Microsoft Max

What is this thing ? Ok, the website says, that today it can make beautiful albums and make it very easy to share with friends and family. Nice. It is to head-butt picassa. But the next line threw me off. You can also catch up on the news with its news reader. What ?? Has Microsoft gone crazy ? Why blend a news reader with a photo organizer ? I can understand blending a news reader with a browser. I can even understand blending a news reader with an email client. But with a photo organizer ? I dont know !

Address book life hack

Nope. I am not talking about any address book software here. I just happened to see my sister’s phone/address book lying on my desk (she is visiting us this month). I noticed that she has all her contacts pencilled in, in the book. I thought about it for a bit, and the bulb glowed on my head. Most often, I have seen people getting dis-illusioned by phone/address books mainly because, as people keep changing their contacts, the address book degenerates. You scratch out a number, write it below it. You scratch the whole entry sometimes. It becomes a mess after a very short time.

If you pencil in an address book contact, when somebody’s contacts changes, you can erase it and modify the contact, without much of a mess !

Vista RC1 screenshots

Friendly neighbourhood has the screenshots of the latest RC1 (Release Candidate 1). If it is a release candidate, then it means a release with most of the bugs fixed. Very nice.

Gina Trapani (chief editor dudette) says:

Even though I know it’s for n00bs, I dig the Welcome screen. Or maybe it’s just Vista’s overall look and feel that had me at hello. It’s not quite as toy-ish as OS X, but it’s still shiny and sleek. A bit more (dare I utter the words, my beloved Mac?) grown-up.

Check out some of the screenshots of the parental controls on Vista. Wow. Kids are going to have a tough time playing around on their home computer. Holy Cow !

Check out the RC1 screenshots here.

Check out the earlier beta1 screenshots here.

Lots and lots of eyecandy. Enjoy !

My driving mission statement

Since we need a mission statement for tasks/projects that we commonly do, I guess I came up with my own mission statement for my commute.

“I am not rash, nor am I fast, but I just cant stand idiots on the road. I just need to get past them, and I will do anything to do so.”

My commute takes me through 2 villages (typical Uttar Pradesh villages). And I get more than a fair share of irrational people (with suicidal driving tendencies) sharing the road with me, during my commute to and back from work. 

And on a related note, I still do not understand why they used to always establish export processing zones outside the city !

Robot which tastes wine and cheese

The Japanese have done it again. NEC labs and MIE University have prototyped a robot which can identify different wines and cheese. It does not taste it through the mouth however … the tasting is done using an infrared spectrometer on its hand.

When it has identified a wine, the robot speaks up in a childlike voice. It names the brand and adds a comment or two on the taste, such as whether it is a buttery chardonnay or a full-bodied shiraz, and what kind of foods might go well on the side.

There are other things that the robot can do too, using this method. Check this one out for instance –

Given three ripe, identical-looking apples to analyze, the robot was able without taking a bite to correctly single out one as sweet and the other two as a bit sour.

However, official tasters (or someliers as they are called) need not start sweating yet. The robot is still dumb in some aspects.

When a reporter’s hand was placed against the robot’s taste sensor, it was identified as prosciutto. A cameraman was mistaken for bacon.

I googled and found that a prosciutto is a type of Italian ham.

Check the article out here.

13 Nuggets about Problem Solving

Productivity blogger Dave Cheong has an excellent line up of nuggets on problem solving. It is comprehensive. Some of the nuggets I liked were: 

      • start with a positive outlook
      • look at the problem with a helicopter view
      • dissect problem into bite-sized chunks
      • focus on end-state
      • take notes and record progress
      • check answers and challenge your assumptions

I think the last two are particularly very important. I am looking at this in a software engineering point of view. Taking down notes on your assumptions and progress, gives you a good sense of satisfaction, improving on your positive outlook. And the last point, checking answer, in the software world probably translates to testing out the code. The second part is however more important. Challenging your assumptions make your code more complete and robust. Product validation teams usually call this negative testing. They go and challenge all the possible assumptions. If they are indeed valid assumptions, then the code should give out valid error/warning messages. If they are not valid assumptions, the code should be enhanced to take care of these cases.

Check out Dave’s 13 nuggets here.

Roomba Productivity

David Seah in his ever-interesting blog produces a masterpiece. David is a compulsively organized person. Come on, what do you expect from a person who had designed the ‘Emergent Producitivity tracker” and stuff like that.

He talks about some times, when there are just way too many things to do, too many goals, and we are just short of time. Within these ‘too many things’ also lie some things which do not have a specified goal. In other words, progress towards these goals cannot measured. They will be done, when they are done. Now enter the roomba.

Getting back to the idea of “unspecific goals, unspecified time” being something that could be worthwhile, consider the Roomba vacuum cleaner. It goes about its cleaning chores every day, sweeping the room in an algorithmically defined, but not time-bound operation. It doesn’t even have a specific goal, as in “clean the living room”. It just goes and does its thing, which is to vacuum whatever surface it happens to come across. The net result of this action is a clean living room. Amazing.

In other words, sometimes, just getting in, and ‘getting things done’ – not towards a specific goal, but just getting parts of it done, helps.

A beautifully written piece. Check it out here.

Dont pave the cowpaths

Mike-o-matic has a great piece called “Dont pave the cowpaths”. A very well written piece illustrating why, we should not be doing things a certain way, just because it has been done like that for a long time.

I have seen this happen a lot of times in my job and in my personal life. It is especially true of beurocratic government organizations. I have heard of several trivia (I cant recall even one now !) where a certain law/application was created when the British were in India, and the same application is followed even now. Several fields in the application are just plain irrelevant now.

The cowpaths analogy is from Dallas-Fortworth, which used to be a cattle town. Mike says that he attended a seminar where the author claimed that the current roads in and out of DFW used to be the cow paths of yesteryear, which have been paved now. The roads meander their way into town crossing creeks at shallow areas etc. What used to be good for the cows need not necessarily be good for us, as in this case.

Mike makes his case in point with the IT industry, but I think is relevant to any industry, and infact to anyones life.

Read the full entry here.