March 22, 2009

Bangkok airports/visiting as a tourist.

I like Thailand. I definitely plan to visit this fascinating country many more times and I am still counting the smiles that I encounter each time I visit. Tourism is a big industry for Thailand, so when you welcome a guest to your home should you not present your best at the door ?

There is a thing called "visa-on-arrival" at the Bangkok airport. This applies to people from a few select countries like China, India and Russia (and others). So you end up going through a visa application process in an immigration office at the airport. If you have an American passport you do not need to apply for a visa, you just head straight to the entry counter and have your passport stamped for a short term tourist visa.

Back in the 90s this visa-on-arrival office was not too crowded, by 2000+ it was almost like a zoo, badly in need of major crowd control. I remember being jostled around for hours with my line not moving an inch towards the counter but just me being shoved around like in a mosh pit (rock concert crowd craziness).

Then the new Suvarnabhum airport opened and it's name is Sanskrit derived meaning "land of gold", I thought things would get better but not so. There was no mosh pit and the airport looked very nice and modern, but the crowds of tourists were overwhelming.

I was asked to show $500 USD, well I never carry that much money in the US, less so when I am on travel. I asked the customer service girls how can I access a Bank teller machine in this part of the airport, but they all seemed more adept at putting on makeup. I got frustrated and I decided to skip my Thailand trip and fly straight to my next destination. Then my Thai airline rep pointed me to the bank area and I managed to withdraw $500 USD (the real American green).

Back at the immigration counter I noticed that several 100s more had gotten ahead of me in the queue. When I was asked to show my $500 USD, I opened my wallet and a peek was all that was needed to get a nod, no counting or showing any bank reciepts.

Now the next hurdle was the actual entry counter where my stamped passport will be checked. 2 young girls manned the post and were constantly chatting away, when they needed a break they would look at a passport, else they would continue ignoring the long waiting lines. When I came up to the counter I was asked ridiculous questions and was almost denied entry for no valid reason.

Finally I was through and then the very next day I see this huge article in a Bangkok major daily on how the airport was buit with almost no services for the employees, and how they had to improvise (like sleeping on the floor of the immigration booth)  to get some much needed rest. Somehow this explains a lot.

I will be going to Thailand again and I hope that this time around the airport will be much improved.


Bill Gates - Good or Bad ?

We have heard a lot about Bill Gates and we have differring opinions. I for one use windows on my desktop and Linux on the server side, so in some ways I am a hybrid.

First of reports of Bill Gates being overly aggresive in pushing Windows, I really think this is what capitalism is all about. When there is competition, you are bound to see clash of opinions.

While Bill Gates was keeping Windows in the forefront, his foundation was donating millions of dollars for research to find cures for diseases that the big pharmaceutical companies have refused to venture into as they do not find it a profitable proposition (cure for Malaria for example).

At the same time Windows has enhanced my productivity manyfold. I have tried Linux on the desktop, and I must say that inspite of being a techine I have failed in realizing it's full potential. I have seen Linux gurus do amazing things with it, but not me. I think when my senior citizen parents started to browse the net and send email on their Windows 95 PC, I was sold. I doubt they would have had much success on a Linux desktop.

On the server side of things, I am confident that my parents will have no need to step into. This is where I find Linux a great cost effective choice, also I have an advantage being somewhat savvy as Unix based developer.

So inspite of being hybrid in my tech choices, I am a BIG fan of Mr. Gates. I am sad that he has decided to spend less time in the day-to-day activities of Microsoft. Steve Jobs of Apple only recently had to step down due to health reasons, and Larry Ellision of Oracle is still going strong.

Microsoft and the DOJ

We all know that the Department of Justice has gone after Microsoft accusing it of unfair competition. There is a simple way to understand this.

Let us say you have 2 car manufacturers who are selling cars which are almost alike, like same engine HP, look, feel, etc. Now you as a customer want to pick only 1 NOT 2 cars. Which one do you buy ?The first thing to do is to test drive each car and see how it feels. It would still seem difficult to say for sure which car is better.

Now imagine manufacturer A built the road that you are using during your test drive, obviously their car is going to perform better. Now think that the operating system (Windows) is the road, and the different software applications (like IE or Chrome) are the cars that you run on them.

So coming back to Microsoft & DOJ, it was once suggested that the applications and the operating system have to be separated out into 2 different companies, which I think is fair to all.

In reality Microsoft has come to some sort of a legal settlement with the DOJ.



Taxes and bailing out the financial industry

I recently heard my stock market savvy friend explain to me how important it is for us to save our banks with tax payer money. 

Soon after my same friend complained about the increase of taxes in the state of California. His logic was that we pay enough taxes already and so why should we pay more.

So I guess when it comes to MY stock market investment I would like the tax payer dollars to bail me out, but when it comes to paying more taxes I will say NO (hahaha).

I personally feel bailing out the any industry using tax payers dollars is anti-capitalistic. Stocks will go up and down and nobody is going to guarantee it's constant upward growth. The way to make money is to exactly predict when it will go up or down, so this is a gamble, and when you gamble be ready to win or loose.

Capitalism does provide a way out by declaring chapter 11 bankruptcy and getting the house in order before moving forward.

Nan bread & Butter chicken ? who ? what ?

I am sure most of you have an idea of of nan breads, after all it is the star of the Indian culinary delights out in the west, and I am sure butter chicken is not far behind. So when my friends in the US asked if I ate a lot of these in India, I replied with an emphatic NO. So now they wonder if I really grew up in India (haha).

Think of the European Union (EU), and say you go to France and ask the folks there if their favorite food is Spanish, what kind of a response will you get ?

India is very much like the EU, each state is like a separate country, each with a different language, script, culture, and specifically foods.

While the transplanted people of Punjab were busy making their home cooked recipes popular in the west, we back in India living in states other then Punjab were eating our favorite dishes like rooti (thin bread), cholar dal (lentil soup), sorse ilish (mustard shad fish curry) and like (all favorites from my native Bengal). Only in the last decade or so have Indians caught with the each other in a culinary sense.

March 21, 2009

Nepotism and the end of innovation

I live near the Bay Area of North California and we always hear of startup success stories. It seems to start with a small highly enlightened group. Those early days are filled with bright new ideas, and long nights and then their product hits the market, the world finds it cool and soon everybody is talking about it.

After the honeymoon is over what happens next ? Slowly we hear about how the software is buggy, mistakes with a new release and such. So where are those super people (founders), have they all of a sudden stopped their association with their own brainchild ?

What I think happens is that as the company grows the founder have their hands full, so they now have to hire outsiders. Soon people start to recommend friends and family and like. Now as the company grows the quality of hire starts to fall. Newer and newer hires have an insider to back them up, so now it is not about innovation but just a cool job in a hot startup.

In fact deserving candidates can be overuled by nepotism, and soon the star startup goes downhill.

Yahoo Photos and Flickr

I am a big fan of Yahoo, and I have used it extensively since it's inception. I use the instant messenger, yahoo voice, mail and web hosting. I think Yahoo in the early days was cutting edge (Yahoo's founders with their Stanford Phd search engine technology), then I heard about how Yahoo Photos is being closed in favor of Flickr, it got me wondering.

Here is a social networking poineer humbled by a much more slick user interface and feature rich photo website. Should Yahoo not have put in more effort into  innovation and maintained it's lead. I wonder if the yahoo management got complacent and felt invincible, till web humilty set in.

Could not have Yahoo done better than buying out the whole Flickr team, what ever happened to their very own software development folks ?

Anyway it makes a nice story with the streotypical David versus Goliath twist.


To Vista or not/ User Access Controls

I for one have not jumped on the Microsoft VISTA bandwagon, because I am usually very cautious about any new software. Let the general population work out the bugs and the kinks, and after  a few rounds of patches and fixes I may be inclined to use it.

So far I have noticed quite a few of my colleagues who have been struggling to get their favorite softwares to work on VISTA. I just hope Microsoft extends their support for XP till the general user community gets a better grasp.

One big help I got was by disabling the "User Access Controls", that has made VISTA more friendly.

We are so used to downloading and installing software on the fly, that when we put in more controls life becomes a pain. Actually these controls may actually prevent malicious downloads but at the same time software we need also gets stopped.

Also I had to get a laptop with atleast 2 GIGS of memory (RAM) for VISTA to function properly. A collegue of mine has installed Windows 7 (beta version) on his PC, and he is very impressed. It (WIN 7) does not need souped up PC hardware.

Anyway I hope I can bypass VISTA and jump straight to Windows 7, as I am a Windows fan on the desktop side of things. In the meantime, I pray to the gods of Redmond to keep XP alive.