Thursday, December 13, 2007

ticking away

Thus far, I've avoided all time management gyaan as if it were the plague. The very phrase embodies the pith of everything that is mundane, lifeless, unimaginative, stale...
Thus far, I've managed very well without any extra effort at it.

But of late I'm finding more to do at hand than I am able to juggle and that made me willing to open an e-book I chanced upon. The first sentence of the first chapter had me hooked:

“Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
Gustave Flaubert

I haven't read it entirely yet, but I have liked whatever I've read.
Here it is:

Monday, December 10, 2007

we didn't start the fire

He says it all:

(Feedreaders, I'm afraid you might have to click through to see the video. But it's worth the effort)

It is also uncannily reflective of my mood at the moment.

Update: Sorry, the video is off. Someone played spoilsport.. Back again.

Friday, December 7, 2007

video podcasts

I came across a wonderful video podcast that animates the New Yorker cartoons into small 15-second clips. They're really neat and some of them are hilarious!
Check them out:

Some of these are on YouTube as well. Here are two that are very funny:

(If you're reading this in a feed-reader, you might have to click through to see the videos)

Video Postcasts are great. I love them! They're so much better than dreary audio podcasts that need 10 times more concentration. If you know of more cool video podcasts that you can recommend, please leave a comment!

code reuse

Remember my Aswan posts (1, 2, 3, 4)?
Well, I just came across an article talking about how Indian software services companies are discovering the same inherent inefficiencies I mention and how they are starting to move to the first level of reuse.

It's ironic how after regurgitating the hajaar benefits of reusability in every exam through the four years of computer engineering, everyone promptly forgets about it after getting into Infosys (or Wipro or TCS... ).

The change in mindset that the Mint article highlights is, I think, the result of the widespread adoption of the Open Source philosophy. Source code of software has become less of a commodity in the minds of people.

Aswan is about the next level of reuse - harnessing collective intelligence to help build software. And service industries are the best proving ground for such a concept.


Thursday, December 6, 2007


It is such a relief to finally start getting out of convalescence. Apparently all the "yellowness" will take another month or two to disappear but this is the end and I can officially stop being a vegetable now.

I was looking at losing a lot of weight to be the main upside of this long drawn bout of jaundice but it seems like I am doomed to do this the hard way. As consolation, I now know new limits of my patience. Heh.

The real good thing that has happened in these past five past weeks is the breaking of a long rut that I had gotten into. These things are a vicious cycle, almost impossible to notice while you're in it and it only goes downhill. Even brief vacations had not been able to get me out of this. But more on this later. Change is in the offing...

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Having read so many reviews about the Kindle - seemingly by people who had only seen the demo videos published by Amazon - and read about it being likened to the iPod, I went and fished out an image of the first iPod and put it next to the first Kindle:

(Psst.... it had a mechanical scroll wheel!)
And we all know what the latest iPods look like.

I, being an ardent book-lover myself, am a little skeptical of undermining the rich feel of paper and the smell of new books and of turning pages. But the Kindle promises to be a lot more than a conventional book.
And a little bit of convenience is known to go a long way in transforming old habits.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

one month

It's been a entire month since I last blogged.

I managed to catch jaundice a little more than three weeks ago and I've been under the weather since. The bout has been pretty severe with my blood tests through the roof, but I'm coming back to life now.

The major gripe has been missing Diwali. I had to cancel a trip to Calcutta but my parents came down instead and we had a low-key affair. Ofcourse, I couldn't eat any of the scrumptious food. I was way too bummed out all of that week to send the usual Diwali greetings, so here's a photograph I took from the last real Diwali I had:

Happy (belated) Diwali folks.

I did manage to watch Johnny Gaddaar (how did they get the dvd this soon?!) and American Gangster. The first is film noir and coming from Bollywood it is a very nice surprise indeed. I give it five stars. Watch out for Dharmendra spouting Indiana Jones dialogues! The second, too, is very good, notwithstanding the fact that I'm a sucker for dark mafia movies! :-) Oh, Hot Fuzz is brilliant too, very deserving of its 8+ IMDB rating.

Mostly I've been in bed and out of any sort of action. The doc tells me to keep it quiet for another few weeks and has already given me a list of things to avoid (eating and doing) for the next couple of months to make me have nightmares. Right now all I need is a machine that will look into my head and write whatever I am thinking. I have had way too much time to think and not enough (time or energy) to get stuff written.

The Economist and YouTube (watch this!) have been faithful companions for whatever time I can use my eyes before they start feeling the strain. I have been watching movies but it is so difficult to get hold of anything that is not standard Bollywood or Hollywood fare. So I've resorted to watch the older (and more easily available) stuff I've missed out - Indiana Jones, the Godfather sequels, etc. And I'm in dire need of newer music. By newer I mean stuff I don't have already. I'm more than willing to give the usual Dylan and Doors and U2 and Rolling Stones a break.

I tried listening to podcasts recently, to give my eyes a break. They're actually quite intolerable. No wonder they haven't become much of a rage. They are painfully slow and I have to concentrate twice as hard to listen as while reading. And while reading I can choose to glance through or skip back forth and definitely read faster than voice overs with their careful diction. Podcasts aren't worth listening unless they're just news headlines or something as brief as that.

I have much much more to write about - it's all crammed in my head. But I'll just take my own sweet time to do it, unless a brain-reading version of the Dictaphone comes about soon.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

untouchable and unthinkable

I recently came across an article in The Economist about the Indian government forcing businesses too to have quotas for backward castes. While railing about the existence of the caste system in India, the article goes on to blame it on the Hindu religion and cites the scriptures thus:

The caste system is possibly the world's ugliest social system. And it is sanctified by India's largest religion: according to the Laws of Manu, an ancient Hindu text, anybody from the lower orders who has the temerity to mention the name of a higher caste should have a red-hot nail thrust into his mouth; if he makes the mistake of telling a brahmin what to do, he gets hot oil poured into his ears and mouth.
Now, I am not a pundit in these matters but I am pretty sure the author of this article has not done his homework properly and seems to be only too eager for melodrama even if it is slander. From what I know of the Hindu religion, it is really a way of life and of science from the early day of civilization. Many layers of de rigeur practice have been added to it over the ages but one must not confuse social artefacts with religious instruction.

I am going to try and find out little more about what the Laws Of Manu actually say and whether they do recommend hot oil being poured into facial orifices and then give a piece of my mind to The Economist. If you have any pointers in this regard, it will be much appreciated.

Since we are on this topic, the Government of India mandates the reservation of seats for the backward classes in premier academic institutions across the country. And now it is trying to force private sector companies to do the same for jobs. Is this not a case in point to do away with quotas in the educational system too, if even after a quality education they need systemic assistance to find work?

Monday, October 15, 2007


With Yahoo Photos moving all my photos to Flickr (in a very commendable way) and making my account pro for a short while, I was inspired to upload long pending photographs. Here are some of the ones I liked:

Sunset from Deception Pass near Seattle Sunset from Deception Pass near Seattle
Sunset from Deception Pass near Seattle

Sunset sky near the Big Sur
Sunset sky near the Big Sur

Somewhere on Hwy 1
Somewhere on Highway 1. This shot was by fluke but I love the composition.

Muir Woods - reminds me of Middle Earth
Inside Muir Woods. This was just like what I had imagined Middle Earth to be, even the sounds.

The Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge. I saw someone nearly jump down from it!

Streets of Calcutta
Street of Calcutta. Pure old world charm.

Friday, October 5, 2007

free burma

I am a day late. 4th October was the day to express support for the brave people fighting for a lot of things we take for granted:

Free Burma!

Read more about their struggle on The Economist.
You can sign up too. It's never too late.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

decisions, yet again

It is not important to worry about what you want to do as long as you are sure of what you do not want to do.

Backward thinking does help tremendously. I used to worry a lot about the forward angle and worry about finding it so easy to figure out what I do not want and never be able to quite figure out what I want. But it is quite the opposite. Knowing what you want to avoid is a certainty not to be passed out on.

From about a year ago:

In the locality of the here and now, all decisions can only be baseless. We can hardly comprehend the vast array of the multiple factors that affect us and our lives. Yet we fret over decisions so much, spend so much time and energy on them. And then we claim to have made informed decisions. The truth, my friend, is that us folks of the third rock are masters at self delusion.

But it is good that we do not have access to all the factors that we should pay heed to. The overwhelming vastness of possible choices and outcomes, coupled with the fact that no one knows what they really want is terrifying.

So we trudge along, pretending to have made the right decision looking forward ten years into the future, and believing so even ten years hence thus having the magnanimous capacity of accepting what we are dealt out.


One comes across people mentioning The Power Of Now so often that it has almost become clichéd. But last week I had a chance to experience it first hand.

The remote control of my DVD player had conked off suddenly and none of the showrooms seemed to have thought about that eventuality. So I would have had to go to the service centre sooner rather than later. But I also managed to get the phone number of a person who manufactured these remote controls locally and would deliver it to my place. I was rather skeptical of buying something I knew had a good chance of conking out after a week and paying for it when I knew I should be getting a replacement for free from the service centre, being still in warranty. So when this guy called up to check a day after I had gotten the details from him, I was going to say no - I was ready to wait a couple of more days and go to the right place and get the real thing without having to pay for it.

Then this man said he would bring it across to my place and he would do it within an hour or so. And that changed the entire equation! I quickly enumerated reasons to not wait and I did buy the remote from him.

I realized that had this guy said he would deliver it the next day, I would have said no. The immediate can be very, very forceful.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

past sin

There are innumberable jokes about Microsoft error messages and their writers, but this one takes the cake:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


"Hurray, I won the auction!" said John.
"What you 'won' was the right to pay more for something than everyone else thought it was worth", said Mary.

Monday, September 10, 2007

what's your story?

Everybody has a story. What's yours?

Well, everybody does not have a story, not yet anyway. But everybody needs a story. Because that's the only way you can engage with someone or something.

Some people's stories are the work they've done. Or are doing. Some stories are about the books one has read or the movies one has watched. Some write their stories first, and then make them happen while some just see a story weave out by its own. Some people's stories are other people and some other people's stories are other stories.

Apple's (or the iPod's or iMac's or iPhone's) story is that of Steve Jobs' - iconoclast, maverick, successful, ultra-cool. Ferrari's story is the colour red. New Zealand's story is The Lord Of The Rings. Roger Federer's story is the poise. Shilpa Shetty's story (at least for a while) was the racial slander. Vijay Mallya's story is the glamour. A friend's story is the latest exasperating thing that happened to her. Another friend's story is his experiences of a new culture...

So, what's your story?

Sunday, September 9, 2007

wonder years

So I got hold of the first season of The Wonder Years recently and I didn't think I'd like watching it again after all these years. What is it - 10 years perhaps? I thought it would be too childish. And I have never had so much fun watching anything as I did watching Wonder Years again.

It was still unique and I identified so much with the narrator this time round. The last time I had seen Kevin and Winnie I would hope my heart out that my life could be as interesting or fun as theirs. And now as I watched it again, I realised that my childhood had been very very similar - I just hadn't noticed then. I don't think I've ever become really nostalgic about my childhood or school. I have missed it and thought about it - but not this way. This time for the first time it all seemed really far away, almost surreal. I think I felt old for the first time in my life.

Monday, August 20, 2007


It's been a long time since I last posted something. I've been busy and a lot many thoughts have collected in mind waiting to be put down. And now I don't know where to begin.

The first problem I'm going to have to deal with is the chronological nature of blogs. There needs to be a writing/expressing/communicating platform that is not forcibly chronological.
Any ideas?

Monday, June 11, 2007

changing forces

In the 19th century, Britain was the super power - because of its military might. Its riches and stature were a result of conquering new lands and new people.

Throughout the 20th century, America has been the super power by virtue of its economic might. Its military might and influence across the world stem largely because it is a very, very rich country.

Now forces are changing again as we head into the 21st century. India and China are gearing up to be the new super powers and because of new factors - their population. The sheer enormousness of the number of Indian and Chinese is going be responsible for making them the most powerful countries in the world. The respective governments, regardless of ideology, should keep their helping (or meddling) hands aside and just take on the role of an enabler. They can do this by building the necessary infrastructure needed for such large populations to thrive. And the populace will, on its own, achieve the military or economic greatness or whatever is needed to become a superpower.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

the last mughal

Every time I finish a book, I am left with this feeling of emptiness I am unable to explain. So right now I am comfortably ensconced in my beanbag and looking up aimlessly at the ceiling as if soaking in the book. But I'm sure it's nothing quite as fanciful as that.

Today I finished The Last Mughal. It is a large book and I have taken some time to finish it. This is the second of William Dalrymple's books I have read (the other one being the City Of Djinns) and I've quite liked both. In fact, I think I must plan a trip to Delhi and see it as the books show it - walk through Purani Dilli and imagine the sights and sounds of a splendour long forgotten. And I think I will do it later this year when the summer begins to give way to more comfortable days.

I have recently developed a fondness for history - something I could never have imagined when during my struggle to stay awake while reading history textbooks. And as Dalrymple takes us through the first and most harsh awakening of a new identity for the subcontinent, he brings to light many interesting things.

Indians, by and large, have a complicated conservative orthodoxy that we jealously regard as an age old heritage that seems to me to be only a couple of hundred years old. I think we were a very liberal people.

To quote from this book, "The profoundly sophisticated, liberal and plural civilazation championed by Akbar, Dara Shukoh or the later Mughal Emperors has only a limited resonance for the urban middle class in modern India."

Looking into the period before the Mutiny, there are many aspects that make me more and more inclined to believe what I am saying now: Muslim and Hindu festivals were celebrated by people of both the religions with equal joy and excitement; even the East India Company officers mingled and assimilated into the culture of the sub-continent, learning their languages and taking interest in its literature, inter-marrying, even living in the same fashion. It would be unimaginable now for rebelling hindus to flock to a court as symbolic of Islam as the Mughal court to ask for patronage if only in name so they could have a common cause to fight for. But they did in 1857.

The British probably succeeded to rule India wholly in body because they were able to rule in spirit - by forcing Indian outlook into narrowness. And that still lives on, misunderstood to be a golden heritage, in our minds. As an instance of what I'm saying, their policies of divide and rule sowed the seeds of fundamentalism that is the plague of today. Infact the Taliban, and thence the al-Qaeda, is said to have emerged from fundamentalist madrasas risen in an effort to eschew everything that was alien after total demolition by the British.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

funny cartoons

The daily cartoons in the newspapers here are very shabby.

Here are some of the funniest cartoons I've come across:

Especially the ones about the Queen's visit:

Saturday, May 5, 2007

remembering wisdom

Something my father keeps telling me that his father used to tell him:

Pay as much as you need to for things that matter, and as little as you can for things that don't. And never borrow money to pay for something that goes down in value.

Also seen at

Friday, May 4, 2007

aswan (part 4)

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3]

Now that we've planted our feet firmly in the ground, let's try and see what it could mean if all this were possible.

There would be millions and millions of code snippets floating around each doing some small specific task. Think of these as genes. Many code snippets would be doing the same thing and the community would evaluate these and tag and rate these. The better ones would automatically become more popular. If one considers these as genes competing with each there, only the fittest survive.

Tags and descriptions provide us with a fair idea of what the purpose of the code snippets is. These also make it easy to search for the code snippet you are looking for. Now, if we could represent this description of functionality in a formal manner (a Functional Description Language, perhaps?) it would be really very easy for each such gene to announce what it can do and for really very easy for someone to say what they want done. In fact, a computer would be able to match one with the other and making available code (in terms of functionality) easily accessible.

And so one could define entire components in terms of smaller functionalities that the computer would fetch for you and piece together – a software that create software.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

aswan (part 3)

[Part 1] [Part 2]

As I envision this forum of co-operation and collaboration, I see that there are a number of problems associated with this model.

Firstly, in trying to be a rewarding system, it has suddenly given incentive to benefit unfairly or hurt others. A malicious user may copy the code snippet posted by someone else and submit it as their own. And it would be difficult to verify the origins. As a solution one could propose that relying on the community in such scenarios is a good option but there should be some way to solve disputes in a fair manner. You don't want any user to think he/she has been sold a lemon.

Another problem is that most of the code we write, we write under strict intellectual property frameworks put in place by organizations we work for. I don't see large or even mid-sized corporations wanting to take the risk of allowing developers to make some of their code public. There would be too much control needed to ensure that IPRs are not breached - one errant developer could put the company at stake.

I haven't figured out a solution yet, but it would be truly amazing if we could collaborate at this level, at a global scale.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

aswan (part 2)

[Part 1]

What can be shared are pieces of functional code that are generic, re-usable, commonly used and do not encapsulate business logic. And, most importantly, it need not be complete in itself. Notice that I say “code”. I am sure I will not use a chunk in binary created by anyone just because they claim it does what I need. It is important to have the code so I am assured that I can fall back on myself in case things don't work, and because I can tweak it to suit my needs.

Am I talking about Open Source? In a way, yes; but it is not free. No, I'm not thinking of a SourceForge clone where you have to pay for the projects. There are two large differences: Firstly, I don't want entire projects. I just need pieces of code that fill up holes in my system by providing certain functionality like the ones mentioned earlier. Secondly, I don't mind paying a little bit for it, perhaps even a little more if there is some a sense of confidence for that code.

Looking at it from the other end, since I've already written the two utilities mentioned above, I don't mind sharing that code with someone who needs it. I don't expect to be paid much by the first few people using the code. After all, they have no idea how reliable or useful it is. But as more and more people use it, they have the cumulative sense of usefulness and quality due to the people who have used it before. If my code has proven itself to be good, I would expect to be paid somewhat more by the later users because they already have some assurance for it.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

aswan (part 1)

I can't even count how many times I've written code knowing fully well I really don't need to. Once it was a utility to read a tab-separated file and insert the data into a table with the same name as the file and column-names specified by the first line of the file. Simple enough, except that I had to do that in a language I didn't really know and took half a day. Another time it was a no-frills quota management system for a number of clients trying to access the same resource. Not as simple, but by now you're probably wondering why I am cribbing about this being code I needn't have written so let me explain that first.

I needn't have written all that because I AM SURE SOMEONE ELSE HAS ALREADY WRITTEN IT. These are really common, non-intelligent pieces of functionality I am talking about. When such a large populace is sitting at their desks writing code, what are the chances that most of it isn't being duplicated. So I think, how about having a way for someone to share their code as functional pieces. I don't mind paying a bit for saving my time from drudgery. And if there are enough people like me, economies of scale will step in to make it cheaper for all of us while at the same time ensuring that the original code writer gets his due.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

Thursday, April 26, 2007

re: bangalore becoming too expensive for startups?

This is in reply to Mekin's post "Bangalore becoming too expensive for startups?".
I feel what he is talking has farther reaching and more important consequences than just what is apparent. My reply is a bit long and something I have given thought to of late and thus I thought of making a separate post out of it:

I actually think what is happening is for the better. Like he mentions, correction is already underway and these are some of the visible effects.

Cost of living in large cities in India has gone up considerably. When people calculate Indian salaries, they often use purchasing power parity which is an Indian average and not reflective of the real cost of living in large cities. Life and its costs are very different in cities like Bombay or Bangalore. For example, people buy Nike shoes and those cost exactly the same here as anywhere else in the world ($100 = Rs.4000). And one really can't counter this with an argument that Nike shoes are a luxury and ask people to buy locally made shoes. The IT industry is like a global economy - salaries here are more equitable across countries than in any other industry. Indian salaries were bound to go up.

There is a real shortage of talent globally. Pay scales for real talent are definitely not due for a correction anytime soon. But one may argue that salaries purely in the Indian context may be inflated and perhaps about to see a decline in their rise.

Another correction that will happen, or is happening is in the minds of the people. Like it or not, India is a hot-bed for skilled labour but not for real talent. The kind of people that the IT services companies need is not the same as that required by startups. The quantity and quality of talent in India is overrated. It could have been a different story but in the last 20 years of an impending IT boom, the people involved or responsible for education here have nursed their myopic vision instrumenting syllabi and processes for churning out armies of Java developers instead of computer scientists.

Indian talent can hardly compete with global talent. The 80-20 rule applies here too and it is not hard to see why expats here are so highly valued.

A third kind of correction I see is also intangible. The Indian IT workforce is very young - most of them only a few years out of school - and the immaturity stares at you in the face. Money is an easy attraction and so we see the job market driven mostly by salaries. Startups can hardly depend on this pool of workers for the stolidity and stability that they need. High enthusiasm and the capacity for a lot of hard work are not sustainable by themselves. The correction I am thinking about here is not really a correction but a process of maturing - in the next 5-7 years growing maturity of the workforce will automatically lend itself to stability.

India is not the ideal place to incubate a startup - it never was. It has just become more apparent now because there are so many startups here. One of the biggest reasons for this is the general lack of passion towards anything. People are by and large indifferent as long as they are getting to blow up money at the malls on poor quality branded clothes, unfunny comedy movies and fancy restaurants with bad food. The "chalta hai" culture is so ingrained that is scares me. With it comes an acceptable mediocrity that falls miles short of being able to give birth to what my manager calls "The Wow Effect". I do not know what it is in the culture that is responsible for the lack of passion and I do not know what the remedy could be but until this gets fixed, the new and the unexplored will face insurmountable obstacles here.

whether the weather

I came across this piece of news and found it very cool.

The company that owns the
Weather Channel has a product to predict what the weather forecast is going to be! Sort of forecasting the forecast. They say they're right about 70% of the time and know the biases of the weather forecasters. For example, European weathermen underestimate temperatures in Western American in spring and autumn.

And they charge $90,000 for a year's subcription! All this so when the weather forecasts play havoc with commodity prices as traders bet on how much gas will be needed for heating, their customers can have an edge.

You can read more at if you have a subscription.

Monday, April 23, 2007

web history

After many occasions to pull out my hair and a (rather civilized, i must add) rant about not being able to find what I had only recently seen, there is finally something claims to be your anodyne at least in this regard.

Whoever had to has already blogged about Google's latest - So I'm not going to do that. These are just the first few thoughts that crossed my mind when I read about it.

A little voice in my head told me that it might not be a wise idea to jump into it. I know this doesn't make sense and probably sounds paranoid - but Google already knows too much about me. This is really personal and private data and I will have no control over it. Hell, I'm all for gathering data and trusting organizations when they say the data will be use cumulatively and all that. Has my Google usage crossed some threshold in my mind?

Give me a desktop solution and I'm all for it. Why can't this be a browser plugin? Or similar to Google desktop? The data and the index sits on my desktop. Yes, the data can grow too large; yes, I could possibly lose the data. Okay, let's work this one out.
What is important is the index. The data can reside on an open server for all I care. So, as I browse the pages get cached locally and indexed. As the data gets older than a day or two, it gets pushed off to the server freeing up space on my local hard drive. The index stays on my desktop and refers to data on the server. This solves the problem where the data can grow too large. What about the index? Wait a moment.. I have only 24 hours in a day to surf the web. How much can the index grow? With desktop hardware today being almost as powerful as the hardware powering the "cheap commodity hardware" solutions the internet behemoths love to brag about, I think I can self-sustain. As for losing the index - well, I should be allowed to take backups of the index regularly on to the server and the backup should be locked up with a key provided by me.

The problem with this is that you cannot put together data of hundreds of thousands of users and come with really powerful analyses and intelligent software. Which is the whole point of having something like Web History.

If only some other company had decided to build it....

Sunday, April 8, 2007

re-heated mail

I don't think I know anyone who uses Hotmail. Except for myself, that is. And it's a well kept secret so don't go telling everyone this. I think the only mail I get there is tons of spam and a trivia newsletter I'd signed up for ten years ago.

So I was in a habit of dismissively signing in every week diligently to catch up on the trivia and clear up my inbox. Until I noticed they had a brand new flashy (or is it ajaxy?) UI.

Surprisingly the UI was fast - faster than Hotmail had every been. It was neat and very intuitive. The one thing I didn't like was the huge Windows Live banner right on top taking up precious real estate. But ofcourse, Microsoft is driven more by marketing than product development.

And I found it much better than the new Yahoo Mail. And faster. Some one should take the Yahoo Mail API and teach those guys a lesson.

Perhaps Microsoft will finally find its feet on the web in an old fiefdom - user interfaces. They'll need to make their software smarter and faster though.

magic elixirs for business

As one explores the dark and dangerous corridors of business one sometimes chances upon magic elixirs that can reduce monstrous challenges to a more manageable size....

Read the rest at

Saturday, March 31, 2007

something for nothing

I typed in my browser and this is what came up:

What an absolutely fantastic idea!
Okay, I agree we're all tired of intrusive ads and this is as intrusive as one can get. And most of us quickly click through in a stop-this-nonsense-and-show-me-my-page attitude. But this ad changes everything.

You are pleasantly surprised that you are getting a premium feature for a short trial period for free. That immediately changes how you perceive the ad: suddenly, from being a punishment it becomes a reward. So you are more receptive to what is coming next. This in itself multiplies the value of this placement a thousand-fold for Intel, especially on the internet where attentions spans are measured in seconds.

Then, the Economist has given you a free trial to premium content. What better way to persuade you to buy premium content! And it gets paid to cross-sell/up-sell its own wares.

And the user... the user has a free lunch today.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

class action

145 billion dollars payout in a lawsuit, settlements worth billions of dollars to avoid such law suits - you can see Class Action is about serious money.

Almost always lawyers stand to gain the most, taking sizable (even 50% at times!) cut of the punitive damages over and above contingency fees. Corporates never tire of talking how it is a medium for blackmail. Find a large company with deep pockets, a few disgruntled people and a greedy lawyer and you have a classic class action suit.

And now they say that class action law suits are being introduced in Europe as well, albeit in a variety of flavours. And among the things being debated are various controls on the process to prevent it from going the American way - limits on punitive damages, no juries to prevent the awards from jumping through the roof, or not allowing lawyers to keep a slice of the pie.

Here's what I think everyone should do: award the actual damage to the plaintiff and impose punitive damages on the miscreant corporate but let that money go to public welfare.

The punishment will be fair - taking the size and responsibility of the corporate into account. Awards will also be fair - just the actual damages. The lack of incentive will keep scroungers at bay. And I'm sure in every country public welfare can use the money; not only that, awarding punitive damages to society will be an indication of where the responsibility of corporations lie.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

the trouble is

Rejecting the conventional wisdom is now itself entirely conventional

el jay

In the days and posts since my shift to Blogger, the only thing I really find lacking here (and in perhaps all other blogging platforms) is the way LiveJournal handles comments. The ability to have threaded comments is a strong enabler of conversation which I think is what blogging is also about - two way communication.
This feature is sorely missed. So too the notifications if someone replies to a comment you had left on a blog.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

movies update

Starting with Water, for which, inspite of the touted Academy Award nominations, I didn't have much expectations. It was my first Deepa Mehta film and not even up to whatever little expectations I had. I cannot imagine what she has been trying to get at with this film. Plight of widows in the India of fifty years ago? What were Greek god/goddess-like actors doing there then? There even is a dancing-around-the-trees routine! I found the film was a tad too frivolous for such a theme and the suffering depicted seemed imposed as if trying to force an emotional reaction from the audience. The only part I liked was the portrayal of an India facing the dualities of British domination.

Now that I am done with what I didn't like, I'm looking forward to write about the ones that I did.

Pan's Labyrinth is a must watch if you like fantasy. It interleaves the ordinary and the extraordinary worlds in a remarkable plot. It is imaginative and real at the same time and as it takes you through the tribulations of a little girl coming to terms with her fantasies there is a strong sense of connection with the bridge between two worlds.

Then there was Hayako Miyazaki's Castle In The Sky. If you've been brought up on a regular dose of cartoons and animation as I have, you'll love all of Miyazaki's films. He is the pioneer in animated films and Disney and Pixar today take inspiration from his artwork.

What can I say about In The Mood For Love. Wong Kar Wai is perhaps the greatest director ever. Although I had already seen 2046 (the sequel) before this, it didn't make much difference. You fall in love with the cinematography as the director uses colour, sound and imagery at once leaving all your senses hopelessly hooked! It is one movie I wish I could forget and watch again, and forget again and watch yet again...

After the brilliant Smiles Of A Summer Night I was a little wary of the next Ingmar Bergman movie - high expectations generally lead to a let down. But Wild Strawberries held its own and magnificently at that. Quite unlike the former, Wild Strawberries is a serious film, a little depressing at times. The stark black and white contrasts accentuates the mood. The eloquent silences were pulled off marvelously by Victor Sjöström's acting. And the movie starred one of the most beautiful actresses I've seen - Ingrid Thulin. She's pretty close to edging out Natalie Portman from the top slot today!
It so happened that this DVD was a Criterion Collection DVD and I ended up watching the commentary feature on the film. I must say that this is the first time I've watched any commentary on a film and I quite enjoyed it. It was very entertaining finding out how much of the film has been taken from Ingmar Bergman's life and trivia about the actors and certain scenes. More movies should have such commentaries available.

Monday, March 19, 2007

distribution in reverse

There are two kinds of people in Bangalore: those who live in Koramangala and those who don't.

I happen to be one of the latter and I also happen to absolutely not envy the others. Except when it comes to ordering food home. Almost no restaurant, including the pizza joints (yes, can you believe that!), delivers to HSR Layout and obviously all do to Koramangala. I don't blame them - wading through Bangalore traffic is probably deterrent enough. The ROI on delivering to places farther off must be very little and if the food is late (which is as often as not, thanks to the traffic) the restaurant ends up forfeiting a sizable amount of the bill.
It ends up being much more lucrative to just serve people closer by.

So I wonder why there cannot be a small supply chain that works from the other end. Instead of delivering food from a restaurant to nearby places it will bring food from restaurants to a given area. For my sake, let's assume the area is HSR Layout. It shouldn't be too difficult finding people who would like food delivered from various restaurants in Koramangal and are willing to wait out the traffic delays (way better than driving by oneself to pick up the food anyway). The delivery folks can take advantage of the fact that they'll need to pick up food from multiple restaurants in a particular locality and drop the food to homes clustered in a second locality. Service can be expanded optimally by picking areas where restaurants are concentrated preferably along the same route to the home locality. Of course, there are a whole lot other tricks to save some time and money

I'm darn sure that this can be done profitably। Eventually, there are economies of (small?) scale to take advantage of.

Monday, March 12, 2007


I can't seem to find anything around here these days!

Recently I spent a good twenty minutes trying to hunt down a post I had read about social networking sites not being good real estate for ads.

I know it was a post I had read in the last couple of weeks. I know at least one paragraph talked about monetizing social networking websites. I also know it was a post in the set of feeds I subscribe to which narrows down the number of pages considerably. But no matter what keywords I tried, the advanced search in Bloglines drew a blank each time.

Given all this information it's a shame I couldn't get what I was looking for. Search engines have solved (to some extent) the problem of scale. They can locate somewhat useful data from the trillions of pages using TF/IDF, Page Rank and other tricks. But they still need be able to find what the user is looking for. My search was probably looking at a few hundred articles at most but the machine just does not know how to figure what text is talking about social networking and monetization and internet ads.

We need a find engine.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

geek humour

xkcd really cracks me up!
Some of their comics that had me rolling today:

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

what does Google know about me

A friend recently had her Google account access blocked for a day and a half. And watching her have withdrawal symptoms made me realize how heavily dependant I am too on Google for everything web.

Most of the internet services that I use regularly require a Google sign-on. Other services are used but definitely not at a multiple-times-a-day frequency.

Here’s an estimate of what Google might know about me.

Let’s start with people first – email, chat and a social network. This pretty much covers almost all the online interaction I have with people. Where the people are, strength of connections, context of each connection isn’t very hard to figure out. What Google knows about my friends, it can try and infer about me.

The internet is like a broad tree with depth of one and the root is Google Search. All content is accessed directly through the root. Search history coupled with me being signed in to some Google service or the other most of the time can easily provide a macro as well as micro view of what I’m doing and where my interests lie.

Next, Google Analytics. Used on various websites, it tracks clicks and other information (browser, country/city, ISP etc) about the user for that website. This data is private to the website owner but Google has the data for all the websites that use Google Analytics. And I’m mostly signed in to some Google service. So it becomes even easier for Google to narrow down my interests.

I use the internet a lot - most of my activities have an online element. I would have checked out movies on IMDB (one service I use very often that is not Google!) before renting them or hunted around for reviews of a tennis racquet I wanted to buy.
All this data and some smart deductive reasoning ought to make it very easy to predict what I’m going to do next.

As I think about it, what would I do with so much information?
Set up the world's biggest marketplace. Where anyone can sell anything. And anyone can buy anything. That's the best place to leverage the data.

And I think that is exactly where Google is headed with its advertising platform.

Friday, February 23, 2007

thousand pictures and a word

Embracing Constraints

I have come across similar artwork earlier. And I have found it impressive but not particularly striking. But I came across the above in the context of a post titled Embracing Constraints. Made all the difference in how I saw this particular picture.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

on learning

It's an oft used word these days. Learning. It is a virtue, an entire career, a course in schools at all levels, heck, it's a bloody one-liner! However you feel about your work (and the pay), if you can say you're learning, everything else becomes secondary.

I used to feel the same way once. But now I disagree.

I'm beginning to think learning ought to come in small parts. It's difficult to continue learning at a stretch for more than six months. One learns. Then one must be able to apply that in a visible manner - see the results of learning coupled with hard work. And appreciate what would not have been without it. This is the test. After the test is the period of rewards. It must be both at a personal and an inter-personal level. Without this cycle, learning ceases to be have much value. Without any one of stage of the cycle, the next stage cannot arrive - at least not without making its self and the cycle immaterial.

I think the lack of this is what makes the education system largely unsuccessful. Exams and grades are but a feeble excuse of real tests or results or rewards. These have been put in place for the self-satisfaction of those who run the system. Sadly, it causes the value of knowledge to cease until we become immune to what we are taught as well as what we can learn.

Coming back to the cycles mentioned above, we are in multiple such cycles simultaneously. Each one is of different lengths. What I like about the longer ones is that they are the most abstract and that you never know what you have been learning until the learning stage is over and then it suddenly strikes you.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

first post

The obligatory first post.
I'm coming over from

Stick around, there's more in the offing.