Friday, December 29, 2006

The tale of two errors

This week I made two errors. A few days ago I read an article in the Times of India (That bastion of grapevine-journalistic excellence) about Rani Mukherjee changing her designer from Manish Malhotra to Sabyasachi Mukherjee and was left wondering, how in the nuke-proliferating, WMD-disappearing, Tsunami-ravaged, Quota-stricken, war-mongering world would such a piece of information affect me? And what inherent quality did this article have that made it front page news on one of the most widely read English newspapers in the world. To top it all off was the profound undertone of betrayal, treachery and deceit as if this one act would result in a denouement as treasured in history as the devastation of Troy. The moral is simple, never ever consider that what you read about in the papers or hear on the news has no bearing on you. Every happening in the world has a very dubious way of affecting you in some way or the other.

So there I was, feeling all disgusted and ready to blog an article on the insipidity of some of our media (because mind you some news channels make TOI feel like Shakespeare. Kya Mika, Rakhi Sawant se maaphi maangega? Kissa Kiss ka, jaari hai ). Then I made my second error. On a boring, frustratingly warm winter afternoon I walked into a multiplex to watch Baghb.. er Baabul ( Pardon my error, the promos of Baabul made me believe the fortunes of the Xerox Corporation were going to get reversed due to their latest in movie photocopying technology). My philosophy of movie-watching has always been any movie is better than no movie. It had a good run I’d say my philosophy; but as they say all things must end. To cut a long story short, I would have enjoyed four year olds singing twinkle twinkle little star more than the movie. I have never, ever and when I say never, I mean never ever walked out of a movie midway (see P.S.). But there comes that threshold beyond which the repulsion force of the protons grow much higher than the nuclear force causing a cataclysmic exothermic reaction creating a new man out of me running for my life from the multiplex. It was almost as if the director was going down a checklist, Bad acting.. Check, bad story.. check, bad dialogues.. check, bad music.. not so bad, well we’re going to have to try harder, lets redo the music.. bad costumes, which brings me to my original point. Just as I’m thinking whether Rani Mukherjee had a stroke to be wearing the kind of stuff she was wearing, my mind is making connections.. Rani Mukherjee.. Manish Malhotra.. betrayed for some Italian sachi dude.. front page TOI.. Well in conclusion all I can say is I think Govinda with his purple pants, yellow shirts, red scarves and blue shades would be very happy today since he’s out of the cellar. There’s a new worst in town.

P.S. To provide a bit of perspective on my tolerance to movies, here are a list of movies I’ve managed to sit through. Might I also add I really enjoyed some of them ;-)

  1. Kis Kis ki Kismat (Mallika Sherawat and Dharmendra. Pioneers award for Bollywood toilet comedy which wasn’t funny.)
  2. Lakeer (Take four big mean action heroes and make them cry through the movie)
  3. Rudraaksh ( Lekin usko aapka sar ka password kaise mila? Need I say more. Ok.. I’ll say more.. Bipasha Basu is Sita and she’s a scientist)
  4. Family ( The one with the producers son who’s the hero whose last line is Sumari mautsss nahi sumari zzssindagi hi sumaari sssazaa hai)
  5. Khushi (Tum mere kamar ko dekh rahe the. Aaaaaargh!)
  6. KANK (Sob.. Sob… God bless those cheating, adulterous lovers.)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Today’s Holy Grail: The perfect offering

In todays enterprise solutions world, what is the best offering? That is the latest grail quest that CEOs are on. There’s installed software, hosted software, outsourced services, outsourced support, on-demand software, upfront licensing, integration partners, value added services, etc, etc, etc.. Companies are trying to mix and match all these concepts to offer the perfect offering. Offerings have become more and more complex because of this. You can use installed software managed by yourself, but with outsourced support or even occasional outsourced services to help you through the bad times.


In this concoction of offerings, how important is the software? Well, it depends on the problem you’re trying to solve. If you’re trying to automate a process, say HR, then it’s very important that you have a software that has features to fit your processes and not a software that you have to fit your processes around. I recently heard that a leading daily in the middle east implemented SAP and used it as a publicity standpoint that they were now automated by SAP, however when someone called up and wanted to book advertising space 3 months in advance, they couldn’t do it. Why? Their software didn’t support it.
However if you’re trying to purchase analysis/intelligence/expertise based solutions, then the software isn’t as important. All you need is software that’s flexible enough so that when given to a few smart people, magic can be woven.


Firstly, when I mean services I don’t mean support services as in bugfixes, hot patches, feature developments, etc. I mean professional services like implementation, analysis, recommendations and the ability to provide expert opinions and strategies for your problems. These services tend to be ongoing in nature. How important are these services?

Again, if you’re automating a process, the services you’ll be most looking for is implementation and change management unless you take on that to do it yourself. It might also be worthwhile to tag on process redesign and such higher value services if you’re really looking for value add to your organization.
If you’re purchasing analysis/intelligence/expertise based solutions, you should be looking for such services and it may make more sense to invest in a solution that provides you with the end result rather than the software or the tools to perform it.


Support is the one thing that can differentiate predominantly software based offerings. They tend to produce that extra perception of value if your support has quick response and is able to provide a little more than what’s their domain of expertise. Support staff should be encouraged to move forward and understand the business more so that they may add more and more value to the client.

So having said all this, how does a company go about designing a perfect offering? Because in today’s world the design of the offering is more important than the design of the software or the expertise of the services. I’d say design your offering based on the business that you’re in. Higher the value, the more you should lean towards services. The more automation related the solution is the stronger your product functionality should be. A continually improving support organization will always lend value. Segment your market and ensure that you provide offerings that are affordable and relevant to all your target segments. We need to identify what is most important to what segments. To some segments the final business value added is what’s most important to them. Usually large companies that don’t really consider small software costs as a burden on their finances are that way. They need to see how your company is providing value and they’ll willingly give you more business. To some segments pricing and cash flow are most important since each IT purchase is a huge expense to their firms. You need to be flexible in your pricing and ongoing fees on such segments. To some segments speed of implementations are important because they go in with a specific objective to get the new solution up and running before some milestone.

It is quite a challenge developing the perfect offering, or maybe there’s another way out. Don’t create an offering. Create a set of guidelines on pricing/timelines/resource usage and train your sales people to weave a solution for each customer only keeping in mind that those guidelines are not violated. So create a specialized offering for each customer.

Whatever you do, never underestimate the customer. Today’s customer whether he/she’s buying a 5 rupee matchbox or a multi million dollar ERP solution is an intelligent and in the very least an informed customer. Do not try and convince him about value which doesn’t exist. Even if you get away with it at first, it’ll always come back to bite you.

Maximum City

Bombay.. or Mumbai.. No! Bombay!!... The city that I’m physically attracted to. That living, breathing (well coughing atleast) metropolis is more alive to me than Shah Rukh bloody Khan. It’s the city in which I’ve spent only six of my 24 or allegedly 33 years. Yet, that’s where I feel at home. Stuffed along with 6 others in 1 square metre of space in a local train on my way to Macdees to eat the angrej ka khaana, eating shejwaaan noodals on a roadside as a truck from Punjab sprays some of mere desh ki dharti on my plate, and peeing from the top of a cliff in the hills of Powai after a night of Whisky, vodka, rum, brandy and does-it-matter??

This is my city. Although, 20 million others feel exactly the same way, that feeling is not as overwhelming in any other city, not even Dubai where I spent most of my life. Anything is possible here. As Rahul Bose recently put it. Ho jayega saab.

The book Maximum City is about my city! Suketubhai as Chotta Shakeel calls him has woven an excellent narrative and you find yourself waiting for the next story he’s about to tell about the wonderful monstrosity that is Bombay. He goes from talking to Hindu rioters during the ‘92-’93 riots and then moves on to the Muslims who were involved in the ’93 bomb blasts. The Shiv Sena, the tinseltown of Bombay, the red light districts and the dance bars.

He portrays every narrative as an example of how that section of people are spoiling the city. His beautiful Bombay of his childhood. Sanjay Dutt, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Bal Thackeray and Amitabh all have their roles. The strangest feeling however is when he narrates incidents that occur close to where I’ve been. Sakinaka, Kandivali, Mira Road, the Taj, Goregaon and Jogeshwari, they’re as close to me as my neighbours next door. I might have run into Suketu or even better his characters during one of my sojourns.

A very bold book in the least, Suketu has written it as he saw it. It’s not for the weak of stomach though, there are quite graphic scenes around murders, riots, rapes, etc.. There are very few non-fiction books that can keep you turning pages or make you read continually from 7 in the morning to 9:30 at night and still want more.

I won’t end with the cliché ‘A book for every bombayite’, but definitely worth a read. Brings you crashing down to earth!

Can Free Will be debated?

Recently an article described an experiment in which researchers found that when a human was asked to perform some task based on his own conscious will, the part of his brain that is known to support conscious thought became active only a after a miniscule amount of time after his motor actions had already begun. Big deal? Well it is.. This essentially suggests that conscious thought is an aftereffect rather than a cause of any action that a human performs. Let me give an example. Suppose you wanted to swat a fly that was pestering you. This suggests that even before you thought of swatting it, your hands have already moved to try and swat it. The timeframe being miniscule probably gives the feeling of simultaneity.

This throws a whole world of questions open. If conscious thought is an aftereffect what is it that’s controlling our actions? Is fate and destiny, long thought as beneath us scientific minds, the true answer? Is all the world really a stage and us merely actors playing out the seven stages of life? Is it some supernatural power that’s really controlling us? GOD? Elvis? Or maybe the answer is more complex – “The choice is yours to make, but you must understand Neo, you have already made the choice”

The question then comes what happens to the “Self”. That entity that has been so well described in hindu philosophy as the mass of consciousness, that thingy that you can see in your own eye in a mirror and as your third eye allegedly on your forehead. The solution may lie in Hindu philosophy itself. Studying it in more detail, we come to understand that the concept of the individual ‘self’ (atman) in every person is only a stepping stone to the understanding of brahman, the global self. (well universal actually, somehow our Hindu philosophical forefathers didn’t believe in dealing in anything smaller than the universe.. That was left to the lesser mortals like Copernicus, Galileo and the whole western civilization so fascinated by our earth that they made it the center of the universe). The universal self is nothing but one huge mass of consciousness. This mass of consciousness begins to delude itself and hence is created the magic of our universe. Trees, animals, Glennfidditch Whiskey, tooth brushes, IPods, women, Hindu philosophy itself, respect, love, terrorism, Calvin and Hobbes and the internet. So it essentially states that we are all part of one greater self and our actions and emotions are actually of that greater self, and we’re just playing it out. In such a conjecture, this might be consistent with the greater implications of the researchers experiments.

Let’s think more locally now. Try to mentally construct a system where free will does not exist. That means everyone is looking for input to perform actions. Hence atleast one of those sources needs to have free will himself/herself. Two examples comes to mind. One, Slavery. In a slavery based system a master actually instructs his slaves, how to perform. Such a system is however doomed unless one can demonstrate a clear superiority of the master over his/her subjects. Caste/Class/Color/Creed superiority eventually wears away as the slaves think more. The only superiority you can have hence, has to be magical! Moreover the slaves perform their duties because of a fear of retribution. Hence it’s more a case of suppression of free will rather than absence of it.

Second, a professor of psychology called Millikan, after the Nuremburg trials tried to test the effect of authority on peoples ability torture other people. His findings were amazing. A large majority of people, although not cruel in their daily lives continued to torture others because of strong authoritarian inputs. This is something many Nazi war criminals have pleaded for, that it wasn’t really them being cruel during the holocaust, but it was the effect of the authority of Adolf Hitler. In this case as well, the question is on free will. The Nazi generals, although free men themselves under Hitler, could be coerced into performing such unimaginable acts of inhumanity. Not a great example of free will.

Well, all I can say is that life has become eerie. Am I writing this blog? Who’s making me do it? The love that I feel inside me, for my family, for my work, for my country; the thing that’s so strong that I can almost feel it as a physical object. Is it just a set of directions issued to me? But then my feelings for my love itself might be a direction? Well I don’t know anything any more… Stupid researchers, who gives them money to do all this stuff..

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

My Novel/Movie

Overview: The protagonists character is this storys soul. He is someone no one wants to love. He is rudely obnoxious and forward. Doesn’t care about what people around him think of him. He’s never the hypocrite. Behaves the same way with everyone.

Setting: Early 90’s. Protagonist is in the army’s anti-terrorism squad. He’s the best officer in terms of achievement. He’s a stickler for cleanliness and professionalism. He enforces it with almost brutal force amongst his men.

Characters: Protagonist is not a favourite. Disturbing childhood. I’m thinking Tam-Brahm. The person who’s the best for any mission.

One of his superiors is fond of him, because he’s straight and always focused.

He also has a best friend who’s his wingman sorta guy. These two are the only people who like to be even in his vicinity.

One other officer. Pretty good guy, has had a good childhood. Just younger than protagonist. Is happily married. Father's a general. Generally jolly guy, everybody likes him and is diplomatic most of the time, which is probably why everybody likes him. Protagonist hates his guts. Probably because he represents everything that he’s not. Never had a tough childhood, had it good all the time, first thing on his list is to ensure everyone likes him. Which protagonist is totally against.

The second officer's father. The general.

Second officer’s wife. Devoted wife. May play important role later. Truly loving person. Never thinks bad about others. Assumes everyone in the world is good. Refuses to believe otherwise.

Key point: Strangest part of the story is when the protagonist takes a decision which is in no way in line with his character. He risks his life, breaks rules because of some dilemma in his head at that specific moment. And the funny thing is that he does it to help the person he hates. That should be the thing that stuns everyone. There’s no idea anyone has why he did what he did. The result however is that he is handicapped ( at the last instance when he’s just about to be totally victorious ). He hates the pity he now gets. He especially hates it from the second officer and more so her wife, who goes to length to try and take care of him. The ppl who like him and now, a lot more who don’t, are appreciative of his valour, bravery and sacrifice. He hates all of it. He knows it wasn’t bravery, nor was it valor or sacrifice. But he can't explain what it was.

Till Eternity

Pope John Paul passed away a couple of weeks ago. He was one of those truly good people left in this world. A man who worked for the betterment of people without looking at personal gain. A few controversial policies, I’d ignore because he was an old man brought up in a world where things like abortion, etc were taboo. It’s not easy to unlearn 80 years of learning in a few years because the world has changed so quickly. It’s been 3-4 weeks since the old Popes passing. There’s a new pope at the papal palace and he’s begun his work quite quickly. The strangest thing is that I still feel Pope John Paul is still up there and working like he never did before. I’ve never met the man, never saw him even nor do I even know a lot about his past and his work. That makes the feeling even more profound. I only knew him virtually and today after he has gone I still think he’s there. It’s not the old “Legends never die” concept. It’s actually the feeling he’s where he always was. Nothing has changed in my life. So I don’t really feel he’s gone.

Entropy and Categorization

The law of entropy is an amazing law that seems to be the only true law across all systems. The most brilliant part of it is that it does not matter what type of system we’re referring to, whether it is physical, social, etc the randomness in the system always tends to increase itself. In fact I believe that this very concept might be central to the discovery of the fundamental governing dynamics of the universe and everything within.

One of my major dreams has been to find a governing dynamic for human consciousness. I believe that one dynamic will be key to creating the true AI system which begins to learn like we do. I need to find out how to apply entropy to this.

Many thinkers do not agree to this fact of entropy being the governing law since they say that the largest counterexample is that of evolution. Evolution selects the most fit species from the population and hence the population becomes more and more specific and special with each generation. My answer to this is that the system is being looked at in the wrong way. The system in evolution is all of life. Life has definitely gotten more complex since the beginning of life. Pick any random living being and check if there’s an identical being. There’s not going to be one. Hence the randomness has increased in evolution too. The only reason we’re thinking specialization is because we have categorized every species for our understanding.

People tend to over categorize everything that they see, feel, hear, experience or learn. They do this to try and gain control. Anything that is categorized under an existing category makes it behaviour predictable and that eases their anxiety regarding that object. In fact they try to force some objects into some categories even if they don’t even come close to fitting there. This is only meant to reduce their individual anxieties regarding these objects. Predictability is key. People don’t like unpredictable objects or events.


The question here mainly is why people are “God-fearing”? How did this phrase even develop? Why should the “Supreme one” become portrayed as one who should be feared. The reason probably is that during the earlier days, priests and gurus put the thought into the heads of people that they would be punished if they performed evil deeds. Yet people who have never even had the thought of doing an evil deed is afraid of Him. This might stem from the fact that the dealing out of justice by the almighty is not consistent. Good people also get punished and the bad people also get rewarded. This pattern instead of causing a lack of belief tended to create an increase in fear. The almighty who was supposed to stand for good and punish evil became to be thought of as an eccentric tyrant who deals out justice mostly correctly but has been known to deal out crazy judgements too. This I believe is what first brought the fear factor to the fore. The misinformation campaign by priests selecting only the favorable examples has probably let this fear from running to hysteric proportions. Or maybe the truth might have caused major disbelief.