Archives for October 2008

Obama On Traits For a Leader Without Experience

SF 6th
Creative Commons License photo credit: january20th2009

“Sergey and Larry had no experience either of running a world-class Fortune 100 organization”, replies Obama.

Eric Schmidt, in his characteristic low brow style, earlier asks, “Why should people elect you when you clearly don’t have the experience”.

Obama follows up on that insight-clothed-as-humor with 3 characteristics that he thinks any leader should have, regardless of past experience

Traits for a leader without experience

1) Judgement

2) Vision

3) Character

4) Impatience with Status-quo

Watch the entire video here. The question comes around 54:00mins.

There are a ton of things I could highlight here. But shall leave it to one of the most charismatic people of our times to do the honors.

Note: I have paraphrased the question and answer, watch the video for the precise words and all that cannot be captured in words!

Microsoft’s Vision of Live Mesh in 1:49 Mins..Wow!

Microsoft’s Live Mesh. We wish someone had chosen a more inspiring name but like all things Microsoft, guess it was named by a committee.

Anyway watch this video, it makes more sense than a ton of press material.

Note, at one point data is being shared with a Mac, a XBox, a Zune, BB etc.

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Twitter as Command Line to the Clouds

Twitter Twitter as a channel for streaming short messages of 140 chars is well known. This has been covered to exhaustion and then some more. Heck, even Britney twitters! And my early thoughts on Twitter can be found here.


Overlooked Trait of Twitter

A particular aspect that has not got adequate mentioning is Twitter as the front end for bot mediated interactions with services in the clouds. And what the heck did I mean by that? Well read on…

Cloud-based Services

Web 2.0, as definitively defined by O’Reilly, has as one of its tenets services that use the Internet as the platform. That performs large amount of its functions centrally, uses Internet standards as interface for any external systems to interact with it etc. I call these cloud based services.

IWantSandy, a personal productivity application, is a popular example, that I have used and am familiar with. Typically, all user interaction with such applications is using a browser.

Trends in Interacting with Cloud-based Services

A trend that has been emerging is the rise of dedicated rich client applications that act as front end to these services. The services still continue to reside on the server, the dedicated rich client application merely acts as a front-end of pretty skin to the meat of the functionality on the server. Twhirl as front-end for Twitter is a relevant example.

If you notice here we have embellishments to the core service that juice up the user experience, without having to forcibly stare at a browser-based UI.

Austerity in Interaction design

Now the other end of such a logic, is to strip away all UI to the barest minimum. The result of this thinking must be a little hard to imagine, how could you pare down a UI? Well, we have had such a UI since the dawn of computing and its the venerated command-line.

Utility for Command Delivery

Remember though that the service still remains on the cloud, on a server somewhere far far away. All that would be needed to give a command line interface to such services would be

  • To have a mechanism that can forward text based commands to a specific location
  • And return any response text returned by the server.

Note that both the above points make no assumption about the kind of service they talk to, this is just infrastructure. This problem has to be solved just once for it to be applied in many contexts.

In the specific case of Twitter and IWantSandy- Have Sandy jot down a reminder or appointment you could do type the following text “d s r nirvana tomorrow 4pm” in twitter. This translates to “direct message to sandy, remind about nirvana at 4pm tomorrow“. Remember the overhead of learning the syntax will pay off many times over, since you don’t have to logon to the website to add this reminder. 

Conduit for Text Commands

Enter Twitter that does both the above tasks brilliantly. Twitter acts as a conduit, a passive conduit, that makes it perfectly suited in this scenario. It is this facet of Twitter that multiple services like IWantSandy, RememberTheMilk, etc build upon.

Advantages of Stripped Down Interaction Modes

This way of interacting with the service might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it has significant advantages.

For example you can i) Add twitter bot as a contact in your IM and send commands to the bot. No need to sign onto any application. Anywhere you can have a IM client you could use this feature.

Characteristics of Such Bot-based services

  • Immediacy – No form to submit, no page post-backs in interactions. Type command and hit enter!
  • No wait time – Messaging protocols are asynchronous by default
  • No delivery guarantees – Always managed through response messages for confirmation
  • Cross-platform – Works wherever IM protocols work!
  • Better perception of interactivity than a windowed application!

Some Usage Scenarios

Twitter, or IM bot mediated services, could be used in a variety of ways to enhance the user experience. Some examples could be –

  • Application help – Instead of requiring to visit a website, why not have a IM bot provide needed info via text.
  • Workflow status checks – Use this to check up on status for literally any workflows, assuming you have a unique ID to track items
  • Reference – Use to do quick look-ups of Wikipedia or similar knowledge bases
  • Search – Used as front end for search, reduce the single text-box plus button to just a text-box!

Past Efforts

One of the most popular efforts around using IM as a means to interact with systems involved AI Bots. A version of the history of software agents can be found here.


  • Cool as it seems any command driven interaction with server-based services won’t gain mainstream traction and will not replace traditional and UI driven means of interacting with an application.
  • But will simplify interactions with cloud based services and be a legitimate means of interaction for power users.
  • This will be especially relevant on constrained mobile devices

With my opinion of this out of the way, where would you take this?

For similar ramblings follow me on twitter, or subscribe to my feed here.

[updated: feed link at bottom of post was broken, fixed. Thanks to Nischal!)

The Undecided, akin to the Undead?

To be actively involved in change requires a conscious participation. A willingness to have your assumptions questioned is also key, otherwise change sweeps you along in spite of yourself.

Seth Godin, takes a crack at this topic of those who can’t decide, in context of around 35% of those polled could not decide whether to go for Obama or McCain. Leave aside the politics for a moment and soak in this thought from Master Godin.

The reason that so many people don’t vote…because inertia is compelling. Inertia absolves them of responsibility.

This is absolutely key. Those who wish to have an impact on society or an organization have to either foster, or even impede, its progress. It is the time-wasters, those who hang on, that are a blemish on the system.

To quote from an earlier post of mine on the importance of participation

What good is a million bucks in the bank if it does not alleviate you from poverty. Potential is just notional value. For it to be actualized one needs to act.

To take the context of functioning within an organization. It is not enough if we stick to the traditional role definitions.

All significant change involves questioning, willingness to take ownership, be exposed to potential risks and the gall to dream of the goal and snatch it for yourself and your team.

It is good to live, not so bad to die. But to be the undead sucks.

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And What Is Your Team’s Haka?

New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team perform the Haka, a ceremonial dance, before every match. Watch it to see what it can do to the morale of the opposite team!

And that brings me to the question.

Do you and your team have a Haka?

How do you energize and focus when confronted with competition?

Do you acknowledge the danger? View them right in the eye or ignore their presence?

Do you have a way to rally your troops together in times of crisis?

Is it a team huddle? Or a smoke with a trusted few?

Found via Kottke from here.

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Master, these are the tweets for 2008-10-19

Master, these are the tweets for 2008-10-16

The Duality of Self

Come Together Creative Commons License photo credit: h.koppdelaney

The Self is eternal says the Scripture.

the self is transient says me.

Immutable is the Self says the Rishi.

more mutable than mutation is the self says me.

Immortal is the Self says the Veda.

piffling life to perish in moments says me.

Infinite delight is the Self says the Voice.

the obverse of delight is the self says me.

An Ideal beyond the reach of mind.

and flesh that cavorts in mire.

So is our strange inheritance, to oscillate between being anointed with the will of the Gods or to satiate the cravings of(/like) an animal.

The Poor Man’s Nike+ iPhone, Without the iPhone and Nike

I just saw this post on LifeHacker about rolling your own Nike+ iPhone for free. The option that I use, while not exactly free, does the same job without having to nod to the Apple hype machine and Nike.

My setup requires.

  1. A Nokia NSeries Phone with GPS
    • This could be any N Series phone with GPS
  2. Free Sporttracker application
    • Download this from here. Page also contains list of phone models that are compatible. Follow the usual route to install applications on the Nokia phone.
  3. Data Plan
    • You will need this for just about any decent application
  4. You actually run
    • No amount of wizards, or tech platforms, can help you need to get your lazy butt off that chair and run instead of browsing the net!
    • With or without a shoe! 

The Sporttracker application allows you to export your run routes to Google Map etc. The graphs are quite accurate, you can measure every run and see how things have been fairing since you took that fire-vow to get yourself fit.

Of course, you still can’t do anything about the Apple Fanboys who will insist that their’s is the coolest device on the planet. But what could you do anyway about people who have donated all reasoning to St. Steve!

Do note that this user experience of Apple’s AppStore will be absent here. But Nokia with the NSeries 3rd edition has been making giant leaps on our behalf, and for their survival, on the user experience front. 

Highly recommended. Anyway, have you tried this? What are your experiences?

Master, these are the tweets for 2008-10-14