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Archive for February, 2006

NYC Pillow Fight

Apparently someone (well, 100 of them) in NY decided it was cool to do a pillow fight party in the middle of a city park. The event was organized by urban artist newmindspace, which is based in Toronto and NYC. They’ve organized anything from subway party, capture the flag and bubble blowing parties in NYC, Toronto and London. Kinda fun to watch actually. Not exactly sure I will be participating anytime soon tho.

Add comment February 20th, 2006

Trade Offs

First thing you are going to learn in a startup, as I discovered (besides answering the phone and emptying out the garbage) is how to make trade offs. I used to not think a second more before ordering 16 boxes for my service. At an annual running cost of about $10000 each, it was just a drop in the bucket. But in a startup, this is a totally different kind of money.

When you try to put thing in that perspective you start to appreciate a lot of the design challenges that growing company faces. Multimaster replicated horizontal partitioned cluster? You got to be kidding me. How about one box with a tape drive? Distributed system? Well, that’s kinda difficult to do with 2 boxes doesn’t it? So the challenge becomes that you can see 5 years from now how the system should be. Now design for 1/50th the budget. A lot of trade offs has to be made. Serialization and deserialization of the data-gram is gone, so is the communication channels. (well, it’s the same box after all)

A lot of choices I would consider must have in a distributed environment is now gone. So the trick becomes how I can create a CLEAR migration path to grow to when I would see it in 5 years. Putting priority in place has its benefits too. At least I am not letting my developers skim on metric, logs, unit test and and monitoring; as I know how difficult it will be to retrofit them in.

A good design is all about making the right trade offs.

Add comment February 18th, 2006

FT interview with Craig Barrett

FT hosted a Q&A today with Intel CEO Craig Barrett, on K-12 education, immigration policies and their effect on the future competitiveness of the US. Dead on.

Add comment February 8th, 2006

writing main()

I have accepted a new position at a startup company in NYC, dedicated itself to charitable fund raising for non-profits. As Ajit put it, I will be writing main() for the first time. When was the last time you wrote main()? Life is about taking risk. It is the complete unknown of what’s ahead that’s appealing to me. But like Paul Graham was saying, when you have no idea, you tend to try harder.

As an engineer one need to challenge himself once in a while. This is definitely one of those time. Staying uncomfortable will keep you one step ahead of your old self. Of course a lot of my experience at Amazon will be useful. But a lot of it will be trail blazing on new problems that I haven’t seen before. This is going to be my chance to prove myself once again.

Right when I was leaving Amazon, Paul Brown had an advice that I’d like to share with all of you. The most valuable asset of an engineer as he sees it, is not if he can code or not. He sees the value in whenever he or she is being put in unfamiliar environment, he is able to tough it out and continue to pick up whatever skill necessary to grow. This is my time to tough it out once again.

Head first, stay hungry, stay foolish, and stay uncomfortable. Wish me luck.

Add comment February 3rd, 2006


I was trying to come up with a more interesting revenue stream for billmonk beside private debt derivatives. Somehow microloans came to mind. Microloans are usually subscriptions that people join, usually for $10 a month. When someone in the club have a need for cash, he/she will bid for the pod at a discount rate. He/she is then responsible of paying the full amount back into the pod. The delta is then paid out to the load holder, which is the other club members who didn’t take the money. They exist primarily in the third world. Billmonk is a network based debt mamangement sevice that function over cellphones SMS. Since a lot of the developing countries have a better cellphone penatration than computer, it could be used to manage all the microloan operations out there. It can supply an escrow service then take a cut on the interest incurred.

So, as I was googling, I found this non-profit fundation in the UK that extend microloans and business expertise to third world communities. This is exactly what I’d like to do eventually.


Add comment February 2nd, 2006

The symbiosis relationship of “Certified Engineer”

Ok, let’s be honest. None of the software engineers I know (and respected) in the US are “Certified” in anything.  A lot of us take pride in being flexible on the technology, and we all go by our reputation.  But there is a really interesting symbiosis between the certified engineers and the company that provide the product?

A lot of time when a small development shop is choosing its technology, it is not about what’s the best thing out there right now.  More often than not it is about how easy is it to implement it.  Take Oracle vs. MySql for example.   A lot of time Oracle was chosen over MySql was not because the business model calls for a higher performance engine, but because there are more Oracle DBA avaliable.  And the more instance of Oracle are install, the more DBA it will bring about.  It will take years before the next fleet of MySQL DBA to grow to critical mass that traditional companies are willing to consider it as a viable choice to Oracle.

Java took 10 years.

When choosing a development shop oversea, it’s difficult to gauge on the quality of the engineers.  There is no reputation since many are brand new.  There is no way really to interview them all. The only way to go is to rely on standards, like the .NET certification test.  What the certification does is pretty much gurantee a level of confidence to the person doing the hiring that whoever have this certificate know a working amount about the subject.  It might not give you a star performer, but certainly not a Prazs (inside joke).

Knowing this, all the Indians and Chinese went out and get themselves certified, creating a healthy supply of skilled labor.  So it make perfect sense for someone who wants a lean staff to pick a technology that has a healthy supply of certified engineers, since that will allow them to move quickly without having to interview lots of people.  The lean staff will allow them to move quickly when technology shift in the future.  The technology choice fused even more people getting certified, creating a symbiosis effect.

Add comment February 2nd, 2006


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