Archives for January 2011

Conviction

A poem by Taylor Mali, set to video by Ronnie Bruce. To say any more would be redundant, so just watch this.

(via V3im.com)

Twitter Updates for 2011-01-16

  • Quo Vadis, Quora? http://t.co/eLY0lCK #
  • The Karma Bum by Tyler Stoddard Smith. How Allen Ginsberg's yoga broke Tyler's harmony. http://t.co/IVdQGmK #
  • Cool job posting from ChicagoTribune. Wears its lack of trinkets with honor, awesome! http://t.co/FOzdu8p #
  • This whole iPhone on Verizon thing can only be news in the US..#lame #
  • Like just for title! “@gigaom: Innovation Kills Monopolies Faster Than Governments Can http://dlvr.it/D6wQs” #
  • Daring Fireball: Simple Questions for Google Regarding Chrome's Dropping of H.264. Do no evil? #fail http://t.co/WoVc9xQ #
  • Typograph – Scale & Rhythm. "Somewhere between a tool and an essay" http://t.co/y1GBgw0 #
  • Aww, we got lawyered. Bieber.ly gets shutdown, promotes new verb 'lawyered' 🙂 http://t.co/cWMm7pD #

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A Vision is a Lonely Place

A vision is a curse. The thing not seen sits just behind the screen, coursing through your veins as a fire. Burning down reason and pragmatism in its urgency to be born, to become a material reality.

It is a madness, that excludes the mundane from its consideration. You wish to speak out – to cast in words what is clothed in the mists of possibilities, but no words consent to carry the fire. And you are left holding it in hollow of your breast. Will it burn down the form that bears it, or will the clay of mortality be transmuted by the fire?

Cassandra, The Archetype

Ajax_and_Cassandra

 

Perhaps the best archetype of a visionary comes from Greek mythology as Cassandra, daughter of King Priam of Troy. She is given a boon by Apollo to see the future but, perhaps due to the vagaries of godly nature, also curses her that none would believe her words. The delicious irony of it all, to see and yet not have anyone believe! The helplessness of being unable to guide her kin away from their destined doom.

Of course this is an archetype, an idealized personification of the visionary type. Reality is far away, and diluted many times over, from this essence. But however miniscule the vision, it comes with a proportionate sting.

 

 

The Problem of Reality

The above thoughts will make perfect sense for those who have had an intense creative urge. Not just the artistic or the literary variety but even the more pragmatic and technological variety.

If your vision is sufficiently advanced, it is almost a given that reality will refuse to entertain it, to see the concrete lurking behind the possibility.

This is indeed a hard phase for any creator or visionary. The solutions offered by books on harnessing your creativity, being effective innovators etc. are rather simplistic and offer rational solutions to a state that is beyond reason.

Reality is a complex machinery, there seems to be a method but it eludes any formulation. Those who intuit a method, do so in hindsight but never when in the eye of the storm. The management gurus and their ilk study the cadavers of the past to figure out the elixir of the future.

The Magic Word for Creators

There is no single incantation that will purge the vision into reality. No single act that can be the bridge between possibility and reality.

What is required is a sustained aspiration to hold the vision within and a multitude of numberless acts that chip away at reality. The dream can be made real if fuelled by relentless pursuit. Not the mad rush of the intoxicated, expending a fiery passion on a single lunge. But the unyielding will of a desert nomad moving towards an oasis, or perhaps the will of Yogi seeking to quell thought.

Hinduism with Spine

Swami-Vivekananda

Hinduism is often portrayed as a religion of peace and pacifists. Its legion of world shunning monks and yogis(the genuine ones anyway), reinforce this perception. Sometimes its not even a religion but an Eternal Dharma, a rule of living rightly that goes beyond the worship of its hundred thousand gods.

But all this other-worldliness, the excessive disregard of the world and the adoration of the Eternal and all its manifestations has had an unfortunate side-effect. And that is of lacking a spine, or a true measure and understanding of its own identity.

Origin of our Weakness

I would not be an expert to categorically state whether it was the many hundred years of Muslim rule, or the many hundred years of British rule, or perhaps a weakness that predated both these aggressors that allowed these aggressions to happen. But bottom line we have turned out to be a people lacking a spine.

We spout words about our ancient culture that we have no effing clue about. When our brothers from other religions convert our folks we quote the constitution that allows conversions. When more of our brothers from other religions of peace slaughter us, we quote mantras for peace and convince ourselves to let bygones be bygones. After all an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, as a leading light of the nation had said. When one of us decides to give others a taste of their own medicine we are the right wing!

Don’t get me wrong. If you know me or attempted to read and understand what I have written you will know am all for universal brotherhood and I mean it sincerely. But each culture has to stand up for itself, no one else will come to its aid. Or we will go the way of the Tibetans, the Mayans and all the other peoples that have perished under the onslaught of more ignorant cultures.

Do we understand our religion?

Each of us who profess to be Hindus will have to understand our heritage truly. Not the crap shown on TV serials, or the clueless nonsense spouted by the traditionalists, or the ones that give you certificates. Nor should we believe that spirituality is to be done at the last stage of life, it is such moronic thinking that has given rise to a nation without spine. That allows some so-called secular element within our founding members to interpret our subtle notion of universal brotherhood as a free for all, to come and do as they please. Enough is what I say.

What we need

From now, let each of us vow to understand our identity and our true heritage by going back to the original sources, the Vedas, Upanishads and the Puranas. Not as intellectuals, not to spout verses without understanding or realizing them. But as students and aspirants to the living truth of these scriptures, the One Divine who transcends everything.

The Method

I want us to do this not as Sanyasis or renunciates, not as intellectuals far removed from reality, not as arm-chair custodians of our heritage. I want us to uphold our values in the thick of material life. To build out the wealth of our nation again and not to see Narayana in poverty alone. To create art that once again captures the myriad infinities of the soul’s beauty. To engage our brothers in strength and pride of our identity and heritage. To churn out perfection in every thing we do and take our place once more at the forefront of civilizations.

The Impediments

It is not easy, this double mode of existence. Long has been our enslavement, impoverished our spirit and our members weak. A little wealth and little success rocks the boat of our pride too much. We are as children, who go into rapture at the smallest bauble. We are not a nation of Arjunas and Ashokas anymore. Even our villains are not fit to take the world stage, we have no strength to even do evil on a grandiose scale. Our Balis and Hiranyakashipus are just myths now.

But this need not be the case anymore. And it can start with us. Today. Let us reconnect with the Self within, in our own way. A little perfection in all that we do, a little service to elevate humanity, a little strength to stand up for our identity and a lot of humility is all it takes to offer as sacrifice to the immanent Divine.

The Guide

After all, as Sri Aurobindo states, “He who seeks the Divine is sought by the Divine”. Let us offer our works, paltry though it be, and Sri Krishna shall be with us. We have endured a lot until now, it is time for us outgrow our limited self-conception.

This post is dedicated to Swami Vivekananda.

True Price of Anything

manfred

Manfred Max-Neef is a Chilean economist and the author of a book titled “From the Outside Looking In: Experiences in Barefoot Economics”. He defines Barefoot Economics as  a metaphor for “the economics that an economist who dares to step into the mud must practice”.

I had come across an interview of his talking about “Why the US is becoming an underdeveloped nation”. My primary interest in this interview was not the vicarious and vain pleasure of witnessing a strong nation on its decline, but the curiosity to learn what sends once mighty nations and civilizations to their abyss.

The Price Not on the Sticker

The one immediate point I was struck by was the statement by Max-Neef on how economists don’t really know to calculate true cost of anything. The relevant quote is below

I live in the south of Chile, in the deep south. And that area is a fantastic area, you know, in milk products and what have you. Top. Technologically, like the maximum, you know? I was, a few months ago, in a hotel, and there in the south, for breakfast, and there are these little butter things, you know? I get one, and it’s butter from New Zealand. I mean, if that isn’t crazy, you know?

..the argument that it was cheaper, is a colossal stupidity, because they don’t take into consideration what is the impact of 20,000 kilometers of transport? What is the impact on the environment of that transportation, you know, and all those things?

A large majority of the stuff that is consumed comes from far away places in most developed economies- The cars that have travelled by ships to us; the apples from another continent; the cheese from a remote land, each has the perspirations of many hundred selves and more than a few footfalls on our dusty planet to have us be the destination of its journeys. The complexity and efficiency of this global supply-chain is fascinating and worthy of study, but it has to be seen for what it is, a monster and an abnormality.

Perhaps this is such a common place aberration that we take it to be the norm but for the first time the import of that statement reached inside.

In the algebra of acquiring something we only consider the variables of desired(or needed) and affordability. What is not seen and understood is how the sticker price on anything is not the measure of its value or an indicator of the cost of producing it.

True Price

In a globalized economy that cares about sustainable development more needs to be done to make transparent the true cost of producing something. Not just mentioning whether the materials are recyclable but what the environmental cost of creating, packaging, shipping and delivering it is and let the market decide whether such products are worthy of its support.

Health Label for Planet?

And if you think about it, its not a radical notion too. All processed food manufacturers are required by law to label their products with materials that have been used to produce it and what its health value is- what % constitutes which vitamins, how many calories etc. May be this got done because we care for our own bodies. Perhaps its time we cared about our impact on the planet and label things appropriately.

My Facebook Network Visualized

I am fascinated by the idea of emergent behavior. Wikipedia defines it as “the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions”.

In the context of interactions with our social circle, either in reality or virtually, there are patterns inherent in them that we are usually not aware of. With the availability of tools to record and visualize these interactions it becomes possible for non-experts to view, analyze and understand these patterns and perhaps act on them in some manner.

I had found this post about “Making beautiful  graphs of your Twitter network” and followed the steps outlined in a presentation linked to there on analyzing Facebook graphs by Sociomantic labs.

My Facebook Graph

Without further ado, below is my graph on Facebook.

MaheshCR-Facebook-Graph

All I did was to follow the instructions on the Sociomantic presentation and ended up with this cool looking baby!

Clusters in Your Network

What is interesting about this? Well, look at the way the system has automatically figured out the clusters of communities within my overall graph. The dark blue node cluster on the left bottom of the pic is my colleagues from Dell. The node cluster in the middle is the team that works on Compose. The bluish nodes on the top right are my colleagues from Thomson Reuters, my current employer. The dark green node cluster is my colleagues from Capco.

Now, not much of my family is on Facebook and the ones that are there are not captured in this screenshot, since they are in an isolated cluster. And that is the technical reason. The real reason is that I don’t have much of a life!

If you are interested in seeing the output for yourself, click on the link to download the pdf that was generated.

A Gephi for Graphs

This has been an interesting exercise for me, to put it mildly. Primary reason is my discovery based, on the Radar blog post, of Gephi – a graph visualization tool. In fact it has gained the moniker of Photoshop for Graph Visualization. That should give a hint about the power of this tool. By the way it is open-source and free! I highly recommend downloading it and giving it a spin.

Now, do drop a comment and let me know what you think. Or even better, play with the tool and share what you have learnt.

A Parent’s Guide to Apple’s iPad

Parents Guide-Home

There are a ton of Apple iPad guides and tutorials over the web. But very little info to guide parents of children under 5.  If you are a parent, or about to be one, read this post.

A shiny toy/device like the iPad invariably draws children to it and there is little you could do to stop them from messing about with it. A bawling child is a argument you can’t win. And almost every time the iPad can act as a high-tech pacifier to get your child to do anything(stop bawling, eat their food, divert attention from other gadgets and give you some breathing time!).

Steps to defend your iPad

Familiarize yourself with the Settings –> General section. Almost all the stuff you have to do resides here.

Parents Guide-Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Man the Gates with Passcode

Parents Guide-Passcode Lock

 

This is your first line of defense.

Go to Home –> Settings –> General

Choose Passcode Lock and turn setting to on. You will be asked to select a four digit number. This will be your primary lock down step.

Note the Erase Data setting. After 10 unsuccessful logon tries the system would wipe out your data. Be careful with this. I have chosen to keep it on.

Restricting Apps

Next step is to enable various restrictions on what can be done on your device.

Parents Guide-Restrictions

Right below Passcode Lock, you will find Restrictions entry. Switch this on and you will the screen shown here.

Again, to get here follow Settings –> General –> Restrictions.

Below entries should ideally be turned “OFF”

i) Installing Apps ii) Deleting Apps iii) Accounts iv) Location v) In-App Purchases vi) Multiplayer Games vii) Adding Friends viii)Safari ix)YouTube and x) iTunes

Of course doing this restricts capabilities of the device and makes it a little dumb but the whole point is to prevent kids from doing things you don’t want them to do. You can selectively enable these options when you want to.

Restricting Content

If restricting all online media consumption options seems tyrannical then you can notch down things a little.

Allowed Apps

Parents Guide-Allowed Apps

Choose the country you are in to get ratings relevant to your region. So this is Settings –> General –> Restrictions –> Ratings For.

All apps on the Apple platform are rated just like media.

This is a truly a smart way to think about Apps on a device like the iPad. Curation of apps by Apple ensures there is consistency in the ratings.

Select Allow Apps Rated. Choose the ratings relevant for your child’s age group.

 

Allowed Music & Podcasts

Parents Guide-Allowed Music Podcast

 

Select Allow Music & Podcasts Rated.

Turn this Explicit setting to “OFF”. You certainly don’t want kids watching dodgy stuff. Of course you can turn it back on when you are using the device.

 

 

 

Allowed Movies

Parents Guide-Allowed Movies

 

 

Choose the option Allow Movies Rated. Select the rating options relevant again.

 

 

 

 

Allowed TV Shows

Parents Guide-Allowed TVShows

Select the Allow TV Shows Rated option.

Select the options most relevant for your child.

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Lockdown

After all this, you might get a little complacent and think you are safe. But kids have a way of getting their fingers into screens you never thought existed. This skill will put them and you in trouble especially when connected to the Internet. So my step is to shutdown ability to get online.

Parents Guide-WiFi Access

 

Go to Settings –> WiFi.

Switch the WiFi setting to “OFF”.

This would stop your iPad from getting online. This is most useful and can be used as a master switch, without fiddling with allowed ratings for various types of content and apps.

 

 

 

Important Note : On iTunes, ensure you don’t save your password. Require to provide this password every time. That way when your kid somehow gets to iTunes on the iPad or tries to buy something the password request dialog box will act as another line of defense. Remember, your credit card details are on iTunes and a simple click can wipe some serious money from your account.

Some Parting Words

It is a delight to watch your child pick up the UI idioms without blinking, as if it were all obvious. And therein lies the magic of what Apple has managed to deliver. For all the Android and other tablet fans out there, I really would like to see a first generation device that can be used by a child.

All said, if you are a new owner of an iPad, hearty congratulations. As an individual and as a parent it has exceeded my expectations in the first few days and am sure it will do the same for you. And do not take your child’s time with the device lightly, always ensure you have some adult supervising its use. Have fun.

Cure for Success and Failure

This post is on dealing with the effects of success and failure on the ego. Not a philosophical approach, as am usually inclined, but something more pragmatic for those working to make their visions a reality.

[Read more…]

#YearInReview What We Shipped in 2010

This post is inspired by Seth Godin’s post titled What did you ship in 2010? Seth goes on to provide a list of things he completed and provides some encouragement to share similar lists and not be shy. Given that shyness is not exactly my strong trait, here it goes.

What we shipped in 2010

  • Products: We went live with Compose, a research publishing product by Thomson Reuters(my current employer). You can look up details on the official product page. Everything about this product(vision, technology, commercials and more…heck even the brochure!)was envisioned and built out by us in Bangalore. I shall talk about the philosophy behind it and my ideas to bring some innovative thinking to the sell-side research function in other posts.
  • Vision: We put together a vision for the sell-side research market, that goes much beyond Compose. There are at least 5 large items here that I am excited about but for obvious reasons will not be able to share here!
  • People: Built-out a brand new team to reboot our sell-side offerings. We have some solid talent to help realize our vision for the coming years.
  • Collaboration efforts: Ideas that we have envisioned have gained traction amongst various internal teams. This is not strictly a deliverable but collaboration efforts such as these raise the bar for the entire organization and opens up new possibilities to serve our customers.

Doing all the above was not easy. We have seen organizational changes, differing priorities, changes in responsibilities, rampant attrition and various other dysfunctional elements. But what matters is that we shipped Compose, built out the sell-side vision and contributed to the organization’s IP.

As always, not even a fraction of this would have been possible without my team and those who supported us within the organization. To each one of you(you know who you are) my personal thanks.