoft, Google, and Deloitte.


At this point, my interest had been peaked by several of the above companies. A friend of mine who interned at Microsoft the previous summer was convinced it was the perfect place for me. I wasn't so sure, but gave him the benefit of the doubt and began to read up on the various positions at the company. Program Manager was a fit. I also went to a Microsoft presentation at the University by a guy named Marcus Ash in a mobile devices division. It was awesome. He brought unreleased smartphone toys. My interest was peaked. And this was just the beginning...

Google also gave a few presentations and sent out a few engineers. Their presentations were equally awesome, and I was equally as wood at the time -- if not more (I mean.. who can beat a recruiting event where the company brings their best engineers to talk about the inner workings of the Google search engine!)

Deloitte I met at a recruiting fair at the University. I'm actually generally pretty weary of these events, and generally try to steer clear. Companies generally use them as yet another way to collect as many resumes as possible for later data mining, and rarely as a way to connect with individual candidates. The guys at Deloitte really did peak my interest with a specific security services consultant position they were trying to fill. Microsoft also took notes on my resume about my specific coursework and interests. Accenture was incredibly boring, put my resume on a stack, and gave me a piece of paper telling me to submit another one on their web site. The latter response is typical of most companies at the recruiting fair, in my experience.

Getting My Foot in the Door

So the fun began.. and interview requests started to roll in from many of the companies -- Cisco,, Lockheed Martin, and Deloitte.

At this point, I took a step back, and began to really evaluate the companies I'd submitted my resume to. I knew that several companies I was interested in, namely Microsoft and Google, had started to interview on campus, and that I hadn't received anything from them. HP, IBM, and Accenture I didn't care so much about.. (though I'm sure they're both great companies to work for!)

So I took action. First, my friend Ayush offered to put a good word in for me with the Microsoft regional recruiter. I can't stress how important a reference like this is. If you don't hear from a company you're interested in, seek out someone who knows both you and the company well early in the game. Companies have thousands of college candidates applying for jobs. If an employee or friend of the company can lend creed to your abilities, let them do so! It's not gonna get you the job, but it will often at least get you an interview! It got me one!

Unfortunately, I didn't know anyone who had worked at Google. So, I tried another method. I got to know the engineers they sent out to the University. This wasn't exactly a daunting task. They were all cool people. I spent quite awhile with Lilly, a UI engineer, who came to speak to us on what it's like to work at Google. We totally clicked, and she in-turn introduced me to Jessica, a friend of hers in PM, the area in which I was interested! Lilly later submitted my resume internally with some positive feedback about me. Unfortunately, I never heard back from Google. I have a feeling that Google, like most companies, isn't generally in the practice of hiring PMs straight out of college. They came to U of M to recruit developers this year, and I haven't met any U of M graduates who went to work for Google as a PM, but who knows.. maybe I just didn't have what they were looking for on my resume. Either way, Lilly, Jessica, and the Google team were all awesome. I hope we continue to be friends!

One more quick note here.. going to a company presentation will not get you an interview. Maybe connecting with the presenter will lead to something.. connecting with the recruiter usually will not. It's become obvious to me that companies use these presentations to draw out talented individuals and collect their resumes for the selection process (Microsoft and Google have you put your contact info on forms they use in drawings to give out cool prizes! Count me in!). Some companies (like Google) pass on resumes directly to Engineers who select which candidates they would like interviewed. Throughout this process, there were some companies whose presentations I attended that I never heard from again, and there were some companies whose presentations I didn't attend that went to great lengths to recruit me. It was sad watching companies I wasn't interested in try to recruit me while friends that were extremely interested couldn't even get an interview. I've been in their shoes, they've been in mine. Different companies are looking for different things. The process works well despite this irony.

First Rounds

Cisco,, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Deloitte

And so the list was narrowed to 5 great companies. Each peaked my interest for different reasons, and I'll blog on my experiences with each, in the order in which they occurred...

Deloitte was the first company I interviewed with. The position was a security services consultant within their Enterprise Risk Services division. Security is one of my favorite areas of technology, and consulting is one of my favorite professional roles. I was psyched. With all these interviews coming up, I decided I needed a new suit. The one I had was about 5 years old.. my dad bought it for me for my sister's Bat Mitzvah. Deloitte is business-professional, and the bulky black dinner-party suit just wasn't gonna cut it. Besides, everyone needs a good suit, right? So I went to Nordstrom on Mom & Dad, and dropped a little over a thousand bucks on a suit, some shirts, a pair of shoes, etc. They've been investing in my future through college tuition for 4 years now, so what's an extra thousand bucks, right? (Okay.. I'm a very lucky guy with very supportive parents). But alas, I digress. Deloitte held its interviews at the Marriott Courtyard off-campus. I thought this was rather strange, since there are plenty of places to interview on campus, but went along with it anyway.. When I got to the Courtyard, I was directed to a room full of consultants in suits. They'd been brought in from various Deloitte offices, and I was told to schmooze with them until it was time for my interview. No problem. They were all very nice people. A few minutes later, a few slick lookin' consultants came down and invited me back up to their rooms for interviews. It was strange interviewing in hotel rooms.. but I guess it makes sense, since that's where you're gonna spend 80% of your time living as a consultant. Anyhow.. I had 2 interviews, both were behavioral interviews. Answered lots of questions about my professional experience, what would I do in so-and-so situation, when have I overcome a challenge working with a team, etc. The guys were both very bright. And just about every time I met a Deloitte representative he/she was able to quickly sell me on the company. I walked away wanting the job, and they walked away wanting me. Good times.

Microsoft was next, several weeks later. The single interview lasted about 45 minutes. As I had expected, the interview consisted of one coding and one design question. The coding question was to write a function to determine if two strings are anagrams. The key here was quickly coming up with an O(n) algorithm and not getting sucked into the potentially more-intuitive O(n^2) answer. No problem. The design question was something along the lines of, "As a Program Manager, How would you build a new alarm clock product for Microsoft?". Sounds easy, right? When a Microsoft interviewer asks a design question, he's looking for very specific elements in the answer. Having read much about such questions and what Microsoft is looking for in Program Managers, answering it was a breeze.

It's worth adding some information about the Microsoft 1st round interview process at this point. Before I got to this point, I actually had a great phone conversation with a family friend who works at the company about both the position I was interested in and the interview process in general. He described the first round of campus interviews at Microsoft as something along the lines of "separating the fat from the meat". I'd have to imagine that Microsoft gives thousands of 1st round campus interviews every semester. It's a lot easier for them to identify in 1 interview a candidate that absolutely does not have some qualities they're looking for than to identify which candidates are better than others -- especially since they have the capacity to hire as many qualified candidates as they can find. So to pass the first round of interviews at Microsoft, you need to demonstrate whatever it is they're looking for in 1 45 minute interview. Do not go into a Microsoft interview without first reading How Would You Move Mount Fuji?, a great book all about the Microsoft interview process and puzzle, design, and trick questions in general. If you just don't have what it takes, this book won't help you beyond the 1st interview. But if you do have what it takes, this book will help you express it and understand the motives behind asking each question. If you're applying for a PM position, I'd strongly suggest also reading The Mythical Man-Month, a book all about the process of software engineering. It will save your ass -- potentially in the interview process, and certainly in the real-world. Also remember that the odds are stacked against you as an interviewee. It's a *lot* worse for the company to mistakenly hire someone who isn't qualified than to pass on someone that is. So don't get caught up in the latter situation. Read up, talk to Microsoft employees, find out exactly what they're looking for -- especially in that first round of interviews. P.S. I wore my suit again. Microsoft suggests wearing whatever makes you comfortable. I figured I could handle 45 minutes in a suit. Everyone else tends to wear ‘em to University interviews, and I figure it shows I’m willing to go the extra mile. It probably didn’t matter. was my third interview.’s process is drastically different than Microsoft’s or Deloitte’s. is in the process of doing a nationwide tour to handpick the best of the best in object oriented programming. I didn’t really want to be a developer (though coding is a hobby), but I figured I’d go anyway, attempt to knock their socks off, then ask about positions in other areas like program management. After all, it is one of the most innovative software companies out there… The interview was killer. There were a bunch of in-depth questions about C++ and object oriented programming. “When can’t you inline a function?”, “How could you prevent a class object from being copied?”, etc. The coding question was a bit more difficult as well. “Reverse the order of the words in a string.” I definitely took an ego bruising, and walked out of the interview quite humbled. My ego recovered when they later asked for another round.

Cisco was my fourth interview. I have a bunch of friends that work for Cisco in San Jose. It’s a great company, and networking, their core technology, is another interest of mine. I’ve read a few Cisco Press books for fun, and have a Cisco certification. Before the interview, I attended a Cisco presentation at the University. This was a DISASTER! We were told that the regional recruiter decided to attend an event at the Business School instead, and had asked 2 engineers from the local Ann Arbor Cisco office to do the presentation instead. The engineers sat in front of the room with their heads lowered reading a 20-page script all about why Cisco is a great company. The script accompanied a Powerpoint presentation that looked like it was put together by the company’s Marketing division for a target audience of investors and partners. At one point, the script read something like “Every Cisco employee caries a badge with him at all times on which is printed all of the core values of our company”. The engineer looked up, rolled his eyes, and commented something like “Must’ve left mine at home”. After the presentation, I was still left with a little bit of interest in the company – specifically areas related to client consulting, sales engineering, etc. I sent off an email to the regional recruiter to ask about positions within these areas. She wrote back that they were only hiring software developers. So, I proceeded to interview for the position. The interview was completely behavioral in nature – no technical questions. It went very well. The interviewer was a program manager, and we really seemed to hit it off. He said at that point that they were actually looking to hire for 3 departments – software engineering, quality assurance, and TAC (the support group). TAC seemed like the best fit, and I expressed interest. A few days after the interview, I received an email from the regional recruiter saying that they had found candidates better qualified for the available positions. This led me to believe that either 1) they weren’t hiring for TAC or 2) the areas I was truly interested in just didn’t overlap enough with TAC or any other areas for which they were hiring. Ah well, gave it a shot! It just wasn’t meant to be.

Lockheed Martin was the last company I completed first round interviews with. The position was again one in development. Lockheed does a lot of work with information organization, databases, and data mining – all very interesting areas to me. The interview was again completely behavioral. The interviewer was middle management. He’d been with the company for several decades. Lockheed seems very corporatey. I get the feeling they move at a snail’s pace, and their processes lag behind industry standards by about 5-10 years. The interviewer actually told me about a recent contact they’d lost to a smaller competitor. I got the feeling that Lockheed was the Goliath of military/gov’t contractors, and moves/adjusts accordingly (i.e. slowly). That said, I also got the impression that there are many diverse groups within the company. I imagine each of them operates differently, and many must be innovative. If there was one thing that upset me about the Lockheed interview process it was that in talking to Lockheed, I was not interviewing for an open position (or a set of open positions). I was told that my information would be put in their recruiting database, and if any regional recruiters were interested, I’d be contacted. Well, that was rather unfortunate. Shouldn’t the interview process of an excellent candidate (in general, not talking about myself specifically here) end with a job offer? They had my resume before asking for an interview. They could’ve gaged their regional recruiters’ interests then! Anyhow, I walked out somewhat upset. If every company adopted this practice, it’d mean for a ton of pointless interviews for candidates when there may not even be a job available. That said, I was lucky and got contacted by a regional recruiter in DC several days later. We scheduled another round of interviews at their regional recruiting center in DC.

Final thoughts about 1st round interviews:

They’re a great chance for the company and the candidate to learn more about each other after each has decided that the other meets the requirements on paper. They’re the start of a new relationship between company and recruit. Most of the companies with which my first interviews went well began to bend over backwards to woo me over and accommodate my needs. This process continues until you’re disqualified (at which point you’re kicked to the curb like yesterday’s news) or given an offer to join the team.

As I continue to blog while looking out onto the foggy concourse at the airport in Seattle, my thoughts on the first round companies are as follows:

Cisco – Great company, no chemistry. We were looking for different things in each other.. it just wasn’t meant to be. – Great company, didn’t put what I wanted on the table. 2nd round interviews were even more challenging than 1st round – challenging, but fun. One design/coding question asked me to design a class to operate a restaurant reservation system. Another coding question asked to code a function to remove each occurrence of each character in one string from another string (if s1=”sr” and s2=”stars”, result=”ta”). It was somewhat challenging, but certainly possible, to come up with an O(n) algorithm that was space efficient (all replacement done in-place). The final coding question was to write an algorithm to determine the speeds of cars traversing speedcheck cables lying across a road. This was actually a very challenging problem, and took me quite a bit longer to solve (it was more complex as posed than v=x/t where x is the distance between axles – need to account for cars on both sides of the road!). I later posed the problem to a General Manager at Microsoft with whom I interviewed. He he he. He actually told me that Bill Gates’s first product was the software that goes into the boxes that sit next to the speedcheck cables! I’m not sure if it’s true – factcheck anyone? In any event, I’m not sure whether or not I’ll make it to 3rd round interviews for the programming position, but not exceptionally interested in it at this point either. is looking for a very specific kind of programmer looking for a very specific kind of job. I’m not sure that’s me.

Lockheed Martin – Probably not the best place for me, but at this point, I’m certainly biased having just experienced Microsoft. If I hadn’t ventured out to Seattle, I would’ve given them the benefit of the doubt and made my way out to DC. Canceling the trip will be unfortunate. I feel bad.

Deloitte – I actually completed 1st and 2nd round interviews with Deloitte. The 2nd (and final) round of interviews was great. Got the chance to meet with many people including a partner and founder of the Security Services practice. Deloitte is a consultant’s heaven, and I consulting is something I enjoy and appreciate. Deloitte made me an offer, and it’s one I’m still considering. The downsides are that the work is not the most innovative. Consultants apply existing technology to solve challenges that businesses face. They don’t create new technology that doesn’t yet exist. Additionally, the position is with the Detroit office, and most of my family is far far away in California. Most of my college friends in Michigan will eventually move away. Finally, the offer wasn’t that great. I assume they chose a low number expecting me to negotiate it up (this is a consulting position, after all). But their low number was well below the average salary of the graduating computer science major. Even average would’ve been a hard sell. So, I’m sitting on the offer for now and giving other options the opportunity to play themselves out.

And then there’s Microsoft… ah Microsoft.. another story in and of itself.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Redmond, here I come!

As many of you know, I've interviewed with a handful of companies recently in search of work after school..

... and after a great (though intense) trip to Redmond, Washington..

... the winner is... Microsoft!

(Actually, I think I'm the winner. But either way.. hang on tight Bill.. 'cause here I come!)

Several in-depth blog entries about interviewing -- both in general and as a college student -- to follow.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

GBA Havoc

Would someone please enlighten me as to why I need to stow my Gameboy during takeoff and landing?

I hardly think it's going to interfere with the aircraft's navigation and control systems. If it could, then politely asking people to stow them isn't even a viable solution.

If it has to do with being mobile and responsive in the event of an engine or landing gear failure, I assure you, I'd swiftly pocket the Gameboy -- more quickly than I'd be able to dispose of a hardcover book.

Seriously.. I'd like to know.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


Yesterday, The Motion Picture Association of America placed the following full page centerfold ad in the University of Michigan's school newspaper:

(Click image for larger version)

The ad features the usernames and partial IP addresses of peer2peer file sharers, surrounded by bold, red captions reading:




It then proceeds to note that:

Pursuant to the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. Section 504(c)), statutory damages can be as much as $30,000 per motion picture, and up to $150,000 per motion picture if the infringement is willful.


If the MPAA spent as much on developing and advertising their legal movie download services as they're about to spend on ads and lawsuits, maybe people would use them. People use iTunes to buy music. Is it so farfetched?

On the front page of today's Michigan Daily, it was announced that the University is launching a service that will allow students to download music for $2.99 a month. If the MPAA wants to prevent "trafficking in movies" (what is this? the war on drugs?), they too will have to provide and market a legal alternative that appeals to mainstream consumers.

Scare tactics weren't what caused many students to stop illegally downloading music and to start purchasing downloads legally -- even here at the University where student and faculty names were subpoenaed by the RIAA this past May. Rather, it was the emergence of the iTunes music store.

MPAA, don't launch a crusade against the very people you're trying to sell to. They will buy your movies if you make them more accessible. Take the money you're spending on ads and legal fees and reinvest it in your business or pass it on to the consumer. We need it more than you.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Best place to buy books online

AddAll Book Search and Price Comparison

This link actually came from a comment from my good friend Ayush on one of my previous posts. I'm so impressed with the site, that I just had to blog about it myself.

Basically, you enter the title, IBSN, author, or keyword of the book you're searching for along with a shipping destination, US state, and currency, and AddAll searches "40+ sites" (as of today) for the best total price.

This service puts Google's Froogle to shame. AddAll calculates tax and shipping before returning results. The site is clean, intuitive, and add-free. Unlike Froogle and other price comparison sites, the prices are queried and returned instantly -- not added by users or spidered and cached. The site operators make their money through referral fees paid to them when books are purchased by users who click-through their site to order. These referral fees do not increase the price of the book.

The same people that run AddAll also operate the following sites:

A Music Area (music)
A Movie Area (movies)

The questions that come to my mind are:

1) Is Google working on improvements to Froogle that would make it as or more useful as these sites? (Same goes for other Froogle-like operations)

2) If substantially more people actually start using sites like AddAll, online stores will be driven even further into heated price wars. Will they still maintain the referral fees? Will sites like AddAll, with their newly given market power, begin to demand certain referral fees to be included in their listings? Will sites like Froogle that don't take referral fees push sites like AddAll out of the market?

All this said, I still think publishers are missing the boat by not selling directly to consumers through aggregators like Froogle and AddAll and cutting out middle-men like Like airlines, they too can redefine their businesses to profit from new channels of distribution and innovations in search.

Why Blog?

The night before I starting blogging, I found myself in a bar making fun of friends who have blogs. Less than 12 hours later, I started one myself. So naturally, quite a few people wondered why!

Well, that morning, I was up early messing around online.. and came across something quite interesting (see yesterday's post regarding msn search). It was quite relevant to topics we were discussing in one of my courses, so I began to throw together an email on the subject to a few bright classmates. Then I thought.. email is so temporal. I send my message.. maybe one or two courageous people send email replies to the list of recipients they may or may not know.. and it's vanished, never to be read or discussed again.

There are other fundamental problems with using email for generative discussion. What if I wanted to show the conversation to another person or group later? I could potentially forward every email response.. but even then, they couldn't participate in the conversation that had already taken place. Also, how do I know that the people I'm emailing are even slightly interested in what I have to say? Email is a push medium -- you push content out to recipients as opposed to the recipients pulling it from you, the source.

Blogging solves all these problems. It's not perfect by any means. A whole new set of problems arise (getting people to read your blog vs. their email, links breaking over time -- links may be temporal, the blog is not, etc).

I've also made a decision to blog only about a specific subject -- the consumer experience, which may be too broad in and of itself. But I will avoid blogging about my life, my friends, who's sleeping with who, etc. I didn't launch my blog at LiveJournal for a reason. LiveJournal is for people who like to blog about their own lives. It's a community based on person to person relationships. I'd like my blog to eventually gain readership among anybody interested in the subject of my blog -- not a select few interested in my life as a subject.

Even harder will be resisting the temptation to blog about my own political, economic, religious views. I may allow events in my life to briefly surface in my writing.. but they will not become its focus.

Finally, I realize that I'm quite new at this. I consider myself to be a pretty good writer, and a horrible blogger. I hope and think that my blogging skill will improve over time. I've heard it's important to keep the paragraphs short and use proper punctuation & grammar. Hmm...

Saturday, November 13, 2004

amazon vs. walmart

so in my previous post, i referenced a book by name. shortly after posting, i realized it'd be helpful to link to some place where people could get more information on it. i suppose if i were linking to a movie, i would've linked to imdb or rottentomatoes .. is there a similar, unbiased site for books?

i pondered linking to the book's page.. they certainly provide a wealth of information. but is it really unbiased? i also pondered linking to google's new book search. unfortunately, the book hadn't been added yet.

in the end, i decided on froogle (it concerns me linking to a search query, but alas, that's a topic for another entry), bringing me to the point of this post. amazon sells the book online for $18.15. in fact, if you didn't know any better, you might think you were getting a great deal. their low low price is listed in red text under the black, crossed-out list price of $27.50. you save $9.35 (34%)! (also listed in red text).

walmart sells the same book for $16.70. you save $10.80 (39%) -- they use red & crossed-out black text too.

so what.. big deal right? everyone knows that amazon sells their books at a premium of a few dollars.. branding, etc. why trust some no-name fly-by-night company when you can pay $1-2 more and get it from a name you trust? but walmart's not some no-name company.. and while their traditional customer demographic might not fit that of, that might not be the case online. a few weeks ago, the price difference on a book was so great, that i decided to order it from walmart. i didn't have to drive out to the ho-dunk store in ypsilante, michigan.. the buy process was the exact same as with amazon.. as reliable, and cheaper. in fact, i used to read up on the book, then purchased from walmart (sort of how i use orbitz to get flight info, then purchase directly from the airline -- who wants to pay a premium to orbitz?)

anyhow.. this practice really has the potential to kill (or at least severely change) online retail businesses. what if publishers decide to get into the business of selling directly to consumers now that there's an aggregator (froogle).. like the airlines did? then even walmart would be in trouble.

here are some very interesting and relevant links:

New Google Service May Strain Old Ties in Bookselling

South Korean Downloaders Push Music Stores to Brink

i had a job interview last week with, and another round coming up next week. maybe i'll ask them what they think and blog the answers.

by the way.. another great read: 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ (let them have this purchase.. they deserve it.)

msn search

so it's 6:30am saturday morning.. woke up dehydrated with a bit of a hangover and decided to surf the web a bit while drinking some water to kick it.. i came across some crazy stuff related to msn's new beta search (

so, first thing i did in an effort to gauge msn search's effectiveness was obviously to search for my name, "adam herscher". it came up with MUCH more info than google, including my UM directory listing! msn search actually indexes and caches :,ou=People,dc=umich,dc=edu

finding my cell phone number through google used to be a 2-step process.. maybe you could find my personal engin space, and therefore my uniqname.. and then figure out that UM has a directory.. but now, just pop in my name in quotes and get back my cell phone #! wow. scary, yet somehow not enough to get me to change my directory entry. msn search has a link: feature like google where you can see the link hierarchy that led to the indexing of a page. turns out an ITCS web page links to the "unix admins" directory entry as a resource. i'm a member of that group, and hence, i'm indexed as well (which in turn may lead to the indexing of groups i'm a member of and then to the indexing of other peoples' entries who are in those groups if they are non-private.. hmm!)

ok, so here's another crazy find.. i've known for a long time that there's at least one other "adam herscher" out there. i've seen references to him in google, but he doesn't have much of an online presence (though neither do i really).. so, msn search turned up a page about someone's internship experience in mexico:

the author wrote "I live with Adam Herscher, another IMBA student".. so i figure ok, i'll search for "Adam Herscher IMBA". well, i'm so used to firefox's search box (google), that i forget to use msn search. what does google turn up? THE OTHER ADAM HERSCHER'S SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER!@$!

lots of social security numbers actually. wow. (note: i imagine many of these links will stop functioning over time.)

so.. i start thinking about a few things at this point.. first, msn search doesn't have the same page. maybe it doesn't index excel spreadsheets, and/or maybe the 2 search engines simply index different sets of pages. do i need to start searching multiple search engines now? or use one of those tools that does so automatically? *sigh*

this also gets me thinking more about internet-user-stupidity.. the general public's lack of security knowledge.. people as the weakest links.. it reminds me of kevin mitnick's book "the art of deception: controlling the human element". great read.

and of course, it gets me thinking about the use of social security numbers as identification and authentication. perhaps i'll email those responsible for maintaining the web server publicly hosting all of those social security numbers. but does that really solve, or even make a dent, in the larger issue? aren't there thousands of people who will make the same and similar mistakes for every one i happen to stumble across?

there aren't any revelations to be made about the way in which the internet impacts peoples' privacy, facilitates identity theft, etc.. many have written about it, and i'll probably collect my thoughts on the subject at some point as well.. but it's worth noting that i truly feel we're still at the tip of the iceberg on this one.. to be continued.

sidenote.. this is the first blog entry i've ever written, so comments will make me very happy :-) i will blog on the subject of why i decided to start blogging, later. thanks for reading!