Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Three hours with Solomon … [Part I]

I like challenges, but taking care of Solomon for three hours when his mom is away was no trivial. For long, she wanted to visit a salon and waiting for Solomon to grow up. Shanthi’s flower-arrangement-teacher [Rieko] had promised to take her to her friend’s Salon. After consulting with me, they decided to go on last week Sunday at last. Rieko-san told me that Shanthi will need about an hour, and once inside the Salon, I will not be allowed with a kid anywhere near her for it was too dangerous [I could not imagine why?]. It’s dangerous probably due to the blades, steam, etc … Anyway, the best and challenging part was, taking care of a 1 year old for ~1 hour. But when the time came for them to leave, I decided I will stay back home with Solomon, which means that I will have to take care of Solomon for 3 hours [1 hour each for Rieko and Shanthi + travel time] …

When it was time, I took Solomon to the parking lot, to bid good-bye to Shanthi and Rieko. They were leaving in their car. Till the time we all reached the car he was happy, probably thinking that we are all going together, somewhere. Once we reached the car, I stopped back with him, and Shanthi got in, he was still smiling, and when Shanthi and Rieko started waving their hands and telling me to take care of him, the expression in his face changed. I could not decipher, but it was strange and cute. For once, it seems that he thought his mom was playing “hide and seek”. So when we returned home from the parking lot he checked every single room, including the toilet, bathroom and balcony. After 10 minutes he stopped his search, I would never know what made him stop. At this point his facial expression changed, it was like, if not in the house, then where IS she? … I was enjoying all his strange faces. Super-imposing my guess over it. For a moment I thought I will pull out my camera and snap these moments. Those faces left a very deep impression in me that I decided not to disturb the inner picture with a photo (selfish me …)

My goal: Make sure, he does not cry for a minute, and just repeat the trick (loop for) 180 times. It looked simple. The time taken for me and Solomon to return home from the parking lot and his search inside the house had consumed some 12 minutes. We had earlier decided to take him to his friend, Teja’s home, which happens to be in a different building inside the same apartment complex. So to start off, I spent around 2~3 minutes in making him wear his shoes, going to the elevator, playing with the elevator buttons … We took another minute or so walking to Teja’s house. All these times his strange face remained. Looking at his face, I started feeling sorry. I only wished if I could get a peek into his feelings. After reaching Teja’s home, he started looking around for his mom, again. I guess he would have thought that she is playing a big time hide and seek … But it was not, he found out that she is not in there, too, so he wanted me to take him out, immediately. I was hoping he spend around 30 minutes in Teja’s house … sigh !!!

(will continue in Part II) …

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Masked madness ...

Sucked into the group behavior, when panic stops the brain cells from functioning, when all the news continuously tell you about the 150 people who are affected by swine flu, and when your office administrative staff formally tabulates your family health status every other day, when your mother inquire about the flu-outbreak, I am a little confused. Frightened will be right word. Should I take some precautions? Can I take some precautions? I decided to take some, starting with a mask.

Yesterday I left office after 8 PM; the medical shops near my office were closed. I knew that the convenient stores sell masks, a bit expensive, but they sell. So I went to a convenient store near my office and found out that they used to sell 3 types of masks and ran out-of-stock on all three. OK, I guessed that most of my colleagues would have bought them on the way back. But wait, if I said most, which is around 3000, which means, we need masks for around 3000 people. That is a lot of masks. With the panic going on, I should have known that masks will never be available, I gave-up after visiting the 22nd shop. Well, till the madness stops, even normal people who need masks against hay fever will have to … wait.

Did I just say madness? :-)

So after this failed attempt scrambling for a mask, I realized that blood was indeed flowing to my brain. Being a techie, I thought I will do some cyber-scramble. I checked Amazon and a few more websites. And after some 45 minutes of browsing for a mask, I gave up. There seems to be too many geeks in Japan, every single mask in Amazon was out-of-stock. The mask makers will have a ball. Will they?

Tired of searching, I thought what will happen if I don’t wear a mask. I even started thinking, if indeed masks are any helpful. They may help, but not prevent, entirely. It seems that we need special masks, that which will prevent virus from entering them. And it seems that those masks are expensive and rare. Today, I saw many people wearing normal masks. And many of their noses protruding out … What can I say …Time’s the healer. Are these masks just a moral support?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Managed code seems to be catching up …

Warning: This is an article intended only for the geeks, so stop here if you are not one.

I first started writing embedded software in assembly. I would not even term it a language, because, every single instruction was translated into an op-code, 1-to-1, nothing less. The firmware (stylish name for embedded software) developed using assembly was in total control. I mean it, total. There was no abstraction what-so-ever between the programmer and the hardware. At any point of time, every single register, every GPIO (General Purpose Input Output) ports were in our control. All our named variables were global. This control somehow translated into our confidence, sometimes arrogance. Those days we assumed that programmers who lacked knowledge of the hardware developed firmware in C. On one fine day, I got impressed with the compensation offered by another company that was developing firmware in C. Getting impressed with the salary; I quit the holy-assembly, mostly for-ever. But long after that, even today, I think those early assembly days were the best. Or … is it yet to come.

Development in C started badly. I knew C, in mostly like a paper driver who can drive, by the books, obviously I lacked experience. During my job-interview, I correctly answered most (all) of the questions on assembly language and got ~70% for C. The guys who interviewed me thought I would master C quickly. Somehow, I managed to score 4.8-out-of-5.0 in a test conducted by brain-bench for C. Those guys even sent me a certificate, embossed in golden color, now the best part, it was free. But over a period of five years, the golden emboss faded, but I learnt more of C. I started developing applications using C, then wrote some device drivers for windows, and finally after a couple of years of slogging, mostly maintaining others code, I started developing some really cool C code. I heard that C was more portable; it was, to an extent. I also learnt that embedded software is all about creating nice-and-compact-and-fast data-structures, and learning some cool compiler directives that will give you complete control over placing your code and data. In a way, I understood, I was writing some so-called-portable source code, in a high level language. I swear, in those days I never tried its portability though. I realized that for larger embedded applications, C was a good development platform. I always heard from my seniors, and also believed for myself that, c++ and embedded software were enemies. I would have sworn this over a bible, even without any experience programming in C++. I hated the language.

I was told to port the OS and write embedded software using Linux. Back then, I was a DOS-and-Windows guy, who never really understood, that free software, like Linux, will actually work. I assumed that the “Open source Linux”, will never be as cool as windows. When ever I go to the testing lab, I stared at those good looking Mac boxes wondering if, it was an ice box for beers. Man, I hated its mouse. In Linux, there were no MSDN type manuals, mostly not even some basic documentation. One more secret reason I hated it was; there were many junior programmers in my company, who knew more than me. And so, I comfortably termed it as a “not so practical” language. I quit the Linux development, and also the company and moved on to some other RTOS in some other company. For a long time, with the momentum in C, I continued with C, till I was asked to look into an ECMA compiler for a Television set, possibly to re-write it. Back in 2007, the ECMA compiler for Linux was written entirely in C++. For countless number of days, I just read and read the source code. As far as C++, my brain was closed. My gray-cells won’t change, even if I wanted to.

The C++ development continued and after developing in C++ for almost a year I learnt that I was not a C++ guy. I could not think in C++, partly owing to the many abstraction levels between the C++ codes and the converted assembly. When I wrote firmware in C, for each line of the source that I wrote, I could easily visualize the assembly instruction. Essentially I can see through the C code. But in C++ I could not, worse, Frankly, I did not try. And that was the end of C++. In a way, till today, I did not need it.

I thought, I can earn a living writing embedded software using C, till I retire. But my safety net was shattered today when I learnt that “managed code”, like C#, .NET, etc are on their rise. I knew about C# from the time it was released, back then, I had assumed that it was meant only for those application developers. I even picked up a fight with one of the guy who was talking about “boot-loader development based on managed code”. Frankly, I do not understand how, a boot-loader can ever be developed using “managed code”. Worse, I do like the idea of developing a boot-loader in C# or .NET. I do not see any advantage. I am an emotional guy who likes to live close to the hardware, and like less number of abstraction and hence need to write code that can do just that. And as of now, I think C is the one. But it seems that at the end of the tunnel, C#, .NET etc are pushing very hard. I can feel it. Someday, I may learn it, and probably would even master it, if-only I feel it is useful. Oh my gray cells, won’t you please co-operate.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Nostalgic flash ...

From time to time I go through this, “nostalgic flash”, as I have come to name it. I call it a flash as they creep in from nowhere, and many times divert my concentration from the work. Today, was yet another day, I was busy at work during the dull part of the afternoon, waiting for the clock to tick 5, and suddenly a “nostalgic flash”, and it flashed-in a couple of guys, whom I considered, were very good students, they excelled in their studies and grades.

We can define a “nostalgic flash” as the time, when my mind is wavers over a time period, and a few “nostalgic human faces” just flash.

Often, nostalgic flash is accompanied with an urge to contact the faces that flash-in.

I studied with those guys sometimes during the mid to late ~80’s. So I only know their names and their father’s names. I got a chance to meet one of them once after I completed my schooling. While I undergo a nostalgic flash, I just remember faces during a particular period of time, for example, the time period when those guys studied with me in my school. Sometimes nostalgic flash takes me for a ride, to those days when we went out together, to those roads we used, our bi-cycles, the mischief, small talks, and this list is usually varied. Astonishingly nostalgic flash lasts only for a short time, may be 15~20 minutes. But my mind would have flashed about many things. And once I am out of a “nostalgic flash”, I would have just experienced a lifetime.

Sometimes, it makes me feel sad, even miss those guys. I use to feel sorry for all the lies I would have told them, or for the troubles I got them into. After this flash ends, I used to wonder, how silly I was, would vow to win control over the “nostalgic flash” and ultimately remove it from me. I don’t like a “nostalgic flash”, especially when I experience it in the midst of my day’s work.

Today I was reading an article on “lay-off” which emphasizes on “social networking” as a way to find new jobs during lay offs. Back in early 2005 I lost touch with much of my contacts from India, owing to my transfer to Japan. Till 2006, December, even with the high overseas call rates, I managed to maintain contacts with a select few of my good friends. Presently it’s almost non-existent. Probably this article on “social networking” stuff triggered today’s nostalgic flash or what? …

I googled to find something about those 2 guys, who appeared in today’s flash and found a linkedin page for both of them. I would like to send them a message. By the time I decided to send a message, the “nostalgic flash” was over. It was my manager, he was complaining about a license that I was using, and meant for some other department. He wanted me to fix it, immediately. Now, I had to “come out of the nostalgic dream”. Thrown out! I decided to send those guys a message after fixing the issue. But after I fix the license related issue, I got into my famous “procrastination mode”.

I decided, in principle, with no timeline in my mind, to ping them “sometimes”. With the insane schedule that I am into these days, the “sometimes” usually waits for another timely “nostalgic flash”, especially when it happens when I am close to my computer, or a telephone, and also have some free time. Compared to 2005, rates for overseas calls have reduced by more than half. So money is not the issue here. Time, which is becoming more and more a rarity in my day-to-day life, has definitely taken a toll on my social network. Is it probably one more reason that I get into more and more “nostalgic flashes”.

I get to think that Indians are more nostalgic than anyone else?
Is it my limited knowledge on other nationalities?

At least I don’t remember many Hollywood movies based on nostalgic themes. In my mother tongue, Tamil, most of the movies reflect nostalgia, emotion, fear, and all the stuff that I consider evil. There was a movie, “a nostalgia exploiter” called “Autograph” which was a huge box office hit. T’was no surprise, I enjoyed the movie. In fact I saw that movie many times and even bought the DVD to see it secretly. I am sometimes ashamed to reveal that I am nostalgic. Probably, it reflects the emotional me.

Now, phoo …, am I emotional. I guess I am, but does this trigger a “nostalgic flash”?

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Accidental wave or what? …

After Microsoft, Apple, Intel, Motorola, IBM, … is google going to be “the next great company”. Riding on the internet search, or to be specific the connected community band-wagon. Guys at Xerox PARC created computer network for an entirely different reason. It makes me wonder, is google yet another case of an “accidental empire”, or did the “Sergei & Larry” combo really though this is coming. Personally they come next only to “Jobs & Woznaik” combo, probably,…

Guys at the Palo Alto Research Center, PARC, created most of the innovations that “happened” in the computing arena, I would emphasize, the personal computing arena. For me it is difficult to understand, that Xerox, that created PARC, did not reap *any* benefit from innovation from PARC. The concept of Mouse, GUI, Networking, and much-much more came just out of a single lab. Companies like Apple, Microsoft, used the researches from PARC to the max.

For some reason, many geeks, hate Microsoft. They just think, Microsoft, is a selfish company that just wants to make money, and care a shit about any research. From the time IBM started using MS-DOS (which was not developed by Microsoft), many people think, and probably they are right, that MS, like some of its founder is crooked. I cannot think of anything big that came out of Microsoft. They just perfected some of the technologies that lay around. And suddenly, with the advent of internet, the open source revolution, it seems that, finally, its times for the giant to bow--->out.

As we all know, Google, that started as a search engine company, right, but now …, with a heavy purse they are into many things, slowly hurting Microsoft. In those early days, Microsoft, would simply over-power any software company that competed with them. The trump card was always their operating system, the monopoly. But now, it seems that the gold lies in the internet, and for some reason, Microsoft lost it, I mean, lost it to Google. Now, only trying hard to patch up by buying yet another ailing company yahoo. Google, it seems is trying to do everything to kill MS. Hitting its cash cow, MS-OFFICE with “GOOGLE-DOC”. I personally tried using “GOOGLE-DOC” and I can tell you, that it is no way near MS-Word, or Excel. As of now, GOOGLE-DOC lacks even some basic feature. But if Microsoft is afraid of this, I think there should be some reason. Now “googling” is a verb that means searching.

Will Google kill Microsoft, I don’t think so. Microsoft will probably die on its own, as they have ran out of ideas and started chasing the leader. This time, their chase, might well end in vain.

Apple, that got noticed by many non-geeks, only after the i-pods, was a company that was envisioned by a passionate guy. They created some nice looking computers, which were less visible to the main-stream world of cheap home computers, but only till apple released the legendary iPod. If a single product can change the fate of a company, it was iPod. It was yet another accidental moment, the rush of spark inside Rubinstein when he saw Toshiba’s tiny hardwire, has created a wave. Sometimes I wonder, if apple is just starting to forget its core business. Probably, they are also strengthening their PC business. Guys from apple think it is “Mac business”. They frown when they hear the word PC, as it a copyrighted thing that belongs to MS. Yeah, in a way, it belongs to guys in IBM. Who sold out their PC business to Lenovo. And riding on something else.

Recently I have been reading a lot about the history of computers and software. And I just think, it was all created accidentally.