Monday, January 28, 2008

Bored enough to do a home experiment?

Do you know what happens when molten potassium chlorate reacts with sugar? Just try putting in a tiny gummy bear inside a vial containing some of it....

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

More on-demand

Free and on-demand music on the web is certainly one of the big contemporary crazes, and it seems to be reaching new heights in 2008.

(1) - was relaunched last week, and I registered (free) over the weekend. They seem to be having a pretty huge collection of songs and these are mostly full tracks, unlike Lala. The best thing I like about is that its player works just fine in Firefox, unlike most of the online radio stations which work only in IE. Their playlist capabilities is not very intuitive - I still haven't been able to figure out how to play songs from my playlist in order, rather than shuffle - and how to create multiple playlists. It looks like if I remove songs from my one and only (so far) playlist, I need to find those songs again if I like to listen to them sometime next week. It doesn't store more than one playlist. That is pretty primitive I think. But their collection is good, I could find almost everything I wanted this weekend, but certain famous bands like Black Sabbath and Floyd, I was surprised to notice, had more previews than full tracks, and that's what I hated about Lala, but nevertheless is much better. I believe I could also embedd the playlist into my Blogger, but I haven't tried that yet.

Unique listeners jumped 85% from the previous week on the day of the launch. And they stuck around: The next day, unique visitors were again up 80% over the previous week.

(2) QTrax: This is another name that hit the press this week. QTrax is the long-delayed, much awaited, first legal P2P music sharing service that is expected to launch this week. But there already is a lot of controversy around the launch. QTrax has announced that all four major music labels, including Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, EMI, and Sony-BMG are on-board and that it can offer for free close to 5 million songs that Apple iTunes SELLS today on their music store. However, WMG has declined involvement with QTrax, so that could result in a potential lawsuit soon after the launch (midnight today!!). I'll be curious to see how many downloads happen tonight.

(3) Seeqpod: This is a web crawler that allows you to search for playable songs. This is a great search engine, but has several limitations.
(a) As you may think, it depends largely on file names that the web page owners have used for the file that they've uploaded. I tried searching for Black Sabbath and I got tons of files,most of which were called Black_Sabbath.mp3. So until I started listening to the songs there was no way that I could know what song it is. Some were the actual Black Sabbath song, some weren't.
(b) It listed like 20 copies of the same song, doesn't attempt at uniqui'ng them out.
(c) Doesn't list duration - so I can't know if it is a preview or the full track. That's where was much better, but I understand the two sites have a different purpose.

Seeqpod is a very useful service, but it has a long way to go, it still is in Beta.I wasn't too happy with the search experience.But already, is is not left out of the controversies. WMG label has just filed a lawsuit against Seeqpod. This is very similar to the Viacom-Youtube case.

The bottomline of this post, is that there's a lot of activity, various kinds, going on in offering free music to the world. Some may succeed, some may crash due to the controversies. At the end, music will certainly be a winner, and so will open sharing.


World's largest sculpture

Q: Which is the world's largest sculpture?
A: Mt. Rushmore, SD, U.S.A

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, near Keystone, South Dakota, is a monumental granite sculpture that represents the first 150 years of the history of United States with 60 feet sculptures of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

It was a $1M project when it was first constructed in 1941 by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, to pep up the tourism industry in South Dakota. However, the recent renovations which ended in the 90's costed the government $50M. Mt. Rushmore is considered to be in the list of Man-Made Seven Wonders of the world, along with others like the Golden Gate bridge (CA), Hoover dam (CO river), etc., and I don't see why not.....


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Can I have a top 15?

I thought I'll take a stab at my all time favorite (so far) top-15 songs. As you'd imagine, it was much tougher exercise than I thought it would be...but I think I'm pretty accurate.

15. Sex Type Thing - Stone Temple Pilots
14. Man in the Box - Alice in Chains
13. Have a cigar - Pink Floyd
12. Walk on water - Ozzy
11. Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin
10. Free Falling - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
9. Mr. Crowley - Ozzy
8. Sweetest Goodbye - Maroon 5
7. Coming Undone - Korn
6. Shiver - Maroon 5
5. Evolution - Korn
4. I don't wanna stop - Ozzy
3. N.I.B - Black Sabbath
2. Boulevard of Broken Dreams - Green Day
1. Smells like Teen Spirits - Nirvana


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Great pictures and hilarious captions from Macworld '08

From the Borkware miniblog.

Click here to view the picassaweb album.

This is one conference I want to make it to, in the years to come. Phew!


Save Windows XP? Save yourself first!

Around 3 years back, I had a good friend of mine, apparently working on Windows XP team, quit Microsoft Corporation. He made a good choice to pursue something that would be more useful for his career, rather than developing something that no one knew when it was going to launch, or whether it was going to launch at all
! We remember so well the innumerous times when Microsoft had delayed the launch of Windows XP against its promises to the public and computer manufacturers, due to bad planning and unforeseen complexities I would expect.

Within just a few years, Microsoft has now announced that it will stop selling Windows XP by June 30th, 2008. They still have the benefit of dictatorship mainly because of their monopoly in the Operating System market, but nevertheless, this is definitely not going to help the computer manufacturers like Dell and HP, nor enterprise corporations for their huge investments in XP environments. Millions of people, those who use XP, claim no reason to shift to Vista, nor are they happy about Microsoft's sad strategies.

However, there are some useless campaigns like the Info World's Save Windows XP campaign, where they ask for Windows XP users to sign the petition to Microsoft to not force its user base to migrate to Vista. I believe that Info World is just ruining its own reputation by hosting this campaign, although I understand that such petitions are the craze these days and they've just fallen prey to another of those. Individual users and enterprises must at least now start believing in open source and not continue to fall prey to the strategic gimmicks of Microsoft. They are going to do that forever, replace one version with another and then force the users and corporations to migrate, resulting in unnecessary costs for the information technology infrastructures.

People, look beyond Windows. Save yourself, not XP!


Firefox starts to pick up market share...

Co-Firefox Lovers and Users, here is some good news on the Browser trends over the last couple of years. When there was only one browser in the market, which was IE, people had to use it. That is not the case anymore, with Firefox and Safari slowly starting to eat into the IE market. The scars of Microsoft IE are starting to get exposed, as Microsoft has been losing its anti-trust lawsuits in the EU especially for unfair competition by bundling its IE browser (and its Windows Media Player) along with its Microsoft Windows operating system.

Good moves ahead for Firefox, with close to 20% market share now. Way to go!


More comments on the Wall Street frenzy

Last week, I posted on the financial sector crisis in the last quarter and in this month, here are more comments on the same from the Silicon Alley Insider -

"In all my years in financial services, I have never seen it this bad," one high-powered securities industry lawyer told The Post. "I have owners of small firms calling me up saying their liabilities now exceed their assets, which means by law they are required to close down."

- The lawyer said he had two 50-something Wall Street guys call him this week, who, he said, "had lost hope, crying on the phone." "It is call after call after call like these," he said.

- A trader at the New York Stock Exchange could not name a Wall Street firm that did not cut staff this week.

- "It is a bloodbath," said the NYSE trader. "Firms are cutting jobs in all the money losing departments, which includes the troubled sub-prime and mortgage areas."

- John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, predicts more layoffs in the financial services sector in the coming weeks unless Wall Street activity picks up soon.


Yahoo!'s turn to cut jobs?

Nothin' officially announced yet. But a tipster believes Yahoo! is going to cut around 1500-2000 jobs over the next couple of weeks, and that they already have the list prepared. That's how RIFs work. The "list" is reportedly the product of a Q4 project in which all group heads were asked to look at redundancies and create their own lists of potential cuts. All the group-level lists have now been turned in to corporate.

The decision to go ahead with lay-off is said to be largely dependent on stock price: Yahoo's stock trading in the low $20s has gotten Jerry's and president Sue Decker's attention. Jerry will feel vulnerable if the stock goes into the teens and will try whatever he can to prop it up. He's not ready to give up the CEO job, sell-out, or shop the company around at this point. This is a very interesting comment. Is Yahoo! in a position to be considered for buyout? By who? Google? Amazon?

CEO Jerry Yang is also expected to announce Q4 earnings on the 29th of this month. Is he going to club the 2 announcements?

Yahooo has been doing well, and in fact better than Google, in terms of traffic to online properties, says ComScore. But Google surpasses Yahoo! in converting those traffic to profits, and that's what matters. Microsoft is way behind these two companies in the business of online search and advertising and is desperately trying a few acquisition strategies to catch up.

I have quite a few friends from Netzero who joined Yahoo in the recent times. Hope all is good.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Are you in good hands?

Not that I want to pick on Allstate again, (There is always Microsoft to pick on perpetually), but are these actually good hands?

Here is a story from the West Virginia records, on Insurance Litigation.

"One night, the water supply line to a commode burst, and water flowed into their home or several hours. Thurman Townsend had to move his wife out to the car and spent hours cleaning the mess.

The next day, he contacted Allstate, his insurer. Charleston attorney Bobby Warner said Townsend contacted the company several times over the next week, but that the first adjuster didn't visit the home for two months.

Then, Warner said, the adjuster spent just 20 minutes looking over the damage.

"It was a rough eyeball inspection," Warner said. "They didn't offer a penny then, and an offer of only $2,000 came about a year later."

On top of that, Warner said Allstate closed the Townsend case without permission.

Townsend finally was rewarded for the headache of that night May 2 when a Marshall County jury awarded him about $1.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages.


Allstate - not ALL State anymore

#2 AllState has been suspended from writing auto insurance policies in the giant state of Florida, by the FL Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarthy. This is in response to AllState refusing to comply fully with a subpoena from the state. They failed to turn in the information that the state had requested on hurricane and other property coverage rates.

This just re-emphasizes the complexities in the Auto Insurance industry - which is regulated not even by the Fed, but by each state! The state regulations even range upto and differ from each other in the capitalization of some of the alphabets in the print communication sent to the customers. That's how rigid the industry is. Every auto insurance company is mandated to report their rates and algorithms behind the rates to the state. Failure to comply with this, is like defrauding on earnings reporting. In the latter, you attract accounting scandal-suits or anti-trust lawsuits, while in the former, you're prevented from running new business as in the case of AllState.

Nevertheless, am I thrilled about AllState being in this condition? From the bottom of my heart. FL is a $1.9 Billion annual business for AllState. That's gone (at least until their lobbyists work something out). PLUS, now they have to undergo re-branding efforts and related expenses right? I mean, in an industry that is built on trust and customer satisfaction, who would believe them if they call themselves ALLState now? I would suggest something like "ALMOST ALLState". Oops, but then they got to change their tagline, perhaps to something like, "You're in good hands, USUALLY - except in FL where we got butter fingers now"


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Entering the ECM disney world...

AIIM says: Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the technologies used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes. ECM tools and strategies allow the management of an organization's unstructured information, wherever that information exists.

Where there is data, there there is ECM. It's as broad as that. If you're working in an industry in which communication to and from the customer is key, and if you serve more than, say 10,000 customers, you're employing some ECM solution or the other without your knowledge. In almost all of the Fortune 500 companies in today's world, there must be at least one ECM vendor that helps to digitize content, store it, manage it and retrieve it.
We're no longer in a world where we can manually index, sort and search documents and photos, etc. Automation is key, and that is what ECM is all about.

ECM is a separate industry by itself, led by players like IBM FileNet, ASG, Microsoft, Adobe, etc. There are at least 20 different segments in the ECM industry, and each player competes in its own segment. Each large organization (mostly in Insurance, Healthcare, and other Financial Services, which are document-driven), employs various pieces of these ECM technologies, as per their need and investment abilities. Remember, IT is a cost-center in these industries.

More to come on the various pieces/segments of the ECM industry. Stay tuned!


Microsoft buys FAST for $1.2 B

Microsoft buys the financially/legally troubled FAST (FAst Search and Transfer - recursive acronym ?) for their Enterprise Search Platform (ESP). FAST is a Norwegian-based company founded in 1999, and is traded on the Oslo Stock Exchange. ESP includes a software framework for efficient indexing of searchable content, along with a series of search-derivative applications (SDAs) that could be used for online publishing and business intelligence.

It certainly is a good move for Microsoft. At last they realize that they are not good at search and cannot compete with the likes of Yahoo! and Google, and decide to indulge in a buyout strategy. They're paying 42% above the closing price a couple of days back when they placed the bid. The deal is expected to close in Q2 this year.

It's a pity that, they still do not even own the domain yet, as when I tried to look it up, it currently redirected to the website of another communications provider called PAETEC.

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2008 - not going to be good for 'Jobs'

Which Jobs? Well, both.

(1) Last week, I just posted on the Jobs in the Financial/Banking sector taking a hit, and Citigroup today again announced another 4200 jobs cut, and they expect reductions in work force all through this year too. They reported a record $9.x Billion Q4 loss.

(2) On the other hand, expectations were high on the other Jobs - Steve Jobs. Undoubtedly, he is one of my most admired CEOs of today's tech world. He inaugurated the Macworld 2008 Conference this week. Same day last year, he stole the show with the launch of the iPhone. This year, he disappointed the audience and analysts too. He reported around 4 M iPhone sales last year! Wow! Isin't that great? Unfortunately no, because we expected 5 M!. Their only new product that he launched this time is their Macbook Air. It sure is so thin, but nothing earth-breaking or mind-blowing. Apple stocks tumbled after the inaugural address at the conference.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Simple hack to increase #posts/page in Blogger

Q: How to increase the # posts per page in Blogger?

A: Blogger defaults to 20 posts per page. There is a simple hack to increase the #posts. Open your customized Blogger template and wherever the home page or label/tag page is being submitted, add the name=value pair, "max-results=200" as a HTTP GET variable. For example, if Home page is HREF'd to, add the GET variable to the URL in the anchor tag as, href=""

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

UOL withdraws Classmates IPO

Slightly old news, but for some of my ex-colleagues while I was at United Online (Netzero) who haven't caught it, they have withdrawn the IPO for wholly-owned subsidiary - - which is European equivalent of America's Facebook.

I'm not sure of the reason, but must talk to some of my friends out there, although I'm sure it must be in the best interests of the shareholders given the current market conditions. The company was expecting to incur around $4.5 M to $5.5 M in Q4 2007, in transaction-related costs.


Intel undermines $100 laptop initiative, but Tata Motors pulls it of with its $2500 car

Last week, Intel chickened out from its promise of delivering to the world a $100 laptop, mainly targeted at the impoverished masses, in an attempt to bring Information Technology to the rural population and school children in the developing worlds. They sure should be ashamed out themselves. These kind of false promises do catch the media attention, especially if you're talking about non-profit, global causes, etc. It shows that they didn't plan well before they announced, or something screwed up with the plan. If it was a for-profit project, one reason I could see when such projects are terminated pre-maturely is when they decide that it would be a -ve NPV effort to continue the project (that is, they are better off in their losses if they drop their project at this point), and they would consider the investments thus far as sunk costs and drop the project. But in Intel's case, if they categorized it as a non-profit effort, they are worthy enough to be criticized for undermining the distribution and progress of the initiative. Obviously, Professor Nicholas Negroponte, the founder and man behind this initiative, is not too happy with Intel's sudden stance either. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organization (owned by both Intel and Prof. Negroponte) is at stake, thanks to Intel.

On the other hand, Tata Motors - one of India's largest automobile manufacturers, has just launched its $2500 (one lakh Indian rupees) car. This "nano" car, as they call it, runs on a 623 cc engine and offers 50 miles per gallon. Can you beat it? To add, it is also much more environment-friendly than most other cars and even motorcycles.
I believe it is 21% bigger inside than a Maruti 800, one of those age-old small Indian cars, but only 80% as long. So, worried about Indian traffic? This is a great leap to save parking space and offers better maneuvering through the Indian traffic. Above all, it is so affordable - the car for the poor!

So, there seems to be a new pattern that is taking shape here. Cheap, inexpensive, but good performing stuff for the people from the developing countries, and those below the poverty line. Some succeed, some try and get out later. Nevertheless, the improvement in technology is a big success!


Friday, January 11, 2008

Banking sector crisis in the last quarter

We all know that the banking (credit services, mortgages, investment banking) industry has gone for a toss in the last few months in the midst of the credit/mortgage crisis in the United States. We've seen a lot happen, in the last quarter especially. Some of the big RIFs that I can remember -

(1) 08/2007 - Lehman Brothers cuts 1200 jobs and shuts down its BNC Mortgage Business at a one-off cost of $52 million
(2) 09/2007 - Countrywide Financial slashes 12,000 jobs. Countrywide is the nation's largest subprime lending mortgage company.
(3) 09/2007 - Key Bank slashes 200 jobs, including call center jobs.
(4) 10/2007 - Bank of America, the largest U.S. bank by market value, cuts 3000 jobs, mostly in the Investment Banking division - 10/2007
(5) 10/2007 - Morgan Stanley cuts 600 mortgage jobs
(6) 12/2007 - Washington Mutual slashes dividend and cuts more than 3000 jobs
(7) 01/2008 - National City cuts 900 jobs and slashes dividend by 49%, and stops offering mortgages thro' brokers - 01/2008
(8) 01/2008 - Merill Lynch announces that it may cut upto 1600 jobs (10%) and unveil writedowns of as much as $10 billion from Q4. Merill was the largest underwriter of 2007.
(9) But the worst of all, came from Citigroup in 04/2007, which their then CEO Charles Prince announced that Citi may cut around 45,000 jobs during the year. Yes, he was made to leave the organization (Cramer had been long telling that Chuck should be fired), and given the market condition, there was no one (from outside and inside) willing to take up the job. Can you beat it? I mean, Citigroup is the world's largest bank and no one wants to lead it! Finally, Vikram Pandit, who was with the organization only for 6 months decides to step in and he gets sworn in as the new Citi CEO. Let's wait and watch if he turns around things. Well at least today, he's got the Saudi billionaire prince Alwaleed to invest in the bank, so that's definitely a good move.

So, where does one go if everyone else around is also cutting jobs?

Among the few that survived, is Goldman Sacchs which turned out to have a great record-breaking 2007 reporting $3.17 billion in Q4 profit. One man's meat - another man's poison?

Now, just today, Bank of America announces one of their stupidest bids ever. They've placed a takeover bid of $4.2 billion for the company that probably was the root cause for this whole credit crisis - Countrywide. I agree, it is a good number for such a huge organization, so from that perspective it may be a good bid. Nevertheless, I think it is gamble in the wrong direction - it's assets and stock prices have been continuously deteriorating.

Where is all this heading? Certainly towards a recession in 2008, with oil prices touching $100 / barrel recently to add to market crisis. Will a change in the government add any value to the current situation? The Democrats, Clinton and Obama are looking towards the economy in their campaigns and caucus speeches, but would they just be speeches? What can the government do? What is the Fed doing? Is Bernanke a failure successor to Greenspan? Or can he do anything?

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2 more sections to this blog

Hello Friends,

I'm adding 2 more sections to the blog, which I hope to be continuously updating. They would be
(1) Enterprise Content Management and (2) Auto Insurance. These are certainly two of my chief areas of interest now, as I currently manage the Progressive Content Management group. As I expand my knowledge in these areas, I hope to share them, though on a more generic basis as the section-titles indicate. Continue to read, and hope you enjoy them. Thanks,

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