Thursday, January 28, 2010

Movies ranked #1 the most weeks & Avatar

The movie Avatar has been the number 1 movie in US for the past six weeks, and is expected to be at the top for a couple of weeks more at least. Rather surprisingly, it is no where near the top of the list of movies that has been number 1 for most weeks. In fact, if it holds out for two more weeks, it will only tie for the 10th place.

The list of top ten movies that held the number one ranking for the most weeks has some very surprising entries. There is no surprise about the first two though - with E.T. The Extra Terrestrial being the number one on the list with 16 weeks, and Titanic being the second one with 15 weeks. In addition to the movie's might, the timing of the other releases is key as well for a movie's length of run at the top. It would be very difficult for any movie to beat E.T. The Extra Terrestrial's record.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A peek into the life of a NY Tech Entrepreneur

I had come across David Lifson's name a while ago when Fred Wilson had re-tweeted one of his tweets. David being based in Bayonne NJ caught my eye, and I had added him on my Twitter Following list.

Last week, David tweeted "If you want to pick my brain, sign up for office hours: http://tumblr.com/xns5q1mrx" I took up this opportunity to meet up with a Tech Entrepreneur in NYC, and signed up for a meeting with David. And on Friday afternoon, I was at Postling's new shared-office near Union Square face-to-face with the CEO of the company.

We had an interesting 45 minutes conversation covering various topics related to his life as an entrepreneur, the progress and prospects of Postling & tech scene in NY.

26 year old Lifson is on his second entrepreneurial venture with Postling. His first venture - Waffl - whose intent is to create an online community around Bed & Breakfast Inns - started out as a small project funded by a friend, and has been online for the past year or so. The difficulty of enrolling Innkeepers - quite likely to be reluctant tech users - to use a new system to manage their operations - has turned out to be a bottleneck for Waffl's growth.

Dave started Postling with Chris Maguire and Haim Schoppik - two of the founders of Etsy.com - in the middle of 2009. The idea for Etsy - a website which provides the general public a way to sell and buy handmade goods - grew out of frustrations with Ebay experienced by a group of hand-craftsmen; the founders of Etsy were helping with redesigning a bulletin-board site for the group when they noticed the increasing complaints and decided to create a new online community limited only to people dealing with handmade goods.

With its objective to make it easier and less time-consuming for small businesses to publish to the Social web, Postling has been making good progress on getting paying customers in the recent months. The challenge though would be to tie up with intermediaries - like Yellow pages - to cross sell Postling's services to the Intermediary's customers. Postling is yet to sign up for significant external funding which will be very essential to fund operations, and fuel growth of the company. So far the founders are making do with personal investments, taking minimum or no salary & loans from friends and family.

I got some good pointers from Dave about starting on my own and to know more about the tech scene in NY. There is a monthly gathering called hackersfounders which would be a very good networking opportunity. There is also a site called startuply.com which lists jobs in start-ups all around the country, and could be a great way to start an a entrepreneurial career when I don't have an biz idea of my own.

The biggest take-away for me from the conversation with Dave though is a shift in my views towards income. Previously I used to base my expectation on annual income on "how much I made last year or the years before" and get myself all worked up about "how much someone is supposed to be making". Listening to how Dave and his team have been managing to keep their company going by taking minimal or no salary at all, I am looking at how much money I need to live, to come up with an expected income figure. That perspective encourages me to get a better handle on my expenses, and gives a sense of freedom around money.

To end this note, I want to thank Dave Lifson for the opportunity to meet up with him with the Signup for office hours concept, and for his time and valuable insights during our conversation.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Gotta remind myself constantly: "I am a Solutions-Oriented-Man, and not a Muddled-by-Problems-Wuss!"

Earlier today on my way back from the City on the PATH train, an elderly woman accosted me and started speaking in Spanish. Couldn't make much out of her conversation other than "New Jersey, New Jersey". There were only 3 other people in the train-car; I turned to them and asked if they could speak Spanish, and none of them could. Tried to help the old lady by showing her the train map when the train had stopped at Hoboken station. That seemed to quiet her down for a while, and I got back to my book.

A while later, the woman was again very agitated, and I and a Chinese woman tried to help her again, to no avail. The old woman finally got out at the Grove St. Station.

Thinking about it a little later, the answer to how I could have helped her stuck me almost immediately - all I had to do was to take her to the other train-cars and see if there were any Spanish-speakers there; within one or two train-cars, we would have found someone and the old-lady's problems would have solved. Too bad the solution came too late for her benefit.

Looking back in time, I can come up with many instances where I did not come up with a workable solution at the time of need, and was left ruing later for the opportunity missed. Even now, looking at many issues I am dealing with, there are quite a few examples that show my muddled-thinking nature, rather than problem-solving nature.

It boils down to the context I hold about my problem solving capabilities. I gotta stop being embroiled and fascinated by a problem all the time, and focus on solving the problems. And stop worrying about it if it is not a big deal.

Also, it helps to seek support from friends in dealing with any problem - brings a new perspective and makes it much more manageable, and likely to be solved rather than become 'the thing'.

Here is an action I am taking on:
Put up a few notices all over my place to remind myself constantly "I am a Solutions-Oriented-Man, and not a Muddled-by-Problems-Wuss!". And also share this with my friends so that they can remind me this when I am not being a Solutions-oriented-man.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pushing the envelope

Yesterday, one of my Facebook friends had the following as his status:
doesn't get why 'pushing the envelope' means risk-taking. Envelopes are, like, really easy to push.
That was a very interesting observation! I had no idea what the answer was, and more importantly had never so far bothered to check. A quick google-search provided the answer: The phrase has mathematical roots, and the envelope here is the mathematical envelope.

Wonder how many more phrases and idioms I use regularly, and haven't thought about the origins.

LucidNYC January event - As interesting and entertaining as I expected it to be!

Last January, on Gaurav Mishra's invitation, I attended the Lucid NYC January 2009 event. It was an informal presentation set-up, with four people from different fields presenting about their work to predominantly young crowd. The event was in a loft-like empty space in mid-town Manhattan; The entry fees of $10 (I think) was collected at the door, and there were snacks and drinks, and a tips jar to go with it. The presentations were very interesting - the one talk that still stands out for me was from a last minute presenter talking about the curiosities of Video game pricing. In addition to learning new stuff, the event also allowed for meeting some great people.

At that time, the impression I got was "This is a great event organization; and New Yorkers should benefit from it before Lucid grows too big and too impersonal". For many reasons, I haven't been able to go to any event since then.

Yesterday, I was at the Lucid NYC Jan 2010 event, and it lived up to my expectations!

The event itself had a much more organized feel to it than the last one I attended. The tickets for the event were pre-sold on EventBrite. There was live jazz music to begin with. The presentations were short - around 15 minutes - and interesting, with a bit of quirkiness thrown in. Each of the presenters had some new stuff to offer:
  • Leo Bonnani of Sourcemap.org talked about mapping and displaying in a visual manner the sources for various components of various items- example a Laptop, or restaurant menu item, etc. We could be seeing more of this everywhere soon.
  • Ji Lee of Google talked about 'high-jacking' of concepts - with examples from his work including The Bubble Project. I particularly liked the New Museum ad campaign example and its ads in Subway stations.
  • Andy Bichlbaum of The Yes Men gave an introduction to the work they have done so far, and some ideas about what they want to be doing next. I should watch the movie The Yes Men Fix the World soon. By the way, The Yes Men are looking for investments to expand their operations; if you are interested in making a contribution, write to them on their web-site.
All together, I spent a little over two hours on a weekday evening for this event; it is a great way to learn new things and meet new people! So the next time I attend a Lucid NYC event will not be in 2011 - as my past history would predict. And I reiterate with emphasis "New Yorkers should participate and benefit from it before Lucid grows too big and too impersonal"

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Beauty of Test Cricket

One thing that had me hooked for the past four days was the amazing Test Match played out in Sydney by Australia and Pakistan - after dominating the game for the best part of the match, Pakistan ended up losing it on the fourth day. The character of the Cricket game and my tastes (more or less reflecting the general public's tastes) have changed significantly over the last few decades.

I have been a Cricket fan for the past 25 years - starting to follow the game a couple of years after Cricket captured the nation's imagination after India's World Cup Triumph in 1983. The initial fascination was all about One Day Internationals. At that time Test Cricket was the boring cousin of the dazzling and exciting One Day Internationals. [For total newbies to Cricket - viz Americanos! - check out the wikipedia articles for the three main forms of International Cricket - Twenty20, One Day International and Test Cricket]. One Day Internationals were thrill-a-minute, ended in one day, and when played to completion (without interruption by the weather) had a result. Test Cricket was a drab affair drawn out over five days and most of the matches in the 80s and early 90s ended up as stalemates.

The best Cricketing memories I have from the 80s and 90s are all from One Day Internationals -
Brushing my memory for any such fond memories of One Day Cricket from the 2000s, I am drawing a blank. Same goes for the latest favorite boy - Twenty20 Cricket - as well.

Rather surprisingly, the moments that come up as favorites from the Cricket game in the 2000s, all belong to Test Cricket:
  • The first and most important one of course being the great escape architected by VVS (Very Very Special!) Laxman and Rahul Dravid against the rampaging Australians at Kolkota 2001. I fell in love with Test Cricket after this match!
  • Sehwag blasting 284 runs in one day against the Sri Lankans in Mumbai
  • Many of the India - Australia test matches played in Australia this decade which were either closely fought or won by Indians.
  • England winning two ashes series against the Aussies
  • Pakistan's recent test series against New Zealand and Australia.
Test Cricket changed itself from being boring and stalemate-oriented to being exciting and result-oriented over the last decade and a half. And large part of the thanks for this development has to go to the Australian Cricket team who played Test Cricket at a whole new level and forced every other country to improve as well. Test Cricket, with its five day long canvas, allows for the contest to ebb and flow, and move in different directions - much more than the shorter format games. The long game also is an ultimate test of skills and gumption for the players. When this is capped by an urge to win and produce results - like Australia did in late 1990s and 2000s under the Captaincy of Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, and which has been followed by other countries with differing level of success - the Test Cricket only got better and better.

It is a paradoxical thing that 5-day long Test Cricket is becoming more popular among the aficionados, while the length would make any newbie shun the game without much thought. The shorter version of the games - while being suitable for packaging to an audience conditioned by the limited time-bound nature of NFL/MLB games - doesn't really embody the nature and passion of the game that a Test match inspires among its devotees.

Nevertheless, I am glad that more and more test matches are standing up and screaming to be put in the special archives these days.

Long live Cricket! Long live Test Cricket!