Sunday, February 27, 2005

Quick updates!

Midterms are finally over and I'm on Spring Break!

I'm in Seattle with Mike through Wednesday checking out the various neighborhoods and trying to decide where I'd like to live. Today we visited Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland, and the University area. I think we'll check out Capitol Hill tomorrow. My basic requirements are a reasonable commute, a relatively new (<10 yrs old) building, and a young, exciting environment (yuppy, artsy, whatever..). Oh, and a dishwasher and washer/dryer in unit (read: convenience). I'm looking at 1-bedrooms right now, but if anyone wants to be my roommate, feel free to drop me a line! I'm also open to any neighborhood advice anyone might have.. so comments will be appreciated as always.

Interestingly, the hotel we're staying at, Hotel Andra, is the first and only non-Hyatt hotel in the US to become a T-Mobile HotSpot. So, I succumbed and added HotSpot service to my mobile phone service for $19.99 a month. They said I could cancel after my stay and it would be prorated, which yields a total cost of $2.67 for wireless Internet during my stay should I decide to do so. So far the hotel has been really great. I found a great deal on Travelzoo.

I'm not sure if people still use Friendster. They've finally rewritten their app in PHP, and it's significantly better than before. Unfortunately, I think they missed their window of opportunity -- but time will tell. The only reason I mention it is because I was able to perform a pretty refined search on my social network (friends within 2 degrees of me and 25 miles of Seattle + a bunch of other options). If these social networking apps provided a bit more incentive/value after the initial "Wow" period, maybe we would start using them again?

Over the last week and a half there's been a bit of controversy over the AutoLink feature of the new Google Toolbar. I've skimmed a wide range of opinions in the "blogosphere", and disagree with most of them. My own opinion? Just like any other product.. you no like, you no buy. Oh wait, it's free. On what grounds do you have to complain again? Yes, I hope Google makes it as customizable as possible. But until then, I categorize issues like Barnes and Noble ISBNs linking to as carelessness rather than evil. Isn't it interesting how as of the time of this writing, Google Local listings still point to MapQuest, not Google Maps for directions? Carelessness. Or is it because Maps is still in "beta"? Don't get me started on Google's beta policy. Back to the toolbar.. Yes, it does put Google in the position to render pages and add/alter links as they see fit, even to their own economic advantage. Heck, they could even insert ads into pages as they're loaded! But they don't. And if you're concerned, don't use it. And if you're concerned about the masses using it, provide a better, less "evil", alternative -- a Mozilla powered browser plugin, perhaps, that isn't backed by a particular corporation (oh wait, isn't Mozilla in bed with Google these days?)

On a less controversial note, I just came across this over at my friend Jonas's blog. Pretty neat.

Finally, as my last quick update of the day, I'd like to take this opportunity to give Kudos to Northwest Airlines. Yesterday I found myself enjoying a burger at Chilis in the (awesome) Detroit Metro Airport. The service was a bit slow, and I found myself wondering if I was going to have to leave without finishing my lunch in order to catch my flight. I found myself thinking.. "I know this airport has a wireless network, but rather than just providing a redirect to paid Internet access, I wish they would provide a redirect to airline services like checking flight/gate status." Then I vaguely remembered some wireless services offered by Northwest. The airport wireless network doesn't have the redirect, which is unfortunate since my phone has GPRS and WiFi, but I was able to hop on the GPRS network, access, and check my flight status. It was delayed 15 minutes -- the perfect amount of time to comfortably finish eating.

I'm well aware that I'm not the average consumer but rather the exception to the rule here. But I do strongly feel the future of mobile computing lies in-part in location based services (like airline services that become readily available when entering an airport region). I have a lot more to say on this subject.. it's something I've been researching and playing with in-depth for the last 6 months. It also ties in with social networking, and realizing some continuous value from a social networking system. I hope to share some of my recent project work here soon.. but this.. is only.. a quick update.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


midterms all week long
coffee brews outside it snows
sleep is for the weak

*Collapses into bed*

Monday, February 21, 2005

Incentive to recycle

Trash/Recycling bin combos like this one are slowly popping up all over campus. It's a pretty creative idea -- make the recycling bin larger so there's an incentive to fill it up in order to preserve precious space in the tiny attached trash bin.

Really makes you think.. "Can what I'm about to toss out be recycled?"

Will this succeed? Will people be willing to put up with the annoyance of a minuscule trash can in an attempt to save the planet? Will we begin seeing more of these?


There's something slightly unsettling about walking through the Computer Science building and seeing a woman just a few years older than me with a big old cast covering her wrist from her recent carpel tunnel surgery.

Will that be me?

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Midterms make me sleepy

Well, it's that time again.. midterm exams.

If there's one thing I won't miss about school it'll be the two weeks leading up to exam time. Life has been absolutely insane lately. Luckily, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. All I've got left are one take-home exam and one midterm paper, and a few other smaller reading and homework assignments.

EECS 376 has been the bane of my existence this term. Here's the course description:

An introduction to computation theory: finite automata, regular languages, pushdown automata, context-free languages, Turing machines, recursive languages and functions, and computational complexity.

Don't get me wrong -- It's actually been quite interesting and relevant. It's just one of those experiences I'm sure I'll value more once it's behind me (like high school, right?). The homework assignments consist almost exclusively of proofs, like this one:

Define the language INFLBA = {<M> : M is an LBA and L(M) is infinite}. Prove that neither INFLBA nor its complement are recognizable.

Can you do it?

Despite the difficulty and endless workload, they're actually a bit fun to conquer. Wikipedia has been an amazing resource in explaining complex concepts and theorems.

Spring break begins next Friday, and I'll be taking a short trip out to Seattle. When I interviewed with Microsoft back in November, I didn't get much of a chance to explore the area. Actually, I didn't leave myself time to explore the area in order to avert depression in the event that I didn't get the job. So now, I figure it'll be fun to go back and explore some of the neighborhoods. I've also got a dinner planned with my future coworkers -- really looking forward to that.

I'm also beginning to plan a trip to Israel in May with some family and friends to visit some family and friends, and to have an all around good time. More on that later.

Well, it's time to get some sleep. 10 hours of studying at the Media Union has just about drained every last bit of energy out of my system. What a way to spend your Sunday.

Friday, February 18, 2005


A little over a week ago I blogged about how Ugrub's No online ordering. No hassle. mantra was a step in the wrong direction.

Today I saw this on blogdex:

While playing EverQuest II just type /pizza and a web browser will launch the online ordering section of Fill in your info and just kick back until fresh pizza is delivered straight to your door.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Newest Google Toolbar beta rocks

Just downloaded the latest beta (3) of the Google Toolbar, and I have to say I'm pretty impressed.

The coolest of the three new features is the Gmail style form spell-checker. It's a great leap forward for web-app developers, who will no longer have to provide their own spell-checkers independently (Yes, Firefox has a spell-check plugin as well, but it's of poor quality, like Blogger's). So, seeing as I was just recently ranting about Blogger's horrible spell-checker, I'm happy to see Google take this out of the web-app and put it into userland (also lets you keep a single dictionary across multiple sites).

The AutoLink feature, which finds text addresses and turns them into clickable links to Google Maps, seems to be pretty useful as well. I heard about a browser plugin that does something similar for phone numbers and Skype, and I'm sure we'll be seeing lots more of this type of thing quite soon.

Then, of course, there's the word translator. It's pretty neat, but seems to be limited to only a few languages, and is probably more useful at this point to those who aren't fluent in English.

Go Google! Keep on innovating!

This post spell-checked by Google Toolbar beta 3

Monday, February 14, 2005

Why am I blogging (again)?

Well, Mark Jen's story made the top section of's front page headlines. Here it is first hand, and here's some commentary by Robert Scoble.

Mark's story hit a bit close to home for me, and has definitely gotten me thinking quite a bit over the last few days as to where I'd like to go with this blog.

I've seen blogs that have gotten friends into trouble within their social networks after posting rather personal and/or defamatory thoughts.

Now, the whole world has seen Mark Jen, a former Google employee, fired for posting some negative commentary on his employer.

So, it's time to revisit my mission. Back in November, in one of my first posts, I talked about my reasons for blogging. Those reasons pretty much remain intact. I like the fact that blogging allows me to:

- Reach many people who care rather than a few people who might care via email or some other mechanism.

- Express my thoughts publicly in a semi-permanent way (certainly a double-edged sword).

- Receive feedback in the form of (potentially anonymous) comments and continuous coversation.

Additionally, since I've started blogging, I've received emails from friends I hadn't heard from in ages and thought provoking comments from friends I see every day. It's been very cool. It's also inspired me to begin including a little more information about my life on my blog, in an effort to keep readers who know me and care to know me informed. It's still a public forum, so there will be certain lines I won't be crossing, but I certainly want to begin writing more about some interesting things I've been learning and projects I've been working on. Expect more of this type of thing soon.

Another unexpected thing I've found is that writing has been rather therapeutic. Don't get me wrong, I vow that my blog will never become a cheap substitute for therapy (and yes, I've seen this happen!), but sitting here at 9:30pm, candles burning, Lapsang Souchong in hand, writing away in my blog.. is actually a relaxing break from the fast-paced world of school and work. If you've never tried keeping a journal, a blog, or any other kind of expressive form of media for yourself, I suggest you do so. You just might enjoy it as much as I.

As a quick aside, I do plan on choosing a new design for the blog's layout (or designing my own, if I can't find one I like). This center-column thing I've currently got going on is a horrible waste of precious screen space. "As soon as I can get around to it..."

As for blogging and work, I suppose that's a subject for another time -- in part because I'm still mulling it over in my head. On some level, there's a fear of being restricted to only sharing the positive, and having to bite my tongue on the negative. But like I said.. lots of time to figure that one out..

Finally, I'll end on a rather random note. This blog averages 300-500 readers on a normal day. That's readers, not reloads, and it doesn't include the RSS feed. Who are you people? :-) Drop me a line and say hello. Or better yet, post a comment!

Now.. off to watch tonight's episode of 24. Cheers!

New comments mechanism!


The Blogger team over at Google has finally improved the comments mechanism. Readers (you) can now post comments under your real name without registering as a Blogger user. You can also leave a URL to your own blog or other web site.

Additionally, blog comments can now contain some (safe) html tags.

I'm glad Google finally got around to making this improvement. It's been a looong time coming. I hope that some of the amazingly innovative UI features of Google's other services start trickling into Blogger soon (read: Gmail spellcheck!).

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Prominent Journalist Claims Microsoft is Dying.

Michael Malone (Forbes, WSJ, Economist, Fortune, NYT high tech writer) claims Microsoft is dying.

A few highlights:

"When was the last time you thought about Microsoft, except in frustration or anger?"

Eh, go check out some of the innovation on display over at Channel9. You can't judge Microsoft as a company, and conclude it is "dying", by how often your PC crashes. But yes, I completely agree that the average consumer tends to have a love-hate relationship with Microsoft, and it's something the company needs to work on -- their "Brand Harmony", if you will.

When was the last time you thought about your cell phone provider or cable company, except in frustration or anger? Is it a problem they need to fix? Yes. Are their businesses dying? Probably not.

"He's [Bill Gates] been devoting more time to philanthropy than capitalism."

Sorry Bill, damned if you do, damned if you don't.

"Does anyone out there love MSN? I doubt it; it seems to share AOL's fate of being disliked but not hated enough to change your e-mail account"

I'm not quite so sure on this one. My mom loves (and needs) AOL. AOL and MSN have appeal to a certain demographic, which clearly isn't Michael Malone or me, so it's difficult to make sweeping statements that aren't backed by hard numbers.

"And do college kids still dream of going to work at MS? Five years ago it was a source of pride to go to work for the Evil Empire -- now, who cares? It's just Motorola with wetter winters."

Ouch! I realize I'm a bit biased on this one, but looking around within the Computer Science program here, everyone dreams of going to work at MS. It's one of the few innovative companies (along with Apple, Google, and that recruit at the University (and actively seek recent grads in general). I'm going to save my breath here, since Scoble wrote a great response to this that was right on the money.

For now, though, none of that is obvious. Microsoft is still the dominant company in high-tech, the cynosure of all those things people love and hate about computing, the defining company of our time. It is huge, powerful and confident.

But if you sniff the air, you can just make out the first hints of rot.

Uh huh. You could be right. I hope you're not. Microsoft, like every other company, has quite a bit of room to better itself, and always will, as did Apple 4 years ago, when you claimed it was dying too.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Gmail Invasion!

I'm seeing more and more of this on campus:

(the address is generally set to forward to the @gmail one.)

First, it was Computer Science students with 31337 access to a limited number of Gmail invites. Soon thereafter it spread like a virus to non-CS students. Now, it's even made its way to faculty and staff!

Very very interesting..

A friend of mine over at the School of Information recently sent me a survey as to the usability of the University's current web-based email system (fwiw, it's horrible). I wonder if they think they can improve it enough to compete with Gmail use on campus.

There's been a lot of coverage of Open Source software projects competing with Microsoft products.. do they/can they compete with the likes of Google?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Google Maps

Lots of buzz this morning about Google Maps.

At first glance, I'm pretty impressed. Google has yet again blown the competition out of the water with its amazing user interface.

So.. a couple thoughts come to mind:

1. Is Google going to publish a web service API similar to MapPoint? It's a challenge to build a successful business model out of a web service offering, especially considering Google's revenue is deep-rooted in advertising, not subscription services. Still, it could certainly pose competition to Microsoft, which for us users, is always a good thing (fuels innovation, drives down prices, etc). If it was free, this could power a new generation of open source location-aware software and location-based services.

2. Is Google going to leverage location information entered into Google Maps by providing location-aware advertisements through their Adwords/Adsense cash cow? Are we at the point yet where the average consumer would like to see ads from local businesses, or would the average consumer view this as an invasion of privacy? Is the ability to opt-out of such a service sufficient?

There's certainly a lot going on under the surface here.. This undoubtedly has implications for other Google services like Google Local too.

Anyhow, running late to class.. anyone else have any thoughts about the new Google Maps service?

Monday, February 07, 2005

Online ordering a hassle?

Warning: Rant to follow.

When my friends and I get hungry, we go to Ugrub to find something to eat.

The one thing that bugs me about Ugrub is their motto. Written in big bold letters across the top of their site is: No online ordering. No hassle.

What the heck does that mean? When did the ability to shop online become such a hassle? Isn't one of the best things about E-Commerce its hassle-free nature?

What I think Ugrub means to say, is that not providing the ability to order online is less of a hassle for them. ;-)

When I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, my roommate and I used to order pizza online. We'd be sitting next to each other on the couch watching TV, when one of us would IM the other:

(14:15:35) UofM Adam: wanna order pizza?
(14:15:38) evb80: sure
(14:15:45) UofM Adam: half cheese half pepperoni?
(14:15:48) evb80: sure

Then I'd alt-tab back to my web browser, click a couple of times, and 30 minutes later the pizza would be at our door.

Hassle? Not so much.

Friday, February 04, 2005

All I Really Need To Know In Business I Learned At Microsoft

Last night I finished reading All I Really Need To Know In Business I Learned At Microsoft by Julie Bick. The book was recommended to me along with several others by the Microsoft recruiting team after I accepted an offer back in November.

Overall, I'd have to say it was a pretty interesting read. At about 160 pages, it only took two sittings to get through. The best way to describe the book is as a collection of anecdotes, each serving as an example of how to function as a model employee in a corporate environment. The anecdotes are all drawn on experiences at Microsoft, but the principles behind them certainly extend to any and every organization.

The book didn't present any groundbreaking theories, or even convey to me concepts I hadn't already been aware of. But it did formalize and provide examples of common best practices in the workplace. If you're looking for enlightenment, All I Need To Know might not be the book for you. But I'd imagine it'd make for a great one-sitting airplane read. I'd even consider rereading it every 2-3 years to keep the bigger picture fresh in my mind. There's also a sequel, The Microsoft Edge, which I purchased at the same time and plan to read soon.. next time I fly, perhaps.

As for specific content, thoughts, reactions.. I'd have to say that it's important to take this book for what it is -- a compilation of best practices, not a mirror image of reality. There are parts that can only be characterized as a bit Office Spacey (ask yourself: "Is this best for the company?"). Bick alludes at least once to Microsofties using their own products internally -- and they do, except now and then.

Again, overall it was an interesting read -- self-bettering and thought provoking, perhaps, a little. Bick's advice would certainly make for a good box calendar.. like this one by Suze Orman I had back in 2002.