Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Solution to our health care problems

This NYer article is the best thing I've read about US Health Care in a very long time. Read it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Authors at google

This lecture about behavioral economics is amazing. You can watch the video online. It's the best talk I've attended in a couple of years.

I also enjoyed this talk by Johan Bruyneel, retired pro cyclist who was also the director of Lance's team during the 7 Tour de France victories.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Climbing Mount Hamilton

Today, I went up Mount Hamilton (4300 ft) for Stage 3 of Tour of California. Here are some pictures and videos I took. Here are more pictures taken by others people. It's amazing how fast the riders go. It was very cold on top of the mountain and the descent was freezing. I also have a whole new appreciation for the motorcycle riders who bring the races to TV. They were literally bouncing up and down.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Reputation and DUI

Washington state recently passed a bill that requires DUI drivers to have a yellow license plate (news article). It's a bit like the Scarlet Letter. I like to see how effective this becomes. I think the bill has a problem. Some people share cars with other drivers. But DUI is a major problem in the US, and I'm happy to see experimentation by local governments.

I love reputation based systems like eBay and wikipedia. It's a good way to build trust and fight spam. I personally wish there was an easy way for people to have a publicly visible reputation that was influenced by anyone. Imagine a world where people could easily point their cell phone at you and give you a plus or a minus vote. If you let someone merge in, the other driver can give you a small star. If you stop and help someone with a flat tire, you might get lots of stars. If you cut people off or cheat on the carpool lane, you get bad karma. That's similar to PageRank. We all look at reviews for movies, restaurants, books, hotels, etc. And we look at the star rating on youtube, netflix, etc. Why not have it for people? There are now web sites that do this for professors and classes at universities. An open reputation based system is so much more effective than the usual student reviews for university faculty. Now imagine we did that in the office for everyone.

Why not have a rating on this very blog post?

Friday, November 09, 2007

Brazil and a Blog Post

Read the Google Blog post about my project and how things get done at Google.

In other news, I'm going to Brazil in a week. I'm really looking forward it to. And it looks like I'm going to get a chance to watch a football game at the Maracana (largest stadium in the world)!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Busy week at work

I was involved in three independent launches this week:
  • My 20% Farsi keyboard launched on Monday. It's now listed in the Gadget directory. I've also embedded the gadget below.
  • We finished up a project that made some backend changes to Gmail. Nothing user visible, but some invisible things are now better.
  • OpenSocial is finally announced. It's launching on Thursday!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Searching Google in Farsi

I sometimes need to do searches in Farsi, but I don't know the keyboard bindings. I built out an iGoogle Gadget that is an on-screen Farsi keyboard (see the screen shot). It launched today. Click here to use it. A lot of credit to Googlers in India who built this out for several other Indic languages. I only extended it for Farsi.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Do you have a racial bias?

Here is a site that tells you about your biases against people. Go to https://implicit.harvard.edu (just click on demo and it takes about 10 minutes). Here is an article about this.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Further Reading

I'm visiting Cornell for a few days. I'm giving four talks here. Here are some additional reading for those who are interested.

Google Talk Servers - CS 212
Google Search - CS 211
Google's computing infrastructure - ACSU Talk
Links to papers on some of our distributed systems infrastructure:
Links for info about resumes and interviews - SHPE Talk

More videos from other Googlers.

Lessons in building scalable systems

Since launching Google Talk in the summer of 2005, we have integrated the service with two large existing products: Gmail and orkut. Each of these integrations provided unique scalability challenges as we had to handle a sudden big increase in the number of users. Today, Google Talk supports millions of users and handles billions of packets per day. I will discuss several practical lessons and key insights from our experience that can be used for any project. These lessons will cover both engineering and operational areas.

Reza Behforooz is a Senior Staff Engineer at Google and is currently the technical lead for the Google Talk servers. He's passionate about building large systems and working on communication products in an attempt to make the world a smaller place. While at Google, he has primarily worked on Google Talk, Gmail, orkut, Google Groups, and shared infrastructure used by several Google applications. Reza holds a BS from Cornell and a MS from Stanford in Computer Science. Prior to Google, he held various engineering and management positions at Microsoft and two startups, Zaplet and Epiphany.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Cycling Videos

I really enjoyed watching this documentary from Netflix on the Tour. A few clips are on youtube: trailer, clip 1 and clip 2. Although this IMAX clip looks even better.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Square Cake Puzzle

Last week, we started doing puzzles in the office. Bruce asked one that I enjoyed. There is a square cake. And there is a square shaped hole in the cake. The hole is in a random place (and at a random angle). You want to evenly divide the cake with only a single cut. Where do you cut?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Life at the Googleplex

Here is an interesting story about doing massage interviews.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Science Fridays and rapper at Google

We have a lot of amazing people at Google. At one extreme we have Turing Award winners like Ken Thompson (co-inventor of UNIX) and Vint Cerf (co-inventor of TCP/IP). At other extremes we have people with other amazing attributes. For example, take our summer intern Monzy who is a nerdcore rapper straight from the hills of Stanford (listen to his major hits: So Much Drama in the PhD and kill -9).

His blogs also describe a cool tradition in our NY office: Science Fridays. It looks like a lot of fun. I love the microwave experiment. It also reminds me of antigravity experiments done by a friend (and fellow Googler) JJ Furman.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Working together

Open source software is great.   Anyone can improve the source code, add features, or just access the source code to better understand the software.  The Internet revolution has been fueled by various open source technologies.

Wikipedia is the open source software model applied to a writing a collaborative encyclopedia.  It works well.

The Oxford English Dictionary had a similar start.  From 1857 to 1928, thousands of people sent examples of word usage not in their dictionaries.  A few editors complied this into a dictionary.   Sounds pretty similar to wikipedia to me, but with more primitive tools.

Was this the first example of this model?  Do you know of other examples?  Why is it that we don't see this in more artistic fields, i.e. composing music?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Great Book

Thanks to JP for recommending this great book -- Basic Economics. I highly recommend it. A lot of the content is things I already knew, but it's full of small examples and his writing style is very engaging.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Funny book review

I so agree with this review.   I think authors are running out of ideas for books and just fill them up with countless examples of the same thing.


Monday, February 05, 2007

A fun puzzle

Let's say there are 10 cars, each numbered 1 to 10. Each car travels at a speed equal to its index * 10mph. For example, car number 3 goes 30mph, and car 10 goes 100mph. Now, assume they are traveling in a single lane road and no passing is allowed. Each car still prefers to go at the speeds described above unless a slower car is ahead and forces the faster car to go at the speed of the slower car. So if car 3 is behind car 1, then they both travel at 10mph since car 3 cannot pass 1.

For any random distribution of cars, if someone looks at the road from above they will see different pockets of cars going together. For example, assume the cars are going in order: 5 (back), 3, 1, 7, 8, 10, 4, 2, 6, 9 (front). We have 4 pockets. 5, 3, 1 travel at 10mph. 7, 8, 10, 4, 2 travel at 20mph. 6 travels at 60mph and 9 is speeding ahead of everyone at 90mph.

Now, assume we have N cars and consider all random distributions.

Question 1) On average, how many pockets are formed?

Question 2) What's the average size of pocket?
In the example above, it's (3 + 5 + 1 + 1)/4 = 2.5

I'll reply with possible answers and also a funny story about this puzzle.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Beautiful mountains

This is from a few weeks ago while x-country skiing. It snowed the entire day and made it a fun adventure!

Pictures from cross country or snow shoeing

These are some pictures from my few cross country or snow shoeing trips this winter.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Stop, and think of a better way

People usually underestimate the applications of learning mathematics or computer science in real life. Most math/science people understand the importance of framing a problem. Every problem can be solved in many different ways. Some ways of thinking about a problem make it much easier. Computer Scientists in particular understand that brute force approaches are bad. If something repeatedly fails, we try to re-frame the problem to get unstuck. Let me give a few examples to show what I mean by framing.

Example 1
Let's look at sorting. Most people know how to sort cards they receive when playing cards. Most people use "insertion sort": starting with nothing, they pick (or insert) one card at a time in its right place. It works well when you have 10 cards to sort. But it really doesn't work when you have a hundred or so. One of the things that we learn a lot in CS is how to quantitatively evaluate and compare different ways of solving a problem. In insertion sort, at each step, one has to compare the new card with all the cards currently being held. For example, the last card is compared with every single card that was previously picked. The math is a little tedious (or obvious depending on your background), but given n cards you end up with n x n or n^2 comparisons. So sorting 100 cards this way requires 10,000 comparisons. And sorting 1,000 cards takes 1,000,000 comparisons. Wow, that grows quickly.

Now, most people don't actually compare the card with all the cards they are holding. At each step, they quickly find the spot for the new card by guessing where it should be and adjusting a little. We all do this when we look up something in Yellow Pages or a dictionary. If we're looking for an attorney in the Yellow Pages, we open up the front. And we quickly adjust our guess by guessing again. A more general version of this is called binary search where you cut the problem in half in every step. Binary search is must faster than linear scan. Again, the math is hard or obvious depending on your background, but binary search takes about log(n). So looking through 1000 sorted things for an item only requires only 10 comparisons (because you reduce the problem to 500 items, and then 250, then 125, 63, 32, 16, 8, 4, 2, and finally 1 -- that's 10 steps), as compared to 1000 for a linear scan. Extending the insertion idea above to use binary search instead of linear scan reduces the complexity from n x n to n log (n). For 1,000 cards, we go down from 1,000,000 to 10,000 comparisons. So these are two different and correct ways of doing the same thing. But one is a lot faster. What's needed is having a way to quickly compare different ways of solving the problem.

Example 2
Here is another problem that shows framing. I like this puzzle. Imagine two trains, 100 miles apart, moving towards each other on the same train track. One is traveling 10mph and the other is going at 15mph. Eventually, the trains will crash. There is a super bee traveling at 20mph going back and forth between the trains trying to get the attention of the train drivers. Let's ignore the time it takes for the bee to turn and speed up again. How many miles does the bee travel in its futile attempt to save the trains? A bad way to frame this problem is start adding up all the distances the bee travels. It's hard to count because the trains are moving and the distance the bee travels keeping getting smaller. I'll let you try to do this on your own time. An easy way to frame the problem is to compute how long it takes the trains to crash: 100/(15+10) = 4 hours. Since we know the bee is moving at 20mph, it's easy to figure out that the bee will need to travel 80 miles in 4 hours.

Example 3
Here is my favorite example. Let's say you're on a boat in a river. You are traveling 20mph up stream. The river itself is moving 5mph. Let's say your hat falls in the river at noon and you only realize that this happened at 12:15. How far is your hat and how long will it take you to go back and fetch it? Your hat is now further up stream than where you dropped it since it's been moving at 5mph. [Stop reading here if you want to solve this.] Again, there is a hard way and an easy way. The hard way is pretty tedious since the river is moving. Knock yourself out if you want to do the arithmetic. The easy way is to change your point of reference. Does it really matter that the river is moving in respect to the trees and the land? The only things that matter here is that the boat is moving 20mph away from the hat for 15 minutes. So the answer is obvious. The speed of the river does not matter at all. Thank you Einstein for relativity.

Now, here is a version of the same problem that's easier for people to understand. Let's say you drop your hat on an escalator while you're walking up the escalator. Assume you drop your hat, climb 5 steps, and realize you need to go back to get your hat. It's easy to see that the hat is only 5 steps below. For some reason, we can abstract away the relative moving of the escalator. It doesn't matter how fast the escalator is going or that it's even moving at all. This is easier for people to understand than the previous problem.

Ok, enough examples! Now get to the point

These examples show a few things. First, it's important to frame the problem correctly, to ask the right question, to look at the minimum amount of facts needed to solve a problem. Second, it's important to be able to quickly compare different ways of solving a problem with each other. It's good to experiment and see what works. If you ever have to make 100 peanut butter sandwiches, it's good to take some time and think of a good way. It can save you a lot of time.

Most importantly, I don't understand how people can repeatedly try a brute force approach at solving a problem. When one is stuck or when things are not working as smoothly as expected, it's important to stop and think about a different way instead of trying the old way. Often, trying random new things is better than persistence and banging your head on the wall. In fact, there is a whole field of Randomized Algorithms based on this idea.

I think in the past couple of decades, businesses understood the importance of these things and that's why we started seeing people with PhDs in science and math in board rooms and on trading floors. Maybe in the next few decades, we'll see a similar trend and emphasis in more social disciplines that so far have focused on the soft skills.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Climbing Walls

The big chase scene in 007 is based on an actual discipline called Parkour. It makes skateboarding look like a sissy sport.

Read more
More videos

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Getting people to talk

Sometimes you have to spark the right conversation in a party to get people to talk. And sometimes you have to build a social application to get millions to talk. I'm glad I had a chance to do both this week.

We just launched orkut + Google Talk. I wrote up about it on the Google Blog and the Google Talk Blog. It was a fun project.

Here is a personal story about orkut. I grew up in four different countries so it was usually hard for me to keep in touch with childhood friends. A couple of years ago I found an orkut community for my elementry school and found an old friend from 3rd grade!

My name is Reza and I approve this blog post.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Longer version of the cell video

Here is a longer version of the cell video from its source at Harvard. My friend David Bau has more details on his blog.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Animations from inside a cell!

This video made by the BioVisions project at Harvard is amazing (learn more).

Monday, October 09, 2006

Fun puzzle

Thanks to Ario for sending this to me. It's a cute puzzle. And the rest of the ones on this site are also pretty good.


For the geeks, why did applets lose to flash? Is it just the ability to create pretty UI? I couldn't find a flash version of this game.

Coffee and a bug at Starbucks!

Look at this interesting total! I guess they have a bug in their software. I can't wait for these to popup on my other electronic devices.

For non-geeks, null means nothing in computer programming (this is not the same as zero as zero is itself something).

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Random nerdy news

- Anousheh Ansari called the Googleplex from space. She has a cool blog. (more here)
- White paper on how computers waste power, technologies that Google built, and how we are working with the industry to make this an open standard. 100 million computers running for 8 hours a day waste about $5B of electricity over 3 years!!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Six F words

A few years ago, a wise man was giving me some career advice. He gave me a list of six F words: fun, family, fame, fortune, freedom, and force. In life, one can only have two of them. For example, college professors (except for ones trying to get tenured at top universities) take family and freedom. Artist takes fun and freedom. Politicians take fame and force. People who do startups take fortune and fame at a very high risk and maybe some fun until the money starts to run out.

I think it's a good way to frame things. Once you know what you want, it's easy to pick a career or a lifestyle. But if you're not honest, life will seem like a square room with a rectangular rug. It will never feel right.

Another good advice is to do something at the intersection of what you enjoy, what you're good at, and what's useful in the world. Otherwise, you will hate your work, suck at it, or not find a job. People who want to be artists always struggle with this. The world needs very few of them. So most of them struggle with the last two.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Walking Tree in the Amazon Forest

We saw a lot of amazing thing in the Amazon. But the walking tree was one of my favorite. It moves about 10cm per year in search of a better spot. Its roots don't really go inside the ground. And you can see which direction it's moving if you look at the roots: the roots on one side are dying while it's growing new roots on the other side. There was another related tree called the balancing tree. This tree doesn't move, but it can change its angle. I love seeing what evolution does.

Welcome to Random Travellers

The number of comments on my blog went through the roof today. Finally, someone told me that my blog is profiled and linked from http://www.blogger.com. So welcome to all random people looking at my blog today. Here is a political correct joke for all of you: Why is six scared of seven? Because seven, eight, nine.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Funny movie: Little Miss Sunshine

I really enjoyed watching Little Miss Sunshine. It was nicely done, and I think everyone will find it funny.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Parrots in the amazon

Parrots in the amazon feeding off a clay lick.

Video From Amazon

This is taken from the Tambopota region of amazon in peru in Lake Sandoval.

Video From Amazon Basin in Peru

The sounds here are amazing!

Machu Pichu

Video of Machu Pichu in Peru

Saturday, August 19, 2006

DNA and Assembly Language

Many people think it's amazing or surprising that the DNA between any two people is 99.9% the same. In fact, 50% of a human DNA is the same as a banana's. I think this totally makes sense, and I was surprised that we're even that different from a banana. All living organisms are composed of cells. And cells are composed of the same basic elements (there is some variety but it's basically the same). And the elements in cells are composed of the same organic molecules. Much of the machinery at each of these levels is basically the same across all organisms. For example, cell replicating, cell membranes, etc generally work the same for everyone. So that's what we have in common with an algae.

I think this is a little like comparing the differences between Microsoft Office and vi and expecting the pattern in their assembly language instructions to be very different. Office is a lot bigger and more complicated than vi. But at the end of the day, all programs have the same general structure in machine instructions. Data is loaded and stored, values in the registers change, basic logic and arithmetic operations are performed, and the program counter is manipulated in different ways to simulate function calls, recursion, or exception handling. This pattern is the same for all programs. At the end of the day, the same CPU can execute all programs. And the CPU only understands opcodes and operands. So it's not surprising that the patterns must be the same.

Based on the analogy, it's the same for living organisms. The actual organism is analogous to the software. The DNA is analogous to the assembly language instructions. Protein is analogous to transistors. And the biochemistry between the organic molecules is analogous to the physics that control the components of a CPU. Complexities in one abstraction layer are isolated from the other layers.

Instead of comparing to software, another analogy is that the brick laying patterns for a small house and a castle are basically the same. But I like the other analogy more.

Friday, July 28, 2006

New version of Google Talk

A new version of Google Talk is now available. The fast file transfer is great. In addition to sending individual files, you can drag an entire folder to a chat window and the entire folder will be transfered. We also added support for sending and receiving voicemail. Voicemails are sent to your GMail inbox as an MP3. Finally, we have some fun music features.

We're rolling out to everyone soon. But you can get it from here if you cannot wait.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Google behind the screen

This is a good 1 hour show about Google.   It's an Australian TV show but seems pretty similar to a PBS documentary. 

Friday, July 21, 2006

Design vs Evolution in Technology

I loved reading this article in the Technlogy Review. See blog post for more.

In grad school, I had a friend who was working on using genetic algorithms for chip design. Some of the chips were able to do all the logic of a simple ALU, but nobody was able to understand their internals. There were extra transistors whose output were not even used. But without them the system would not work. So the working theory was that the system was somehow dependent on the temperature increase caused by the seemingly useless transistors.

For those who don't know, the author Steven Jurvetson is one of the geekiest VC's.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Finally... Forza Azzurri penalty kicks to football heaven

Italy finally was able to win on PKs! And I can finally retire my 16 year old Azzurri jersey.

It was a great world cup. It was nice to have it in Germany. Italy didn't have any big stars this time. 10 players scored their 13 goals (that's amazing distribution for football). And more importantly, they didn't give up any goals during actual play. Zidane scored on a PK and they managed to have an own-goal against the US. All the Italian players also play for Italian clubs, not true for any other country! I guess Italians are really happy with their tough, defense oriented Serie A league. The scandals about the players and the Italian clubs helped the team just like 82 when they previously won when facing a similar situation. I think the entire team will be pardoned again.

When the game went to OT, I could vividly remember 90 when they lost the semifinals to Argentina on PKs in Naples, 94 when they lost the finals to Brazil on PKs, 98 when they lost the quarterfinals to France on PKs, and 02 when lost the round of 16 to South Korea in the last minute of overtime (after one of their own goals was incorrectly not counted). But this time, history didn't repeat itself.

Back in 1990 I was given an Azzurri jersey as a gift which I wore during all the games listed above. I really didn't know if I should bring it out this year. But the unlucky jersey was finally lucky. The jersey is now retired. For fun, I should send it to the FIGC and ask them to give me an honory number (I'll take 7 or 8 please) and a new official jersey (stitched letters please) WITH MY NAME ON THE BACK! If anyone has contacts there, please let me know. I think they'll like the 3 o's in my last name.

Thank you Azzurri! Now, let's get one more and tie Brazil. That's what really matters.

The unbelievable Zidane drama deserves a few links:
- Materazzi who was knocked down is quite the personality (amazing video of pain)
- What did he say to Zidane? I find it impossible that they can read his lips over the video. But I do love this quote from Materazzri in his own defense: I’m ignorant. I don’t even know what the word means.
- But thanks you Zidane for missing the easy header in OT. The ideal end for me would have been to watch him get subed out late after an Italy blow out in order to let the fans cheer for him. But life is not perfect. And he showed that he's only human.
- Zidane's must-see greatest moments: easily the best player of the past 20 years (compare him with Ronaldinho)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Analyze This

Years ago, tobacco companies started claiming a pretty interesting theory on why smoking does not cause lung cancer. They claimed that the desire to smoke is genetic and the same gene is also responsible for lung cancer; thus cigarettes are really innocent and the smokers who get lung cancer are equally susceptible even without smoking. Of course, they were wrong. Nice try.

But this kind of cause and effect pattern actually does occurs. For example, there is a correlation between criminal activity and the mothers of the eventual criminal smoking during pregnancy. Now, it's possible that smoking during pregnancy somehow damages the brain of the child in a way that helps the child grow into a criminal. But it's also plausible that the kids turn into criminals for the same reasons that pushed their mothers to start smoking.

In general, alarms go off in my ahead when I read correlation as the justification for cause and effect. This is why I had a really hard time with social sciences. These sciences simply conduct experiments to find correlation between different variables, and simply assume that one variable causes the other.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

World Cup in ASCII art

I've been enjoying the World Cup so far. Today another googler showed me a service that shows the games live in ascii art!

Visit http://ascii-wm.net/ or even better just telnet ascii-wm.net 2006 during a game.

The quality is amazing for the technology. You can even make out the numbers.

You can also watch star wars in ascii art.

Picasa Web Albums and Spreadsheet

Picasa launched web albums this week. The integration between Picasa and the web site is really nice and it's so easy to upload pictures. I love it.

Here are my pictures (mostly from Spain, but I'll post more later).

In other news, Google also launched online spreadsheets. It makes it so much easier to share a spreadsheet and make multiple people work on it at the same time.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Joga Bonita!

The FIFA World Cup is starting this Friday. I'm so excited. There are lots of great teams and players.

The first world cup that I really followed was back in 1986 when I was in fifth grade. It turns out that the 86 world cup was really the best world cup since 1970. Only 24 teams (instead of the current 32) were in the tournament. So the overall quality was better. Even the final match was very exciting -- with 3 goals in the last 16 minutes. What drama!

1990 and 1994 left me really sad as the Azzurri lost in the semis and then in the finals on penalty kicks. Things were so bad that I couldn't really get into France 98 (where Italy lost again on penalty kicks in the quarter finals!). 2002 was a lot of fun at the start until Italy lost in last minute of the extra time to South Korea (at least no penalty kicks). I wish I was a little older to remember the glorious 1982!

I'm not sure who will win this time. But it will be very exciting. I do wish that Team Melli had not peaked last year with their all-time high FIFA world ranking of 15. And a better draw would have helped them. Joga Bonita!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

I went to see the new movie by Al Gore called An Inconvenient Truth which is a documentary about the destruction of the environment -- mainly focusing on global warming. I thought it was nicely made (even funny at times) and raised a lot of awareness. I highly recommend it. It was also pretty scientific (like a good Nova show). The summary is that we're already in deep trouble. The earth's temperature is increasing. And this has a domino effect on the ecology of earth. For proof, look at the pictures I took from Greenland (you can see cracks in 3 of them).

And with over $1T of oil left in the world, energy companies don't want to see the adaptation of better energy sources. About 50% of media references to global warming somehow question the level of fear that scientists are showing. But no scientific jounral in the past 30 years has questioned the facts. Countless studies have shown that the current trend is simply too dangerous.

Some sad facts:
  • 10 of the hottest years ever on earth have been the past 14. Increase in temperature raises sea levels, increases winds (2005 had the highest number of hurricanes and tornadoes worldwide), changes the gulf streams, and drys land (partly causing the famine in Africa)
  • A 20 feet increase in sea levels means that most of SF and the peninsula will be under water. There goes the Noe, Palo Alto, Googleplex, and Stanford. Most of Shanghai, Beijing, and Calcutta will also go under water. That's over 100M people!
  • US has lower standards for gas emissions than Europe and China! This is a disgrace.
  • California passed a law to increase the gas emission standard by 2010 to match today's standard in China. But our friends in Michigan are suing the state for trying to take the lead!
  • I was surprised to meet a few people this week who didn't know that the imports of Japanese hybrids in the US are restricted to protect our friends in Michigan. GM and Ford are so doomed in my opinion because their cars are simply crappy compared to their European and Japanese peers. I hate lobbyists -- government should be "by the people and for the people" and not "for the corporations". I don't think this policy will protect American jobs in the long-term.
  • Despite the US never signing the Kyoto Protocol, 10 states and 187 cities in the US are following the protocol. I love it!
  • This is so evil: Philip A. Cooney, the former White House staff member who repeatedly revised government scientific reports on global warming, will go to work for Exxon Mobil this fall. (NY times article)
Gore was a lot more charismatic in the movie than in the 2000 debates. Sadly, it's too late. I really liked Gore. He is a smart guy. Urrgh... Florida!

I have a couple of personal take aways from the movie. But on a funny note, I will never order beer that's in bottle again. By ordering beer from tap, one can save the environment one bottle at a time. Imagine if everyone did that! But seriously, go watch the movie.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Attending the Turing Awards

Last weekend, I had the honor of attending the ACM Turing Award ceremony in San Francisco. The Turing Award is the basically the Noble Prize for Computer Science. I arrived at the ceremony after riding up the elevator with Don Knuth (a world renowned computer scientist who probably doesn't remember that we both had offices on the same floor when I was in school!). There were about 100-150 people. I saw a bunch of my professors from Stanford and a few Googlers. The authors of at least half of my text books in college were there! The best part of the night for me was that my advisor from Stanford, Jennifer Widom, was named an ACM fellow. Peter Naur was the big winner this year for his work on Algol and programming languages in general. Thanks Naur for inventing recursion, scoped variables, BNF, etc.

The was also an award for humanitarian contributions given to the leaders of the Nakuru Local Urban Observatory project in Kenya. I really love how technology is starting to help developing nations. I can't wait for PCs to cost less than $100 for even greater impact.

It was so humbling to be around such amazingly smart and hard working individuals.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Google Talk news

Terry added sound notifications when chatting in Gmail. We also added chat in different languages.

A flashlight into our culture

In grad school, I did a project (using the web pages crawled for Google -- before it was incorporated) on analyzing trends of words on the web over time. We noticed that "mosaic" was going down at the time and "retail" was becoming more popular. You could also use the data to see significant events, like superbowl, when IE shipped, etc. Over the years, I always thought this would be a useful research tool.

So I was really excited when Google Trends launched on labs last week. The UI is nice and it lets you see the data over time and also over cities/regions/languages. Here are some examples: tea vs coffee or sushi vs steak. Or guess where they love JLo the most. You can have a lot of fun with this and learn a lot about what people around the world like. Please leave a comment with any good examples you find.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Best Job in America: Software Engineer

According to a CNN article, being a software engineer is the best job in America. It's still the second fastest growing job (behind Physician Assistant). It looks like despite all the outsourcing and the slow years after the .com crash, things are still good for now.

In reality, there are two types of software engineers. The first group studied it in college because of the bright job prospects. The second group fell in love with it long before going to college, taught themselves programming, and continue to be involved because they love it. For them it's more of an art.

While interning at Microsoft a long time ago, Paul Leach gave me one of the best reasons why programming is so addictive. He said writing software is probably the only creative job in the world where one can always feel some progress. You fix a compile error. Progress! You step through the code and fix a bug. Progress! You refactor some old code. Progress! You figure out a clever way to do something complicated in a simple way and save weeks off a schedule. Progress! The project, even the company, can be in deep trouble. But the engineers who write code are often very happy when they are in the zone. We're not talking about a daily sense of satisfaction. We're literally talking about getting that job every minute or two.

There are a few other attributes I really like about being an programmer: working on a team, building something that millions of people use, and most importantly building things that actually improves the world. If a blogger in a developing country can earn a decent living from ads by writing some good content instead of working in a factory, we've leveled the playing field for the good.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Retiring from Hanayama Puzzles

Scott got me hooked on these puzzles. But after finishing the three level 10 puzzles, I'm going to retire. I still liked the Cast Enigma best.

The Cast News is also fun. But you either get it quickly or you don't. I got lucky with it.

The Cast Chain was very tedious.

Fun with commas

Last week during dinner, a friend asked everyone to guess the ratio between baby boys and girls in China during the peak years of the one child policy. We all guessed in the low 1.x's. After a hint that the number is higher, a few increased their guesses to three or four. My friend told us that the answer is 1,200 according to a study done by Columbia Univeristy. Yes, 1,200 boys for every girl! I couldn't believe it. For the ratio to be that high, 1,199 of the 1,200 women having a girl needed to somehow terminate it. It sounds so crazy. I could imagine a small village in a random place being like this, but I cannot believe it for a country as large as China. The law of large numbers will catch up to you. Since 1/6th of the world's population is Chinese, this unbalanced ratio would have huge global implications. I had to find the article and see for myself.

Luckily, another friend beat me to it. Read the numbers above carefully. In America, a comma is used between every three digits to make it easier to read and a period is used as the "decimal point". Well, in some other countries, it's the other way around. So the ratio is really "one and two tenth" (as most of us guessed correctly).

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Funny quotes or sad reality?

After a bus crash in Spain, the newspaper headline was "6 people and 2 Portuguese die in a car crash"! Neighboring countries rarely like each other. After all, they are forced to get in each other's way, like two kids who share a small bedroom. There is usually a lot of history involved that prevent the parties from being reasonable, like a divorcing couple who spend hundreds of dollars of legal fees per hour to fight over a small item. For proof, look at all the land, sea or river disputes!

In Japan, the weather person says "Luckily the hurricane missed Tokyo and is heading to Hokkaido". It's funny in a sad way. It even sounds like a mistake. Regional issues within a country is even worse in some ways. I've never understood why. And the more you zoom, it's more of the same. Even within a city or even a school, cliques and stereotypes are quickly formed.

I guess it's just human nature. We generally like to be around people who make similar decisions and trade-offs in life. Is there a way around this? Or are we simply not evolved enough?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Low Hanging Fruits

Many years ago, I read a paper by Dijkstra, a very accomplished Computer Scientist, on how to conduct scientific research. Although my undergraduate research quickly convinced me that doing a PhD and conducting research in general was not for me, Dijkstra made one key point that has stuck with me. The goal of the scientific community is to create new knowledge. For this, each scientist must work at his/her limit of knowledge. In other words, if you know that someone else in the field can solve a particular problem, leave it and solve a harder one. This strategy maximizes for the total output of the community by trading off the success rate of the best scientists for total output. Most people have a natural tendency of going after the low hanging fruits. But Dijkstra's point is that if a group wants to maximize the number of fruits it picks from a tree, each person has to work at his/her limits -- leave the low hanging fruits for someone who is afraid of heights or someone who is not as able.

Granted, practicalities of project management might not allow this to happen all the time in a work setting. But I really believe that this attitude also helps in a work setting. It's sometimes tempting to go after low hanging problems. But it's often best to leave them for someone new or with less experience in order to give them the experience and the confidence to reach higher next time. Sadly, in many organizations, people run after the low hanging fruits as it provides the shortest path to getting rewarded. This sadly fits in well with the super short-term view of most corporations as everyone scrambles to optimize the quarterly EPS number.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Puzzle: 50 coins

With your eyes closed, somebody puts 50 coins on the table: 40 heads and 10 tails. Let's assume that you cannot tell the side of the coin from touching or any other mechanism. Your job is to divide up the coins in two groups. All the 50 coins must be in one of the two groups, but the number of coins in each group may be different. Your aim is to have the same number of tails in each group. What do you do?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


I came down to California last night for a couple of days. I have started selecting middle seats on short flights to double my odds of finding a good person to chat with on the plane. But this time, I flew down with my coworker Niniane, so we were able to chat the whole way.

After having a good chelo kabab for dinner and getting tea in Palo Alto with a good friend, I went to my hotel. Around 12:30, the fire alarms went off. Luckily, I decided to go for a walk until the issue was resolved. There was an actual fire in the hotel! Luckily nobody got hurt as the fire was in the laundry room. We were permitted to return to our now smoky room much later. It was funny to see others random people blog about this too from the hotel's business center (the hotel is comprised of several disconnected buildings).

It seems like I have bad luck with hotels in Palo Alto. Last time I was here, they gave me the keys to a room that was not vacant and I walked into someone else's room. Luckily, nobody was there! On another previous occasion, a stranger starts loudly knocking on my door around 4am. Another reason to miss home!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Tapas in Spain

I never like going to Tapas places for dinner. For those of you who don't know, Tapas is a style of food from Spain where they serve many very small plates. For example, a plate might have 3 shrimps or 2 garlic sauteed mushrooms. And since it's popular to go with a large group, I always find myself sharing a plate that's not even big enough for one person with 8 people. And ordering many dishes somehow doesn't end up being enough food for me. I usually leave Tapas places hungry and craving a place like In-N-Out to get stuffed.

In Spain, Tapas are not for dinner or lunch. They are only consumed in the afternoon before and after siesta (a wonderful ritual of closing business in the afternoons and sleeping). So Tapas were designed more for an afternoon snack than a meal. So nobody leaves hungry. I loved many of the Tapas plates there. But my favorite was probably
Jamon Serrano -- think of it as Prosciutto++ (Scusi to all Italians). Here are some pictures to wet your appetite! Another good place, recommended by a Googler, was a swedish-argentinean restaurant called Olsen. Sadly, they had no giant swedish meatball, which is the first thing that came into my mind when I heard of this interesting mix.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Fun time in España

We had a great time in Spain. The highlights of the trip were going to Alhambra (picture below), watching Real Madrid play (videos / pictures), and eating Tapas.

But what was equally amazing was to see the coast of Greenland from the plane. I've never seen such a clear sky on a trans-atlantic flight (more pictures)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Cast Enigma Puzzle

My colleague Scott recently introduced me to the Hanayama puzzle collection. The Cast Enigma is ranked as one the hardest metal puzzles in the world. It looks so simple and yet so impossible. I ordered one from Canada as I couldn't find any store or online store in the US that carried it! I was hoping that it would keep me busy on a long flight. But I was able to solve it last night in my first uninterrupted attempt. It is very clever and I really enjoyed it. Putting it back together was a lot more difficult.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Watching Real Madrid

Football (that's soccer) was always my favorite sport growing up. In fact, it was the the only sport I played and watched until high school. The stars aligned and we're going to watch Real Madrid next week in Spain. Interestingly, they have a few of the best players in the world: Ronaldo (best Brazilian striker), Beckam (best British player and probably the most popular footbalist today), Zidane (amazing French mid-fielder from the 98 world cup team) and Raul (best player from Spain). Although their records show why having so many stars is not a good thing (for details read the good book Moneyball by the author of Liar's Poker).

Our seats will be on the 8th row from the pitch. So it should be amazing.

I can't wait for this summer's World Cup. Too bad that I can't go to Germany. But I need to shift my work hours like usual. At least the time difference should be better than the last World Cup in Asia.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Brazilian Samba in Seattle

I have a couple of friends in a Seattle based Brazilian samba group called Vamola. They had a show this week, and I was amazed by their level of improvement since last year.

Music groups, like anything, can hit a point where they are better than their popularity. Vamola has certainly hit this point. If you live here, I recommend checking them out.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Get GMail and Google Talk for your own domain

In short, if you run your own domain, you can let Google provide your users GMail and Google Talk. Your users can login with user ID's at your domain (i.e. reza@rezab.com). And they can also IM GMail users, users on other domains and any other Jabber user.

https://www.google.com/hosted says it all.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Countries that I've visited

src="http://www.world66.com/myworld66/visitedCountries/worldmap?visited=CAUSMXCRPEBEFRDEITLUMCNLESUKVACYIROMTRCNINJPKRTH" width="75%" height="75%">

(create your own!)

A Paradox? Puzzle #6

A law student (no not my wife) promises to pay his law professor when he wins his first case. He then decides not to practice law and takes no cases. The professor sues the student for his fees. Here are the arguments:

Professor's argument
* If I win, my student must pay, by the court's decision
* If he wins, the student must pay, by our agreement
* Either way, he must pay me

Student's argument
* If I win, I need not pay, by the court's decision
* If my professor wins, I need not pay, by our agreement
* Either way, he must pay me

Who is wrong?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Pictures of my work

Tour of Googleplex: The Kirkland office is missing a few of these benefits, including the blue sky.

It's really made of cheese

I was looking at the moon today. But I was surprised after I zoomed in all the way.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Puzzle #5

A father and his son were driving to a game when their cars stalled on the railroad tracks. In the distance, a train whistle blew. The father tried to the start the engine, but in his panic, he couldn't turn the key, and the car was hit by the train. An ambulance sped to the scene and picked them up. The father died on the way to the hospital. The son's condition was very serious. So they rush him to the emergency room. The surgeon, on seeing the boy, said "I can't operate on this boy -- he's my son".

How could it be? The surgeon was not lying or mistaken. No time travel, adopted child, etc.

(This puzzle comes from here)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

My friend published a novel

My friend Kate Perry published a novel called Project Daddy. Her web site even has a little preview. She's a funny person, and her writing reflects that too.

I was looking for a book for the long flight to Spain. So it just works out.

We're proud of you Kathia and hope this is just the beginning!

Finally found time to paint again

After a few months, I made time again to paint. It was a blast. I didn't use any brushes for the finish paint.

Other Googlers who paint (all much much better than me):
- Lilly
- Min
- Radmila

Thursday, February 16, 2006

An easy puzzle for the long weekend

Puzzle #4
You have three baskets. One only contains apples. One only contains oranges. And the last one is an even mix of apples and oranges. The three boxes are labeled. But all labels are placed incorrectly. Your job is to fix the three labels. You can reach in any basket, take one fruit out, examine it, and put it back. There is no other way to examine or look at the baskets. You want to minimize the number of fruits that you take out to examine. What do you do?

The answer posted for Puzzle #3 is correct. But that's based on algebra and that's not fun. I like this proof more as it's philosophical. Two real numbers are different if and only if there exists another real number between them. There is nothing between .99999... and 1. QED.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Fun math puzzle

Puzzle #3:
Is .999999... = 1? If so prove it. This has a few proofs, and some are simple enough to show someone in junior high.

Most software companies are bad at innovating

A couple of my past employers were organized and managed like a typical software company. They were either marketing or sales oriented. The overall vision of the company, product road maps, etc were set by people who had little to do with building the product. Some folks from engineering were often involved, but it was a very top-down approach: CEO/board identified a new market, buz dev considered buy-vs-build, product marketing wrote PRDs by doing a competitive landscape analysis (basically a spreadsheet with a list of features), PMs or engineering managers/architects wrote functional specs, and finally someone started coding. There is no room for innovation here. That's why markets are so crowded with very similar offerings.

The actual engineer building the product had little control in the overall direction of the company, but had flexibility to decide which technologies to use. Often the technology decision was also influenced by marketing as industry buzz words like ASP, J2EE, AOP, SOA, etc can help sell a product for reasons not yet clear to me. At times, management would throw bodies at the problem to speed up a schedule despite engineers calling it a futile attempt.

For execs, it's scary to give up control. After all, their careers often depend on the success of the venture. It's scary to trust a bunch of engineers to build something amazing. However, it's this actual fear that causes many companies to fail. Wisdom of the Crowds shows many examples where a group can make a better decision than even the smartest person in the group (and that assumes that the execs are the smartest folks in the group). So why do CEOs or VPs often try to force their opinions? Why not foster a more democratic approach where good ideas can come from anyone in the organization and somehow these ideas can get aggregated. Why not give everyone a chance to contribute? Why not empower the people building the product with the necessary freedom to do something amazing? A company's culture facilitates the mechanisms for innovating. And in the world of software, innovation is everything. There are hardly any barriers to entry and little capital is needed.

I'm so happy that my current employer is different.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Answer to the puzzle and the next one

Ario explained it correctly.

Puzzle #2:
Divide a circle into 12 congruent pieces, with equal size and same shape, such that all pieces never meet. It's ok for pieces to be next to each other. But all of them cannot meet at the same point. So you cannot cut the circle in 12 pizza slices as they all meet at the center. This is more visual. Have fun. I first tried doing this with paper. But I was able to get it very quickly after deciding to close my eyes.

BTW, we have posted a very small collection of tech talks given here at Google on, you guessed it, Google Video.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Favorite puzzles

I'm going to start posting some of my favorite puzzles.

Puzzle 1:
Let's say you have a cup of cream and a cup of coffee (same volume). You take a spoon full of cream and mix it in with the coffee. Now, you take a spoon full of the mixed coffee/cream and and mix it with the cream. Is there more coffee in the cream cup or is there more cream in the coffee cup?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Amazing co-workers

I met TV Raman at Cornell. His PhD thesis was to make LaTeX talk -- which won the ACM award for the best thesis! He's actually visually impaired. But he is able to solve the Rubik's Cube in about 30 seconds.

This past weekend, I saw him again in the ski trip! It's such an honor and so humbling to work with such gifted individuals.

Another work project launched

It's live now: Integration of Google Talk and GMail. You can now chat directly from GMail. To learn more, go here or read this article.

I really enjoy working on products that help people communicate. In fact, the reasoning behind this deserves its own long post.

Read news or blogs.

More later.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Thoughts on early retirement

David's post about early retirement validates my own experience. Whenever I batch-forward an interesting or a funny email to a large group, it's always the young retired friends who respond in less than a minute with "good one"! Are they just sitting in front of their computer surfing the web and waiting for email? It's fun to be active, to build things, to be part of a team, to tackle challenges, to learn, to help others, and to improve the world. And in our society, you can't do this by sitting at home.

In fact, a good way to live life is to imagine you have enough money to retire but only have a few years left to live.

Make sure you read Greenspun's entertaining notes.

Trip to south of Spain and my ski trip in Tahoe

Last week, I called an old friend after a long time. During the conversation, I found out that they were also going to Spain in March. And she also mentioned a cool Fire Festival (Las Fallas) in Valencia during our trip. It sounds a little fun and crazy.

I was in Tahoe this weekend for our ski trip. It was a lot of fun. I tried snowboarding for the first time, but the parties at night were really the highlight. A funny part of the trip was the shuttle ride from the Reno airport to Squaw. Our shuttle's door was not working, so the driver used duck tape to shut the door. But he was smart enough to not allow any of us to take a picture. Personally, I was happy that we were on our way. I never mind a little excitement; at least this wasn't as bad as putting a car in reverse while going 50mph.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Amazing Lectures

After listening to Lawrence Lessing, a law professor at Stanford, I really wish that I could take a class with him. Enjoy this great video as he discusses fair use in regard to Google Book Search. Amazing use of slides. And I like the geeky slide.

Speaking of great speakers, I also had a chance to watch a lecture from Noam Chomsky. It's amazing that he can be an expert in so many fields.

So much other news and so little time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Open IM Federation

I use my GMail account to email people who have their email hosted by someone else. I use my Verizon cell phone to call people who use Cingular. These technologies are based on standards that allow different providers to interoperate.

But the same is not true of IM. As a result users suffer and are forced to use multiple providers or not IM all their friends. Today, we took another step in fixing this by launching open federation. Now you can IM users on other networks. No official partnerships are needed with long meetings full of buzdev folks, lawyers, and paperwork. Just like email, set an SRV record in DNS pointing everyone to your XMPP server. Exchanging email between companies never required partnerships. Even most countries at war allow telephone calls to be made between them. Why should IM be different?

Using open standards has other advantages as demonstrated by the new Blackberry client for Google Talk.

In the meantime, for those of you who know me personally and know my google.com email address, feel free to add me as a Friend in Google Talk (just add my email address as a friend).

And if you don't know me but play backgammon and live in Seattle, I like to meet you!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Rain Rain Rain

Unlike last year, the weather in Seattle has been very wet this year. This Sunday finally ended 27 days of continuous rain. Luckily, I missed some of the days given all my recent trips to sunny California.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Incompatible Chargers

Whenever I travel, I have to pack several chargers with me. Here is more proof that this is a problem. I saw this device in Seattle's airport. For $3 you can charge your cell phone for 30 minutes. And there in a wire for nearly every type of phone. Yuck!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Answers to the puzzle

Here are the answers to the puzzle. I really like the 2nd one:

In this sentence the number of occurrences of 0 is 1, of 1 is 7, of 2 is 3, of 3 is 2, of 4 is 1, of 5 is 1, of 6 is 1, of 7 is 2, of 8 is 1, and of 9 is 1.

In this sentence the number of occurrences of 0 is 1, of 1 is 11, of 2 is 2, of 3 is 1, of 4 is 1, of 5 is 1, of 6 is 1, of 7 is 1, of 8 is 1, and of 9 is 1.

Happy 2006! I'm very busy at work these days. In fact, I had to cancel my trip to Las Vegas for the CES.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Self-Referential Beauties

A few weeks ago, I started thinking about this puzzle.

In this sentence the number of occurrences of 0 is ____, of 1 is ____, of 2 is ____, of 3 is ____, of 4 is ____, of 5 is ____, of 6 is ____, of 7 is ____, of 8 is ____ and of 9 is ____.

The goal is to fill out the blanks with digits that make the sentence correct. There are two answers -- one is reasonably challenging and one is super clever (I'll post answers in a few days).

But recently, I came across this amazing text. Like a beautiful Escher painting, the following self-referential text is an absolute beauty:

* Write down ten `a's, eight `c's, ten `d's, fifty-two `e's, thirty eight `f's, sixteen `g's, thirty `h's, forty-eight `i's, six `l's, four `m's, thirty-two `n's, forty-four `o's, four `p's, four `q's, forty-two `r's, eighty-four `s's, seventy six `t's, twenty-eight `u's, four `v's, four `W's, eighteen `w's, fourteen `x's, thirty-two `y's, four `:'s, four `*'s, twenty-six `-'s, fifty-eight `,'s sixty "'s and sixty `"s,

in a palindromic sequence whose second half runs thus


suht snur flah dnoces esohw ecneuqes cimordnilap a ni

,s"` ytxis dna s'" ytxis s',` thgie-ytfif ,s'-` xis-ytnewt ,s'*` ruof ,s':` ruof ,s'y` owt-ytriht ,s'x` neetruof ,s'w` neethgie ,s'W` ruof ,s'v` ruof ,s'u` thgie-ytnewt ,s't` xis ytneves ,s's` ruof-ythgie ,s'r` owt-ytrof ,s'q` ruof ,s'p` ruof ,s'o` ruof-ytrof ,s'n` owt-ytriht ,s'm` ruof ,s'l` xis ,s'i` thgie-ytrof ,s'h` ytriht ,s'g` neetxis ,s'f` thgie-ytriht ,s'e` owt-ytfif ,s'd` net ,s'c` thgie ,s'a` net nwod etirW *

This is simply amazing! I wonder if it's possible to construct such a sentence in other languages too. I guess I really sound like a geek.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Great Book

When I first started reading the Wisdoms of the Crowd, I thought, here we go again -- yet another book, like Blinks or The Tipping Point, about some interesting phenomenon, but one that does warrant an entire book! But this book was different. It covered more concepts and theory. It talks about how a crowd can make better decisions than very smart individuals and talks about lots of situations and applications (stock market, traffic, sports, scientific community, corporations, government, etc). The book is really interesting and it's probably one of the best books I've read in a couple of years. I'm not going to write details as there are already a ton of reviews on the web.

To find out what I really think about Blinks, read this funny blog.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Interesting News

Read about my little Googlewhack Adventure on our official team blog.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

OMG! I can't believe my eyes

I was catching up on my Bloglines account today and noticed a post by Adam Bosworth. This BBC article is unbelievable.

Millions of Americans, most of them supporters of the Republican party, believe that the world was created only a few thousand years ago as per the account in Genesis and the dinosaurs can only date from then, so the Tyrannosaurus Rex romped around with Adam and Eve.


But evangelical Christians, operating inside the Republican party ... are campaigning, for instance, to tell visitors to the Grand Canyon that this wondrous sight is not millions of years old, which it is.

I've heard such nonsense before. And that's why we left and moved here. Isn't it ironic?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Too much work, but still having fun

It's been a long time. Instead of giving excuses about why I've not had time, I'll just share some interesting things. Recently, I've started going through Hoftadter's Metamagical Themes. Honestly, it's not as good as his classic GED but it's a lot of fun nonetheless. Here is one of my favorite self-referential sentences mentioned in the book:

There are thrree errors in thiss sentence.

Do you see the third error? I also really liked the chapters on Lisp. For those of you who haven't seen GED, take a look at the figure on this page.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Zip Code boundaries on Maps

This is one of those addictive, yet mostly useless tools around the Internet. But I love it.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

LOL at the Comedy Show

We went to see Russell Peters this Saturday. His show was a lot better than his videos on the web. I used Google Video and found this, these and even more for those of you who have never heard of him (btw, what I love about Google Video is that you can just watch the video from inside your browser on any Operating System and Browser).

I also really like one of the guys who opened up for him. Being half Indian and half Japanese, people tell him "oh, I guess that means you're half Asian".

Despite sitting in the front row, sadly, none of them picked on us.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The big Google and NASA announcement

I always had a thing for working with NASA. In fact, I worked on a project for NASA during my undergraduate days where I converted parts of their Four-Dimensional Data Assimilation system to run on the good old IBM SP2 MIMD supercomputers (the fastest supercomputer at the time).

Now, I might just get my chance to work with them again on solving some interesting problems. Read the press release for details (see related news and blogs).

Most people thought we were kidding with the idea of opening the LunarPlex. But with Vint Cerf now at Google (he's the co-inventor of TCP/IP, the Internet, and the spec on *interplanetary* TCP/IP), I think we're going to take NASA's offer for a Journey into Space. I just love working here. For now, you can checkout Google Moon.

Center of Tech World?

I spent all of last week in the Bay Area. I took the CalTrain to work on one of the days. After getting off in Mountain View, I saw a long list of bus shuttles to take passengers from the station to various companies. Google, Yahoo, Apple, and Microsoft all had a shuttle bus. Wow, now that feels like the center of the world!

I also spent a couple of nights at Hotel Avante. What I really like about this place is that they leave a puzzle on your bed as part of the nightly turn-down service. However, this time I noticed that the puzzle was very similar to something that I ask interview candidates! I guess it's time to expire that question.

Finally, Sacca summarizes what I hate about voice mail: Voicemail is so broken. Until someone can really make it easy for me to extract a number from a voicemail, file the message away for later, label it, quickly find it again, search over it, forward it, reply at my convenience, etc etc, I am going to stick to email. It takes some time to get used to the blinking red light on my phone. But anything is better than going through those painful menus.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A child in povery dies every three seconds

I can't believe my eyes when reading this article (see more). OFCOM, the British FCC, recently banned The Make Poverty History awareness advertisement in which the likes of rock star Bono and model Claudia Schiffer snap their fingers every three seconds, symbolising how often a child dies as a result of poverty somewhere in the world. This is sad. BTW, if you have not heard of the Make Poverty History, they are mostly known for their multi-day concerts where they help raise money for this good cause.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Yahoo Music Engine vs iTunes

I signed up for the Yahoo Music Service. Here are the pros and cons as I see it compared to iTunes:

  • $60/year for unlimited access to 1M songs.
  • Better than expected selection (lots of latin/trance, but so so on the international side)
  • Netflix-like collaborative filtering lets you quickly find similar artists, create playlists, etc. You can also have your suggestions be influenced by friends.
  • .79 a song for MP3s (iTunes is .99)
  • iPod does not play WMA -- enough said!
  • Buggy Client
    • I had several crashes today
    • Sometimes it forgets that I'm a paid customer and only plays 30s
    • It does not automatically retry failed downloads
  • I really wish they had a Google-like 'do you mean ...?' when I mispell. Please don't make me spell correctly.
  • Bad search UI. It forces me to do query-by-example searches (i.e. by artist, title, etc) instead of flexible keyword searches. And it would be killer to have lyrics search.
  • No client for my Powerbook
  • iTunes is a sexier app
If Apple had the same subscription style service, I'd be willing to pay 2-3x Yahoo just to listen to everything on an iPod. But for now, I have decided to listen to the WMA's when I'm around a computer with broadband, which nearly most of the time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Google Talk and Federation

Since launching Google Talk last week, a lot of people on slashdot and the blogsphere are wondering when and if we will support server-to-server federation. Gary Burd has already posted a comment about this on the Jabber developer (JDev) mailing list. Also Joe Beda has written a blog post about this.

We love being open, but we decided to be Googley and ship what we have to get feedback from users and the community. Rest assured that we are working hard on this and other things. Keep the feedback coming.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Source for Inspiration

Before moving to Seattle, I was lucky enough to be involved with the Quest Scholars program. Recently I heard from a friend whom I had mentored back in 2003. He just finished up his first year at Stanford and during the past year, he started two non-profit foundations. One focuses on tutoring students in East Palo Alto and exposing them to science and technology by doing cool projects with them.

He also started another foundation called Ashager. It's aimed at addressing the third-world healthcare crisis starting in Ethiopia where 1 doctor has to care for over 70,000 patients in rural areas. The nurse situation is only slightly better, 1 nurse takes care of about 30,000 patients. So Michael and two of his friends studied this problem and realized that they can help. So they've started this foundation that seeks to address these issues by diffusing resources from US Medical Schools to these Hospitals and Clinics, hopefully expanding to other countries when this is firmly established.

When I was in school, I knew freshmen who were always partying, drunk, etc. I also knew people who were the paranoid pre-med or pre-* who were really focused on grades and being a president of a club in order to build the perfect application or resume. And the rest were usually somewhere in between. I think what Michael has started doing is very inspiring.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Google Talk is Live

We just released Google Talk! I think the name speaks for itself, but it lets you IM and call your friends.

It's also based on an open standard called XMPP so it already works with iChat, Trillian, Gaim, etc. We're also committed to federation with other networks. IM should be open like Email and the Web where users have a choice of provider, operating system, and browser/client.

It's also been a lot of fun to work on something that impacts me personally given all the international phones calls that I make. :)

Your can read more by going to Google News.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Sweatshop Factories

On several occasions, I have tried to stop buying clothes made in sweat shops because of how the workers are treated. But it’s really just impossible given how prevalent the practice has become. Despite understanding that some of the workers, sadly, are choosing between working in horrible conditions versus possibly having no income, it still hurts me to know how little of the price tag actually goes to the factory workers. I have a solution that I think will help all parties: the buyers, the workers and even the corporations. How about charging a little extra per item and give that directly to the workers? Maybe they can even ask for extra donation at the store. I think putting a special label on a pair of shoes that says “$1 from the $90 from these running shoes will go to the worker in Malaysia” will attract buyers. I know a lot of people who feel like I do and would actually do more shopping from a store that does this. I really think this would be a competitive advantage. But maybe people shopping after a long day of work at banana republic would rather not think about the reality of how the clothes are manufactured. But I can sleep better knowing that I was able to significantly help someone half way around the world (see my earlier post about how most of the world’s population earns less than $2/day).

Housing Bubble

I read about a psychological experiment where subjects traded cards with numbers on them, and price bubbles were always formed. We all learned the hard way a few years ago that bubbles are followed by big crashes. Since the dot-com crash and 9/11, low interest rates motivated most investors to go into real-estate and the frenzy got started. I even know someone who bought a house quickly right before getting laid off to take advantage of home equity loans. And in the one year that he was unemployed, he lived happily off the appreciation on his house.

However, some recent stats indicate that we’re in a bubble. The ratio of house price to rent (the most similar metric to a stock’s PE ratio) has increased significantly. People are literally using their house as an ATM machine to take out loans. On average, people in the Bay Area only own about 8% of their houses. New mortgage instruments allow buyers to only pay the interest on the loan and buy houses not commensurate with their salaries. The old rules of 20% down and total house payments being between a quarter to a third of income are completely ignored.

Has crashes happened before? Yes. Look at Japan. Prices there now are below what they were in the early 90’s. This has also happened in LA after the cold war ended where some people literally drove to the bank to return the keys to their house since the remaining mortgage payment was significantly more than the value of the house. It took 8 years for the market in LA to recover. Bubbles always burst for a reason. What will be the needle this time?

My prediction is based on the interaction between national and regional economies. At some point, the US economy as a whole will start to grow and enter an inflationary cycle. At that time, the interest rates (which are tied to the national economy) will rise. The regions behind the national growth will see a disaster as their local unemployment rates, salaries, and GDP growth do not warrant the nation-wide higher interest rates. So buying a house today is taking a bet that your city will do better than the nation in next few years. And this is why I’m scared about the rapid price increase in areas that are dependent on the ‘old’ economy.

There is another alternative. As people prosper from the current boom, enough money can be pumped back to the economy to improve things enough to justify the boom. It’s an interesting phenomenon. I read an article recently that the improvements in the job market in Seattle for the past year have primarily been because of the booming housing market. But I am going to continue to enjoy the no-hassle life of renting. When a light bulb dies in my place, I send an email and it’s taken care of. I love it.