Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sharing the Big Moo

What happens when you marry Purple Cow and The Go-Giver? You get a Big Moo.

I am not joking ... Just sample this from the introduction of the book edited by Seth Godin, The Big Moo:

When you brought this book, you also brought the right to photocopy as many pages as you like, as many times as you like. Go ahead and make five hundred copies of your favorite story and send them out via interoffice mail. You can also find a few of the stories in digital form at our Web site. Feel free to e-mail those to as many people as you care to.

I have therefore decided that once I finish reading the book, I will send my favorite one to all my regular readers and all those who have ever commented on my blog. May you remarkabalize your life. If this is your first time to my blog and you wish to get one Big Moo story from me, please leave a note in the comment section. And if you wish to buy the book, you may buy it here => The Big Moo

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Taking time out

That's two out of two.

And this has taken me completely by surprise. I have been reading since ... I don't even remember since when.

In my ideal world Authors are good people. At least the ones I read. Only sensitive people can reach out and touch my mind and body. (Note that there is a major assumption here: that I am good too ;-)).

But as we all know the real world can be very different. In order that my ideal world remains intact, and in spite of my intense desire to communicate with the authors - just to thank them for all those wonderful books that they write (no hidden agenda here), I had refrained so far from sending them snail-mails (in the pre-Internet era) or e-mails.

But that was about to change. I wrote to the best selling authors of The Go-Giver, Bob Burg and John Mann. To my surprise I got a response. This response was not just a curt response e-mail. It was a longish reply from persons who really cared. See my post Reaching Out.

Naturally I was thrilled. So, last night I send an e-mail to Seth Godin, the author of Purple Cow. He zapped me. The turn around from the time I send that e-mail to him to his response must have been around 10 minutes. Check out my lens on Purple Cow - Book Review. His response is embedded there.

I am delighted that my ideal world is still intact.

Reading every e-mail and responding to each one of them is a discipline that we all need to inculcate. You can never be busy enough.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

So? and Why?

Imagine ...

"Your team is not following the process."
"This will cause problems?"
"If the process is not followed there will be a non-conformity."
"This is not good."
"This shows that the product has not met the process."
"What so? Process has been laid after a long thought process. If the process is followed we are assured of a working product."
"Because then you would have met the specifications."
"You mean to say, the processes are infallible. And that they cannot be changed. And that the product will not be of high standard if the processes are not followed."
"No. But the processes are there for a reason."
"Isn't it time to revisit the processes? Maybe they are dated."

Ok now imagine this ...

"I need to something different?"
"I am stagnating."
"I need to break out."
"I need to make a difference?"
"What so? To make a mark in this world, I need to do something remarkable."
"Because ... because ..."
"Have you introspected enough? Or are you swayed by every new book you read?"

See how effective 'so?' and 'why?' could be. It peels away the bluster to reveal the essential. Try it. I guarantee you success.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Journey to perfection

Once upon a time, in an ancient city there lived a potter. He used to make pots and beautiful toys made of baked earthen clay, and sell them in the market to make a living. He also had many disciples and among them there was this special one who was remarkable. This disciple absorbed everything his master had to teach him. Soon the disciple started his own business of selling wonderful baked clay objects. His reputation spread by word of mouth and he soon became famous. All his goods were sold within hours. He sold all his items expect one. He would take that item to his master. The master used to have one look at the item and hand him a list of defects in the item. The disciple would then go back to his workshop and try and remove the defect and the next lot would be that much better. And he continued to take the last piece of his inventory to the master and the master would invariably tell him where he could improve.

This went on for many years. By now the disciple was very famous and rich. And he was getting tired of his master handing him over a list of defects. So this time when his master again told him how he could make the items better, he snapped, "I am already best in the business. My pots and toys sell at prices that are many times more than yours. And you still point out my faults."

The old master smiled and said, "Oh is that so? I think you will not improve any more. Your goods will continue to sell at today's price but you will never get more than this. Your journey to perfection ends today."

My uncle narrated this story to me a long time ago. Those were the days before Internet and I was too small to ask for the source. So I assume this story is his own creation. And it is worth putting it out to the world. I would definitely like to know the source. Anyone?

Picture courtesy: Sarah Lewis

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I have two other blogs

I am not sure if my regular readers are aware that that I run two more blogs. One of these is, of course, extremely niche and pertains to Aerospace (DO-178B) Software, something not for general consumption. You might want to visit it just to get a flavour of what avionics software development is all about.

The second one is on management, or to be more specific Business and Management Case Studies. Any one who is already a manager or aspires to be one can use this blog as a platform to share and develop ideas. I develop business/management cases and these are then thrown open for readers to solve. And I get some interesting comments.

You may want to check these out. Do let me know what you think of these.

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The 2 personality types

You can dump all psycho-analysis books. There are only two types of people in this world.
One, I call them Accommodators, who give you space before you ask for it.
Second, I call them Space-Hoggers, who will not move unless you ask them to.

You can find these types everywhere.

Go to a library for instance. The Accommodators will move and give you space to go past even when they are busy browsing the book titles on the shelf. The same think happens in the supermarkets. They let you pass. They are concerned as much about others as about self.

And Space-Hoggers? They stand in the middle of the aisle browsing, reading labels, talking to other Space-Hoggers or whatever, but will not move till you reach them and say "excuse me". They would then graciously move aside. Their convenience comes first; Others have to ask for their rights.

The Accommodators dislike Space-Hoggers. The Space-Hoggers could not care less.

All other personality types that you will read in books are variants of these two personality types. Think about it.

Have you observed thee types when you go to shopping or to a library?
Which type are you?

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

More book reviews on Squidoo

I promised myself a review page for every book I read here. Looks like I have managed it so far.

Here are the latest ones ...

The Music of the Primes

Andy Grove

The Google Story

The Undercover Economist

Our Iceberg is Melting

The Tipping Point

It's Not About the Bike

The Go-Giver

Please visit these and let me know what you think of these.
Are my reviewing skills improving?

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Good deed undone

You give way to a car that wants to turn, but unable to do so since no one is stopping; everyone is in a hurry. You have done a good deed. Shortly thereafter the person in the car has the chance of doing the same to another car down the road, but chooses not to. That is your good deed undone.
You see, good deed is always paid forward. Else it is wasted.

Did you pay any good deed forward today?

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Are you loyal to your customer?

Of all terms in the management lexicon, I find the term 'Customer Loyalty' the most oxymoronish.

Let us first examine what 'customer loyalty' means. A random search in google would give you many definition. I will use the most common one, extracted from wiseGEEK (this just happens to be on the top; I have nothing against or for it):

The term Customer Loyalty is used to describe the behavior of repeat customers, as well as those that offer good ratings, reviews, or testimonials. Some customers do a particular company a great service by offering favorable word of mouth publicity regarding a product, telling friends and family, thus adding them to the number of loyal customers. However, customer loyalty includes much more. It is a process, a program, or a group of programs geared toward keeping a client happy so he or she will provide more business.

Why do I find Customer Loyalty an oxymoron? Because I always see 'loyalty' as flowing from bottom to top. The subjects are (or used to be) loyal to their kings not vice-versa. I have heard of 'loyal servants'; never heard of 'loyal masters'. So far with me?

And if customer is the king why should customers by loyal to a company or a brand? The company or brand should be loyal to the customer. Suddenly the whole perspective changes, doesn't it? What this means is that the companies should go all out to prove that they are more-loyal-than-others.

Actually this happens in smaller companies. For a small company, customer is not a king; s/he is god. The company goes out of its way to serve god. As the company grows bigger, this philosophy is sadly kept aside. The focus then switches to how to make the customer loyal to the company and not the other way round. How to keep the customer happy.

So I wish to rephrase the definition of loyalty:

The term Customer Loyalty is used to describe the behavior of company's effort to serve customers in order to generate repeat purchase, good ratings, reviews, or testimonials. Some customers do a particular company a great service by offering favorable word of mouth publicity regarding a product, telling friends and family, thus adding them to the number of customers. However, customer loyalty includes much more. It is a process, a program, or a group of programs geared toward serving a client so he or she will provide more business.

There is a world of difference between keeping a client happy and serving a client to the best of your ability. You should be loyal to the customer; not the other way round.

Picture courtesy: Shannon Pifko

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bollywood is in our blood

In India movies have a huge influence on people. We all grow up on a healthy diet of Bollywood movies. And contrary to popular view, the influence is not all negative.

Let me give an example how this works. I was just talking to a friend about tax saving. The talk veered to a common friend who takes a fair bit of liberty in interpreting the tax laws to his advantage. I disapprove of it but I haven't said so on the common friend's face. Anyways, as we were talking, my friend stated that sometimes circumstances may make a person push the limits and my reaction surprised even me. Before I could even think, I referred to a scene in an old Amitabh Bachchan movie Deewar where a teacher condones his son's act.

The scene is something like this ... A police officer, played by Shashi Kapoor, arrives at a scene where he sees a boy being chased by a big crowd screaming "thief, thief." The police officer joins the chase and after a couple of warnings shoots at the running boy. I think he hits his legs. When the police inspector discovers that all that the boy had stolen is bread, and the reason he steals this is because his father is a retired school teacher and there is no other earning member in the family. The police officer feels guilty and takes food to the old teacher's house and confesses that he was responsible for the shooting. The boy's mother takes off but the old teacher says that there are many other people in the world who are hungry; does it mean that all of them become thieves? This of course is the lesson our brave police officer was waiting for. He then takes this lesson to heart and goes on to shoot and kill his elder brother, a smuggler, played by Amitabh Bachchan. In all this there are some fantastic dialogs and a couple of memorable songs and romances ... you get the idea.

I think I saw the movie about 30 years ago. If my first reaction is to refer to an ancient movie, then you can very well imagine the impact Bollywood movies have on us.


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To conform or not to

Do you realize that the green colour that you see on a leaf or the beautiful red you see on a rose actually does not belong to the leaf or the flower? The colour you see is the colour that has been rejected by the object. The green of the leaf is the frequency of light that the leaf does not absorb. The red of that rose gently swaying in your fron yard is the colour the rose has rejected. You are perceived by what others receive from you.

I use this as an analogy to teach my kids good behaviour. These aspects are not immediately apparent to them. They find it difficult to comprehend that it doesn't matter how good they think they are. What matters is what people get to see.

But as I teach them this I realize that perhaps I am giving them the wrong advise. After all conforming is not such a good thing always. People who conform are doomed to mediocrity for life. Aren't they?

The pragmatic thing, of course, is to conform or break out as demanded by the situation. This is rather difficult to teach!

I think I am worrying too much. After all, grass grows by itself.

Parenthood is one difficult responsibility.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Book Review - Himalaya by Michael Palin

Have you read my review of Himalaya by Michael Palin yet? No? What are you waiting for? Read it here => Himalaya - Book Review. Let me know what you think of it. Your feedback will help me improve my reviewing skills. I am still struggling with this art, you see.

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Brain Seeding Technique

Alexander's technique of slicing the Gordian's Knot is perhaps one of the best Problem Solving techniques that I know of. Here's what you need to do ...

Ask everyone to list their problems. You will get a big list. Chances are that each element of the list is actually a symptom. Not the problem itself.

Once the list is ready, you need to behave like a bull in a china shop. Basically, go crash, bang, wallop. Take the first item in the list and give your best solution that you can think of at that point of time. In all probability, you will be met with an uproar of why your solution will not work. Ask them why it will not work. The discussion goes like ...

You: How about <this>?
They: No this will not work because of <such, such & such> reason.
You : Why?
They: Because of <this and that>
You: Why not? <And give a counter argument as to why you believe it will work>

Stay there for some time and go to the next item. Repeat the same technique.

At the end of this rapid fire solution round, you will find some pattern emerging. You will also find the room a little more open to ideas. Leave them to it and walk out of the room. Tell them you will come back after half an hour or earlier, if they have some insight.

This technique is diametrically opposite of brain storming technique. I cal lit the brain seeding technique.

This does not guarantee you instant solution. But it ensures demolition of inertia of the group.

Try it. It might just work for you. If it does please let me know. Should you need any clarification feel free to ask.

Picture courtesy: Sanja Gjenero

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Emotions in written communication

Written communication is not a patch on face to face communication, they say.
80% of all communication is non-verbal, they say.
Why then do we cry or laugh when we read books?
If an author can evoke such emotions in a 'broadcast' mode, surely when you send an e-mail directed to a particular person you should should be able to convey all your emotions even better.
And surely, emoticons are not the only way to convey your emotions.
Think about it.

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Numerologically speaking

All my family members were born on a prime-number date.

My father - 5th June
My mother - 23rd March
My wife - 11th May
My elder son - 5th December

Except for my younger son. He had the choice of the 17th and the 19th and he had to choose 18th December.


Of the 4 engineers, who first joined AK Aetotek - the company I work for, three were born on a 17th (different months, of course). That was 10 years ago. The three who were born on a 17th are still with the company. The 4th one moved on.


When I joined my previous company - a Public Sector - we were made to go through an elaborate round of form filling. We were made to hop from department to department. This was in the year 1986. Why they cannot get this done in a centralized location is beyond me. Hopefully with computerization the situation must have improved. Anyways, in one such department, the office in charge would admit only two at a time. He would then fill the forms himself, asking us relevant questions along the way. He asked my colleague, what his date of birth was? "17-Feb-1965." He noted this down. The officer then turned towards me and asked my date of birth. "17-Feb-1965." The officer's pen stopped mid-air. He looked at us searching for signs of cheekiness, I guess. When he was convinced that we were telling him the truth, he continued, shaking his head incredulously.


Is there a numerologist amongst my readers?

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The town of Chandigarh

I have always maintained this. Unfortunately my wife is from Chandigarh and she does not like me saying so. I was therefore delighted when I first read the following in the book Himalaya by Michael Palin (Check out my review of Himalaya).

Chandigarh seems to consist mainly of roundabouts. Beautiful, well-kept, florally abundant roundabouts, sending the traffic spinning from one to another like some endless Scottish reel.

Verdant avenues of peepul, ashoka and mango trees connect this gently swirling system, leading, presumably, to a city of substance, for Chandigarh is the capital of two states, Punjab and Haryana. I say presumably, because in our short stay here it is difficult to see much beyond the roundabouts and dead-straight, repetitive avenues.

What I do see reminds me of Islamabad. Both are post-Independence cities, built in a self-consciously modern style to replace the architecture of the Raj with something new and fresh, and more in keeping with what Nehru called 'the nation's faith in the future'. Both are discrete, tidy and a little cheerless.

At least Chandigarh secured the services of the top man. Swiss architect Le Conbusier designed the grid-plan layout and the boxy, modular buildings in concrete and red brick that can be glimpsed every now and then between the trees.

When I enquire what sort of person lives in this mecca of modernism I'm told that it's mostly wealthy Punjabi farmers approaching retirement.

My local informant summed up Chandigarh as 'a town of white beard and green hedges'. And sadly I'm not here long enough to disprove it.

"Rubbish!" Did I hear someone say 'rubbish'? Come on! Defend your town!

Meanwhile, I brace myself to face my wife tonight.

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Probing the unknowns

Most best seller non-fiction that deal with management, psychology and self-help have a pattern. All of them help you find your unknown-unknowns. They help you rewrite your future. They promise you leverage that you hadn't thought possible. And with millions of such books dwelling in the unknown-unknowns of our mind and psyche written by experts of their field of so many years of experience, there would be no more unknown-unknown left to discover. Don't you think?

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It's Not About The Bike Reviewed

All cycling and would-be-cycling enthusiast! I have finished reading Lance Armstrong's Autobiography. Check out my review here => It's not about the bike - book review.

Absolutely riveting.

And if you have already read this book umpteen times, let me know if you agree with the review.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

The IPL Date drama

I am not sure what message are what message are we sending out by this Indian Premier League T-20 Cricket date drama:

(a) India is as unsafe as Pakistan
(b) When there are elections in India, the police and the armed forces cannot protect anyone else
(c) To obtain protection you need to allow political advertisements
(d) All of the above

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Are you getting enough exercise on your cycle?


You have a swanky cycle. It has 21 (3 x 7) gears. You plan to take it on a spin everyday. After swimming, cycling is the best exercise you claim. But wait, are you getting the exercise you need. If you throw the gears every time you face uphill, the gears are doing all the work, not you. Fix a gear combination, say 2.4, and then stick to it whether it is uphill or a flat. Once you become comfortable with that, notch it up a little. Move to, say, 3.2. And remain there till you are ready to move further up. At the same time increase your range gradually. Start with 2km - too less? - ok! 5km. Once you have reached the top gear (=3.7) move to the next distance range, say, 7km. Try various combination. It is fun. Oh by the way, try coming back the same route you went. That will compensate for the downhills with uphills when you return. And always, always, always wear a helmet.

And at the end of it do not forget to guzzle tender coconut water (or whatever your favourite thirst-quenching, body-minerals-replacing drink is).

Picture courtesy: Dan Shirley

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Working Hard Working Smart

I recently received a newsletter from Psychotactics on Why Working Smarter, Not Harder, is a Myth.

Here's my take on hard work versus smart work.

Working smart has three aspects. at least that is the way I see it.

(i) Assume you study real hard, burn the last-minute midnight oil and are now ready to take on the next day's maths exam. You reach the examination hall all confident to crack the exam. You open the question paper and you discover today is actually English. Not Maths. If only you had bothered to check your date sheet once before you started off. Working smart is therefore planning well and working to the plan.

(ii) In a rocket going to the outer space, the engine works the hardest. It burns furiously pushing out burnt fuel in order to escape the gravitational force of the Earth. However, that is not sufficient. You need the feedback system to continuously correct the path taken by the rocket. Both the engine Merely working hard is therefore not sufficient. You need feedback to move in the right direct. Working smart is therefore taking feedback either continuously or at discrete points.

(iii) You are asked to dig a hole. You can use your nails or you can use your spade. Spade is what is called a Simple Machine. It works on the principle of leverage. Leverage helps you do more for less. Working smart is therefore using leverage to achieve more.

To summarize, working smart is working to a plan AND taking feedback AND using leverage. Most important it does not replace hard work. It is complements hard work.

Picture courtesy: Michal Zacharzewski

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Summer Vacation is here again!

Most parents would swear to the contrary, but for me summer vacation is not for my children. It is for ME.

I look forward to summer vacation from January. And my end March my summer vacation starts. I no longer have to drop them of to school early mornings. I no longer have to run behind them ensuring that there school work is done. I no longer have to argue endlessly with them to explain why they need to sleep early. I no longer have to spend time in the mornings trying to wake them up ("Daddy! 5 more minute!")

I can now just be me ... cycling, reading and blogging. What fun!

Picture courtesy: abcdz2000

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Reaching out

reaching out

This is my 300th post for this blog. A milestone - not because of the number; rather because I will describe a most memorable event on my 300th post.

If you have read my previous post on Go-Giver, you would have realized that I am in love with that book. On a hunch I sent an e-mail to the authors, Bob Burg and John Mann, thanking them for writing such a wonderful book. I also told them to have a look at my review on Go-Giver. And guess what, yesterday morning the first mail I saw was the reply from Bob Burg. Then just before going to bed, I received a mail from John Mann. WOW! Especially because I did not expect a response - you know! Busy people and all that!

Am I delighted or am I delighted?

I am glad I started this blog - along the way I have made numerous friends who regularly read my posts. Many of them leave a comment or two. Some of them have featured posts from this blog on their blogs: Tothewire and Susancritelli(Please click on these links and visit their blogs to give them some e-love). Some do not leave a comment but I know they are there. When I get mails berating me for not celebrating Tintin's 75th birthday I know they are there. Or when I get an e-mail asking if I am alright on the day I do not blog, I know they are there. One of my readers actually called me to find out if the advice to my kids apply to me also. And then there are these bunch of cool guys at the Indiblogger forum.

I think I will be blogging for a long, long time.

Picture courtesy: Julia Freeman-Woolpert

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Best Business Parable Ever?


I must confess this has never happened to me before. Perhaps it is because it is an easy read. Or perhaps the message touched me somewhere deep inside or despite being a parable I could not guess the ending. Whatever be the reason, this is the first time I read the book in one go and immediately after finished started reading it once more. Read my review of The Go-Giver.
Of all the management parables I have read so far this must be the best and ranks, at least in my list, with The Goal, in terms of impact. Just so that I internalize the message (hopefully), I wrote down the 5 Laws of Stratospheric Success on a piece of paper. Slowly. Very slowly.

Picture courtesy: Daniel Wildman

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Advise that launched the 'Intel Inside' brand

This advise is too precious to remain buried in a tome.

Just a small preface: This advise came from Professor Henry Reiling of Harward Business School. This piece of advise led Dennis Carter to join Intel. Dennis Carter is primarily responsible for the 'Intel Inside' brand.

When you look for your first job find a job where nobody knows exactly what you're supposed to be doing. If they don't know what you're supposed to be doing, they won't know what you are not supposed to be doing. As a result, you can do anything you want, and you can take risks.

This is extracted from Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American by Richard S. Tedlow.

Photo courtesy: Margarit Ralev

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

We have a visitor


This little guy lives on the mango tree in my house.

Can't see it?

There! Now can you see it?


Yes it is a bat!
My younger son, Abhinav, discovered it one afternoon. It is fun to live in a house that has trees all around.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Story of Invention of Microprocessor

As you might very well imagine, encountering the word "serendipity" when I am reading a book gets me all excited. More fodder for my blog!

Actually, this one is in the domain of technology, something one would not generally associate with serendipity. Discoveries, yes; business strategies, yes; inventions, no. You do not invent something by accident. Or so you would think.

Here is an extract from Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American by Richard S. Tedlow

The microprocessor was invented by Marcian E. "Ted" Hoff, and here we see serendipity at work with a vengeance. A Japanese manufacturer of desk top printer-calculator named Busicom was planning a complicated new product. Attracted by Noyce's reputation, they approached Intel with a contract that called for a set of twelve chips for their machine. The assignment to design the set of chips was given to Hoff, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford when Intel hired him in 1969. ... Hoff developed an elegant solution. Instead of twelve chips, he would do the job with four. The calculator would be supplied with one memory chip, one chip for storage registers, and a third to hold the program. The fourth was a "strikingly new design" from Hoff: "a general-purpose process circuit that could be programmed for a variety of jobs, including the performance of arithmatic in Busicom's machines." ... Unlike the EPROM, the utility of the microprocessor was not immediately apparent. Intel came close to giving the rights of its design to Busincom for a few thousand dollars. For over a decade, the microprocessor Hoff invented found a variety of niche markets. Only with the coming of the age of the personal computer in the 1980s did it become apparent that this device was worth tens, perhaps hundreds of billions of dollar. Its value today is incalculable. The world of the twenty-first century is unimaginable without it.
Now I do not believe for a moment that but for Hoff we would be still stuck in a non-microprocessor world. Someone else would have invented it. But what is remarkable is that even in a company teeming with technical brilliance, such as Intel, it took over a decade for them to recognise the future.

Picture courtesy: Ádám Bálint

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Friday, March 13, 2009

5 Google Search Tips I Bet You Did Not Know About

1. You can use Google as a calculator. Just type something like (4/3)*pi*(seven)^3 and get the volume of the sphere with radius at 7 units, for example.

2. You can use Google as a dictionary. Try something like define serendipity and check out the first entry. I also tried define abidance - it works.

3. You can use Google to keep a tab on the world. For example, you would like to be the first to know about your favourite subject, say Gardening. Sign up to Google.com/alerts. You will get information on your e-mail as it happens (or once a day, if you are not so hot about it). I use this all the time to follow what I consider important at professional and personal level.

4. You can use Google to carry out research. Go to scholar.google.com and get researching. This is actually brilliant.

5. You can use the character "~" to widen your search. A search with ~horse gives you all results not only with horse, but also pony, stallion, equestrian, etc. (basically all the synonyms). I find it very useful when I am looking for a concept but not sure about the exact word.

I picked up these tips when I read the wonderful 'biography' on Google: The Google Story by David A Vise.

Do you have any tricks up your google-search-sleeve?
Would you like to share it with everyone?

Picture courtesy: jaylopez

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Not fair!

Look I know they did not seek the Nobel Prize. History has judged them favorably and they gained the deserved fame while they were alive (which cannot be said of all who deserve). But I cannot help thinking, "Not fair!"

In 1959 Robert Noyce came up with the design of Integrated circuit. It was silicon based. Independent of him Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments designed a Germanium based Integrated Circuit. Silicon is obviously a better solution - it is called The Silicon Valley, isn't it? Not Germanium Valley!

Kilby was awarded the Nobel prize in the year 2000. Noyce did not. Why? Because he died in the year 1990. Nobel prize is not awarded posthumously.

Who can you blame? The Nobel committee surely had their reasons to delay the award. But I can't help thinking: It took the Nobel committee upward of 40 years to realize the importance of Integrated Chip?

In any case, Noyce (along with Gordon Moore, yeah the same one who gave the Moore's Law) went on to create Intel. Contrary to popular belief, Andy Grove was not instrumental in establishing Intel. He joined the company as the first employee. That he took Intel to great heights is a different story Andy Grove: The life and Times of An American.

Picture courtesy: Ádám Bálint

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Deaths, Cancers, Geniuses, Icons

It is with great sadness I update this post.
Steve Jobs is no more with us.
I have only read about Edison in text books.
Steve Jobs is the Thomas Edison of our times.
I am fortunate to have lived in the same time as Steve Jobs.


I have till now read only six auto/biographies. For some reason all men:

Alexander (fictionalized history - a triology by Valerio Massimo Manfredi: Child of a Dream, The Sands of Ammon, The Ends of The Earth)
Ramanujam (The Man Who Knew Infinity: The Life of the Genius Ramanujam by Robert Kanigel),
Steve Job (iCon Steve Jobs by Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon),
Richard Feynman (Genius: Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick)
Lance Armstrong (It's not about the bike: My Journey Back to Life), and
Andy Grove (Andy Grove: The Life and Time of an American Business Icon by Richard S Tadlow)

Now, consider this ...

Alexander, died young.
Ramanujam, died young.
Steve Jobs, suffered from Pancreatic Cancer; survived.
Lance Armstrong, suffered from Testicular Cancer; survived.
Andy Grove, suffered from Prostrate Cancer; survived.
Richard Feynman, suffered from Abdominal Cancer; could not survive the relapse.

No, I am not trying to make any statement. That would be too stupid!
Just stating facts. Or am I?

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

10 Spectacular Blogs, so far

I started collecting spectacular blogs in the month of February. And now I have a collection of 10. Hence this announcement.

I have simple criteria of choosing spectacular blogs.

a) The blog needs to grab my attention by its neck and hold it there for at least 15 minutes.

b) "I wish I had thought of that," is what comes to mind as I read these blogs.

Check out my collection of Spectacular Blogs. Drop a line and let me know if you think these are any good.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A little-known fact?

The problem with books that are written in a lighter vein is that you don't know if they mean it or it is supposed to be a joke of some sort (that escapes you, in any case).

Could any one confirm that this is correct:

Did you know - this is a little-known fact but absolute truth - that when they dedicate a new multi-storey car park [in London?] the Lord Mayor and his wife have a ceremonial pee in the stairwell? It's true.

The above is quoted from Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island.

Picture courtesy: Andrea Cuccureddu

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Are you ridiculed?

If your ideas do not create ripples, then chances are that the ideas are flat in the first place. But, and this is very important, if the ideas are ridiculed AND you believe that your ideas make sense, there are chances that you have hit jackpot.

Here are a few names and ideas from history that should give you the courage to think beyond ridicule.

German geophysicist, Alfred Wegener. First proposed the Continental Drift Theory in 1912. He was ridiculed till the 1960s. Who would have believed that India was in the southern hemisphere and moved all the way to the north to slam into Asia to give rise to the Himalayas.

S Chandrasekhar. His thesis that predicted black holes was roundly criticized by his own guide. His predictions now go by the name 'Chandrasekhar Limit'. He received the Nobel prize 50 years after he first proposed the theory.

Karl Frederich Gauss, the prince of mathematics, did not dare publish his work on non-Euclidean geometry for the fear of ridicule. There are now three types of geometry (including Euclidean) that are correct and internally consistent. It is said that universe follows non-Euclidean geometry.

Hmmm.... Did someone laugh at you today?

Picture courtesy: Svilen Mushkatov

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

To all my women readers

Today is International Women's Day (IWD).

It is almost impossible to determine its relevance to the women because of the product-marketing-like atmosphere created by the newspapers - I have nothing personal against Kareena Kapoor but I cannot see why a newspaper has to call a film actress to be the guest editor.

So, just to understand - if you could be bothered, that is: Is IWD relevant to you? How?

I once asked the women folks in my office if they knew why 8th March is celebrated as the IWD. Not one knew. Do you?

Check out the Official Website of IWD to know more.

Picture courtesy: Hilde Vanstraelen

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

A review page each for all the books I read

This, I thought, was the only way I could keep an account of all the books I read. Right now I am putting up a lens for each of the books that I have in the house. Then I need to find a way of getting hold of all the previous books. Ambitious? What is life without ambition?

Meanwhile here is a list of books that I have already finished reviewing:

The Calendar

Survival of the Sickest

Air Babylon


The Blind Watchmaker

Eats Shoots & Leaves

Now, here is what I need from you (I am sure I can start making demands by now), please visit these lenses and tell me how I can improve these.

I never knew reviewing books will be so difficult. So I certainly need constructive feedback.


Picture courtesy: Sanja Gjenero

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Mahatma's ideals or his specs - what would you choose?

If I were Mahatma Gandhi I would be crying in heavens.

Here was a man who gave up all his belongings to be one among the poor of India; and we make such a big hue and cry to get his belongings back?

If the money spent to get bapu's belongings is an investment by an individual, I have no fight with it. It is a personal decision and I respect that.

On the other hand, if the government buys it back at that cost (or even half that cost) I have a major problem with that. Tax payer's money cannot be spent on memorabilia. Instead please use that money for those who live below the poverty line (without siphoning it off, I should add). That will give Gandhiji lot more joy!

Photo courtesy: Sundeip Arora

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

The thin line between inspiration and plagiarism

Remember the big hoo-haa about a 19-year old author, Kaavya Vishwanathan, accused of plagiarism.

Turns out that best-selling authors get 'inspired' by each other all the time. I recently finished reading The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, categorized under economics by Penguin. And I am now reading The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins. This is categorized as Popular Science by Penguin.

Read the following passages and tell me what you think of it.

This is from The Black Swan

I've had plenty of cups of coffee in my life (it's my principal addiction). I have never seen a cup of coffee jump two feet from my desk, nor has coffee spilled spontaneously on this on this manuscript without intervention (even in Russia). Indeed, it will take more than a mild coffee addiction to witness such an event; it would require more lifetimes than is perhaps conceivable - the odds are so small, one in so many zeros, that it would be impossible for me to write them down in my free time.

Yet the physical reality makes it possible for my cup to jump - very unlikely but possible. Particles jump around all the time. How come the coffee cup, itself composed of jumping particles, does not? The reason is simply, that for the cup to jump would require that all the particles jump in the same direction, and do so in lockstep several times in a row.

And this is from The Blind Watchmaker

In the case of the marble statue, molecules in solid marble are continuously jostling against one another in random directions. The jostlings of the different molecules cancel one another out, so the whole hand of the statue stays still. But if, by sheer coincidence, all the molecules just happen to move in the same direction at the same moment, the hand would move. If they then all reversed direction at the same moment the hand would move back. In this way it is possible for the marble statue to wave at us. It could happen. The odds against such a coincidence is unimaginably great but they are not incalculably great. The number is so large that the entire age of the universe so far is too short a time to write out all the noughts!

Coincidence! I don't think so. I started reading The Blind Watchmaker because it was referenced in The Black Swan (not in context of the above paragraphs though!)

Picture courtesy: Jaylopez

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Global Warming Index

Global Warming is the new stock exchange index.

There is not a day when we read something on Global Warming in the newspapers. And like stock exchange index it keeps swinging from one end to another. Today's Times of India carries a news article, "Is global warming slowing down?" No that is not a typo. It is 'Global Warming' not 'Global Economy'. Heh! Heh! "Is Global Economy Slowing Down?" is not a news anymore.

Ok! Here's what it says:

A new study has determined that global warming may have hit a speed bump and could slow down for decades. Earth's climate continues to confound scientists. [Now they tell us!] Following a 30-year trend of warming, temperatures have flatlined since 2001 despite rising greenhouse gas concentrations, and a heat surplus that should have cranked up the planetary thermostat.

Watch tomorrow's newspaper for a diametrically opposite news. Want to invest money in Gloabl warming Index?

Just as a side note, the people of Bangalore would like some scientific opinion on local warming. It is not yet summer but it feels like peak summer right now. This year also saw very cold winter.

Picture courtesy: miamiamia

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Where are you going?

I found Illusions by Richard Bach deeper and more fun to read than Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Perhaps I am biased, for I read Illusions before I read Seagull.

Here's a fun thing to do. This is from Illusions:

The simplest questions are the most profound.
    Where were you born?
    Where is your home?
    Where are you going?
    What are you doing?
Think about these once in awhile, and watch your answers change.

Let me try and answer:

Where were you born?-----Shillong (it is a picture postcard city, capital of Meghalaya, India)
Where is your home?------Bangalore, India
Where are you going?-----Ummmm....
What are you doing?------Blogging

You can at once see that my answers are superficial - except for question 3 that has stumped me completely. So, here's what I intend to do. I shall return to this post and add to the comment the answers aftrer giving it very careful thought.

Now you know what I mean by Illusions being 'deeper and more fun'?

Why don't you try to answer these questions?

Wait, wait, I just thought of another set of answers ...

Where were you born?-----In a hospital
Where is your home?------Bangalore, India
Where are you going?-----Ummmm....
What are you doing?------Formulating an answer to the above question.

I am sure you can do better than that.

By the way, I wanted to list down all the quotes from the book, but some one has beaten me to it. See Quotes from "Illusions" by Richard Bach

Picture courtesy: Jacob Slomp

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Kapil Dev da jawab nahi!

Among all the reactions I saw on TV last night on the Lahore day light terror attack, the one by Kapil Dev made sense the most. He talks the way he used to play. Neat and from the guts.

We should help Pakistan to become a peaceful country, but we can help them only if they want to help themselves.
These are not his exact words, but you get the idea.

It was obviously a recorded interview, spliced in between live news. You could see the interview excerpts rolling past even before Kapil actually spoke. The text "Kapil still wants to play in Pakistan" irritated me no end. That's not what he was saying. He said something to this effect:

If the Government of India asks me to play I will play in Pakistan. If the government says don't play, I will not. The politicians should take wise decisions. We are like soldiers in uniform. Once we wear Indian colours we do what is told to us.

Or something similar. TRP ratings. It does strange things to people.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Are the hits from Alphainventions.com for real?

Many of the Alphainventions users must be having the same doubt as I: How real are the hits referred by Alphainventions? Or are they just visitors passing by?

To find exactly this I a) recently installed Google Analytics in my blog and b) did not submit my blog to the alphainventions reading cycle.

Here are the results for the period 27th Feb to March 1st, both inclusive (basically 3 days)

No. of visits = 147
Pages / visit = 9.03 (note: repeated visit of a single page are counted)
Average Time on Site = 0:43:27
New Visits = 87.76%
Bounce rate = 23.13% (meaning, 1 in 5 visitor did not explore my blog beyond the page first visited.)

The answer to the question we all are asking is now very clear.

Yes, Alphainventions brings you new visitors.
Yes, the hits referred by alphainventions to your blog are real people.
Yes, the visitors stay on for a prolonged period of time exploring your blog.

Do you have similar statistics that can throw light on alphainventions?

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Glimpses of My Autobiography

old hand young hand
This morning as I was driving down my kids to their school I was telling them about what subjects I chose after my 10th board exams and how I chose to go to engineering rather than medicine, etc. I then realized that they hardly know about my childhood. The only know those elements that I have revealed to them. They definitely need to know more. With a twinge of regret I then realized that I hardly know anything about my parents.

That is not on. Something needs to be done. Typing off an autobiography on my laptop and storing it in a DVD maybe meaningless if 20 years down the line DVD is outdated (the way floppies are now). The Internet cloud is the best option.

Now a serialized autobiography would be absolutely boring. Need to think about it. Perhaps, I will leave bits and pieces of my life embedded in my blogs. That way I am assured of at least two blog visitors long after I die. My sons need to read every post of my blog to piece my life together. This is a fun idea. Need to think about it a bit more.

I am, of course, assuming that my sons will be interested in knowing about their dad's past!

Picture courtesy: Franci Strümpfer

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Genetics for the geeks

DNA fingerprint
Instinctively you would have come to conclusion that the genetic information coded in living organism is digital in nature. But to hear (or rather read) this from a biologists comes to you as a, well, shock.

Imagine ... you are reading this pleasant book on biology. Dawkins is merrily going his way dumping arguments and rationale here and there, debunking the creationists, and fighting for Darwin, in general, when wham! in chapter 5 he starts discussing ROM, RAM, address, content of the address, binary. I do a double check. Have I picked up the wrong book. No! It is alright. He is trying to draw an analogy and in the process makes genetic sound so simple (not simplistic, just simple). I wish I could reproduce all the paragraphs here but that would not be fair. Instead sample this and read The Blind Watchmaker.

The information technology of the genes is digital. ... The main storage medium inside willow seeds, ants and all other living cells is not electronic but chemical. It exploits the fact that certain kinds of molecule are capable of 'polymerizing', that is joining up in long chains of indefinite length. ... Some polymers, instead of being uniform chains of one small molecule ... are chains of two or more different kinds of small molecule. ... If there are two kinds of small molecule in the chain, the two can be thought of a 1 and 0 respectively, and immediately any amount of information, of any kind, can be stored provided only that the chain is long enough. The particular polymers used by living cells are called ploynucleotides. There are two main two main families of polynucleotides in living cells, called DNA and RNA for short. ... Both DNA and RNA are heterogeneous chains, with four different kinds of nucleotides. This, of course , is where the opportunity for information storage lies. Instead of just two states 1 and 0, the information technology of living cells use four states, which may be conventionally represent as A, T, C and G.

The author then goes on to explain how the DNA is a ROM, and chromosomes are like computer tapes, and why you are different that your brother, for instance (same memory address, different content).

Were you to take this as a analogy, Dawkins, in the beginning the chapter makes it very clear:

That is not a metaphor, it is the plain truth. ... It is plain and it is true, but it hasn't long been understood.

Years ago, I had given up biology as one of my subject of choice to pursue engineering. I often look back and wondered what if ...

I can now see that two fields are not that divergent!! Of course, I am being a bit facetious.

Picture courtesy: Flávio Takemoto

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Squidoo Lens in February

I envy those who have numerous Squidoo lens - so me have 400+ :-0. Isn't that amazing? Need to reach that goal asap. Meanwhile, here's what I managed in February.

Learn German with me - I have completely redone this lens. It used to list the free resources available on net. It now has (almost) all the German lessons I developed for this blog. Having all the lessons on one page makes so much more sense. I still have transfer a few more lessons before starting of on new ones. Meanwhile have a look and let me know if it is an improvement.

Created 2 lens dedicated to blogs.
The first one, Best on Indian Blogs, can be deemed a success. It is a list of blogs by Indians (including NRI's). Bloggers can submit their blogs and vote for each others' blog. As of now there are 81 blogs in the list. Check it out. If you are a blogger, feel free to submit your blog (listing your blog on a platform that has high Google visibility will not do you any harm) and if you are not a blogger, even then it is worth a visit to see what Indians blog about.

The other one, Spectacular Blogs, is a personal list of blogs that I really like. I gather these as I surf the Net. Let me know if you like my collection. It is still a small collection but will definitely grow.

And finally, I added 3 more what I call photo-lens (basically a Squidoo lens consisting mainly of photographs) to my repertoire:

Photographs of Intricately Carved Photographs of Hoysala Temple - part 2 (Halebid photographs); the part 1 of this series (Photographs of Intricately Carved Photographs of Hoysala Temple) is on the temple at Belur.

The giant of Shravanabelagola - Bhaubali

My memories of England and Northern Ireland

Let me know if you like the pictures.

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

The puzzles, conclusions and an advise

solve the puzzle
The two puzzles that I gave here and here are identical to each other. The answers are as follows:

Puzzle 1:

You need to check two cards. Card A to verify if the numeral on the reverse of that card is an even number; and Card 3, to check if the alphabet behind the card is not an even number. Cards D and 6 can have any combination and that does not violate the rule.

Puzzle 2:

You need to check if the person aged 16 is not drinking beer and that the person who is drinking beer is at least 21.

Most of you got it right. Which might surprise psychologist Leda Cosmides. I took the puzzles from the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. Here's the extract (after jumping over the puzzle parts)

Vervets [a kind of monkey] have been known to waltz into a thicket, ignoring a fresh trail of python tracks and act stunned when they actually come across the snake itself. This doesn't mean that ververts are stupid: they are very sophisticated when it comes to questions that have to do with other vervets. ... A vervet, in other words, is very good at processing certain kinds of ververtish information, but not so good at processing other kinds of information.

The same is true of humans. ... [A]s psychologist Leda Cosmides (who dreamt up this example) points out, it [puzzle 2] is exactly the same puzzle as the A, D, 3 and 6 puzzle. The difference is that it is framed in a way that makes it about people, instead of about numbers, and as human beings we are a lot more sophisticated about each other that we are about the abstract world.

I am not so sure. If I have to go by answers given by you all, I would conclude that humans are equally good or equally bad at both abstract and the real world.

I would actually go further and advise all the psychologists in the world that perhaps it is not correct to conlcude or generalise based on laboratory experiments. The scientists who observe Vervets are doing the correct thing.They are observing the monkeys inthe natural habitat. Please do the same.Observe humans in their natural habitat and draw conclusions. Be sure to note the context too. A change in context may result in an altogether different conclusion.

Picture Courtesy: Steve Woods

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All this noise about twitter

Looks like I am totally taken by web 2.0 applications. Twitter being the latest in series.

The idea of mini-blogging is sweet. You keep in touch with others and they with you by simple typing out the answer to: what are you doing now? If it is worthwhile, that is.

And if you have large fan following you may also divert traffic to your website. But why am I saying this when there is fantastic lens (unfortunately not by me) on twitter:

50 ways to use twitte

twitter applications

But what I find most fascinating is the limitation of 140 characters. It takes an effort (at least for me - unless it is something mundane) to confine your thoughts to such constraints. But it is fun.

Go tweet!

Picture courtesy: George Popa

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My Library