Inception is very good

I am fan of all of Chris Nolan’s movies. I loved Memento, The Prestige and both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. He always brings thought provoking concepts to his movies including blockbusters. For instance, the concept of anarchy promoted by The Joker was truly frightening and novel. In a summer movie landscape where movies have been dumbed down to the extreme, his movies have always a beacon of hope for the thoughtful moviegoer also looking for massive explosions and fantastic special effects.

In other words, I went to see Inception with high expectations. I was not disappointed! The movie’s plot is very intricate (but logical), the special effects are dazzling and the concept of dreams within dreams is innovative. The movie is not without flaws. The various parts don’t quite neatly tie perfectly together. Somehow, I did not feel emotionally attached to the characters. I was also disappointed by the deliberate gimmick of leaving the movie open ended.

That said, go see the movie! It’s very good, well-acted, visually stunning and thought provoking.


Was it all a dream? The totem not falling at the end made every moviegoer wonder whether Cobb was still dreaming. Nolan actually left it open to interpretation and you can make convincing arguments either way. The totem wobbles and if you listen carefully you actually hear it fall after it goes out of view suggesting that he is in the real world. However, there are a number of elements suggesting he’s still dreaming: the kids have not aged and are still wearing exactly the same clothes as in every sequence where he dreams of them. The ending has a dream like quality. Moreover, he’s actually not using his own totem, he’s using his wife’s totem. He very well might have learned to manipulate it and make it fall or not. The polls I have seen suggest that viewers seem evenly split on this one, probably as Nolan intended.

The Booq Boa Squeeze is the best notebook backpack in the market!

I prefer backpacks to carry my notebook to keep the weight balanced on both my shoulders. After I downsized notebook, it made sense to downsize backpack.

The Booq Boa Squeeze is great. It is super light – 2.9 pounds – and very compact in addition to being well built, ergonomic and comfortable. It’s not very big, but can definitely hold a few magazines and a book in addition to the notebook and charger.

If you are trying to carry a lighter load, you can’t go wrong with this backpack!

The Vaio Z Series is the best notebook on the market right now!

When my notebook was my only computer, I only bought super high performance 17” notebooks. What they lacked in portability and battery life they made up for in performance. As a game player, I especially valued 1920*1200 screens and fast 3D graphics. Windows compatibility was a must as few games are written for the Mac and games come out months if not years later for the Mac, if at all.

During the last 4 years, given OLX’s global nature, I started spending more and more time on the road. As my travel schedule worsened, I started looking for ways to shave a few pounds from my backpack. When Apple released a 17” Windows compatible Macbook Pro, I immediately switched – it had a reasonably quick Nvidia graphic card and most importantly was only 6 pounds – 2-3 pounds lighter than any other 17” notebook on the market! Unfortunately Apple never optimized its computer for Windows and I only got 90 minutes of battery out of it.

Two years ago, I decided to go down one size and moved to a 15’4” Macbook Pro running Vista. It shaved another pound off of my backpack and was a good notebook, though again it only had a 90 minute battery life under Windows.

During the past 6 months, my travel schedule has taken a turn for the worse and I spent less than 2 months in New York. I also came to the realization that I no longer needed a large screen or as fast a notebook. The transition to cloud computing means I no longer need to have a single PC to work from. With all my emails on Exchange and all my work files automatically backed up with Carbonite from my notebook and accessible from anywhere, I can work from any PC.

As a result, I now have a powerful Core i7 desktop with an Nvidia GTX 285 and a Samsung 30” 2560*1600 monitor to work and play with at home. Moreover, my game playing has largely switched to consoles. First person shooters like Modern Warfare 2 are now optimized for consoles, have much better and seamless online multiplayer on consoles, especially on Xbox Live, and have larger multiplayer user bases on consoles. I still play strategy and adventure games on PCs and am looking forward to Starcraft II and Civilization V, but the reality is those are not nearly as resource intensive as shooters.

To my chagrin, I also play a lot less than I used to for a variety of reasons, not all of which are bad: a lack of new exciting real time strategy games (where are Age of Empires IV and Rise of Nations 2?), too much work and business travel, new interests (paintball, kite surfing, etc.) and dating (funnily enough it’s much easier to play 4 hours a day every day when you don’t have a girlfriend 🙂

All this to say I was ready to downsize my notebook yet again. I started looking for the fastest and lightest 13” notebook on the market. To my surprise, Apple was not even in the running. Apple has been extremely slow to update its notebooks during the past few years. The new 13” Macbook Pro, despite the last update, remains underpowered with a Core 2 Duo processor, a 256Mb Nvidia GeForce 320M and only a 1280*800 screen. Worse it’s 4.5 pounds! The Macbook Air is even more underpowered and overpriced with an old Core 2 Duo, a Nvidia 9400M, the same low resolution 1280*800 screen and only a 128Gb SSD hard drive. The Dell Adamo Onyx was by far the prettiest 13” notebook, but suffers from many of the same flaws as the Macbook Air: it’s last generation hardware, has a low resolution screen, only 128Gb hard drive and does not include an internal DVD player. The same applies to the somewhat heavier and less pretty HP Envy 13. There were rumors that Toshiba was going to release a 2 pound 13” notebook, but so far it has not come out (and it does not have an expected release date either). This left the Sony Z Series as the only real option.

A few friends of mine were raving about their Sony Z Series so I checked it out. The Sony Z Series has it all: a powerful Core i7 processor, a superfast 256Gb Raid 0 SSD hard drive (with a 512Gb option), a 1Gb Nvidia GT 330M graphic card, 8Gb of Ram, a long battery life, an internal DVD player (or optional internal Blu-ray player and burner). It even has a 1920*1080 HD screen, a rarity in a 13” notebook! It’s only 3.04 pounds. It’s blisteringly fast, boots Windows 7 in record time and I have been able to get 5 hours of battery life out of it with the default battery! I also hear you can get up to 9 hours of battery life with the large capacity battery which adds 0.3 pounds to the weight of the notebook. In any case, the battery is changeable so you can take a spare with you.

I got the black carbon fiber case which I found to be most elegant. My only complaint is that I have not been able to get it to run my 30” monitor in 2560*1600 (I max out at 1920*1200 on external monitors).

In any case, it’s the best notebook on the market right now so if you are looking for a lightweight high performance notebook, look no further.

Predators is terrible

I went to see Predators last week with my good friend William. We were lured by the 63% Rotten Tomatoes score from the critics and 77% from the community. The reviews promised a back to basics approach for the movie with a darker, scarier tone similar to the original with Schwarzenegger.

Unfortunately despite the presence of Adrian Brody, the movie did not deliver. It was not scary. You don’t care about the characters. The plot is laughable. Laurence Fishburne, who seems to be on the same diet as Russell Crowe, makes a brief pointless paycheck appearance.

We were looking for dark, gritty, entertaining mindless action. Instead, we got a pointless bland movie.

The Passage was disappointing

I had read that The Passage by Justin Cronin was the must read beach book of the summer. After one too many raving review, I downloaded it in the Kindle store to read on my iPad during my crazy business trip.

I expected the book to be a dark, gritty and personal version of World War Z, a book I thoroughly enjoyed. In other words, I expected the book to be in the same style, but written from the perspective of a few individuals with all the lack of information and fear of the unknown that that entails.

The Passage definitely had the potential to be that book and displays flashes of it. Unfortunately, it is so full of pace killing religious and spiritual mumbo jumbo that I could not even get through it. It’s even worse than Stephen King’s The Stand from that perspective, another book I could not finish and that would have been infinitely better and shorter if you removed all the religious allegory.

I hope the next end of the world virus/vampire/zombie outbreak book just focuses on the action, character development and storytelling!

What Microsoft should do in search

We can start by asking why Microsoft should be in search. Microsoft has two extremely successful businesses with Windows and Office that generate $13.1 billion and $12.4 billion in operating income in 2008. Granted search advertising is an attractive market. It is predicted to grow from $20 billion in 2007 to $40 billion in 2012. It’s also extremely profitable once you obtain scale and cover your fixed costs with 60-70% gross margins. However, market attractiveness is not enough: pharmaceuticals are also an attractive business with high margins and no one is suggesting Microsoft goes into pharmaceuticals.

In one word Microsoft’s problem is Google. The spread of broadband, Wi-Fi and mobile data network presages an always on connected future where applications can run in the cloud as effectively as they do today on your local desktop. In this world desktop operating systems and desktop applications become irrelevant. The company best positioned to take advantage of that future is Google. Google’s scale gives it an inherent cost advantage in providing services in the cloud. For instance, Google is rumored to have 15 data centers to Microsoft’s 4. Moreover, while Google may not be interested in Office like applications per se, it can offensively offer them for free to disrupt Microsoft’s core business without undermining its own given that it relies on advertising rather than software sales.

Looking at it from this perspective, Microsoft’s logic for being in search is clear: it is a strategic defensive move to protect its core Windows and Office franchises. Given this logic, Microsoft has to be in search. This leads to the fundamental question: can Microsoft succeed in search? Bing has around a 10% market share in the US and an irrelevant market share in the rest of the world. Even with Yahoo’s 18% of US search share, it will be a distant number 2 in search in the US and irrelevant in the rest of the world. Moreover, there is evidence that a fair amount of Bing searches are “passive searches” brought about by partnerships. These are much less valuable than active searches where the user intentionally goes to a search engine to search for something. Add to that the fact that Microsoft has 50% less search engineers than Google and a quarter of the data centers and it’s hard to see how they can succeed. Worse, even if Bing was a slightly better search engine than Google (as it is for some categories of searches), analysis of consumer behavior suggests it would not be enough for consumers to switch. People cannot tell the difference between the speed of two PCs if one is 25% faster than the other. The speed increase has to be above 50% for consumers to start to be able to tell the difference. Similar consumer behavior seems to affect search. As a result Bing would have to be significantly better than Google for a large number of users to switch which is unlikely to happen given the speed at which Microsoft and Google are copying each other’s new features in search.

Let’s ask the question a few different ways. Can Google sustain its leadership in search? It is not difficult to argue that search as we know it today is extremely primitive. We can easily envision a world where things like natural language search crossed with social and behavioral information will revolutionize the way we search. Unfortunately for Microsoft and wannabe competitors, Google is best positioned to dominate the “Search 2.0” market. The reason is simple: fixed costs. The amount of existing and new information on the web is incredibly large and growing exponentially. Google’s index for instance is rumored to have grown from 1 billion pages to 40 billion pages between 2000 and 2008. A company which developed a better algorithm would still have to crawl all the information on the web to apply its algorithm in order to offer relevant results. Doing so requires billions of dollars to build the type of data centers that Google and Microsoft have built. High fixed costs create huge barriers to entry. As a result, I don’t see anyone displacing Google in search in the next 10 years.

Given all this, what should Microsoft do in search? Historically the company has dealt very effectively with competitors which threatened its franchise by entering their business and giving away the product for free. When Netscape released its browser, Netscape Navigator, in December 1994, Navigator was priced below $50, with evaluation copies downloadable for free, while matching software for servers was priced above $1,000. Marc Andreeson, Netscape’s chief technologist, had a vision that the browser could grow to become a PC user’s primary interface to all of his or computing needs. The browser, he opined, would “reduce Windows to a set of poorly debugged device drivers.” By May 1995, Netscape held a 70% share of the browser market.

Recognizing the threat, Bill Gates sent his top team a nine-page memo title “The Internet Tidal Wave.” Promising to “embrace and extend” the Internet, Microsoft released its own browser Internet Explorer (IE) 1.0 in My 1995. With the August 1996 release of IE 3.0, Microsoft then largely matched the then-current version of Navigator. IE and its matching server software were offered for free and IE came bundled with Windows on new PCs. Versions of IE were also made available for Apple and Unix operating systems. Microsoft also struck deals with Internet service providers (ISPs) to use IE to provide Internet to consumers. To convince America Online, the largest ISP, to promote IE, Microsoft agreed to place AOL’s icon on the Windows desktop, even though AOL competed with Microsoft’s own ISP offering.

Netscape tried to survive by quickening its pace of innovation, by opening its source code so that others could improve its products, and by diversifying into new products. However, Netscape’s development costs rose rapidly, its browser share plunged, and webmasters increasingly optimized their websites from IE, not Navigator. By late 2002, Microsoft’s browser market share surpassed 95%.

Could Microsoft use a similar strategy with Google? At first glance, the answer would seem to be no. Google is offered for free so there is no way to undercut their price. However, Google is more vulnerable that appears at first glance: almost all of their revenues come from search advertising on Google’s own websites where it bears no traffic acquisition costs. Moreover, the vast majority of the revenues comes from less than 5% of the searches which are concentrated in the following categories: travel, product, real estate, vehicles, jobs, services, finance and legal. Long tail searches actually have very little economic value: what ad do you want to put next to “GDP of Zimbabwe”?

In other words Microsoft can disrupt Google by attacking its profit engine in the short tail of searches. This would prevent Google from spending billions of dollars on various new initiatives which often are aimed at Microsoft’s core business. Granted most of Google’s new initiatives fail, but the sheer number of initiatives combined with Google’s rapid iterative product strategy are clearly giving Microsoft cause for concern. To achieve this objective, Microsoft should do the following:

1. Attack the short tail of searches where all of the value lies:

  • Deploy most of your engineers to work on the aforementioned short tail.
  • Offer 85-100% of the revenues to sites that use Bing’s equivalent of Adsense (we now know that Google gives 51% for AFS and 68% for AFC).
  • Keep trying new initiatives like Cashback (which was aimed at product searches) to lure users to use Bing for those short tail searches (though discontinue them if they fail, as Cashback did).
  • Spend a few billion buying vertical search sites (Kayak, Trulia, Indeed, etc.) and deploying them globally to attract an ever greater share of those short tail searches.

2. Get scale in order to cover your fixed costs. The Yahoo deal is a step in the right direction, but it’s a pity that it has taken so long to be implemented. It should already be live! Continue doing such deals but please don’t acquire AOL or Ask. The integration would just distract you. Just power search for them.

3. Leverage your operating system leadership and installed base by putting a big search box in Windows 7 on the desktop. You can offer local searches, but the default should be Internet only searches using Bing (at least when there is connectivity). At the very least put a Bing search Box in the taskbar.

4. Use the market’s distrust of Google and their monopoly position in many markets to your advantage:

  • Present yourself as the friendly, open and responsive alternative to Google to publishers. Be fully transparent on revenue shares, etc. Giving 85-100% of the advertising revenues back to them will also help that cause 🙂
  • Give away Windows Phone 7 to mobile operators and handset manufacturers and tightly integrate mobile search into it. Many operators fear Google as much as they fear Apple and are open to partnerships. Given how irrelevant the revenues from Windows Phone are going to be just give it away but make sure you get Bing to be the default search engine.

5. Keep your research lab working on long term disruptive technologies in search such as natural search. Maybe you could use all the data on people’s hard drives to improve search results. Being the dominant OS you have the easiest access to that information. It’s likely any innovation would be rapidly copied by Google, but you never know, besides you have to stay product competitive.

Good luck! The world’s web publishers need a strong alternative to Google and you are our last remaining hope in search! You owe it to yourself and to us to succeed. We’re all rooting for you!


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

Rudyard Kipling