Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Goodbye Netscape

AOL announced that it will stop supporting Netscape from Feb 1. In almost a decade the company grew to symbolize the Internet boom, it's IPO the start gun for the dot-com boom, it went through the M&A process which symbolized the excessive valuations, had an epic battle with Microsoft(which realized the power of Free! No purchase necessary) , it lost market share, became obsolete and now it's dead. It seems to have gone through in a decade what most companies go through in about 50 years.

I still recall the very first time I used an Internet browser - in 1995 when my then employer, Tata-IBM, installed a common machine on the 7th floor with Internet access and offered eligible employees an opportunity to use it. I got an approval from my manager and launched Netscape.

Until then I had e-mail which all the cubicle dwellers on my floor accessed on a DEC VAX machine and a link to IISc that went down every couple of days and stayed down for a few days. I then heard about the amazing world wide web, but did not have a browser to access it. I stumbled across an amazing utility - FTP via e-mail that gave access to many interesting websites, but since my e-mail access was available only for a couple of days a week, I would send a request for a file, come back a few days later and check out the results.

To grab the text of The Magna Carta.  Here's the message you send
to an ftpmail server:

open wiretap.area.com (The name of the FTP site)
chdir /Gov/World/ (Directory where the file lives)
get magna.txt (Sign here please, John)
quit (Bring it on home)

My father told me how he walked 3 miles to school everyday. I tell my son how I had to access the Internet via e-mail.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

This I Believe

It takes a great deal of introspection and courage to state what you believe in 500 words or less, especially in a public forum like NPR .
What are your core beliefs and values that define you, that you would never compromise on?

NPR has many essays from celebrities as well as others on "This I Believe"
Worth spending a few hours reading.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

What drives you ?

Some self-analysis for a change ....

What drives you as an individual to make specific choices and how do you act on them ?

Adam Smith, in The Wealth Of Nations, claims that it is the "invisible hand" that motivates individual behavior and when each person acts in his own self-interest, it benefits the society as a whole. "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages."

This has been used by many economists as the foundation of the free-market theory - the market is self-regulating. However, when individuals act in their self-interest, how do we know if it is their short-term or long-term self-interest ? How does it benefit the society in the short-term and the long-term ?

The Katha Upanishad talks about two kinds of actions: preyas, the pleasant and shreyas, the good. Each individual makes choices based on what he perceives is his self-interest. Shreyas leads to long-term benefits, while preyas results in instant gratification with long-term results that may not be desirable.

The Gita discusses at length the benefits of dispassionate action - where you uncouple the outcome from the action by not being emotionally attached to the outcome. This gives the benefit of being able to pay full attention to the job at hand while not worrying about the outcome which may not be under your control.

Peter Drucker, in his classic HBR article, Managing Oneself, says that to lead a life of excellence, one should answer these questions:
What are my strengths ?
How do I work ?
What are my values ?
Where do I belong ?
What can I contribute ?

Most people make choices and act based on what is perceived as their self-interest.

Unless you can analyze and understand what drives you, you're going to be driven and suffer "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune". Hopefully, some of this framework helps in making the analysis of choices we make and actions we take.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hey..... You want a piece of this spectrum ?

The Hindu has the story of how the Government of India issued Letters of Intent for telecom operators:

... representatives of wannabe telecom companies literally got into fist fights and blows in a bid to be the first to get the letter of intent.

At 2:45 PM The DoT announces that Letters of Intent will be issued at 3:30 PM

...a representative of one of the applicants got a hired goon to ensure that it was his company which was the first to enter the gates.

Finally LIs were issued to nine companies. Real estate giant Unitech got LIs for 22 circles, Datacom for 22, BPL and Shyam got 21 LIs, Idea for 9 circles, STel got 6, Spice got only 4 though it had applied for pan India, Swan got 13 and Tata Teleservices got LIs for offering CDMA services in 3 circles.

If all the companies convert the LIs to licences by paying the entry fee, the Government will stand to get in excess of Rs 7,000 crore.

Gandhian Engineering

Gandhian Engineering is the term that's cropping up all over Cyberspace after the launch of Tata's radically innovative car: the Nano.

Clayton Christensen's company blog refers to it and India's version of the Wall Street Journal, Livemint, says Gandhian engineering is "combining irreverence for conventional ways of thinking with a frugality born of developing-world scarcity".

The car has no seatbelts, no airbags, no radio,
The dashboard has only a speedometer, fuel gauge and oil light
There are no reclining seats, no power steering or power windows.

The car is assembled by the dealer and not by Tata, reducing transportation costs significantly and helping Tata build an ecosystem of suppliers and partners.

The Nano claims to deliver 50 mpg - comparable to the Toyota Prius which is priced at ten times the Nano. As Andy Grove puts it, this is a ten-times force acting that will cause a strategic inflection point both for Indian automobile manufacturers as well as global competitors. Volkswagen and Ford already have plans to make a small car to take on the Nano. It's not just the automobile manufacturers that are being impacted - it impacts motorcycle manufacturers too as consumers look at the large increase in convenience for a marginal increase in cost

In a measure of how much influence the Nano is wielding in Cyberspace, it has beaten the iPod Nano on Google and Yahoo search results - so take that Steve Jobs !

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Building a better rat trap

The San Francisco Chronicle reports on a low-tech innovation that has helped improve the standard of living for some of the poorest people in India.

In this impoverished tribal belt in southern Tamil Nadu state, catching rats has been a primary job for members of Chinnapayan's Irula tribe - an impoverished community of 3 million people at the bottom rung of the Hindu caste hierarchy who have often found themselves teetering on the brink of starvation.

But the introduction of innovative rat traps has remarkably reversed the Irulas' plight. By curbing the amount of rodents that have long menaced Indian farmers, the tribe has seen its income triple in the past three years, while bringing them new respect. The Irulas, who were once jeered by many locals as "rodent assassins," are now being touted as saviors by many farmers.

Low-tech innovation probably makes as much a difference as a high-tech innovation considering the larger population in developing countries who are most likely untouched by the high tech innovations.

With increased income, Irulas are now sending their children to school in hopes of improving the current literacy rate from an abysmal 1 percent. More importantly, the rural innovation has brought a sense of pride to a community that has long been derided as lower caste Hindus.

Prof. Anil Gupta, professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad runs the Honey Bee Network, an online database of rural innovations which has been cataloging these since 1988. This not only targets the segment that most big corporations ignore, it also aggregates the innovations arising from the Bottom of the Pyramid.

Monday, January 07, 2008

More on the Meaning of Life

After looking at the Meaning of Life a few weeks ago, I saw this on allthingsd.com on the Universe: “[L]ogically the world could be an information simulation running on a three-dimensional space-time screen”

and some speculation on how the Universe will end - with a Blue Screen of Death !

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a BSOD.”

Friday, January 04, 2008

Vocal Impressions on NPR

Probably due to my proximity to San Francisco, I'm a Starbucks-drinking, tree-hugging, classical-music listening NPR fan ;-)
Vocal Impressions is a series that I recently caught while driving home in the evening. In this program, listeners are asked to describe different voices. Some descriptions are truly wonderful and the combination of the image they create and hearing the voice they describe is marvelous.

Morgan Freeman: "A lion gargling with pebbles"
Marilyn Monroe: "The slow folding and unfolding of a pink cashmere sweater"
Cher: "The pulse in your head when you figured out that the hottie you were told was a transvestite really is a woman after all"
Ray Charles: "Slow dancing in a college bar, tingling with anticipation"

More of this at NPR's website
Round 1-7

Round 7-10

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Movie Review: Chak De ! India

Why has it taken mainstream Bollywood so long to deliver a movie with no songs and no romance (aka running around in foreign locations singing songs) ?

Bollywood seems to have found the magic formula of making blockbusters :
- one superstar
- an underdog team which seems to have no hopes of winning
- a game which most of India understands and has historical associations
- a rivalry with another (Caucasian) country perceived as a superior team

We saw this in Lagaan which starred Amir Khan leading a ragtag team to victory over an English cricket team, and now in Chak De, Shahrukh Khan, as Kabir Khan, plays hockey and coaches the women's hockey team for the world championship games.

Chake De ! India has very engaging theme music throughout the movie, most of the actors are new faces, which helps in avoiding distractions and the story is tightly controlled for most of the movie. There are the usual group dynamics when a team comes together - jealousies, friendships and conflicts, but the story makes light of the resolution of the conflicts - bench the players until they say "Sorry" and promise to play as a team.

The ending is not unexpected - India wins a cliffhanger against Australia and redeems the coach who had been accused of throwing the world cup final against Pakistan seven years earlier. The finale' reminded me of many Clint Eastwood movies where the protagonist seemed to have compromised his values many years ago and is now trying to redeem himself.

Overall, it was a very engrossing movie, although the character development was abrupt - a first step for Bollywood movies to move out of it's comfort zone.

Rating: 3.5 stars

5 star - A Classic
4 star - Must Watch
3 star - Recommend it
2 star - Time Pass
1 star - Just Skip it

Paper Plane over New York

The delightful flight of a paper airplane over the streets of New York.

You find yourself wishing that the flight never ends and also wondering where it will end.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Thoughts for the New Year

On Work

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it! Boldness has genius, power and magic
in it. Begin it and the work will be completed.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Do little things in an extraordinary way; be the best one in your line. You must not let your life run in the ordinary way; do something that nobody else has done, something that will dazzle the world. Show that God’s creative principle works in you. Never mind the past. Though your errors be as deep as the ocean, the soul itself cannot be swallowed up by them. Have the unflinching determination to move on your path unhampered by limiting thoughts of past errors.”
- Paramahansa Yogananda

We read in the Bhagavad Gita again and again that we must all work incessantly. Every work must necessarily be a mixture of good and evil; yet we are commanded to work incessantly. The solution reached in the Gita in regard to this bondage-producing nature of work is that, if we do not attach ourselves to the work we do, it will not have any binding effect on our soul.
Work, but let not the action or the thought produce a deep impression on the mind. Let the ripples come and go, let huge actions proceed from the muscles and the brain, but let them not make any deep impression on the soul.
The whole gist of this teaching is that you should work like a master and not as a slave; work incessantly, but do not do slave's work.
- Swami Vivekananda

“Ch’ing, the chief carpenter, was carving wood into a stand for musical instruments. When
finished, the work appeared to those who saw it as though of supernatural execution; and the Prince of Lu asked him, saying, ‘What mystery is there in your art?’
‘No mystery, Your Highness,’ replied Ch’ing. ‘And yet there is something.
When I am about to make such a stand, I guard against any diminution of my vital power.
I first reduce my mind to absolute quiescence.
Three days in this condition, and I become oblivious of any reward to be gained.
Five days, and I become oblivious of any fame to be acquired.
Seven days, and I become oblivious of my four limbs and my physical frame.
Then, with no thought of the Court present in my mind, my skill becomes concentrated, and all disturbing elements from without are gone.
I enter some mountain forest, I search for a suitable tree. It contains the form required, which is afterwards elaborated. I see the stand in my mind’s eye, and then set to work. Beyond that there is nothing. I bring my own native capacity into relation with that of the wood. What was suspected to be of supernatural execution in my work was due solely to this.’”
- Chuang Tzu

Being busy does not always mean real work.
The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence,and honest purpose, as well as perspiration.
Seeming to do is not doing.

- Thomas A. Edison