Sunday, April 29, 2007

Backing up your home computer

Do you backup your home computer? How often? Chances are that you often think about backing it up. You might even have actually set up a "system" to back it up. And better still, you might even have backed it up a few times. But it's now been a few months since you last did a backup...:-(

That, at least, describes my situation. I think often about backing up our home computer. My "system" is to backup to CDs and DVDs, so it's quite a slow, cumbersome process. So I don't do it often---my last backup is dated 8/5/06...:-( Now that's called living on the edge.

I've been wondering about the right backup strategy. Something that will just work once it's set up.

One option is to buy a large external hard drive and set up nightly/weekly automatic backups. That will certainly create duplicate copies of your precious photographs, videos, music, and other documents, and will protect you from hard drive failures. But what if there's a house fire that destroys your computer and hard drive? (As we know from our experience, this isn't such an unlikely event...!) Or what if your house gets burgled? Last year my office mate had her house burgled and the thieves focused on taking all and only the electronics in the house---they failed to take an expensive pair of skis that were lying around, but did take all the computers and hard drives they could find! (Like our house fire story, this story also ended well---the police caught the thieves and almost all the electronics were returned safely.) So I suppose one can build extra redundancy into the system to make multiple hard drive copies and keep one of the hard drives in a safe(r) place. Sriram has adopted this strategy.

Another option is to use various online backup services (Mozy, Carbonite, etc.). This does seem like an attractive option, but has some problems for me. I would need a Mac backup solution, and most are PC-only. Also, we currently run Mac OS 10.3 (Panther), while most solutions expect you to be running Mac OS 10.4 (Tiger). So this might be yet another reason to buy a new computer (upgrading this computer to Tiger seems sub-optimal). And then there's a question of how reliable these companies are. Are they going to be around for the long run? A solution backed by one of the major Internet companies might be safer. Are you comfortable storing sensitive material there (such as documents related to your finances)? Frankly, I don't think I am---I'd rather back those up to CDs/DVDs and store those safely.

What do you do?

First round at the 2007 NFL draft

So there were no major surprises for the Raiders and 49ers in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft. As expected, the Raiders took quarterback JaMarcus Russell and the 49ers took linebacker Patrick Willis. Everyone seems very pleased with these picks.

The 49ers indulged in some fancy wheeling and dealing towards the later part of the first round. First, they traded away their 2008 first round pick and one of their 2007 fourth round picks for the New England Patriots' 2007 first round pick (#28 overall). With this pick they got Joe Staley, an offensive tackle. Then they traded their second round pick (#42 overall) to the Indianapolis Colts for the the Colts 2008 first round pick and the Colts 2007 fourth round pick! So, in essence they got solid protection on the offensive line for Alex Smith while retaining a first round pick next year and their fourth round picks this year! Of course, their first round pick next year is likely to be worse than they would have had (the Colts, after all, are the defending Super Bowl champions), but overall this is a cool series of moves.

One other story from Saturday is interesting. Quarterback Brady Quinn had been slated to be a top 3 pick and, failing which, definitely a top 10 pick. The Cleveland Browns were expected to take him at #3 or Miami at #9. Imagine his disappointment when both teams took other players. Quinn slid all the way to #22 when, finally, Cleveland traded away their 2008 first round pick to Dallas and took him there! So Cleveland got him finally, but also got Joe Thomas, an outstanding offensive tackle to protect Quinn, at #3.

Quinn's fall got me thinking. When kids pick teams on the playground, there's always the fear of being the last one picked. What is clear from Quinn's situation is that this fear is not reserved for just the kids who aren't very good! Quinn was no doubt terribly disappointed at not being a top 3 or a top 10 pick. This is a reminder that disappointment is just another face of expectations over which we have no control.

Friday, April 27, 2007

2007 NFL Draft

As all you NFL aficionados no doubt know, the NFL's 2007 Draft is tomorrow. Okay, okay, I know that none of you know or care about this! But I do!

I'm looking forward to seeing what the San Francisco 49ers do. The last season was a real turnaround for the 49ers: the offense looked good with Frank Gore running the ball very effectively and Alex Smith maturing as a quarterback. Vernon Davis, last year's first round pick, was injured for part of the year, but he has the promise to be a great tight-end. However, the defense was pathetic last year (though they showed some life toward the end of the season). Fortunately, the 49ers had a great off-season in terms of free-agent acquisitions, and have significantly strengthened their defense.

So what's it going to be this year? Most prognosticators have the 49ers taking a defensive player with the 11th pick (in the first round)---maybe a linebacker (Patrick Willis) or someone on the defensive line, either a tackle (Alan Branch) or an end (Adam Carriker). But if an offensive tackle like Levi Brown is still available at the 11th pick, then the 49ers will probably snap him up. Of course, the 49ers might indulge in a blockbuster trade to move up to the 2nd pick and grab Calvin Johnson, a wide receiver most people consider to be the absolutely best player in the draft. But in the absence of such things, a focus on the defense is clearly called for. It would also be nice to get a wide receiver, but it seems that other than Calvin Johnson, the rest of the receivers in the draft are likely not good enough to be the 11th pick. Of course, the 49ers have lots more picks: a total of 10 in the 6 rounds. Looking forward to seeing what they do.

And then there's the excitement of what the Oakland Raiders will do with the first pick. (Yes, the Raiders ended the 2006 season with the absolutely worst 2-14 record and got the rights to the first pick.) The most likely pick for the Raiders is quarterback Jamarcus Russell. Apparently he is a complete quarterback with all the skills you want. But there's some question about whether he is adequately driven to succeed at the highest level. Brady Quinn is the other highly rated quarterback, but he's likely to go further down. Finally, Al Davis might decide that he really doesn't want to take a quarterback with the first pick (he's rarely done so in the past, and the two times he's done it, it has led to flops), and will instead pick Calvin Johnson. Or they might trade the first pick for a boatload of picks to fill all the holes they currently have (this is an unlikely option, though). So lots of excitement on what the Raiders will do.

Monday, April 23, 2007

If presidential candidates were stocks

Slate magazine has an entertaining article that discusses what would happen if we started treating presidential candidates as stocks. Here are some gems from the article:
  • Hillary Clinton: General Electric
    "Like GE, HRC is a mega-cap blue-chip, a juggernaut of the 1990s that, while still a market leader, doesn't enjoy the cachet it once did. ..."
  • John Edwards: Krispy Kreme Doughnuts
    "... Both phenomena peaked in 2004 and have since struggled to connect with customers. ..."
  • Rudy Giuliani: Halliburton
    "... Events triggered by Sept. 11, 2001, led to swift rise in prominence and profitability. ..."
  • John McCain: General Motors
    "Two old warhorses that have solid reputations as patriotic brands but are struggling to hold on to shrinking market share. ..."
  • Mitt Romney: Citigroup
    "... Transparently lame re-branding efforts: ..."
And last, but not the least:
  • Barack Obama: Google
    "Both have posted astonishing growth since splashy initial public offerings in 2004 and have become darlings of Silicon Valley. ..."
Talk about caricatures!

Thanks to this Google Blogoscoped blog entry for the pointer.

Memorial Day in Israel

My friend Alon Halevy wrote a very nice piece on Memorial Day in Israel.

Friday, April 20, 2007


Yesterday my officemate, David, and I were upgrading the Linux on our desktop machines from Red Hat to Ubuntu. Unfortunately, the upgrade didn't go smoothly at all. In one failed attempt, the machine sat there forlornly with the following message:

We were wondering if this was a not so subtle commentary on our lack of it, or whether we had lost it all and they were having trouble finding it...:-)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Online pedometer

Do you take long walks or go running in your neighborhood? Or do you take your kids for bike rides? Have you wondered how far you went on each of these trips? Of course you did! And you probably had a pretty good estimate based on some idea of how fast you were going. Maybe you know you run between 9 and 10 mins/mile (unless you're Sub, in which case you run at 7 mins/mile!). Or maybe you know that you walk about 3.5 miles/hour (unless you're Puru walking a marathon and going at a zippy 3.83 miles/hour!). But even after all your estimating, surely you're left with this niggling question: how much did you actually go?

Well, don't let that question niggle you any more: you need GMaps Pedometer! This is a great site, built on top of Google Maps, that allows you to lay out your route on a map. It tells you how long the route is, how long each leg of the route is, how many calories you burnt (I haven't used this, but it sounds interesting---isn't that the whole point of being out and about in the neighborhood...:-), elevation, ... It's really cool, and it takes out all the guesswork from your estimates. You can now veg out in front of the TV (or in front of your computer reading blogs) serene in the knowledge that you just finished a 4.53 mile run!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Today's Tom Friedman op-ed, entitled Help Wanted (Times Select subscription needed), talks about one of the strongest reasons for an Obama presidency:

it is his potential to repair the broken relationship between America and the world.

He ends the piece with:

Which brings me back to Mr. Obama. I believe that what has propelled his candidacy up to now — more than anything — is that many Americans have projected onto him their hunger for community, their hunger for a president with the voice, instincts and moral authority to make it so much harder for foreigners to be anti-American or for Americans to be anti-one-another.

I don't know too much about Obama yet and so I haven't made up my mind about Obama vs Hillary (or any of the other Democratic candidates). I saw Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention back in 2004, and he was incredibly inspiring! The kind of "inspiring" that you want in a leader. What I don't know about him yet is whether he has enough experience and knowledge to do a good job. Certainly the caricature of him is someone who doesn't have enough knowledge. I realize that these caricatures are just that; each of the Democratic and Republican candidates are hampered by their own caricatures. I hope to learn more about him over the next year.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton seems totally on top of policy issues and seems to know her stuff inside out. I saw her talk here at Google (she was interviewed on stage by Eric Schmidt), and I just got the feeling that I agreed with all the policy points and priorities she made, and that she was incredibly knowledgeable. But, and this is the unfortunate part, I didn't find her particularly inspiring.

Is it more important to be competent and knowledgeable or to be inspiring? Can't we have both?!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech tragedy

Nikki Giovanni, Virginia Tech distinguished professor, poet, and activist, gave this speech (or is it a poem?) at the memorial service. I particularly liked the part that begins with "We do not understand this tragedy". You can hear it in her own voice here.

"We are Virginia Tech.

We are sad today and we will be sad for quite awhile. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to know when to cry and sad enough to know we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did not deserve it but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, but neither do the invisible children walking the night to avoid being captured by a rogue army. Neither does the baby elephant watching his community be devastated for ivory; neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

We are Virginia Tech.

The Hokier Nation embraces our own with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong and brave and innocent and unafraid. We are better than we think, not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imagination and the possibility we will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears, through all this sadness. We are the Hokies. We will prevail, we will prevail.

We are Virginia Tech. "

Monday, April 16, 2007

Clinton at the Global Philanthropy Forum

I heard Bill Clinton speak last Friday at the Global Philanthropy Forum. I was so taken by his speech that I decided that I had to blog about it. I'm going to try to summarize the main points that I took away. But there's no way I can do justice to his eloquence. You can watch his whole speech on Google Video here to get the full effect.

In his speech, Clinton essentially posed and answered 5 questions (I only remember 4 of the questions...).

1. What is the fundamental nature of the 21st century?

Clinton's answer was interdepence. This is just globalization and "flat worldness" that people like Tom Friedman have been talking about.

2. Is this interdependence good or bad?

Clearly this interdependence has been very good for a lot of people. But it also has a bad side. Half the world doesn't participate in the benefit that this interdependence brings. The divide between the haves and the havenots is growing. Lots of things are worsening: population explosion, climate change, resource depletion, deforestation, oil depletion, top soil loss.

3. What can we do about it?

His answer to this critical question was that we need to build integrated communities with empowered people. He said that successful communities have three characteristics: (a) they give their members the opportunity to participate; (b) the members have a shared responsibility for achieving a common goal; and (c) members have a strong sense of belonging. He gave some simple examples of successful communities: a company like Google, the Tennessee women's basketball team, etc.

He pointed out that having a strong sense of belonging is critical. He noted that the terrorist bombings in England created a lot more angst in the UK because the terrorists were home grown; these were people who were part of the British community but did not have the
sense of belonging to that community.

He said that it was essentil to have some sort of a security strategy in this world. But that wasn't enough: "you can't kill, jail, or occupy all the people who disagree with you" (he repeated this multiple times to great effect). So you have to make deals with people you disagree with; you have to practice politics; you have to build a world with more partners and fewer adversairies. This is much cheaper than going to war.

He said that we know how to make partners. We know how to educate kids, end hunger, help farmers, help countries avoid the use of destructive energy use policies. We know that cell phones empower people. We know how to help with health care, climate change and resource depletion.

He said that saying you have to make deals with people you disagree with sounds like a terrible thing to do. Until you think of the options: you can't kill, jail, or occupy all the people who disagree with you. It's very much like Churchill's comment on democracy: it's the worst form of government except for all the rest!

He pointed out that before the tsunami, the US approval rating in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, was at 20%. But after the tsunami the approval rating went up to 60%. What caused this change? The US army was in the vanguard of bringing aid to the people. The Indonesians began to associate US army helicopters and uniforms with aid packages. Not with war. And this is significantly cheaper than war.

4. Who does it?

He said we all need to do it. We can't wait around for our government to do it.

The Clinton Foundation's work

After he discussed the above questions, Clinton started talking about what his foundation does. One of the big things they do is to organize markets. For example, they've organized the market for medicines. As a result, they got the price of AIDS drugs down to something like $139 per person per year from about $3500 per person per year. They're doing the same thing with medicines for kids. He talked about UNITAID, a French led effort to purchase drugs for the developing world. There are no longer financial barriers to keeping these children alive (though effective health care infrastructure still needs to be built).

He talked about organizing fertilizer markets in Rwanda. They went out and negotiated a deal with fertilizer companies. These deals, much like the deals made with drug companies, had three characteristics: low margin, high volume, certain payment. Then they negotiated a decrease in microcredit interest rates so farmers could buy the fertilizer.

All this work is about organizing and enlarging markets. Nothing empowers people like an organized, understandable market. Can this work with climate change? He's going to try. He pointed out that Denmark grew its economy by 50% without increasing its energy consumption!

He ended by asking everyone to do something about these pressing problems: "It's not as if we have anything more important to do"!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Why I started this blog

I've been toying with the idea of blogging for a while now, but didn't quite get around to it. Finally, the other day I heard Bill Clinton's speech at the Global Philanthropy Forum. I was so moved by that speech that I thought I just had to share it with my friends and family. And what better way to share it than to start a blog. So here I am. The next post will have my summary of Clinton's speech. And I hope to continue posting thoughts on a variety of different topics.
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