Massive. Ugly. Asymmetric. Behold the Iron Throne!

So formidably beautiful. Behold the Iron Throne, the seat of power for which “Kings are dying like flies”.

GoT-IronThrone

If you have not yet caught up with Game of Thrones, it might be time you did so. The novel by George RR Martin, and the HBO series of it are both awesome.

In George’s own words about the Iron Throne:

This Iron Throne is massive. Ugly. Assymetric. It’s a throne made by blacksmiths hammering together half-melted, broken, twisted swords, wrenched from the hands of dead men or yielded up by defeated foes… a symbol of conquest… it has the steps I describe, and the height. From on top, the king dominates the throne room. And there are thousands of swords in it, not just a few.

This Iron Throne is scary. And not at all a comfortable seat, just as Aegon intended.

Look on his works, ye mighty, and despair.

George has a way with words, a unique ability to bring his imaginary worlds to life and make it tangible for mere mortals like us to gape at. The art work itself is by Marc Simonetti.

(via iO9)

Knowledge is Free, Learning Costs You

Knowledge is power. Power is not shared. It remains institutionalized, parceled out to the few and is usually affirmed by a seal and sanction of an Institution. Knowledge had been monopolized by educational institutions, Universities and Boards. The few who had the aptitude, or the means, had access to this training and subsequent rewards. The rest languish in a vicious cycle of intellectual and economic mediocrity.

With the Internet, all this has changed. Knowledge is available in abundance. With arrival of MOOCs, this knowledge is at least a subset of what is offered in elite educational institutions. Udacity and Coursera are leading the charge here. Even before the MOOCs, there was MITs OpenEdu program. There are podcasts, websites, guides..heck knowledge flowed freely even through Torrents as ebooks and video lectures, beyond the standard Hollywood fare and porn.

With all this glut what seems to be scarce is our propensity to learn. Our curiosity has not deepened, it does not burn us yet. Our love of learning has either diminished or stayed the same. We still look to the old stimulants of economic rewards and social recognition to be nudged forward. Of course external motivations are important but the propensity to learn can be more effective when driven by a love of learning, by a desire to understand something truly, to build something of value using that knowledge.

But learning takes effort. This effort is more or less the same whether you learn from an Institution or on your own. With the glut of knowledge available online, one only needs a computer and connectivity to the Internet to join the information revolution. But what is lacking is our willingness to pay the price for learning. Guess it is much easier to pay money and have an institution declare we know something!

The time we spend on Facebook or Twitter is attention that could be purposefully spent elsewhere. Whether you wish to learn Rhetorical Composition, Systematic Program Design or Startup Engineering the best minds and generous hearts have conspired to ensure knowledge is free. You only need to pay for it with your curiosity, willingness to learn and perseverance.

What have you learnt lately?

How Not to Do Content Recommendation

Good intentions are sunk by bad copywriting. LinkedIn sent me this a little while ago. I did not click a single one of these “Influencer Summer Guides”.

LinkedIn-Content Recommendations Not

 

First that repetition of “on the best” made me cringe. They could have put the original titles, if there were any. I don’t care about value of content behind those links, bad post titles, especially from large networks like LinkedIn, should not be rewarded. Else the system (both machines and/or the humans behind them) would generate more such ‘content recommendation‘ junk.

The “Top 10 Blog Post Title Patterns of All Time” school of copywriting & content generation has gone out of control.

Sure, to gain audience you might have to resort to these tricks..but damn this is LinkedIn! They have a large global audience and have supposed influencers..could they not attempt something original? Why perpetuate the mediocrity?

This is our Signature. And it means everything.

This is it.
This is what matters.
The experience of a product.

How it makes someone feel.
Will it make life better?
Does it deserve to exist?

We spend a lot of time
On a few great things.
Until every idea we touch
Enhances each life it touches.

You may rarely look at it.
But you’ll always feel it.

This is our signature.
And it means everything.

My iPhone 4S drowned around 5 months back. Not wanting to spend a ton of cash on an iPhone, I took another route. I opted for a Windows Phone, a Lumia 820. I could handle it for a few months.

About two weeks back, I had enough. I had enough compromising on my own design and aesthetic sensibilities, enough compromising on what I valued and enjoyed in any device I used. I gave in and bought an iPhone 5. If there is one thing I have noticed that good engineering is not just about features, it is primarily what informed the design thinking of the creators, it is about what they wanted to evoke in you every time you used their creation.

Now, more than ever, I utterly understand what Apple means by “You may rarely look at it. But you will always feel it”, every damn time I lift the phone and use any of the apps.

Other platforms can try their best to cram features, add bigger screens, be first to add a visual idiom etc. But most do not understand whatever deep design-based thinking can accomplish can only be bettered by superior design thinking. Without it one builds castles in sand.

Make Good Music with Shankar Tucker via Kickstarter

And no, it does not involve learning an instrument, practicing it for 10,000 hours and being visited by the muses. Just support Shankar Tucker via Kickstarter!

Before we get to the how, do sample what sort of music am talking about here.

“Jaane Kaise” – Shankar Tucker ft. Shashwat Singh (A Cappella)

“Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo” – Shankar Tucker ft. Rohini Ravada

 

So if that appeals to your musical sensibilities, there is awesome news for you..Shankar Tucker, a musician from the US, trained in Western Classical and Indian Musical styles has launched a Kickstarter project. Below is the introduction.

Am going to support this project.

Shanker via his Shrutibox YouTube channel has given me untold amount of joy and I sincerely hope with our support he can make this project happen. Visit the Kickstarter project and sponsor his effort, we need people like him to bring out more India inspired music out.

And am curious to know which of Shankar’s songs are your favorites. This rendition of Bharatiyar’s song, or this one completely move me.

Executive Education is Useless

MBA

I got an email from INSEAD’s Leadership Programme for Senior Indian Executives (ILPSIE) on LinkedIn today. Their well-intentioned mail was to..see quote below

ILPSIE is aimed exclusively at Indian managers with an average of 14-15 years of experience. ILPSIE primarily seeks to improve fast growing Indian companies’ “bench strength” of skilled general managers, thereby enabling them to successfully capitalize on growth opportunities.

bench strength“..what the ****?! And “skilled general managers“?? I have nothing against INSEAD by the way.

I feel this is standard for the Indian/old world mindset, the ignorant belief that an MBA endows you with superpowers. Once that is done one could sail into clouds of senior management. Or get a coveted role within the financial industry. Or deal with rigors of managing any business in reality.

It used to be true when life was lot simpler but not true anymore.

An MBA teaches you basic heuristics and patterns of rational thinking. Anyone with 2 ounces of motivation and 1 ounce of opportunity can get the same thing, for lower cost and possibly faster, using books plus contacts in the old world and getting online in the new world. The value that society attached to degrees will cease being relevant. Old world HR departments, who cannot judge your technical skill, will still want to know if you have a degree and how much marks you got. Ignore companies with such HR folks and think in this fashion, there culture would be messed up anyway.

Knowledge can be gained if you have the interest for it. iTunesU is worth more than every average professor you have had.

Corporate sponsorship of MBA programs is another route where old world power brokers render favors to the devout. Forget it, you can make or learn way more if you will work for it.

A piece of paper that declares what you know is crap..what you reveal, share and deliver everyday is what matters. Over a 15 year career I have known folks with MBAs from prestigious institutions and got laid off because they were clueless for anything beyond college, textbook, or routine corporate scenarios.

The world is getting complex. The Dark Age, or Kali Yuga, the ancient Hindu equivalent of “Winter is coming” already here.

What should you do? Forget MBA. Learn how to program, understand basics of finance and launch a business..you will learn as much, if not more, as an MBA teaches you.

Photo Credit: Poster Boy via Compfight

Google Drive? Drive on

 

Google Logo

Am sure at least some of you have been eyeing Google Drive, so thought I would remind you of the recent changes Google made in their TOS and show you a recent post I came across. This is important, so read on.

First is the Google TOS, go on read it. It is not as bad as the legal documents enterprises usually cook up in their cauldrons, this is relatively mild. If legalese is not your thing, then allow me to highlight the terms that gets me concerned.

When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.

Ah…do you see the dark clouds yet? Wondering what lurks right behind it? Wait no more, read the next quote.

This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps). Some Services may offer you ways to access and remove content that has been provided to that Service. Also, in some of our Services, there are terms or settings that narrow the scope of our use of the content submitted in those Services. Make sure you have the necessary rights to grant us this license for any content that you submit to our Services.

Now to the second item, the blog post I mentioned at the start. A computer scientist ends up getting a $1000 bill from Amazon WebServices. Reason? There were numerous GET requests to large number of objects in his S3 bucket. Large enough requests to be charged $1000 for a month. Guess what caused it, He was storing a bunch of these URLs on his Google Spreadsheet, which got crawled by Google. Read the whole post, useful to understand how Amazon S3 did not raise an alarm at the unusual number of requests, why this was not Google crawler but a service called FeedFetcher from Google and why Google’s privacy policy prevented this “crawl” from being cached.

To summarize, a document you created using Google Docs/Spreadsheet had a URL, which was not public, got crawled repeatedly. Am not sure about you but I typically like my documents unindexed unless I explicitly make them public and expect them to be indexed. Integrated experience is good until I am forced to integrate within an ecosystem with unintended consequences. Lesson here is this, provide integrated experiences but ensure you align to customer expectations of service boundaries, or inform the customer upfront about consequences so they can take an informed decision. Its hard to retain this balance and completeness, but should be worth pursuing.

I am sticking with DropBox and SkyDrive, until even they have this bright idea of offering integrated experiences.

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Why Samsung/Android Will Never Get Another Dime From Me

Android - No dime from me

Android - No dime from me

(Rant Alert. Keep away if you wish!)

I hate Samsung Mobiles and Android. I hate them with an unparalleled intensity. Btw, I pre-ordered and bought a Samsung Galaxy S2, SGS2, believing it would ‘truly’ be the phone that proves Apple iOS had legitimate competition.

Before you ask, I am an Apple fan but never owned an iPhone myself. I have owned Nokia, BlackBerry and Motorola so far. Apple phones have always been rather expensive in India, so have admired them from afar. You would think with Nokia, Blackberry and Motorola as yardsticks for quality Samsung and Google would have no issue in making a customer happy. Tough luck, these fellows have no bloody clue on what makes a consumer device tick.

Just so we are objective in our hatred, here are some points:

Multi-tasking: The very first joke that hit me. After a full first charge done overnight, I used the phone from 8am and the damn thing lasted until 1 or 2pm, just by using the built-in apps. I used them slightly more than normal because it was a new device and I was eager to play. Pathetic power management was my impression on the first day of use. Nah, make piss-poor power management. Am sure at least few engineers behind Android knew multi-tasking would suck the battery’s soul and spit it into dark places. But guess multi-tasking was a marketing differentiator against Apple and the morons used it.

First App: Which led me to Google for options. I found that using a product like Advanced Task Killer helps power management. I hope you get the irony of this. My first f**cking app is “Advanced Task Killer” on Samsung, can you f**cking believe that? Anyway gentlemen, I did that and power management got vastly better..if I constantly killed apps that run in the background. Reminded me of using TaskManager on Windows to speed up my PC.

App Launch Experience: I got the standard list of apps Samsung ships with its version of Android. Eagerly I opened the pre-installed apps one by one. Every time I did that I had to accept Terms and Conditions..for every bloody app. I did not bother to understand whether it was for every app or every publisher or some other criteria. For all apps on the home page I had to accept conditions. What the f**k were they thinking?!!

Built-in Apps: The Google native apps were tolerable but none, absolutely none, of the built in apps put a smile on my face or helped accomplish my task without wincing. Let me highlight another gem, on the home screen the following apps were pre-installed – Voice Command, Voice Recorder, Voice Talk and Voice Search. Am sure if you thought about it deeply you might figure out what each of them did..but are you so jobless? Was there no person at Samsung to spot this?

Heating Problems: This phone heats up without apparent reasons, like a teenager who needs no specific reasons to feel horny. And I have given up trying to figure out the causes, just as I would think of a raving, slobbering, drunk on the street. It just is, best to ignore.

App Store: This deserves its own post. The Android App Store, or Google Play, is the very antithesis of “play”. It is a murky cesspool, notwithstanding the shiny veneer that confronts you when you launch it. Peer a tad closer and you will see clones of popular apps, apps that don’t elicit confidence that your private data will be treated with care, app equivalent of the Nigerian inheritance scam mails and more.

And so far I have not mustered enough recklessness to give Google my credit card details, so never bought a paid app. Before you think am a technical noob, I regularly buy my books/ebooks online via Amazon or Flipkart. On my iPad, of the 176 apps almost 35-40% are paid apps. Least expensive must be the 99cents ones, and most expensive one must be the WSJ subscription and AppCooker. That is just on my mobile devices, on the Mac I have bought Scrivener, OmniGraffle and more. Bottom line, as a software guy I love to pay developers for their work and don’t mind putting up the cash. The Android ecosystem(Google Play, Android, Samsung) just does not inspire that confidence in me, nor delight me enough to overcome perceptions of the ecosystem.

PC Sync: Samsung supplies a software called Kies to play the role of iTunes for iOS devices. It would be no exaggeration to state Kies is easily the most effed up piece of software thrust upon a hapless mankind. I truly have no words to describe how awful it is. The syncing mechanism is not reliable, when it actually manages to work. Inspite of constant updates, it has stayed as half-assed as when it was born. The firmware upgrade process is a joke, the OS upgrade is yet to arrive, the syncing works sometimes..in short, useless.

To Android fans: Sorry, you might have your reasons to love your variant of the mess that is Android. Hackability is a important but not in a consumer device. The ecosystem just does not attract the kind of mindsets and cultures that go into making beautiful and affordable experiences. Apps like Instagram for Android are exceptions to what prevails normally.

Conclusion: I bought a brick with my hard-earned money and deeply regret buying Samsung Galaxy S2. The issue is not with this device alone but the entire ecosystem and the kind of software providers and mindset it attracts. Am putting up this post so it can help people who are considering Galaxy Note, Galaxy S3 and other locust-like swarm of Android variants that are waiting to feed on our money and our patience. Not a dime more from me Google/Android/Samsung, I did pay a big price and trusted you to build something worthy. And you let me down big time.

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Don via Compfight
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Three Little Pigs

How would you take a children’s bedtime story and craft a scathing commentary on the state of social discourse? Check below.

This is a masterpiece at so many levels, it leaves me in awe of those who created it and those who had the stomach to approve it.

Housekeeping

Some housekeeping update:

I moved my blog from Lunarpages hosting to a Linode VPS and changed my domain registrars to Namecheap too.

A big thanks to lunarpages, they were professional and provided good service at a low cost.

Linode VPS is one of those guilty pleasures for me, a tiny box all for myself..for whatever I wish to do.

If you should find something amiss, do let me know.