Rich Nannies

Want to use that college degree to make higher than average money? It’s simple – become a live-out nanny! I used to think that nanny jobs were typically low paying teenager jobs until I actually made a friend who worked as a nanny. Now, this girl was college educated and could have probably found at least a receptionist job at an office, but she really loved her nany job. For one, she enjoyed spending time with kids. The benefits from her job weren’t too shabby either. She made about half a grand a week, and perks included paid leaves as well as gasoline for transportation! You could say she was getting the perfect training in being a future mom, and getting paid for it. Sure, she was making less than 50 grand a year, but it was more money than being a homemaker.

With the couple having their own day jobs, child care and development has become a very important issue for the new age parents with lots of disposable income. This is more true for celebrity or executive parents. These are the people with personal jets and a payroll for the domestic support staff. The live out nannies (those who don’t live in with the family) make as much as $50k a year on top of the regular benefits like health insurance, paid leaves, and sick days. This is no small change.

A casual Internet search would reveal at least a dozen nanny agencies specializing in training and placing them. This is especially interesting if you consider that Phillipine women remitted over $7 billion to their country in 2001, creating the country’s second biggest source of hard currency after electronics exports. There is tremendous demand for bilingual qualified nannies.

Another way to think of this would be to appreciate how you actually save $50k a year by marrying a homemaker, and how she deserves at least part of those savings!

The psychology of the “Invisible” mode in IMs

I have a couple of friends on my contact lists that love to remain “invisible” while they’re logged on those instant messaging programs. I have no problems with that, but my biggest pet peeve is getting sudden IMs from such people. I can understand if they’re very busy or just do not wish to be disturbed, but I don’t get why anyone would give the illusion that they’re very busy or just unavailable, and yet send random IMs to their friends. If you’re not straight forward enough to make your online presence known to me, what makes you think I appreciate that abrupt message from you?

I decided to seek the help of psychology to understand why people display this kind of behavior online. Turns out that we humans have been exercising such behavior since the time we started forming societies. The name of this phenomenon is – Ostracism. Traditionally, ostracism has been practiced at a social scale through the act of shunning villagers, throwing people in jail, or even exiles. It does, however occur at smaller scales, like a husband ostracizing his wife in public to avoid confrontations out in the open. It is believed that ostracism has biological substrates, and is a natural trait of many different living species.

What occurs in the case of Internet messengers is somewhat of a “reverse ostracism”, if that’s the right way of defining the phenomenon. In this case, one particular individual ostracizes the rest of the “online society” to provide some psychological succor to him/her self. Researchers and psychologists have often concluded that ostracism is a self-destructive mechanism when used as a defense against perceived rejection. Does this have to do anything with my friend being invisible while he’s actively looking for someone to converse with? Intuitive reasoning would say yes. When quizzed, these people declare that they prefer to be invisible to avoid unsolicited and mass messages from friends they have long forgotten or have been trying to forget. Some also mention that they remain invisible so that they only have to talk to someone when they want.

Psychologists say that such behavior is most likely to be exhibited by people low in self-esteem. They use social ostracism as a manipulative tactic rather than true disengagement. I bolded the latter part of the statement because these people still do not want to truly ostracize their peers, but choose to selectively distance themselves away to provide the illusion of a permanent ostracism. The fact these people have low self esteem can be proven by the fact that people with a high self esteem are actually more likely to go through with true disengagement or termination of relationship.

So, does this mean that I have people with low self-esteem on my online contact lists? Maybe. It is hard for me to tell. They are all normal people, and I like the fact that I know them, and that they sometimes send me online messages when I expect them the least. What amazes me is the psychology that might be responsible for such an unintuitive behavior.

Microsoft and on schedule delivery

Some things never change. Xbox Live has been down for “scheduled maintenance” way beyond the original announced “schedule”. Does it even count as scheduled if your service is down for about 120% of the intended downtime? Has this become a part of Microsoft culture – not delivering a promise on time? I am usually very supportive towards Microsoft, but this is getting way above head level.

I pay $35 a year to host 2 of my domains. That is about $15 less than what I pay for Xbox Live. Even then, I get a very good uptime on my hosting, and in case it’s down for an extended period of time, I get the freedom to constantly bug the person in charge to bring it back up. In the case of Xbox Live’s downtime, I have no point of contact at all, besides majornelson.com, and that too has been down for some time. No one else knows the state of the “scheduled maintenance”, and “Major Nelson” has already suggested not to call Xbox customer service about the downtime in one of his podcasts.

Is this arrogance on the part of Microsoft? Am I not entitled to some answers about an outage I am effectively paying for? I think frenzal said it best on majornelson.com:

one key part of marketing and public relations:

NEVER promise something unless you know you will deliver on it. It’s better to underpromise, than overpromise.

If MS said ‘XBL will be down for approximately 24 hours. We apologise if our works continue on after this, but we will be keeping you updated’. No one would complain. If they say, as they did, XBL will be down for less than 24 hours, and it’s even 1 minute more, people start complaining.

Same thing with demos.

I hope Microsoft gives up its habit of never making its own deadlines. Compassion towards the customer goes a long way, especially in the face of overpriced basic services.

I could seek “reparations” in the form of refunds or points, or I could just forget this whole incident, although I believe this has also happened in the past. From Microsoft’s perspective, they are working hard to manage this service, which is definitely the best online setup for any console out there. What appalls me is that they maintained so much secrecy about this whole affair, at the same time promising to make the service a whole lot better.

Why the secrecy? Does it suit a big company like Microsoft to hype up its improvements even if it means coming short of expectations? We’re all paying customers, and too grown up to be excited about surprises like this. The same thing has been happening with Vista. So much was promised that there’s only scope for reduction and shortcutting. Just take note of all the cool stuff that has been pulled out of Windows Vista’s final release. And, now it’s more than a year behind schedule.

Trying to justify an erratic downtime with promises of drastic secretive service improvements does not impress me one bit. That’s like Cingular cutting off my service for a day while promising to deliver a 10Mbps Internet connection the next day. Granted, I don’t pay as much for Xbox Live as I do for my Cingular service, but the point still stands.

When is Microsoft going to learn?

UPDATE: About 11 hours past the original 24 hour “schedule”, Xbox.com is still down, whereas Xbox Live is flaky. 

UPDATE: It’s now about 44 hours since the service went offline and people are still having issues. Xbox.com is still not up and running like it should, and Live is kicking off people from the servers.

UPDATE: Everything seems to be back to normal now, approximately 48 hours later! I don’t see any “cool new features” besides some parental controls.

Free VoIP calling to India on Diwali

Yahoo! is offering free PC to phone calls to India on Diwali day! They are 

 

giving away 60 minutes of talk time to any phone line in India. This special will last from Oct 20 – 11:30AM PST to Oct 21 – 8:59PST. Even the regular rates to India are 4.9¢/min! This is probably the cheapest rate anywhere on the Internet. I see that Yahoo! is making full use of its Dialpad Communications, Inc. purchase.

Videogames of the yesteryears

It wasn’t until 1988 that I got my first home computer, the Atari 65XE. I was less than 8 years old at the time, and the system was phenomenal. Not only was it a great home computer, it also came with an extensive library of games that could be loaded through a cartridge, or through a cassette drive.

We didn’t have LAN parties back then. No one had predicted anything of that sort at that time, at least no one my age. Traditional computer networks were extremely expensive, and a modem was a geek’s dream. Our gaming parties were constituted by getting together at a friend’s place and playing almost every game we had in our arsenal. We could spend entire evenings, or even days just playing against or with each other. Games were a lot simple back then.

So simple that even my parents enjoyed playing games on the weekends! The four of us would regularly gather around the Atari, and spend hours competing with each other in a game of River Raid or Pac-Man. I probably had around 50 different games, and the best thing was that my parents were always more excited than me when it came to buying new games or software.

Another allure of the Atari Home Computer was the fact that it wasn’t just a gaming console. It was a full fledged computer in the sense that it came with RAM (64K!), ROM, and a BASIC interpreter. This meant that I could type in my own programs and save them on an acoustic cassette. This was phenomenal. I learned to write programs in the BASIC language all by myself at the age of 8! In fact, I might still have some of them lying around at home. Too bad, the Atari doesn’t work any more. The last time I played River Raid on it was in 1995.

Portable video gaming at that time was mostly little LCD screen based battery operated handhelds. Again, I had almost a dozen, if not more, different video games  from Casio and Nintendo. They were good to play while on the way to school, going on long drives, or when the class got boring 😉 

The best thing in portable video gaming was definitely the Casio game watches. At one time, they were so pervasive that almost every kid in school wore one.

I was looking around on eBay when I realized that most of these video games and watches are collector’s items these days with a lot of the ones I have fetching close to $100 each. I still have all my video games and watches with me, so I wonder how long before they start fetching really good prices. At that point, I could truly go out and say that I have an antique collection!

I love my childood. I was able to learn everything much earlier than other kids my age, and had access to the best things out there. And, now I am old.

Purchase price of $32 a user

The bubble is swelling up again, and we have news about Google Inc. trying to buy YouTube.com for a price of $1.6 billion. According to the news article, that works out to $32 a user for the total userbase of approximately 50 million. So, essentially, Google is considering spending $32 on people like you and me to use their FREE service. Am I the only one who considers this ludicrous?

First off, YouTube is still not profitable. How is it going to profit when the only source of profit is text advertisements that no one likes to click? Let’s consider that Google would come out with a revolutionizing technology to embed ads within the videos for a minute. Wouldn’t that take away from the whole video sharing experience? These videos are generally very short. There’s no way you could possibly insert an ad in the middle. You could insert an ad at the beginning, but that is annoying, and I doubt a lot of people would enjoy that. Ads in the end are nothing more than the useless text ads/AdSense ads. Hence, the business plan for profitability is going to be a hell of an exercise. Of course, it would be dumb to imagine that Google would rely on just this service for being profitable. It is more of a mechanism to get users hooked to their web services, even if that means subsidizing it through other profitable ventures…like Adwords!

This brings me to the second point. So, Google is trying to either gain more users or not let go the current ones. Wait, there’s a problem here. Just how many users would stop flocking around Google just because they have to use a different website for sharing their videos?! How is the quality of Google’s core product – search, related to its capability to become the best video sharing website on the Internet? You ask, what about the challenge from other portals like Yahoo! and MSN? The simple answer is that none of their video sharing services is profitable either, and I strongly doubt they even consider themselves in the same league as Google when it comes to search traffic.

So, the fight is essentially about who gets the most overall Internet traffic. And, winning the fight makes sense only if you know how to make money out of it. I am not sure how that is going to pan out, nor am I thorough enough to predict the future based on past events, but it does sound stupid to me to be paying that kind of money for a user who isn’t even in the same continent.

I am not even going to talk about the legal and copyright issues surrounding any kind of media sharing service/community. All in all, this sounds a lot like eBay paying a ton of money for Skype.

I could also use a primer on valuation of money losing websites!

The joy of watching movies at a Drive-In

Last evening, I went to the Vali-Hi Drive-In with a friend to watch 3 new movies, back-to-back! The cost – $7! You just can’t beat that price to watch new movies on the big screen. This was not the first time I had been to a drive-in. The last time I went to one was about 13 years ago in Ahmedabad, India. Things have changed since then, and we now have audio transmitted on a low power FM channel instead of through speakers on poles.

The best part was that I could sit comfortably in my reclined seat, which is a lot better than what you’ll find at many theaters. Not to mention that I didn’t have to stumble over people while I tried to find seats in the dark. The aftermarket speaker system really helped, too, and I was able to enjoy a very good soundtrack. And, this was after receiving an FM reception, which makes me wonder how terrible the sound system is in most movie theaters.

Only mistake on my part – forgetting to bring my warmer wear. It is starting to get cold, and driving around in a short sleeved shirt isn’t a really good idea late at night. I could use the heater but that would cost me in gas. This made me wonder, what if the drive-ins had some sort of AC or DC outlets along the poles at the parking lot so that people could connect their “appliances” for a price. That would be great.

All in all, definitely a lot better experience than going to a regular movie theater.