Sunday, April 29, 2007

Guarding the Secrets: Palestinian Terrorism and a Father's Murder of His Too-American Daughter (Hardcover) by Ellen Harris

There is a proverb in my language (Kannada) which goes like 'we set a trap to catch a wild boar. But, we caught a tiger." The story in this book is quite similar. A house was bugged with electronic surveillance with a suspicion that dwellers of that house belonged to notorious ANO (Abu Nidal Organization). The electronic surveillance came to good use to provide non-human witness to a murder that took place. The culprits had concocted a nice story to make it look like an act of self defense and if not for the recordings from the surveillance gear, they would have gotten away.

Setting all that aside, this book also is a horrific story of a father who murders his daughter because his 'values' dictate that anyone violating the honor of the family do not deserve to live. The only way to preserve honor and recover from any damage done is by killing the person and this rooting out the cause behind all that.

Man here is an Palestinian immigrant living in Missouri with his family. One of the daughters who has been raised in the US grows up to be a typical teenager. When she rebels against rigid practices of the Palestinian man, he kills her in cold blood. His wife assists in the murder. Very difficult imagine for most people but honor killings are not uncommon in the middle east and in many societies. What do you do given a choice between entire family being castigated from the society and killing one of your own to remain in the society? Chances are being a social 'animal', many will go to any length to remain in so called civil society.

Very well researched book. The first 3/4 of the book which takes us through the initial years of the family which constantly travels between Brazil, Caribbean, Palestine and US, how they adapt to different surroundings, their lively hood, idiosyncrasies etc. is very captivating. The details of the murder are close to a horror movies. The legal process gets quite boring.

All in a nice read if you like such subjects.


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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Tips for new computer

If you have bought a new computer, following tips may be useful.

1) One of things we want to do is to transfer contents as easily as possible. Most effective way may be take the replica from your old computer and image your new computer exactly. You can use Norton Ghost or similar tool to do that. But, if you want to transfer contents on top of what already exists on your computer then one way to do is to transfer using something like PCLinq or even better use Easy transfer feature built into Vista. This is probably one of the bang-for-the-buck feature in Vista. But, keep in mind, regular cables which connect using USB does not work with easy transfer feature. There is a specialize cable from Belkin etc. which are meant for Vista's easy transfer. If you try to connect regular USB cable, Vista does not recognize it. That's not the point. You really do not need a special cable. Easy Transfer feature prefers that you buy the specialized cable from Belkin or similar company but not necessary. Just plug your old computer  and new computer to any hub and you are ready to go. If you are transferring from XP to Vista, install Easy-Transfer available free from Microsoft on XP and you are good to go. If you are transferring from XP to XP, then you need to install easy-transfer on both machines. Easy-transfer is pretty smart. It asks you if it can override firewall settings and proceeds smoothly. Pretty fast too. It is not just transferring the contents. It also transfers all settings. Imagine installing all new programs and having to manually re-set all your preferences in Word, Excel etc. etc. In this case as long as you have installed programs on the target computer, settings are transferred nicely.

2) If you use Firefox browser then you want to use MozBackup utility. It's a freeware. Excellent utility. It transfers not only your bookmarks but also all passwords that you may have set up to log in to web site. One of the nicest features in Firefox is to store passwords and provide additional security using master password. It would be pain to reenter all those passwords. This tool does all that for you. Run it on old computer. It dumps all the info into a file. Transfer that file to the new computer. Run the same utility to import and you are back in business.Fantastic tool. Thanks to the developer who took pains to develop it and made it available free of cost.


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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Amazing Sys Info for Windows

This shareware SIW ( is a very useful utility. In addition to showing very detailed info about your computer, it can retrieve product keys in case you have misplaced them. There are a few other programs which retrieve product keys but they cost. You can call Microsoft and have to pay per minute that after verifying tonnes of info for them. This software is cool. Install it on a system where you have software installed, get the product keys and then you are ready to install the software on other computer using the keys. Of course, it is expected that you have original media matching the product keys and are not using this to install software on many machines. For responsible users this is a great tool. Only thing to be careful about this tool is that it puts all your hidden passwords etc. under "Secrets" and that is for anyone to see once the program is up and running. On Windows Vista this feature does not seem to work and that is good.

Big thanks the writer of this software who must have spent umpteen number of hours to write this and made it available for free. Other programs with half the functionality cost anywhere from 25 to 50 bucks.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

A Long Way Gone

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

Using children as combatants is civil wars all over the world is a very tragic but equally common phenomenon. From time to time, we get to see children who are barely 12 years so clad in military fatigues carrying deadly weapons which are many times longer and heavier than kids themselves.

This is a book written by one such soldier who was recruited by army in Sierra Leone to fight rebels. For anyone who has kept up with international news civil war in Sierra Leone, Liberia and other areas in west africa are quite familiar. But, we do not get to hear from people who actually participated in such civil wars because most do not live long enough to write about it and who lived are not fortunate enough to spend rest of their lives in better societies which are considerate to what they went thru and interested in spreading their words so that general public wakes up and does something about it.

The author's story follows a familiar trend. Boy's parents killed either by rebels or army, boy recruited by army or rebels and fights a meaningless war and in the process misses on his childhood and adolescence. That's the high level story. But, the details are mind numbing and moving. One thing those who wanted use child soldiers had to address was how to make these kids resistant blood, gore and violence of the war that too one fought with no rules.Drug them and drug them often and heavily. Right from the initiation child soldiers are made to take drugs ranging from marijuana to cocaine to synthetic drug to herbs such as khath to numb their senses and pains. It is also useful as analgesic which everyone needs while fighting. On top of drugs, fill kids with hatred for the other side by repeating how the other party is responsible for the death of their family and demonstrate the violence and make kids practice all that.

In this book, author traces his life over 4 years in which he loses his family, travels many miles running from rebels and army, gets recruited by army, fights meaning less battles, indulges in heinous acts of violence which most of can not comprehend, gets rehabilitated, makes it to UN to make the world aware of child soldiers, goes back to Sierra Leone, once again gets in the way of civil war which picks up again, manages to escape being recruited or killed the second time, makes a high risk journey to cross over to neighboring country Guinea and makes it to US with the help of friends he had made during his visit to New York for UN address. The details make up a nice book.

First half part of so where the author runs from place to place with his friends and people who become friends by being in similar situation is pretty slow and reads like a diary. The story after the kid is recruited by army to fight rebels reads a captivating novels. The rehabilitation process is very touching as the kid brings out how good the people were to him during the rehabilitation although all he wanted was more drugs and a quick way back to his old life. The escape to the US is not described in detail for unknown reasons.

If you have seen a recent movie 'Blood Diamond', this is a good book to relate to. The movie shows the lives of these child soldiers quite well although the movie centers around the diamond trade for which all the wars in that region are being fought.

Very touching book. It's so good to know that the author who made it to the US at the age of 16, completed his education from Oberlin college and currently serves in UN. I hope the author does not stop here after a successful book and goes on to do something much more to his cause. And he should and I guess he will as he is in a good position to make difference as part of UN.


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Saturday, April 07, 2007

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't (Hardcover)
by Robert I. Sutton (Author)

Finally, someone wrote a much needed book and dared to call spade a spade.

Well, the word/cliche a**hole is not something you see in book titles or at least in a book that is written by a highly respected and regarded Stanford business school professor. But, you have to read  the book to understand and agree with the author as to why there can not be any other word than asshole that so perfectly characterizes all those who vitiate the workplace in particular and the world in general.

Jerk, creep, pain in the neck (or ass) are all similar words that people use to describe an asshole in the workplace. But, most common exclamatory phrase is 'what an asshole?' after having been screwed by someone who is an asshole.

These people destruct people and organizations systematically. The magnitude of destruction they cause in the lives of people they work with is too high to tolerate such people on day to day basis. If you do decide to survive in such a place, you better have a reward that far far exceeds having to put up with such people. In many cases, it is simply not worth it.

The author makes a passionate case for not tolerating such people and creating a workplace where people can achieve their best by giving their best to the company or the group they are working for. Sometimes short sighted companies tolerate highly successful people even when they are certified a**holes. But, the amount of business such people bring in is minuscule compared to loss of morale and other damages they are causing in the process. In the book, there is even a case study of a silicon valley sales executive and how much he cost to the company by being an a**hole. The amount calculated does not take into account all damages but even then it runs in 6 figures per year per one person. Imagine having few such people on your rolls and doing nothing about them. Sure recipe for corporate disaster

In my observation, this a**hole phenomenon is mainly concentrated in small companies where individual contributions sometimes are so big that it does seem to make sense for the management to put up with such people just because they are so good. Thankfully in larger companies just due to sheer number of people a**holes get booted out although not as fast as we would like to see them go. It's just a matter of numbers. Majority of the people are nice and they want to work in a nice environment and are sensitive enough to do their best to create a nice environment or at the least not vitiate it. So, in large companies, we have many such nice people and when an a**hole surfaces, he/she is rejected like a virus. But, as said, depending upon other things it may take a long time before that happens and the company may collapse under such a**holes. The book mentions at least 3-4 such companies that went under where certified a**holes were at the very top. No wonder they brought down the companies along with them.

One word of caution. It's not appropriate to brand someone as an a**hole just because of a few incidents of nasty behavior. Everyone does exhibit such a behavior from time to time in varying degrees. The author gives a good test to determine who are occasional a**holes and who are certified a**holes. Author correctly states that we are all a**holes one time or other. If someone disagrees, he must be a God or an ass(hole).

It is an interesting observation that most of us show our a**holic tendencies more often with people near and dear than people at work. Why? Simple reason - people who are near and dear put up with our such behavior more often than our professional acquaintances. It's unfortunate  but true. Also, by giving an opportunity to be at our worst form and patiently bearing it, our near and dear ones prevent us from being in such a form with our professional acquaintances where the consequences from being an a**hole could be getting booted out. Our near and dear ones provide a safe outlet when we have to show our ugly side. There should be 'world a**hole day' when we can make it a point to kiss and make up with our near and dear ones at least once year for being patient and bearing all the times we were at our a**holic best with them. They deserve one such day. If not for them, all of us would have shown our ugly side in places and with people who would have kicked us in our a** and shown us our place.

"It is nice to be important. But, it more important to be nice." If you are here for a long term, it is better to be nice all the time. It is true that nice people do end up last in the short term but in the end, you will emerge as a winner in your own eyes  regardless of what others may think of you. All those who won sprints by being a**holes do not even complete the marathon called life. When you  reminisce in your old age you will inevitably remember all those a**holes who flared real bright for a few years and then burnt out from their own flames of hatred, nastiness and many other assoholic qualities.

"When you are good to others, you are best to yourself."


Joel on Software by Joel Spolsky

Joel on Software: And on Diverse and Occasionally Related Matters That Will Prove of Interest to Software Developers, Designers, and Managers, and to Those Who, Whether by Good Fortune or Ill Luck, Work with Them in Some Capacity (Paperback)
by Joel Spolsky

This book is mainly a collection of posts of the author on his web site

Very insightful and interesting book. Never had read anything meaningful and useful but also entertaining and such a fast read.

It's also amazing that how well the author and his editor have done a great job of organizing a bunch blog entries into an order that makes a nice book. It's not easy to do and anyone who writes blog knows. When you write disparate pieces here and there, you do not have that whole picture in mind  and when such articles are collated together they do not read well. This book is free from such malady.

Joel has been there, seen that and done that in a lot of areas in software. He has worked for large companies such as Microsoft, been a very technical developer and later an entrepreneur and an executive running his company while also cranking out some code. Such people have enormous amount of valuable insight and when they share it thru books like this, a lot of us can benefit.

Joel addresses variety of issues in this book. He talks about basics of computing, hiring right people, project management for large and small companies, business strategy as it applies to software, what future may hold and other topics of general interest to a software professional.

What makes this book so interesting is Joel's extraordinary ability to look at popular things that happened during our times in recent few years and dissect them to illustrate ideas. He uses companies such as to show what strategy they used and why it was right or wrong for a particular reason. Many do know that (price comparison web site) that had once acquired for eye popping 450 millions was discarded when realized that it was not useful. For an outside observer it may seem how stupid was. But, Joel makes a case that when you are trying conquer new world and that too in a short time span, you sometimes have to go for such things. He differentiate between organic growth and growth by acquisitions very well. It's really nice accompaniment to dry business books and case studies they use in schools.

Great book. Fast read.

Also Joel's web site is a great source for keeping up with his new insights.


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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Quotable quotes

"It is easier to resist in the beginning than at the end."
        - Leonardo Da Vinci

"Winning is not everything. It's the only thing."

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