Business Saint Louis Technology

Microsoft Xbox 360 strategy

This morning I went to 3 local Best Buy stores. I knew my chance of getting a Xbox 360 would be as same as winning a lottery. But I went anyway because I was already awake at 7:15 AM. There was a little flurry but I made it to the Best Buy Bridgeton location at 7:58 AM. There was already a line there. And I noticed the chairs (people camped outside the store overnight) were already empty — later on I saw those people waited in the check out lanes with their new Xbox inside the store. Interestingly enough, the Best Buy greeting guys in the front door handed out 15% off coupons for those missed the Xbox. Smart sales pitch.

I spent a minute or two before heading off to the Chestfield Best Buy store. At Bridgeton I saw a girl (or lady) asked the customer rep if there is any more shipments before X’mas. Obviously she needed this as a gift.

When I got to Chestfield, people were picking up their Xbox, tents (I saw at least two tents) and taking off. I gave up my unrealitic hope and went to Mcdonald for breakfast. After that I went to Best Buy at Ellisville and tried out the Xbox demo my first time.

I talked the Xbox shortages problem with my friends who are game lovers (I am not). Originally I thought it was Microsoft’s fluke. But they made me realized it’s a Microsoft’s strategy. I agree. By releasing the Xbox in limited quantity, with all the free media coverage (include my blog), they gained more excitment about the product. And people like me who are not Xbox gamers are also aware of this and may be converted to gamers through all this frenzy, e.e., I tried their demo this morning.

This is a really smart business strategy. But could it back fire especially for those where are real gamers? Unlikely. The thing is there are not too many alternatives. The new PS3 is one year away, and the Xbox 360 has great graphics in my view.

Bill made his day again in this X’mas. Now if he could also make the “blue screen” go away (recently my Windows XP laptop died twice with blue screen, very annoying).

Software development

Indian food and software developers

Working in the software development these days also means working with people all over the world. Most notablly, Indian software engineers. I have great respect with my Indian colleagues. I know some of them from my graduate school. But I have to admit I don’t like Indian food. I have been to Indian restaurants in St. Louis several times with my coworkers but I did not really enjoyed it. But this does not means I can stay away from it. Like today.

This week we had food festival at my work place. The idea is everyone bring his/her own favorite dish and share it. I am not a good cooker and I am lazy so I did not participate. During lunch time I felt a strong smell dispersed from a cubicle nearby. Initially I thought it was some American food but later on I realized it’s Indian food (curry, spicy, etc). I had to leave from work early because I just can not stand it. But I think many American coworkers enjoyed it. Now I remember yesterday one of my coworkers asked if I liked Indian food. No wonder he was looking forward to it!

This reminded me of something related. Some of my Chinese friends complained it’s hard to understand Indian English but most American have no problem with it. One time I posed this question to my fellow American graduate student. He told me he would pay more attention when he listened to Indian students but there is no problem in understanding.

Another point I want to make (and I think we Chinese need to learn) is our Indian coworkers know how to market themselves. The food festival is a perfect example. While there are quite some Indian fans among Americans, not everyone likes Indian food (take myself as an example). But they prepared and marketed the food with enthusiasm. That’s what counts. Attitude, not the substance (taste, smell).

Now I wish I would not be at lazy. Maybe next year I will bring some crab rangoon or fried rice.

Software development

Chasing the bug

As software developer finding and fixing the bugs (defects in software) is just a way of life. I have been debugging (find the cause) a tough problem lately. During debugging sometimes I wished I would have another job. But when I solved a real problem, the satisfaction can not be easily described by words. I bet a lot of people in software developement have similar experience. I want to share some of the general steps I take during debugging.

  • Reproduce the problem
    A lot people ignore it or treat it too lightly. But this is the first step. Make sure the problem appears consistently under the user-described situations; and the symptom is exactly as the user reported. Otherwise you will try to solve the problem “you see”, not “the user sees”. Maybe you will be lucky enough to “see” the same problem as “the user see”. But more likely you will be will be solving another problem, or a related problem. And the next day (week, month), the user will come back and shout at your boss: how come the problem you claimed “fixed” still exisits? You know how embarassing you will be at that time.
  • Simplify
    After “reproduce the probelm”, the next step is to simply. By “simply” I mean the real problem is ususally complicated, and it will take a lot time to run through debugger. The goal here is to simply the problem as much as possible. For example: delete unrelated parts from the raw data. You should be very careful in doing this too. Because you could eliminate the problem area in doing this, i.e., the problem will be gone if you don’t simplify properly.
  • Find the cause
    Here comes the real run. After all the analysis, time to jump into the code. It’s why we progrmmers are paid for, right? But it is also the most difficult part. I am still puzzled by the problem I mentioned at the beginning. Hopefully by stepping through the code, talk about the algorithm with the guru in your team, even ask a second pair of eyes to take look, we can nail the problem.
  • Fix or ask appropriate party to fix
    Then comes the politics part. I have to admit this is not my specialty. Luckily if the mistake is made by yourself, and you know how to fix. Life is good. But a lot of times the mistake could be made by somebody else, maybe some code written by another team member, or even a piece of software created by 3rd party. In these cases, you need to demonstrate the problem to responsible parties, bugging (asking) the people for a quick fix. Meanwhile your sales team or customer are already screaming.
  • Workaround
    Luckily, sometimes you can find a workaround the customer like. That provide cushion time for you or your team to work out a fix.
  • Categories
    Saint Louis

    St. Louis

    St. Louis gmap

    Site Info

    Links category

    The link ends with * means you can not get access to it inside China, thanks to the GFW. Note all my links are non-political.

    blogroll: individual blogs;

    Kunwei is a good blog about things in Singapore and China, written by a “Haigui”.u

    WangJianshuo is a blog mostly about Shanghai, written by Wang Jian Shuo. He is busy now as he just got a new baby (June 2007).

    China: listed some budget hotels in China, gsuo is a good map (shanghai);

    Finance: some finance and stock blogs or bbs;

    links: misc. links;

    Shanghai: stuff about Shanghai.

    Comments and Email are welcome.

    Saint Louis

    Ice Skating

    I went to ice skating at Creve Coeur Ice Arena today. This is my second time skating on the real ice and this year’s first. Last year I did it at Forest Park. As I said in my another article I did more roller blade skating in recent years. But ice is more fun I think. It’s more diffcult to control the move on the ice because of the lack of friction. But it’s OK for me as a hobby. I used to watch a lot of figure skating (Michel Kuan, Sasha Cohen and Irina Slutskaya) on the TV, now I am happy I could move on the ice too, although much more awkward than those super stars. I saw some teenage girls doing spins and jumps and I admire them. I hope when I have kids they will be interested in this sport and do those amazing things.

    Saint Louis

    Giovanni’s on the hill

    Went to the Giovanni’s on the hill last night, with a friend from Shanghai. This is the second time I visited the restraunts on the hill, and I almost got lost on Kingshighway. We arrived at the Giovanni’s a bit late because of other errands. My first impression is it’s a fairly formal restraunt, from the dress of waiters and guests. And the pictures on the wall (Bush I and II, Clinton, Reagon, etc). We also saw two limos parked nearby. Apparently there was a big party going on. The service and the food was not as great as we thought. We had lamb and lobster respectively. Maybe their pasta will be better? My friend has been to some more expensive restraunts in D.C. and Europe and told me the services there are very good. The price for an entree is from $ 25 to 35.

    The wait time is none because we arrive after 9:45 PM. Better than the Favazza’s, another Italian restraunt on the hill I visited couple years ago.

    Here is a link of Italian restaurants from AOL.

    Saint Louis

    More pictures…

    I added more pictures at my gallery. They are taken at some of my 2005 trips: Grand Canyon, Jiu Zhai Gou (and Shen Xian Chi), and Yosemite. There are also a few pictures I took on an afternoon trip along Missisipi River (near Alton, IL).

    I will also add some “Christmas lights” pictures at St. Louis soon.

    Saint Louis

    It’s Snowing…

    Just as I was laughing at people put all the ice melt in the parking lots (thought they were wasting their time), St. Louis got her first snow this Winter. I will put up a picture very soon. Stay tuned.

    I took a drive in my lunch break. It’s fun to drive in the snow but you got to be careful. I took a spin at the traffic light near my home. The good thing is it’s red light on the other direction so I can slowly turn around and get on my way. Now I wish I had a all wheel 0r 4 wheel drive.

    Here are the snow pictures I took today.


    Going Financial?

    I thought about going to Financial Field recently. More accurately, I am going to apply for Financial Engineering programs in the US and Canada starting next Fall. I already took the GRE (the last time I took before this one was Fall 1996) and was working on my “Statement of Purpose”. It turns out more difficult than I thought. My initial draft was shot down by my friends. I can see why – I merely list things I did chronically without too much explaination. I got a few days to rework on it.

    This is not an easy decesion for me. And I don’t know if I will eventually I will make it or not. Besides the admission decesion by school, the money to attend school, there is this question: is it worth it?

    The money part can be calculated, using the discounted cash flow method. But not the other stuff: the extra effort to learn new things mainly on Finance and Math; pressure of working in wallstreet vs. slower pace in St. Louis. I don’t think there is a formula or model to calculate this. Life is more complex than engineering and finance. But that’s also the beauty of the life: if you know everything in advance, will life still be that interesting?

    Hope I can figure out all these by next Fall.