Archives for 2011

To Create Anew or Propagate the Old?

Humans beings instinctively avoid danger. It is an evolutionary safe-guard nature has perfected over many million years. The careless dozing ape would become meal to the predator waiting on the ground. The ape-man who did not hunt, or forage, for food would die of hunger. But every species has not come this far without taking a few risks along the way.

There are the few who venture a little further. This is not a uniquely human trait, rather it is something hard-wired within the evolutionary impulse. The ape that ate an unfamiliar fruit or berry, had a fair chance it would die. The ape-man who ventured near a forest fire for the warmth, dared to steal a ember in spite of the dangers involved.

Or as Satprem often says, and I paraphrase, “the first fish to peek out of water suffocated at the alien environment and the first amphibian to venture onto land would have suffered the hell of terra firma

But make no mistake, without these little reaching outs there would be no man or technology or social media or anything else. Evolution pays for its progress with the daring of a few experimenters.

So the question is, are we the early experimenters of our niches in evolution? Or are we merely the propagators of the old and the has been?

Of course, we could choose a narrower perspective for answering this question. Perhaps we consider society and our role in it. Or even just the work that we do and its impact. The spirit of the problem remains, even if we changed the context in which we ask it. What do you think?

You Are Not A Genius..

Socrates

Socrates

..not at everything anyway.

But guess what, it really does not matter. Average, even below average, skills will do. What matters is if your immediate circle is smarter than you, especially in the areas that you are weak.

Stop whatever you are doing now and think how many people above, around and below you will call a spade a spade, call bullshit when it seems to be so. If that sounds abstract, here are some specific attributes that you could look for.

Objective

Does the person present facts to support their views? Is there a reasonable correlation between views held and the facts presented? Are the facts true? Or at least does it feel intuitively right to you? It takes time to assess if someone is objective or not. But trust me, its worth your time to judge everyone carefully. Of course not everyone remains objective 100% of time, circumstances make it difficult. But it is sufficient to know overall trend, there would be some benchmark to judge what is happening in a given context.

Confident

Objectivity will not be present unless the person around you is confident in their ideas, opinions and especially in themselves. The most useless or obvious feedback from someone is a good sign, you have something at least. Of course, based on their motivations, the feedback might be beneficial or irrelevant, but it is a sign nevertheless that the person is willing to deliver some message to you. From there, you will have to dig in, gain increasing trust to see if the feedback is genuine, not a repetition of what you already know, not being delivered to curry short-term favor with you and so on.

Humble

Humility is that which accepts its shortcoming. Allows better and other possibilities. Nodding to every suggestion or thought is not humility, it is slavery. Humility knows its limits, knows it has not all the answers. It is not contradictory to confidence. At the same time it should not be a politically correct acceptance of another view. The world is crafty enough to pretend when required, so do not fall for immediate praise or blame..always think through the context in which the opinion is coming from. Shades of grey permeate everything, learn to recognize it better.

Does this line of thought make sense? Do you agree or disagree? And yes, do share tweet and share this widely. I would love your help in understanding what you and your friends think.

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Go Forth – Levi’s Campaign

Poetry, even when employed to peddle souped up nothing, still carries with it the majesty of the spheres it issues from. Like a flame in the cup of your hand, a thing so fragile, yet so rife with possibilities.

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If This Then That

If this then that

Between Flipboard and Zite on the iPad my primary means of consuming news and social media is a settled thing. But the workflow to act upon an information item is not consistent. A new startup IFTTT, aka ‘if this then that‘, takes an excellent crack at the problem.

To add more context, on Flipboard my way of marking an item for acting upon it later differs. I ‘favorite‘ tweets, ‘star‘ RSS entries from Google Reader and ‘like‘ Facebook entries. On Zite, for items I wish to act upon, I end up ‘bookmarking‘ them on delicious. Ideally I would have all favorite tweets, star RSS entries end up at delicious.

Think of IFTTT as a way to act on content from any of your social media streams, based on specific conditions being true within the content. Simple example is to bookmark a tweet in delicious if I favorite it in Twitter. IFTTT does this automatically now.

To be clear Yahoo Pipes does do this and more but the user interface is suited for those with programming experience or at least the ability to understand and build flow-charts. IFTTT excels because of its UX simplicity. The means for setting up a task are like reading a simple sentence and filling in the blanks. GUI has given way to a simple textual interface. Beautiful is an understatement!

Head over to IFTTT and have a play. They are in beta though. I have 5 invites to give away, drop me a mail(check my ‘About’ page) and I can send you one. And my first recipe to save favorite tweets to delicious is here.

(Thanks to Robin Sloan at Snarkmarket for pointing out!)

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Five Anti-Patterns That Harm Careers

Work ends up influencing who we are as a person. A career is more than a way to make a living, it is a framework to live well, to re-mould ourselves into something better. In this post I cover 5 anti-patterns that harm careers, check if the traits are familiar. Perhaps it can help you or someone you know.

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Google Correlate Draw, Finds Data That Fits Drawn Pattern

Used to be that you first had data. Then you did analysis to figure out the patterns and trends in it. Now you imagine the pattern and Google Correlate Draw checks if there is a search term that correlates to your pattern. This is awesome.

In case you can’t yet make out what the fuss is. Imagine how a person picks a dress to buy, they find a dress that fits them. Now reverse it, pick a dress and imagine finding a person who would fit it. See that!

Google Correlate Draw Examples

Note: the blue lines are what I drew and Google Correlate plots out matching data in red.

Downward trend

And guess which search term pops up? Windows Server 2003 Enterprise! And a near perfect correlation too 🙂 LittleSnapper

Upward trend

Ends up lots of people had parking tickets on their minds. Am sure city councils would have seen their parking ticket revenue increase in this period. Google Chrome

Sine wave-ish cycle

Curiously the term ‘adware free’ seems to have had a fluctuating fortune. Google Chrome

Further thoughts

Correlate Draw’s approach brings out interesting possibilities. The basic idea of search using something other than text has been attempted before. For example i)Google Goggles, search for images or ii) Voice interface to search term entry or iii) Shazam, search for songs based on recorded snippet, all try to think of search as an activity that transcends looking for “textual” information.

But what is intriguing about Correlate Draw is its ability to search, or should we say match?, for patterns in quantitative data. And that too using an intuitive drawing interface. That twist of expressing a search query as a drawing is what makes this so interesting.

Imagine this. What if an research analyst in a financial firm ‘draws’ stock price movement patterns and have the system bring up companies whose stock price correlates with it? What if every time-series data could be searched in this manner?

There is also the UX aspect. The variation that can be expressed in a drawing can never be matched in a regular search interface. You could have textboxes to capture certain terms, sliders to express value within a range, a drop down to capture a single item out of a set and so on. But the expressiveness in a drawing would be hard to beat.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. What do you think about Correlate Draw? How far can you push this idea?

Krishna – Sri Aurobindo

Krishna's birth Of all Avatars of the Divine Sri Krishna alone has a special place. Sri Rama is venerated. Every other Avatar prior to him is acknowledged and prayed to. But none is adored with the intensity and rapture that Sri Krishna is. Why is that so? We would not know entirely, until the same intensity of devotion and divine insight is given to us.

But suffice to say, I don’t care..I don’t need a reason to adore Sri Krishna. I adore him because what would I be without this capability to adore? Why would I give myself to an inferior joy?

There is plenty of devotional poetry composed around Sri Krishna. But I like the below poem by Sri Aurobindo.

Krishna

At last I find a meaning of soul’s birth

Into this universe terrible and sweet,

I who have felt the hungry heart of earth

Aspiring beyond heaven to Krishna’s feet.

I have seen the beauty of immortal eyes,

And heard the passion of the Lover’s flute,

And known a deathless ecstasy’s surprise

And sorrow in my heart for ever mute.

Nearer and nearer now the music draws,

Life shudders with a strange felicity;

All Nature is a wide enamoured pause

Hoping her lord to touch, to clasp, to be.

For this one moment lived the ages past;

The world now throbs fulfilled in me at last.

– Sri Aurobindo

Redefiners – For Media Firms Who Wish To Disrupt Markets, Relevant For All Content Players

Redefiners is a presentation by Activate that provides a ‘lay of the land’ view of how media firms can capture growth dollars. It is a stunning presentation and very relevant for any content player who uses technology to deliver content and related experiences to their users.

Just read through the deck, it is time well spent. I will summarize this later for my own understanding and share it here.

via Anil Dash.

Windows 8: Awesome UX, Not So Much Underneath

Big news coming from the D9 conference around Microsoft. Its flagship OS gets a rethink with the tentatively codenamed Windows 8. Take a look.

Simply love the concepts here. The tiles, ability to compose windows, IE 10.0 and more.

But all the rush vanished when they showed Excel and Windows Explorer. You got to the same old Windows, the junk was brushed under the carpet and nothing more.

John Gruber does a fantastic job enumerating why this is a flawed approach.

I quite understand Microsoft’s predicament. How could you not provide backward compatibility?! There would be a virtual revolt from consumers, especially the corporates, if their favorite apps did not work. So the internals with its 20 odd years of legacy will have to remain. What about the Office suite? Imagine all the corporate drones who live in Office, who raised a ruckus when the Ribbon menu interface was introduced! Whilst it would be possible for the Office team to reinvent the UI for a touch based environment, they would have a PR disaster on their hands if they attempted anything on those lines.

Microsoft is doomed by its past successes. Whilst it might have the intellectual mettle to re-invent itself for the post-PC world, it is chained to its legacy and thus doomed for irrelevance. Apple has craftily maneuvered itself out of its niche status in the PC world by using its low market penetration to invent iOS and related services to define a new field and own it.

Interesting times.

Illusion of Authority

“Once you become a creative director, you realize that authority is an illusion. You’re a negotiator between the client’s taste, the designer’s ego, and the user’s need. You succeed when all three are satisfied.”

– Jeffrey Zeldman @ Cognition

So very true and applies just as well to every activity where there is a value-exchange. It is easy to imagine many freedoms when one does not actually play a new role. Almost always, the higher you go, more the constraints. No amount of reasoning can drive this point in sufficiently to one who does not face the situation directly. I really like the way the lead’s role and constraints are articulated.