Archive: Oct 2006

Why do I do this to myself??

I slept on the couch. I was up at 3:45 AM. I turned over; my computer was on and plugged in. The browser was open, set to Willow TV. I refresh the browser and start watching the India-Australia match at the ICC Champions Trophy.

Half way through the match, I was feeling quite good. India didn’t collapse. They had 249 on the board. Nice. But then of course, it was back to normal. The batting and the bowling can’t both work well — that is the cardinal rule for the Indian Cricket team. One has to suck!

And the bowlers duly delivered. They sucked (and continue to do so). Australia is just cruising along. They will win this match.

I’ve got to stop torturing myself like this!

UPDATEThis is a great post on why I likely won’t stop torturing myself. At least the World Cup will be in a closer timezone. That’s something to cheer about!

In full agreement with Bush and Cheney

The NY Times had a hilarious article on how politicians use hand sanitizers, especially Purell, during a campaign where pressing the flesh is the order of the day.

I am a HUGE fan of Purell and carry a little bottle around with me in every handbag/backpack/travel bag. I am convinced that my use of the product has protected me from various infections over the years. So, for the second time, I am in full agreement with our President (the first was the nuclear deal with India – even though he can’t pronounce nuclear!)

“Good stuff, keeps you from getting colds,” Mr. Bush raved about hand sanitizer to Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, at a White House encounter early last year.

There are lots of Dems who are also Purell users – Bill Clinton, Obama, Gore etc. But the one Dem I completely disagree with is Bill Richardson.

“It’s condescending to the voters,” said Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a Democrat.

Come on! No way is it condescending — it is not personal. It is that once you shake hands with a thousand, a hundred, even ten people, there are chances that your hands are all germy. You are doing your constituents a huge favor if you stay healthy through the campaign.

Purell did not play such a big part of my life in California. I drove to work in my own car and did not have to deal with public transportation ever. But once I started commuting to NY regularly, I started using it while I traveled. Planes can be hugely unhygienic. I won’t go into the gory details, but those tiny toilets are the main problem (if this is the situation when on the ground, the air has to much, much worse!). And despite using a paper towel to open the door handle (yes, you read right!), I always felt safer after Purelling! Especially if I had to eat or use my computer.

Okay, okay, I am not a freak. I am a slight germophobe, but with damned good reason.

Once I moved to NYC, Purell has become my constant companion. I love using the subway and use it to get around town all the time. However, I hate touching the subway bars — I mean can you blame me? At the very least over a thousand people have touched the same bar just that day. Of that thousand, I bet you that a good chunk of them are sick and a whole bunch of them haven’t washed their hands in a while! So, on occasion, if I can, I hook my arm around the bar instead so only my clothes are touching the bar. But in rush hour sometimes you absolutely have to hang onto a top bar. In those situations, Purell to the rescue. G, a friend from California who visited, is just as careful and we had hilarious subway episodes, clinging onto the bars with the crooks of our arms!

I even have Purell at home. There are times that I need to put on my shoes and leave quickly, with no time to run back to wash my hands. So, I’ve placed a Purell dispenser near the exit for easy use.

An invention that has changed the world – at least my world and that of Bill Clinton, George Bush, Dick Cheney, John McCain, Al Gore…

How do you work?

My whole life, I’ve worked in structured environments.

Banyan at KFIIf anything, the first school I went to, The School KFI, from kindergarten to 7th grade was the most unstructured. We had an amazing campus and often classes were held under the trees – including the banyan tree in this post. Kids were free to wander around and commune with nature if they wished (meaning you could get up and leave a class with no explanation!) and every day, we had an hour of PT to finish the day. There were also no exams and no concept of real competition – if you ran a race and won, you were told everyone was a winner and there were no prizes. It was awesome. One of the best schools for a child.

But then my parents realized this was not preparing me for the real world and moved me to a much more academically rigorous school, one that embraced competition, meant to prepare me for India’s grueling national exams (in the 10th and 12th grades). Then, I went off to college, where there was more structure, then to work at a manufacturing company, then to graduate school (where we even had assigned seating in the first year!). Since graduating, I’ve been employed every minute. Until now.

At work, in pretty much every job I’ve had, meetings and deliverables ruled how I spent my day. But now, I have nothing…

No structure. No deliverables. No deadlines. To get stuff done, I need to create my own structure. I need to figure out a way to ensure I am moving my writing and my other creative projects forward. It is too easy to spend the day on chores, surfing the web and classes.

Any ideas?

Happy Deepavali

Deepavali, traditionally known as the Festival of Lights, is a celebration of hope for the world and the triumph of good over evil. It is one of the most important festivals on the Hindu calendar.

When I was growing up, we’d be woken up at first light, taken to the prayer room, given new clothes, and told to wash our hair and wear our new clothes. Then we’d run outside and burst crackers of all sorts (flowerpots, chakras, rockets, string bombs). It was a great fun for a kid. A few weeks before the big day, you go with your parents, choose your fireworks and then carefully use them, making sure to ration them out to last till Deepavali (so you get two weeks of nightly fireworks, and the whole neighborhood is filled with noise of kids celebrating). On Deepvali, after you set off the biggest and the best fireworks that you’ve carefully kept aside, you consume a delicious breakfast and visit family you hadn’t see in a while. The whole morning was spent driving from one house to the next until everyone was checked off the list. Of course, you ate incredible food all along the way and come home to eat a sumptuous lunch before napping it all off.

As an adult in New York, I’ve adapted the tradition significantly. Since I can’t really set off fireworks on my fire escape, I sleep in, get up when I please and then pick out the new, unworn clothes I’ve reserved for the occasion and dress up. Then, I call family, wish them and proceed to enjoy the wonderful food the festival demands. I think I’ve kept the most important elements!

Second Life – improve the newbie experience!

I am a huge fan of Second Life. It is a world that is built by the community and defined by the community. Don’t like something in the world? Change it. Bored? Come up with something entertaining and it is likely that hordes of people will join you. Want to buy land and become a real estate mogul? Sure, go ahead. Want to shoot an entire movie within the world? Entirely possible. This Business Week article was one of the earlier ones to cover the phenom.

Amazing stuff. But, what is not so amazing is how hard it is for the non-early adopter, non-technically savvy to get on and engage. That’s fine for when the company is starting, but it is time that Second Life addressed this issue. I see two issues

  • First bucket is the technical specs/hardware requirements to get on Second Life are too much. They have to bring that down – not everybody owns a gaming-level computer.
  • The second is that from a UI perspective, they have to make it easier and more intuitive for people to engage. Maybe set up a Welcome Sandbox where you can learn how to interact and get advice etc. Staffing that with a few customer service folks would be well worth their time.

That is when truly explosive growth will occur. Right now, they are like the early versions of, where even people who spent their lives online couldn’t figure out how to use the service.

Once they fix the ability of a newbie to just jump on and engage, they need to fix the ability for a non-techie to add to the world. I think this is critical. If only someone with coding skills can build a casino, that will severely limit the world. Give everyone skills to change the world and then, you have a world-changing environment.

Welcome A and L!

Very close friends of mine just welcomed their twin babies into the world a few hours ago. A and L 🙂 Welcome!

A and L are testaments to lots of love, determination and the marvels of medical technology. They were first conceived as a longing in their parents’ minds and hearts. But there was a small technical problem. Both their parents were men.

So, what to do? Well, they found an egg donor. After searching and reading and figuring out what was important to them, that was accomplished. Next, they fertilized the eggs with both fathers’ sperm. Check. Then they needed a carrier, someone who would be a surrogate to the babies. That took a while. But they found a wonderful person. Insert said embryos into said carrier. Wait and wait and wait.

Finally, lift-off or rather, safe landings. A and L — welcome to our world. Your fathers have been waiting for you!

Subway learnings

Subway at 60th and 5thThe subway in New York is an amazing thing. When I first moved here, it took me a while to start using it. I didn’t know where I was going and it seemed complicated. But once I started using it, I was hooked. It is so incredibly fast and economical. Except in the summer where it is about 20 degrees hotter than outside and feels like an oven. In the summer, I resorted to taking the bus.

I learned that you can’t really people watch on the subway. I tried early on and a guy across me in the car caught my eye and smiled. Being from California and all, I smiled back. Of course this then led to a conversation. He was a cop, coming off his shift blah, blah. Right as he started asking me what I do for fun, fortunately, I had to get off. That experience made me focus on my little Treo and play games on it or read while listening to my iPod. Oh, talking about iPods — every other person on the subway has one. One day, I counted more than 15 people in the car had one.

But the subway can be very entertaining. The other day, during rush hour, the car doors closed and right as they closed a guy on the platform ran up to the door and started knocking incessantly. Everyone just looked at him like “Dude, what are you doing? We can’t open the door for you!” and then burst out laughing. Subway bonding.

Are people afraid of Google?

You know someone is using their power not-for-good when people become afraid of them. I know lots of bloggers who won’t criticize Google because they are scared they’ll be denied access (which has been done before) and no one in the tech world will be really harsh about them because, well, you might want to work there!

They are certainly a cool company in lots and lots of ways. I know lots of people who work there. But don’t for a minute think they are perfect. I’m going to talk about just 3 issues that need to be heard (at least by my imaginary readers! 🙂 )


On Scoble’s blog, I read about a user struggling to get a response from Google for a GMail account that was taken over. Now, compare this with eBay (who every blogger is happy to fry at the drop of a hat). [Before I get into it, FULL DISCLOSURE — I used to work at eBay and had a great 5 years there. But I admit that there are lots of things eBay could do better. So, to any imaginary readers who want to flame me, this is not about what eBay can do better!]

My dad’s account got taken over on eBay because he used a really silly password. He lives in India and got the account because I used to work there. He never used it. First off, eBay emailed when the baddie changed the email on record (they email both the old email and the new one) he didn’t have to discover it himself. Second, in the email on what to do, they included a link to a web page. At the bottom of the page was a link to live chat. I got on live chat and after about 30 minutes (which apparently was longer than the average 17 minutes), I got a live CS person (who started off by apologizing for keeping me waiting). The account was immediately shut down after I provided identity details. The fake Chinese auctions were all ended and his Feedback was reset to zero. They called him (in India!) the next day to do more verification and give him access to the account again.

Now, you could say that eBay cares because an eBay account take over costs eBay money and it does. But it also costs the user and that’s what I care about. That they moved so fast. I didn’t have to once use my old work connections to get it to work this fast. It was the normal process!

Now compare it with person’s experience where he had to blog about it and email and call executives to get a basic response – FOUR days later! Comments on his blog say “hey, it is a free account”. Well, you know what, eBay is a free account too. And if you are a buyer, it stays free. So…? Free doesn’t equal crappy service.

You could say that taking over an email account is not too bad. Actually it is worse for the user from a security perspective — the baddie can figure out which bank accounts you have, can figure out which papers you subscribe to, where you shop, all by reading your mail. The baddie can go to all those places and change the password. How? By sending it to the same email account that was just taken over. It is potentially one of the most stressful things that can happen to you. FOUR days to respond to this? Shame!


I know of companies who recount meetings with mid-level Google employees who ask searching questions and then go off and build the same products at Google. But these CEOs won’t talk about it publicly because “what if Google wants to buy us?” These CEOs have just been ripped off like how Microsoft used to do! Trampled on with impunity. Come on people, speak up! [Updated: The MSFT comparison was getting too much attention and that wasn’t the point of the post, so as you read on, ignore it. I am trying to make a larger point.]


There are blogs that used to cover search – all of search. Now, they just cover Google. Yes, Google might be dominant in search, but then change your name to Googleblog. By giving minimal coverage to startups and other players and fawning over Google, they will lose readership.


Just like any other company, there are so many things that Google can be doing better (I have more ideas if you care 😉 ), but no one calls it out. Everyone just fawns over them. Because if you don’t fawn over them, then be ready for the repercussions. That’s silly. That’s like the Republicans telling you that if you don’t agree with them, you are a traitor.

A great company wants to hear how it can improve. Wants to hear about its flaws. Rewards people who tell it how to improve.

Here’s the thing. If no one speaks up, the people who run Google will not even know that these issues exist. In such a large company, do you think that the triumvirate even knows that their middle managers are misbehaving and violating the “don’t be evil rule”? No. And they’ll never know if no one says anything.

I think Google does a lot right. I am an avid user of GMail and have gotten my entire family onto it. I primarily use Google search. I used Blogger and even tried the beta. I use Google on my mobile. I admire what they’ve been able to accomplish and many of the decisions they’ve made. But I don’t think they are perfect. As a user I want them to be a great company that cares enough to improve the things that need improving.

People should *not* be afraid of a company’s who’s motto is “Don’t be evil”

Ok, you can flame me now. Go for it. Oh, I forgot, I only have imaginary readers! 😀

Post Script — I completely disagree with people who say “how dare you email a VP” (to the blogger, Rebellin). Whatever. At eBay, people emailed VPs all day long (yes, because there are lots of users who have issues) and a lot of VPs participate on community boards and share their real email with the community. And the VP either responded or sent it to someone who took care of it immediately. They even had an Office of the President where staff were assigned to handle escalated issues. That’s how grown up companies do it. No, I am not drinking the eBay kool-aid. And yes, I know Google is doing better blah, blah…

Podtech interviews 3 folks I work(ed) with

Scoble interviewed Manish Chandra on October 4th. I am on the advisory board of Kaboodle and I think Manish is doing a great job. Kaboodle is a cool service that lets you plan and coordinate with someone else — like furnishing your home or planning a trip with friends. It also allows you to research anything and save it and organize it on Kaboodle. Kaboodle enables these tasks that are otherwise very hard to do on the web. Kaboodle also has an interesting deal with eBay – eBay users of collectibles use Kaboodle to showcase their items. Collectors live to show off their items – to get feedback, to see items that someone else has, figure out how good the collection is and get input from other collectors. This functionality is huge for a collector – something that is impossible in the offline world. As Manish says, Kaboodle has the ability to tackle multiple dimensions of your life. That is powerful.

[Full disclosure: Manish did the deal with eBay as I was leaving/after I left eBay and I had absolutely nothing to do with the deal. In fact, I never even heard about the deal from the eBay side since I was in Corporate Strategy at the time. So, credit goes solely to Manish for making this deal happen.]

On the same day, he interviewed Gil Penchina, CEO of Wikia, who was one of the people who convinced me to join eBay in 2001. Gil talks about how Wikia works, what kinds of people use it and what kind of content is on it. I liked the “safe, well-lit place to write” statement. eBay is one of the earliest businesses that was built by a community — the first community generated “content” site. Every item was listed by and bought by a user. Now, every Web 2.0 company is about leveraging community. The eBay experience will be hugely useful as Gil builds Wikia. I love the OSDN wiki idea- the Open Source Developers Network. So much potential here…

And today, he interviewed Eric Billingsley today. Eric runs eBay Research Labs. I worked with Eric Billingsley at eBay and you won’t find a nicer guy. He’s also super-smart and I’m excited to see his interview on PodTech. Eric talks about the search engine he built for eBay in 2002. It is a phenomenal application. It is the only search engine in the world that will index an item within seconds. He also provides demos of other cool things his team is working on. eBay Research Labs is very different from some of the other research labs out there. The team works on addressing the problems that the company is facing. It is a very important function for eBay and a very effective way to approach research. This type of research can dramatically change the economics of eBay (through better search results, greater conversion rates on items etc.), but it is unlikely to generate the next eBay itself.

All very interesting interviews. Makes me wish (just a little) that I was back in the fray in California.