2011 Summary

2011 was a rather exciting year for me, although from my posts (or lack of it), you wouldn’t have guessed that.

I had the honor of my cousin (who is a Priest-Monk) visit me early on in the year and we made a trip to Universal Studios and NASA. Towards the end of January, I started preparing for the Gasparilla 5K run which motivated me enough to run 3 days a week for 5 weeks and I managed to finish the 5K in just under 24 minutes (when I started, I took 30 mins). I also managed to cut off 10-12 pounds. After the first couple of weeks, I calculated, I would lose way more weight and finish the 5K in 20 mins but it obviously got harder to lose weight and shave time off my runs. Runkeeper was an excellent motivator and I had the awesome FeatherSound loop which was a little short of 5K. My running reduced to once a week and became non-existent a few weeks later.

After that, my parents and my in-laws visited us around my son’s second birthday and we made a road-trip to Tennessee and had a blast white water-rafting. My mom also joined us and that was her favorite part. We visited the Coke museum in Atlanta and saw the Stone Mountain in Georgia. I forgot to visit a Trader Joe’s in Georgia though since I wanted her to taste Mochi Ice Cream for a long time and I hadn’t ever found it in Florida.

After we got back, we went on a cruise to the Bahamas with my parents and it was a very relaxing trip with a lot of eating. We all got tanned (not that we needed it) and my parents left for India soon after.

In June, my wife and son left for India to prepare for my sister-in-law’s wedding and I headed to Palo Alto and stayed with my best friend. It was a fun trip and it was like living in a college dorm with 2 other guys… err.. geeks.

I got a great job opportunity while in California and accepted it. At the time, it was a tough decision to make since we would have to leave all the friends we made, move across the country and leave a great job. Anyway, I gave my notice and headed to India for my sister-in-law’s wedding. The wedding was beautiful and very well-planned. Most people who saw pictures weren’t sure if the wedding was held in the US or in India. Kudos to my sister-in-law for the months spent planning it. I had to cut my trip short and leave after the wedding to help transition my role.

After returning, time just flew by and my wife came back as scheduled, we spent time packing and getting rid of stuff. It is crazy how much you can accumulate over the years. The good thing with a move, is that it gives you motivation to get rid of a lot of it (though not enough).

I started my job at eBay in mid-September and we stayed in San Francisco for the first month and although it was a great experience, the daily commute of ~1 hour was a killer especially since I didn’t have much time left at the end of the day to do any additional reading. After days of house-hunting, my wife finally found the semi-perfect spot for us which resulted in a 10-minute commute (against the traffic). We are so much closer to a lot of places, compared to our Florida house and despite the gas prices here being higher, our fuel expenses work out to be about the same.

We got to see the Fleet Week air show with a great view and also explored San Francisco and discovered Mama’s breakfast joint (my mouth waters when I think of it). There is so much to do in California and besides loving the weather, I also love the views of mountains in the background after having spent years seeing the flat lands in Florida (although I sort of miss the (warmer) beaches).

We also visited a couple of museums, thanks to Bank of America’s Museum Sponsorship. In December, we made a trip to Monterey Bay and the surrounding areas for our anniversary + Christmas weekend. My wife had looked forward to the US-1 drive and it was as beautiful as expected. We visited the Pfeiffer Beach, McWay falls, Big Sur, Carmel-by-the-Sea and did the 17-mile drive. Needless to say, 2011 was an expensive year.

As for my job, I love it and have some awesome and really smart co-workers and we have a lot of fun (which may or may not involve drinking). We get to use a lot of technologies which was quite overwhelming initially, but an engineer’s dream. Anyways, I better stop now… gotta get some rest before our work trip to Tahoe next weekend…

Why I love Apple products

I’ve been a Mac user since 2007 and since then I’ve become somewhat of a Apple fanboy. I was first impressed with the MacBookPro’s (MBP) sleeping indicator, the casing, the magnetic power cord and just about every little feature that I wouldn’t have considered to be important prior to the switch from PCs. Seriously, every one of my past laptops external casing has formed a crack or become creaky but the MBP’s physical condition after 3 years was better than my earlier laptop conditions after 1.5 years. Granted, progress was bound to happen and the earlier plastic Macbook’s have had casing issues. I am still surprised to see Dell has plastic-like casings and are quite bulky.

I am on my second MBP now (unibody) and in terms of TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), I think the MBP works out to be cheaper than a PC. People often crib about having to pay twice the amount for a glorified machine but considering that I only used a $1200 Win Laptop for 2 years versus a $1800 Mac laptop for 3 years — the cost of ownership works out to be about the same. In terms of satisfaction, I have been more satisfied with Macs since I could still push myself to use the MBP for another couple of months whereas I was ready to throw the Win Laptop out of the window, months before the 2 years was up. Also, the ability to run Windows (via Bootcamp or via VM) along with Mac is like getting two laptops for the price of one.

Anyway, I just got back from a vacation to India and I found my old iPod Nano (which I thought I had lost) after 2 years. Here is what amazed me – I pressed the Menu button and the damn thing turned on. Correction – it didn’t just turn on, it had about 75% battery left on it. After 2 years! Let me add to that – this iPod was stored in a cupboard in a room that is not air-conditioned. Normally, heat kills off battery life/battery power (at least that’s what I’ve read). I was blown away by the fact that this iPod maintained its battery life in the heat over such a long period. Hats off to Apple! I really dont think they had emulated this test in the factories or QA department. Along with the iPod Nano, I also found my MBP remote for my first MBP and figured this thing was surely dead. But lo and behold, it worked instantly with my new MBP. No configuration needed. I am not entirely sure if that is a good thing since I could go around opening iTunes on other MBPs if I wanted to play practical jokes.

After suffering through poor battery life and months of waiting for the Android Gingerbread update to come to Samsung Galaxy S in the U.S. (which is supposed to improve the battery life), I think I am ready to switch to an iPhone – and possibly the cheaply priced iPhone 5. I kid you not, I have probably Google’d “samsung vibrant gingerbread update” at least 4 times per week over the last few months to see when an update will be released. Hopefully, Google’s purchase of Motorola will result in better hardware and quicker firmware updates.

I would also like to give a virtual shout out to Steve Jobs who just retired for being the hard-ass that he was at Apple and giving us great products. His timing on leaving when Apple was at the very top was also brilliant. If he waited for a slump, the stock would have taken a bigger hit but as always

You may also be interested in the following links:
TED Talk: Simon Sinek – How Great Leaders Inspire Action
Mac convert’s first impressions

Testing sites prior to DNS transfer

My favorite method to test a site prior to changing the DNS (to point to the new IP address) is to edit one’s own local hosts file. The hosts file is usually located in C:\windows\system32\drivers\etc\hosts (Open with notepad) or /etc/hosts (on OSX and probably *nix). The only thing to keep in mind is to remember to change the setting back later so you dont accidentally make changes on the new server thinking it is the old server or vice versa. The hosts file will be used over the DNS server to map a domain to an IP.

Below is the format of the hosts file with the IP address first followed by the domain/subdomain. You may need to enter both the www and non-www versions depending on your site

#you can comment out entries with the pound sign
127.0.0.1 localhost #this entry should be there by default and is the reason why http://localhost points to http://127.0.0.1

123.10.11.123 www.actualsite.com
65.32.5.74 www.anothersite.com
65.32.5.74 anothersite.com
#8.8.8.8 www.tested.com

Another pro-tip is to display a “fixed” bar at the bottom of the screen to identify that you are on the new server.
Below is a snippet of CSS to display the fixed bar at the bottom of the screen along with an IE6 (now deprecated and appreciated by developers world-wide) hack. You just need to add a div with the id “dev-footer” and put a message in there.


#dev-footer{
position:fixed;
left:0px;
bottom:0px;
height:20px;
width:100%;
background:#990000;
margin:0 auto;
text-align:center;
font-weight:bold;
color:white;
z-index: 9999;
font-size: 1.2em;
padding-top: 2px;
}
/* IE6 */
* html #dev-footer{
position:absolute;
top:expression((0-(footer.offsetHeight)+(document.documentElement.clientHeight ? document.documentElement.clientHeight : document.body.clientHeight)+(ignoreMe = document.documentElement.scrollTop ? document.documentElement.scrollTop : document.body.scrollTop))+'px');
}

While we are talking about the hosts file, I should also recommend the LocalGhost software for Macs if you do local development with multiple sites. It is free (and open-source), stays in your MenuBar and allows you to add local host entries if you do local development and add the virtual hosts to your Apache httpd.conf file. You can check and un-check domains to take effect (or not) while you develop. So, I normally use the www.actualsite.com for my local development and when I want to test on the live server, I can just uncheck it from the menubar. It’s probably easier if you take my word for it and try this tool than my verbal explanation.

To www or not to www – update

I had posted earlier about whether it was better to use www or not to use www as a prefix to your domain. My conclusion back then was to go without www as I have done on my website. However, I have been reading more about performance improvements for websites and recently came across this nugget from Yahoo (which has some excellent documentation with regards to optimal performance – that ties to their YSlow extension for Firefox).

Another benefit of hosting static components on a cookie-free domain is that some proxies might refuse to cache the components that are requested with cookies. On a related note, if you wonder if you should use example.org or www.example.org for your home page, consider the cookie impact. Omitting www leaves you no choice but to write cookies to *.example.org, so for performance reasons it’s best to use the www subdomain and write the cookies to that subdomain.

via http://developer.yahoo.com/performance/rules.html

I have often wanted to use a static sub-domain for our client sites (to increase the number of parallel requests) but the addition of having it be a cookie-less domain seems even more appealing and as the quote above describes – it is probably better to go with a www domain to avoid having a static subdomain pass cookies – if you have a large site. If you have a smaller site, you can still safely go without “www” as is the case with my site. But if your site ever grows, it could be a problem.

The one advice I wish I got earlier in life…

… “DON’T TRY TO BEAT THE STOCK MARKET“.

This advice has been out there for a long time but I am one of those people who don’t learn except through experience. Rest assured, my son hopefully won’t repeat my mistakes and will take my word for it. I have been burned by investing in stocks and have been pretty dormant this year (and still managed to lose money). When people have asked me for advice on how to advice my reply has been to short every stock I go long on and they would have done pretty well for themselves. In some ways, I am glad I learned this lesson (relatively) early in my life.

When I first started investing, I did decently and made small profits and thought I was really good at it (look out for this and understand that you are not really good at it and you just got lucky). So, I put in more money and invested and did decently until I tried digging into options (greed) and lost significant amounts of money overnight (thanks Dendreon). After this depressing incident, I still didn’t lose faith (guess it takes quite a bit of experience for me to learn my lesson) and invested in other stocks and options and continued to lose money. Tax filing season is when I am forced to face reality and remember how much I have lost – but I still tried to see the positive side of it through tax deductions (although that is limited to $3,000 loss an year).

Over the past year, I decided “CASH is KING” and remained pretty dormant on the stock front and still managed to lose money. Over the past week, I have read some interesting articles in support of investing in index funds and I plan to do that in 2011. I am just going to go with some low expense ratio Vanguard funds and probably do 60% in equities and 40% in bonds. I will probably keep my current balance in the stock market and play with it and consider it “sunk” for all financial purposes (and satisfy the little devil on my left shoulder). Hopefully, I won’t do as badly. As the first linked article notes, just be consistent and stick with it so that you don’t miss the “10 best days” of trades as that can make all the difference. I am quite pleasantly surprised with the simplistic and useful information displayed in Sharebuilder‘s Mutual Fund screeners.

Hope this helps someone (or at least my son) someday.

P.S. I should mention that if I held every single stock I lost money in till today, I would have made some money but hindsight is always 20/20 and holding Options is not an option.

 

tldr; Screw yahoo, screw starbucks, screw microsoft, screw dendreon, screw chipotle and screw all the other screwy stocks  you get screwed on… just go with a low expense ration index fund to minimize your chance of getting screwed.

Privacy vs Piracy

Piracy


The recent debacle over the iPhone 4G leak and Gizmodo’s attempt to capitalize was on every tech news section the past couple of weeks. As you may have read, Gizmodo’s Editor Jason Chen’s house was raided and his computer equipment was seized. While, I think Gizmodo stunts were cheap and their website should get defaced (online equivalent of a punch in the face), I agree with Michael Malone’s opinion that big companies are almost totalitarian.

Despite the phone being returned and the possibility that Jason Chen could have been protected by the Shield Law, such brute force seems excessive. At first, I brushed it off since the scum got what the scum deserved. But if such incidents happen without much criticism or backlash, I fear the day when normal citizens get arrested for breaking “Terms & Conditions” or other Software license agreements.

Consider the possibility that your 12-year old son finds a copy of a pirated software on the Internet and installs it. Somewhere in the legal fine print, it states that "... you agree that you have purchased this software legally and if pirated, we warrant the ability to track you and punish you to the fullest extent of the law." Being an impatient 12-year old, your son ignores all 5000 words of the fine print and upon the first launch, the software company gets notified along with the user’s IP address that the serial number registered is a pirated version. The software company will promptly figure out the address based on the IP and arrest you, the parent (since the child is protected because of his age and it was the parent’s responsibility to monitor the child), who had no knowledge of this install. Or your computer gets seized and the cops discover the illegal music you downloaded years back and the software company sets the dogs err.. record companies go after you.

If incidents like Jason Chen’s home raid are ignored, this future will not be far… so Internet beware.

Social Media Benefits For Companies / Corporations

Social media is now an integral part of every company and brand. It is vital for companies to have an official Twitter account – whether it is a 1 person company or an extremely large company.

Zappos (now part of Amazon) is renowned for their customer service and their Twitter account is used by Customer Service Reps to quickly address questions and more often to receive compliments. This publicity is priceless! It gives social proof to potential customers and helps build Brand Equity.

Also, with Google search including the latest “tweets”, imagine a person who searches for Zappos and sees a tweet saying “Thanks for the expedited shipment @Zappos_Service“. I’ll bet that the CTR and the probability that the customer making a purchase is quite high.

When searching for web hosting services last year (2009), I looked at some of the web hosts Twitter accounts, asked questions, looked at their answers to other Twitter-ers and could instantly tell who were the most responsive and how effective their answers were. This and other reviews I read encouraged me to go with DreamHost and I often plug DreamHost in my tweets, like when I found I could set up Git, when I found out that they upgraded the Git to 1.7 (when my laptop still had Git v1.66) and when I am all round just happy with their service. In full disclosure, I just discovered today that I won a contest Dreamhost held where you had to tweet #Dreamhost and although I only tweeted about them once in the whole month they ran the contest, I won. And I NEVER win anything! EVER!
[I have to admit, I asked a friend to buy me not 1 but 2 lottery tickets today] Anyway, my point is that with users Tweeting the hash tag #Dreamhost it gets picked up as a Trending topic which is visible to users on Twitter as well as other sites that pick up the Trending topics. So, this is a great method to acquire new customers who will search for “Dreamhost” and see that people are happy with their service.

As an aside, I usually shop around every year for a new web hosting service and have tried everything from BlueHost to GoDaddy to 1and1 and some other crappy hosts and DreamHost is the first one that I have been delighted with and have decided to stick with (before I found out that I won the contest). Now that I won this contest, I feel even more obliged to stick with these guys. Thanks Dreamhost!

Another advantage of having a social media presence for consumers is that instead of having to dread at the thought of being on hold for half an hour before you can complain about a company or service, you can just tweet it (which takes all of 30 seconds and 1 minute if you try to fit it perfectly in the 140 character limit) and there is a good chance that the company will respond to you pretty soon but you didn’t waste the 29 minutes in trying to get a hold of someone or trying to find the right contact’s email address.
The advantage for the company is that they are held publicly accountable and when they respond, there is a good chance that your issue will be resolved and you will feel better and instead of complaining to others, you will praise their Twitter-ing CSRs and their service. As a consumer, I can attest to how responsive companies are – even big banks like Bank of America who quickly responded to some of my concerns with their HSA division.

Facebook on the other hand is not as helpful for companies with Social Media unless you are a “cool” brand that someone wants to be associated with. Think “Axe” but not “Tide”. Or “Apple” but not your grocery store – unless you are a “Whole Foods” fanatic.

The final advantage of a Social Media outlet is that users who are not tech-savvy enough to subscribe to your RSS feed have no difficulty in “Follow”ing your Twitter account which essentially replaces the need for an RSS feed. Said companies, should also “Follow” back the customers who tweet them or add them as a friend since it gives the impression of a real person who cares enough to follow them and not a company drone behind the Twitter account. You don’t need to read any of their tweets but just be sure to respond to their tweets in a timely manner. And please don’t over-tweet – or at least try to keep it to 5 tweets a day or risk being noise.

If you liked this post, you should follow me on Twitter. I dont over post.

How (not) to send Spam

A few weeks back, I got an interesting “spam” mail, see the screenshot and email text below.

Here is the email:

Hey,

The reason that I am emailing you is because the company that I work for is looking for people in or around Clearwater who would be interested in making a little extra income, working out of their home. We don’t require any selling, nor any phone calling; everything is done entirely online, and you will be paid within 15 days. You can do this either part-time or full-time – it’s entirely up to you.

We do not require that you have any prior experience; no educational or special skills are required, as we provide all training.

We actually prefer working with people online, because our experience has shown us that you guys are computer proficient, and are just, overall, easier to work with.

I don’t want to rush you into making a decision, but this same offer is going out to all people that I could find in Clearwater, and we only need a certain number of people.

So, if this sounds like something you might be interested in, you can check out our website right here, and I hope that you choose to apply.

Thanks for your time,

Human Resources
HJB Placement Inc.

A lot of the details are accurate and the blacked-out address is an accurate address of an office I know but the IP address that it claims that I registered with is a Local IP address (in the form of 192.168.XXX.XXX) which cannot be revealed to a website. I am very curious as to how this email was leaked and the only possibility I can think of is that one of the old PC’s at this office was picked up by some spammer company and my email + info was sold to them. The date in the image is a little suspect as well.

Has anyone else ever encountered this? The link in the email points to breakfm.com which by itself does not load but http://www.breakfm.com/203.php?zach_fluid@hotmail.com works and redirects you to http://www.ivanblogsecrets.com/campaigns/rgah/IF_1_new.php?linkid=425452&subid=110890. (Sorry, I am not linking to the actual links as I dont want to give them any link juice.)

Anyway, marketing companies – if you are doing this, please STOP! It is down-right creepy to display that you have so much information about a user (even if you do). This appears to be more of a high-level phishing attempt than a marketing pitch.

Google wants you to speak in Third person

Third Person speak

You have probably come across several web sites where the owners / authors / companies refer to themselves in third person. While it seems odd, Google and other search engines require this.
Yes, it is an unofficial rule of SEO.

Consider the following example:
Back in the pre-SEO days, we used to link articles like this:
If you want to learn more about me, click here.

The previous method is detested now and below is the recommended method: Learn more about Eapen. (instead of Learn more about me).

This is important because, Search Engines identify the words you have used to link to an article or page and figures that the context is linked and therefore it is highly relevant to the page you have linked to. So, linking the word “here” or the word “me” does not benefit you or the search engine but linking “Eapen” lets the search engine know that if someone searches for Eapen, the “about” page link is relevant. Of course, “here” and “me” is also considered relevant by the search engines (but for all I know Google has exceptions built in to disregard these older conventions) but not by humans.

So, it is highly recommended that you re-word your pages and articles in third person and don’t consider someone to be conceited just because they refer to themselves in third person on their website (including me).

Location-as-platform is still too early

With a lot of location-as-platform services available like Foursquare and the geo-tagging ability in Twitter, I still think it is too early to succeed.

While these are great features and easily feasible with smart phones like the iPhone and Android devices – the biggest issue I see is the battery life of these phones. If I leave the GPS and Bluetooth services “on”, the battery life goes down to about 60% (no statistical backup to this amount) of what it was. So, I only turn on these services as I need them so I don’t run out of battery when I really need it. When batteries increase their life and the GPS sensors consume less power – then the potential of users leaving these services on increases and gives more potential to these location based services. And I don’t see the battery-life equation being solved for a couple of years.

Living in the TampaBay area which is not as “location” friendly as San Francisco for these kind of early-adopter services, I don’t expect any of my friends to use services like FourSquare and it doesn’t return any results for a “Tampa” search either. Twitter on the other hand would be more feasible for such a solution but I am not (yet) a Twitter addict who has to keep checking my updates on my phone.

In my opinion, Facebook has the greatest potential to utilize such a service. In the days when (1) battery life is better, (2) the iPhone can run applications in the background, (3) Facebook develops an application that tracks user’s locations and (4) smartly notifies users when their friends are around – the location-as-platform service will bear fruit.

A lot of users, including myself, have privacy concerns and I wouldn’t want Facebook advertising where I am and where I go all the time.

This is the scenario of how I see it work
  • A user creates a Facebook event like “Gasparilla Parade 2012″ and tags the location in the event.
  • Regardless of whether I accept the invitation or not, the Facebook application would run in the background and figure out if I am in the area.
    If I am in the area, it would prompt me whether I want to advertise my location for the “next X hours”.
  • Same thing would happen with other users or even for users who have not been invited to such an event but if Facebook realizes that more than 2 friends are in the area, it would prompt them to advertise their location.
  • Our phones would then alert us if there are friends in the area and we can meet each other and also manage to find each other on a street-level map because the noise would prevent us from being able to converse over the phone.


But knowing Facebook, they would probably start off this way and then Mark Zuckerberg would decide that it would advertise all the locations a person went to, all the stores they visited, the types of bars they frequented, the types of communal worship places they visited and would sell that information to advertisers and invade your privacy in every conceivable way. Honestly, I wouldn’t want my location to be advertised to everyone on Facebook who is sitting at home but only to users in the area of interest and without such fine-grained controls, I am not sure how effective this strategy would be.

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