January 27, 2012

Quotes from “I’m Feeling Lucky”

Some quotes from Douglas Adams’ I’m Feeling Lucky:
  • But you couldn’t work at Google without learning something new every day, even if you weren’t trying to.
  • Efficiency, I would learn very quickly, is valued highly among those who live to make things work better.
  • Among certain sets in Silicon Valley, your email address indicates more about you than the car you drive or the clothes you wear.
  • Larry and Sergey didn’t like renting intelligence when they could buy it.  There are only so many really smart people in the world.  Why not collect them all?
  • If search engines were faster and better, they could be integrated into your thought process.
  • “If we can’t win on quality,” [Larry] said quietly, “we shouldn’t win at all.”
  • Legend has it that Google grew entirely by word of mouth.  That’s not quite true.  We didn’t mind running online ads; we just didn’t want to pay for them.
  • Insecurity was a game all Googlers could play, especially about intellectual inferiority.  Everyone but a handful felt they were bringing down the curve.
  • Things could always be more efficient and cost less, in either time or money.
  • Google did that to you—made you challenge all your assumptions and experience-based beliefs until you began to wonder if up was really up, or if it might not actually be a different kind of down.
  • I needed to stop saying “Here’s my concern,” and start saying “Here’s what you need to do to make that happen.”
  • “You have to say both emotionally and intellectually, ‘I can only work so many hours.  The best I can do is make good use of these hours and prioritize the right way so I spend my time on the things that are most important.’  Then if I see something below the line that is broken and I can fix it, it’s important not to try to fix it.  Because you’re going to hurt yourself.  Either personally—because you add another hour and that’s not sustainable—or you’re going to hurt something that’s above the line that’s not getting the hours that it should.”
  • “Any technology can do a good job with a hundred thousand queries a day.  It’s a lot harder to do it with a hundred million.”
  • Google’s founders believed down to their DNA that simplicity was a benefit.
  • Neither Larry nor Sergey had been to business school or run a large corporation, but Larry had studied more than two hundred business books to prepare for his role running Google as a competitive entity.  He trusted his own synthesis of what he had read as much as anything he might have picked up in a classroom.
  • “It’s not an engineering personality to keep quiet when you feel things are going wrong... and being intimidated by people is not very productive.”
  • “Google engineers were so strong-willed,” [said] Matt Cutts, “that sometimes if we thought that Larry and Sergey were wrong, we just ignored them.”
  • “We can keep on discussing this for a long time and try to get agreement or we can just go ahead and do at least the part we know.”
  • “Once you start to see spam, the curse is, you’ll see it everywhere.”
  • “One thing I learned at Google,” [Matt Cutts] said to me, “is that you make your own cred.  If you propose your own initiative, you’re much more likely to do it than if you sit around and wait for someone to say, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’”
  • Any time you have that rate of growth, you basically have to make software improvements continuously because you can’t get the hardware deployed fast enough.
  • That’s the best definition of success: if a new system comes out and everyone says, ‘Wow, I can’t believe we put up with the old thing because it was so primitive and limited compared to this.’
  • ‘An order of magnitude is qualitative, not quantitative.’  When you go up by an order of magnitude, the problem is different enough that it demands different solutions.  It’s discontinuous.
  • Engineering lives and dies by its tradeoffs.
  • I was admitting I couldn’t get something done.  At Google, that was not a career-enhancing move.
  • “Don’t let anything hold you up for eventual delivery,” Cindy wrote in my six-month review.  “Figure out the fastest way to get it done.  And don’t let your signature high standards slip!”
  • Larry was so suffused with conviction that he simply brushed aside opposition and ran toward risk without fear or hesitation.
  • It’s hard to accept that everything you know is wrong, or at least needs to be proved right all over again.  [This is Douglas’ reaction when all of his experience seemed useless and/or rejected at Google.]
  • Search is cheap only when done right.
  • “What matters is whether we’re doing the right thing, and if people don’t understand that now, they will eventually come to understand it.”
  • Marissa’s desire to “fix things” as soon as they came to her attention was a common impulse among engineers.
  • We were the yin and the yang: marketing and engineering, glibness and geekspeak, a gracefully arcing comma in a classic Garamond font complementing a rigidly vertical apostrophe in fixed-pitch ASCII.
  • Product management gave [Marissa Mayer] a far wider playing field than she ever would have had as an individual contributor in engineering.
  • I was concerned about becoming “the guy who was always concerned,”
  • Larry and Sergey’s most sacrosanct commandment: Get it done on time.
  • Obvious solutions are not the only ones and “safe” choices aren’t always good choices.
  • Two smart guys working on complex technical problems, it turns out, can accomplish a hell of a lot.
  • Larry never wanted to give people more information than he thought it was useful for them to have.
  • We’re Google!  Let’s be outrageous and daring and have some fun.
  • It was our goal to make ads so useful that people would actually go out of their way to click them, even knowing that they were ads and not search results.
  • “Any chart that goes up and to the right is good,” [Eric Schmidt] assured us.
  • “You can’t get up and be an asshole about being smart,” Paul [Buchheit] explained, “because Jeff’s smarter than you and he’s not an asshole.”
  • But at Google the status quo was nothing more than an inconvenience to be improved upon as time allowed.
  • Scaling by adding staff instead of algorithms and hardware would be a mistake.
  • “Don’t be evil” is not the same as “Don’t consider, test, and evaluate evil.”
  • You need to understand how Google works.  We don’t have senior VPs.  We have Larry and Sergey and everybody else.  [This was during Doug’s time, of course.  Now Google has VPs.]
  • “We agreed not to do this,” [Marissa Mayer] insisted.  “And you went off and did it anyway.”
    “I don’t remember ever agreeing to that,” Paul [Buchheit] replied.  “Maybe you said not to, but I never agreed to anything.  I’m not really that agreeable a person that I would ever agree not to do something.”  [The conversation is about targeting ads based on email contents in Gmail.]
  • Experiencing something is much more powerful than just talking about it.
  • “Ultimately,” Paul [Buchheit] said, “that’s a really big advantage or liability for a project.  What Larry thinks of the people involved.”

January 26, 2012

My experience with ‘meditation’

The first time ever I even heard of the name of Osho was when I saw this book called “மனதின் இயல்பும் அதைக்கடந்த நிலைகளும்” (The nature of mind and going beyond it).  This was almost 10 years ago.  The title was interesting, and so was the preface.  I immediately decided to buy it.  Soon after, I was known as an “Osho fan” among my friends, and I managed to read several books of his.

Soon I realised something: irrespective of how many ever books I read, I know what Osho is going to say: “mediate”.  That’s his primary (and arguably only) advice to people.  I tried sitting with my eyes closed and watching my mind.  It wasn’t easy... I just couldn’t stop the wandering mind.  As a believer of “if it’s too hard, you’re doing it wrong” theory, I stopped trying.  Though the desire to experience mediation never died down in me.

One thing Osho often repeats is “When I am pointing at the moon, don’t look at my fingers.  You’ll then mistake the pointing finger for the moon.”  I thought to myself that sitting with your eyes closed cannot be the only form of meditation.  I’ll find my own way... I’ll discover the meditation that works for me.
•••
In the last two years, I have been catching myself doing stupid things.  Being angry with people who are helping me.  Expecting a fight and arguing with someone in my mind.  Thinking about some pointless loss and worrying about it for no reason.  And more stupid things like these.  Good thing is, once you have seen this stupidity, it’s easy to get rid of them.  This was probably the beginning of bringing in more consciousness into my day-to-day life.

Last week I happened to listen to a neuroscience professor’s lecture.  He was talking about how regulating your breath, being conscious of what you’re doing right now (precisely what Osho recommends you to do), etc.  That’s when I decided I’d try to regulate my breathing.  Anyone who have tried to regulate their breathing would know that you cannot really do anything else when you’re concentrating on your breath.  Someone in the crowd asked him how to effectively do your work and regulate your breathing.  The professor gave a tip: make it a habit that whenever you’re walking, you’d breath deeply; when you’re sitting on a chair working, you’d let yourself breath like you always do.

That was a very good tip... and it has been useful to me from the next day.  I practice deep breathing when I am walking to work.  First day was hard (obviously!) and my whole mind was occupied with breathing.  Within a few days it become easier... I can listen to music, think about random stuff while still breathing well.  I’m guessing this is going to be an interesting experiment :)

There’s a lot of online resources for learning deep breathing, if you’re interested.  Try Authentic Breathing or Wikipedia, for instance.

January 15, 2012

Daylight savings time

Daylight savings time is good for one thing: it teaches our kids that time is just another arbitrary thing humans control.

January 11, 2012

Blogger’s threaded commenting on custom template blogs

Update: Blogger has an official post about this.

Blogger today introduced the long-awaited threaded commenting feature.  It may not work for you even after enabling embedded comment form if you have manually customised your template.  Fear not, enabling threaded commenting on your custom template is not that hard :)

Go through your blog’s template and change all occurrences of
<b:include data='post' name='comments'/>
to
<b:if cond='data:post.showThreadedComments'>
  <b:include data='post' name='threaded_comments'/>
<b:else/>
  <b:include data='post' name='comments'/>
</b:if>
(Make sure you have enabled the “Expand Widget Templates” check box; you may not see the text to be replaced otherwise.)  This change will add a “Reply” link after each comment on your blog.

Vision

The world is full of things we want to see.


January 09, 2012

Opening a Toshiba Z830 laptop

Opening a Toshiba Z830 is fairly simple — just remove all the screws from the back of the laptop and the cover would come off with no effort.  But there’s one tricky part: there’s a hidden screw at the center of the laptop.


This is a Torx Security screw so you’d need an appropriate screwdriver.  This screw is also covered by a plastic piece that you’d have to remove first to even see this screw.  Once you have removed all 14 screws, the machine opens up very easily.


Setting alarms on Android using Google Voice Actions

Do you hate this UI of Android’s alarm clock app?  I hate it too; fiddling with the dial to set the time correctly, and to get the am/pm correctly can be annoyingly hard.


There’s an easier way: Google Voice Actions.


Tap on the microphone icon of Google search widget and say something like “set an alarm at six thirty am tomorrow” and you’re done!  (Or just say “alarm six thirty am”... after all that’s all a computer needs to hear :-)

Samsung Galaxy Nexus: first impressions

I have been using a Samsung Galaxy Nexus for a few days now.  I have been an Android user since the G1 days; there isn’t much I have to say about the software in this post.  I like Android and I don’t think any other phone software is a good choice for my usage.

Talking about the Galaxy Nexus’s hardware, it’s an enormous phone.  Very wide, but it manages to fit in my hand by being very thin.  I like the feel of holding the phone in my hand (disclaimer: I have never held an iPhone for more than a few minutes).  Battery life is good; super fast camera doesn’t look like a big improvement, but I’ll know the difference only when I have to use a slower camera.  The phone is crazy fast in pretty much everything it does, and fast is almost always good.

One of the things I was excited about was the phone’s higher (than my previous phone, Nexus S) display resolution.  Text on the Galaxy Nexus is clearly crisper, and gives a better reading experience.  But I can still see “pixels” on the screen... more specifically tiny “holes” on white surfaces.  Apart from that I don’t really have any concern.

January 07, 2012

How we accept gifts in my family

Since the time I remember, I have never seen people of my family use formal words in conversation.  By “family” I mean extended family: everyone who’d come down if there’s a celebration at my house, for instance.  If a relative gifts me something, I wouldn’t say “thanks”... that just isn’t the way you accept a gift.

This clip from Aadukalam movie reminded me of that way of accepting gifts.  Probably because I grew up seeing it, this seems like a more graceful way of accepting a gift than thanking for it.  Even today I avoid thanking people in my family... it just doesn’t feel that good to say thanks :)


(In the video, the guy is gifted a ring.  He accepts it just with a remark “it’s good”.)

January 05, 2012

Fear of life

Everyone talks about fear of death.  But there’s another, likely more serious, fear: fear of life.  It’s astonishing how many of us are afraid to take ownership of our own life!