Friday, December 10, 2010

I Can Run!


This post is to brag on a mini milestone achievement - I can now complete the upcoming Whitefield Mid Night Marathon ( only the baby 4.2 Kms )!

Of the last 3 runs I have been consistently covering 4.2 kms plus.

Here are a few steps (woohoo managed to squeeze in a pun ) I took :

1. Shunned the iPod. The ear hurts after a while, the buds keep falling off, the wire keeps coming in the way - and the podcast / songs might get boring and I lose interest in running. So ditched the iPod and I can now run just with my thoughts.

2. Psyche myself on Diabetes. Genetically South Indians are programmed with this disease and shipped into the world. I sit and work 12 plus hours - almost 7 days a week. Office is just on the 1st floor. ( ahemm home is on 3rd floor but I am lazy ). Only way to beat diabetes is to exercise - no other way out.

3. Psyche myself on Personal Victory. This one is from Stephen Covey's 7 habit book. You should first win personal victories before you can win public victories. This one statement makes me spring up from the bed and keeps me going till I reach the goal I had set - 4.2 Kms.

4. Enjoying the zone / the rhythm. It took a long time before I could find the rhythm. Now when I get over the initial few minutes of heart pounding - I start to glide - it is a beautiful feeling - and I do not notice the minutes that go by.

5. Ignore the knees will give away scare. It will be another ( hopefully ) 2 decades when my knee problem surfaces. I am betting on knee technology to improve - and there will be a magic pill very much like the Taj Mahal pill - which will rebuild the knee !

My next goal is the half marathon ( 21 Kms ) and then a full marathon ( 42 Kms ).

PS : A special thanks to @diduPublish Postknow, @nilakanta who I follow on twitter - their tweets used to make me feel guilty and now their tweets inspire me.

PSS : See Twitter is much more healthier than facebook. All I do in facebooks is view and share youtube links and talk politics. My eyes and head are getting corrupted :)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thoughts on Goal


Last month I was in Justbooks around the time they were closing so just picked 2 books as directed by my subconscious. Once I started reading I realised that I heard about this book  first in the 2007 Ooty Thoughtworks Awayday. Apparently the subconscious mind remembered about this book when I was going to randomly pick 2 books - amazing how neurons work

Goal was written by Dr.Eliyahu M.Goldratt as a marketing ploy to sell their software which did some scheduling. No one knows about the software - but the book became a roaring success - after rejects by 20 publishers. 

The book brings out some interesting concepts - even though it revolves around a manufacturing plant - it soon becomes apparent that the concepts can be applied against any industry or business.

What is the Goal? 

Alex is the head of a production plant. Orders are always delayed and is a loss making plant. His boss gives him 3 months to turn it around or close the plant. Alex meets his high school physics teacher who mentors him into finding the right path - and the first question he asks is - what is the Goal of your production plant.

Is it quality, productivity - no - the goal is to make money now and in the future. This very realization sets a whole chain of interesting concepts.

Herbie the fat kid 

This is a must read part of the book - they bring out the concept of bottleneck in a brilliant manner. Some 20 boy scouts go on a 8 mile trek led by Alex. As per common sense the fastest kid is put on the front of the trial - so he will set a fast pace and they can cover the distance quickly.

They stop for lunch ( mid day ) and realize that they have not covered even 2 miles of the 8 miles. At this pace it will be quite dark by the time they reach the destination.

Soon Alex finds out that Herbie - the fat kid - is in the middle of the trial and he is slowing people down behind him.  So he moves him to the end of the trial. Even this does not work and the pace does not improve.

Then he moves Herbie to the front of the line and also take some load off his back - so Herbie can walk a bit faster. Wonder of wonders - the pace improves drastically and they reach the destination on time.

The reasoning is brilliant - you go read the book - I wont spoil it for you :)

In any system - identifying Herbie - or the bottle neck is of utmost importance. Once identified you can either move it to the front of the chain ( will not be possible in most of the cases ), or add more resources and optimize the bottle neck.

There are lots of advantages of the bottle neck :

1. Bottleneck determines the throughput of the system
2. This helps in scheduling things around it - so the quantity and delivery time can be predicted accurately.
3. The inventory can be planned more smartly with this information - hence reducing the warehouse costs

Herbies are the weakest link, or the slowest part of the system. They determine the strength of the whole chain.

And the bottleneck will keep moving as the Herbie gets identified and gets optimized. Other Herbies will start springing up - and have to be dealt with. 

Theory of Constraints

This brings us to a brilliant deduction :

The Rate of achieving a goal is limited by atleast one constraining process.Only by increasing flow through this constraint the overall throughput can be increased.

Simple, common sense - but we totally miss this.

5 Focussing Steps  
  1. Identify the constraint (the resource or policy that prevents the organization from obtaining more of the goal)
  2. Decide how to exploit the constraint (get the most capacity out of the constrained process)
  3. Subordinate all other processes to above decision (align the whole system or organization to support the decision made above)
  4. Elevate the constraint (make other major changes needed to break the constraint.
  5. If, as a result of these steps, the constraint has moved, return to Step 1. Don't let inertia become the constraint. 
 That is all there is - and this philosophy can be applied to any system.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

BootStrapping and VCs

 
Last week I attended the Nasscom Product Conclave.  Lots of take aways.

Bootstrapping

I am reading Goal now ( a dedicated post is needed for the book ) and it taught me a new life lesson. Constraints are not a bad thing - they are the best thing that can ever happen to you. A few sessions reflected this thought process and brought some clarity.

For a Bootstrapped Startup - Cashflow / Money is the constraint. It shapes the way we think and act. Every Rupee that is spent is well thought out. Wastage is out of question. No unwanted feature creeps into the product - keeping the product spiffy and on its toes. The code / server is optimized to extract every ounce of performance as infrastructure is expensive and eats into the bottomline. 

I can keep adding lot other things - I appreciate the constraint bootstrapping provides - it is actually creating the character of the future company that has started shaping up.

VCs

This brings me to the other side of the coin. I felt bad for VCs - they got bashed up in this mela. Almost every session had something or the other against VCs. Yes, VCs are bad for early stage startups which are not capital intensive. Actually money works to the detriment. 

There is a place for VCs when the Orbits have to be shifted - sadly none of the VC bashers spoke about it. This also reflects how nascent this industry still is. The startups are just starting to take off. Only a few are feeling the need for VC funding. 

Also Dr.Wadhwa gave enough statistics to prove how the VC industry is imploding in Silicon Valley. This will definitely make it harder for our startups and VCs in the near future. Perhaps the model is not right - perhaps it was not done right - we will never know.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Viral Loop



It has been a while since I finished reading Viral Loop by Adam Penenberg - which traces the story of Internet companies right from Netscape to Facebook and Twitter.

The book is sinking in slowly. Being in the .com business it was exciting and scary to read the history of various startups.

The book covers the journey of the following startups.

Netscape
Hotmail
Ebay
Paypal
Amazon
Hot or not
MySpace
Flickr
Bebo
Ning
Twitter
Facebook

And there is a recurring pattern in all of them

1. The founder is invariably a developer


All these are essentially Web applications - and having the founder-developer part of the nucleus is ideal . Things change at the speed of light - and the founder being at the helm can immediately sense the course corrections that are needed - and correct them himself - instead of having outsourced the core work, or giving instructions to a team of techies and waiting for them to create magic.

3 Cheers to Developers - we are the makers of the world!

Free Tip Warning :) :  If you are a developer and evaluating whether to take a Project Management position - turn it down if you have startup aspirations - instead  focus on becoming a better developer - some day you can run your own startup.

2. Scaling


Finding the right idea is not enough; finding customers to come to your site is not enough - the site has to scale. This is the single biggest problem faced by all of the above startups. This is a good problem to have - and you should be happy when scaling pains hit you.

It is a tough decision. Should you spend enough resources and build a complex architecture that can scale  VS build your product as fast as possible and handle scaling when the time comes.  Honestly I do not know the answer. There are pros and cons for both.

The universal answer "Depends" is, as always, the right answer :)

3. Viral co-efficient


And they have formed a mathematical equation to explain the Viral phenomenon - why some ideas spread like wild fire. The magic is in the viral co-efficient. As long as it is above a certain number the idea will succeed. This is what Malcolm Gladwell calls it as the Tipping Point.

The book is full of interesting anecdotes. Ebay bought Bill Point and tried to kill Paypal ( which refused to be bought out by Ebay ). In order to promote Bill Point, Ebay made its banner big, had a easy sign up process. Whereas for Paypal - Ebay had a 2 step signup - and made Paypal's banner smaller and towards the bottom of the page. The community revolted and brought back Paypal.

Once an idea catches up - the community will make sure it stays on the right track.

On the downside - this book glorifies Ning. Perhaps it was written before the downward spiral started for Ning.

Ning had rounds of funding ( Mr.Sharad Sharma joked in one of his speeches that Ning has got more funding than what it took Chandrayaan to be sent to the moon  ) - and still Ning is struggling. They recently turned off their free communities and made the entire site a paid one. As an idea Ning is great - but as a business model - they could not sustain. It will be interesting to watch if Ning can turn things around.

We are exactly in the middle of a huge flux. So many questions are yet to  be answered :

What is a successful business model for a Web product?
Is Freemium the right model?
Is Banner Ad-Revenue sustainable in the long run?
Is 37 signals / DHH philosophy the right one for a Web Startup?

Perhaps a few years down the lane we will know better. Till then let us keep guessing and keep updating our status and tweeting inane things!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Breaking the Reality Distortion Field!


I did it !

I broke the Reality distortion field cobweb of Steveji and joined the Android Brigade! It has been more than a week since I bought my first smart phone - a Samsung Galaxy S ( on the left - yes it does look very iPhoneish ) and it is Enthiranistic ( hehe :) )

It was a tectonic mind shift for me. I love Apple products - my first laptop was an iBook. Then I bought iMac, iPods. When the 1st gen iPhone came I wanted it badly - but as a rule I never buy 1st Gen Apple products ( can't afford the Apple Tax ).

Recently I decided ( the power above approved rather :) ) to go for a smartphone and my obvious choice was an iPhone. Despite the attenagate I wanted to buy the iPhone 4. However I started reading more and more on the iPhone vs Android wars and found how closed Apple had become.

In the iconic 1984 Super Bowl Ad when Apple introduced PCs to the IBM masses - a lady with a hammer hurls it on the Big (Blue) Brother who preaches :
"Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause."

How ironic. You can now replace the Big Brother with Steve Jobs and the words still apply. You might own the hardware, but you cannot install any applications that you want to. You cannot hack your machine -  you will void the warranty. Want to transfer files - you have to do it with iTunes and nothing else.

And more importantly - Apple for some reason - hates India. The iPhone4 release date could as well be in 2011. iPhone 3 got released exactly after a year it got released in USA. Also Apple's prices are illogically high in India.

Anyway - here are the things I liked on the Galaxy.

Swype - I am as fast as the Chinese Teenage kids when it comes to texting now.

Google Apps Integration - Whenever I want to add a contact and if I am near a computer, I add it in my Google Contacts - and it magically appears on the phone.

No Brainer Syncing - Since I am on linux I do not have iTunes -in fact my iPod is yet to be updated with Enthiran songs. However with Galaxy S I just dragged and droped the media files.

Internet Tethering - Worked out of the box - on Ubuntu. I did not expect that.

I am not sure how this phone pits against the Retina Display of iPhone. And this phone does not have a flash - which is a bummer.

One parting advice for Steve Jobs - just let it go. You have the best product in the universe. Why create gates and windows?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Release elsewhere vs Release in a Startup

In August we had 4 Major Releases and 8 Minor releases. I was  thinking how the Releases were in my previous life ( few in a year ) and how it is now ( few in a month ).

Things are much more demanding in a startup - the developer's job is not done by just pushing things to Prod and making sure things are fine. He has to do lot of follow up work. Looks like lot of fun isn't it! :)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Stay away from Microsoft Fonts for Ubuntu

I installed Microsoft fonts by mistake ( msttcorefonts ) and forgot all about it. However it messed up the entire system. These fonts are not anti-aliased or smoothened and they are razor sharp.


If you have installed - just remove them sudo apt-get remove msttcorefonts and sanity will be restored.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The One vs The Many Heroes


I started reading a Sci Fi novel - Dune by Frank Herbert. I have not even crossed 30 pages and already the characters in the book are analyzing if the hero ( a kid as of now ) is the one? It kind of put me off a bit..but I will persist with the book. Curious to know if he is the one ;)

Coming from an eastern civilization where there is really no "one hero" it does sound a bit funny initially. There are 1+ million Gods, in Mahabharata there are 5 heros, and there is a hero who is part of the dark side too ( Karna ), in Ramayana actually the bad guy is projected to be on the good side ( Rama - who else.. haha ;) he plots the downfall of one of the monkey kings, suspects poor Deepika...better known as Sita and burns her etc. ).

Switch to the Western world - there is Matrix. After snazzy graphics, exploding cars and trucks, and 3 parts - it is determined that Neo is the One. In Lord of the rings the ring chooses a sad looking Elijah Woods as the One. In the latest movie too, Avatar, there is some legend among the Pandorites and our hero happens to be - not surprisingly - the One.

Its fun - being part of both worlds. I grew up fascinated with the Mahabaratha, and Ramayana - it  helped me identify shades of grey in the world, and that there is not one, but many heroes - and they are on both sides.

Then Hollywood movies and American politics showed how things are really not as complicated as we Easterners think - but it is quite simple - as either a red or blue pill/vote and how there can be "the One".

I can sense there is something deep here - but I am a superficial blogger so I won't bother digging deep. Like the Inception ending, I will let you draw your own conclusions on what impresses you the most - The One vs Many heroes concept.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cure for the Common Cold

"If you take medicine the cold will go away in 7 days, if you do not it will go away in 1 week" - My 12th Std Biology teacher. That was the only time I smiled in his class, rest of the time I would be sleeping or keeping myself awake dreaming of college just a few months away and how liberating it would be.

Anyway this post is about my cold. It always hits me when I least want ( as if anyone will want to get cold ). A big release, an important interview, a vacation, a family get together - it is always there to give me company.  I have tinnitus ( like everyone's hero Guy Kawasaki ) and it gets worse during cold - meaning - 1.5 of my hearing will be out of service for this period.

I have tried all things. Pranayama, Running, Walking, Japanese shower, Orange juice, Nuts, Fruits, quit smoking ( even though I don't smoke ;) ) - and also doing none of these - still the cold gives me a visit without fail. I have been fighting this battle since my earliest memory - still no respite.

I have decided what legacy I want to leave behind to this world. You would have guessed it by now. I will create this wonder drug. I have even named it : HAWT ( hawt always work terrifically - recursive name ;) ). However it will not fight cold - it is useless to fight cold. It is like writing a software to replace Excel.

Instead, HAWT will fight all the symptoms cold brings - headache, loss of apetite, stuffy nose, runny nose, itchy nose, mild cough, dry cough, teary eyes, sore throat, mild fever. HAWT is designed to do precisely drugs are not supposed to do : that is to just take care of the symptom.

So where do I download cold APIs - want to start working on my legacy.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

IQ, EQ, CQ, PQ




After reading Malcolm Gladwell's book - Outliers - I have started looking at things with a different perspective. Here is my hypothesis on the elements that can make one successful in life. 

IQ

Whenever we see someone who has "arrived in life" we presume they have a high IQ - but this is not the only criteria. Having cart loads of IQ is good to have, but it does not guarantee success if the below 3 are not present in good measure

EQ 

Emotional Quotient :  The person who laughs at the face of danger; the one who lost badly but has the courage to try once again, or take a different path; the go-to guy at work when the experts give up and report sick on crisis situations; this is the guy every project manager wants in his team. EQ is a must have - not just a good to have. 

CQ

Creative Quotient :  The guys with a high CQ spruce up dull meetings; their emails are all a joy to read; their stand-up updates are fun - and the team tries hard to match him - and the whole team bonds & has fun day in and day out. When our man does not turn up for work - the project feels like a funeral home ( ok I am over stretching a bit here :) ) - but I guess you get the picture.

PQ

Political Quotient : Bite your lower lip & accept the fact - you have to play the game ( there is a better term for this - hehe). In large organizations - PQ determines if you get a cubicle near the window or a seat next to your boss's boss - it is a hard life and it gets harder for the ones with zero PQ.

In startups politics is non existent - who has time for such games anyway - however having a good PQ is essential for customer relationship management - and also to see the team through during some tough times.

In summary - the schooling taught and measured our IQ - post schooling - the real world expects EQ, CQ & PQ - in some combination or the other - and this will decide how far one can go in life.

Success = a(IQ) + b(EQ) + c(CQ) + d(PQ)

And the above formula is open sourced under GPL - use it freely, improve the a, b, c & ds  and enjoy sweet success. You are welcome :)

[Img courtesy : http://malefis.u-strasbg.fr/site/images/homer-brain.jpg ]






Sunday, May 30, 2010

Penguin Zindaabaad - Ubuntu 10.04 review




They : Is this Apple?

Me : No. This is Ubuntu !

They : Huh? 

Me : Yep! 

The above conversation happened yesterday when I had gone to give a demo to an Association Committee.  Half an hour we were discussing on Ubuntu and then I realized I have come here to sell my product and not Ubuntu - and went on with the demo! 


That's the screenshot of my desktop - on Ubuntu 10.04. Very minimal, OS Xish, smooth, fast, snappy, extremely responsive - and a conversation piece at every demo.

In May 2009 - a year back I installed Ubuntu 9.04 with dual boot with Vista ( http://venkat2.blogspot.com/2009/05/finally-switched-from-vista-to-ubuntu-9.html). Now after a year - in may 2010 - I clean formatted the laptop and have gifted the entire hard drive, boot sector et all to Ubuntu 10.04. I am confident / convinced that Windows is not needed any more.

In fact I am very grateful to Microsoft for having produced a crappy OS. If Vista was a little better I would have lived with it - how I lived through Win 98, Win ME, Win XP ( truly the best of the lot ). But Vista is a class apart - bloated, slow, buggy, random, restrictive, frustrating....!

Here is my take on the new Ubuntu.

Speed


The new one boots fast ( however not the 10 second boot time everyone is raving ) - I count 15 dots in the new bootup screen everytime - and by the time I login - the system has picked up the wireless, I click on Chrome - one jump on the dock and Chrome shows up. Not the same with firefox though - man it is bloated.

Almost all the applications ( Open Office, Filezilla, Gimp ) open up really fast.



Dock


I missed the OS X Tray. In the earlier avatars I tried Gnome Do and few other hacks - but nothing came close to the OS X dock. Now the new Docky has come pretty close to the real thing. It is included in the repository - just apt-get install it.

Ubuntu Software Center


Earlier I had to google and then learn about an app, then search in synaptics package manager. All that is gone - the new software center kicks ass. If you had used Fink Commander for OS X you will love using this. My only gripe is there should be a more button - minimal is nice - but once in a while it is a pain.

Compiz 



The wobble, desktop cube, cover flow view on ALT-TAB - all are very smooth. In fact when I use Windows ( 7 of course )  it looks pedestrian. Moving the windows gives me a stiff back - why are they so rigid?

Expose ( we call it scale ) works perfectly. I have most of the head spinning effects disabled - perhaps will leave them on before demos and get a few oohs and aahs for the OS also ( apart from the oohs and aahs for the apartmentadda demo :) )

Copy dialog


The copy dialog goes and sits at the top right corner - double click and you get the copy window - neat.

Switch user


Works. In 9.04 the OS will hang. However it is not as fast as "fast user switching" in OS X - when they released this feature in 2004 or something.

Tata Photon


It shows up in the networking setup screen > mobile broadband - chose defaults - and it connected.

Laptop runs cool

With Ubuntu 9 it used to get really hot. I have the processor tray on my top panel and now it is like a placid ocean. Shoots up only when I start an application. I am not sure if it is the new Linux Kernel or there was a buggy app in the old release.

The Bad stuff


Penguin lovers close your eyes and ears.. Here are my gripes

Social media integration

Why are they wasting everyone's time?  Linux is for serious users - the Canonical developers are just wasting time trying to build such stuff - which no one will use. In my opinion linux will not get widespread adoption because of such social stuff - but will get accepted if it is as usable as an OS X.

Window buttons on the left


Horror of horrors - why will they do that? Just by copying a small OS X style they are not going to get a usable OS. A google search solved it - it is a simple configuration change - need not even reboot.

Lack of a good iTunes alternative


There is none. zilch. I tried Amarok, rhythmbox - Sorry Mark Shuttleworthji - I will never recommend Linux to my friends for this very reason. Songbird has ditched Linux - and we are left with no options. I am seriously thinking of starting an open source project which will be a true iTunes alternative for linux.

I don't know what beer the developers of Amarok and rhythmbox are drinking - guys - if you want to beat Windows / OS X - we need a better jukebox - or atleast bribe or feed the ego of the Wine guys to make iTunes run in Linux. Sheesh - I am appalled.

Only good thing out of this is it makes me more productive. I do not waste time downloading, playing, dissecting songs on the laptop - my trusty iPod classic has all the stuff and I update it occasionally on my iMac.

Anyway - bottom line - I am one happy linux geek. 10.04 is truly the most awesomest OS Canonical has ever produced. I am hoping that, with 10.10 they will release Gnome 3 - and there will be no looking back. I will put Ubuntu on my 5 year old iMac ( damn chrome does not run on it because it is a power PC )

Penguin Zindaabaad !

Monday, April 19, 2010

After reading Outliers I write a time-travel letter to myself

I finished reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell a couple of days back and lots of thoughts have been churning in my head. Putting them down as a letter to myself - a letter I would write to the 20 year old Venkat whose career is just beginning ( also applicable to anyone who is in college right now ).

Hi Venkat,

How are you doing? How is your new college? Here are some tips for you.

1. Eat Breakfast. 

This is not from Outliers - but my personal advice. I never ate breakfast in college - slept late, woke up late and would miss breakfast. Just by eating your breakfast daily you will get a better grade. Trust me.

2. Work hard.

You see your class topper ace in all the subjects. You think he has got an extra chunk of grey matter. Take a peek into his life - he works hard and works effectively. Takes notes in class, brushes through the chapter before coming to class, and he practices the problems. His parents taught him the right methodology to study, perhaps he had a cousin who taught him early in his school days how to present answers attractively - so he always scored higher than his peers.

Why do, on an average, Asian kids ( Singapore, Korea, Hongkong ) consistently score higher than US/European kids in Mathematics? - It is because they work hard. It takes 20 mins to an hour to crack some concepts - like fractions,probability,calculus etc. They spend that time and effort - it is in their culture to work hard. The kids from Western nations do not have the patience to understand the concept - they never get the fundamentals right - and the hatred towards Mathematics carries on. This is just a crude generalization - however - the finalists in Maths Olympiads from all the countries are all at the same level - all these kids are hard workers.

The yield from a small match box size Rice paddy field is higher than a hectare of wheat field. The rice farmer wakes up very early before the sun rises, makes sure the water level is just right, when sun comes out and water gets hot he should drain away the water, he plucks the weeds one at a time, the harvesting has to happen quick and has to be done with utmost care. Wheat on the other hand needs very little care, can be automated using large farm equipment - and yield is considerably less.

The same happens with the brain. The more effort and more energy you will spend on your brain - the more yield you will get.

Being "gifted" does not guarantee success. They have done a 20 year study on a bunch of high IQ kids in California. They followed their career. What they found is that they did not do any better than the average IQ kids.

So work hard - yes, all the proverbs about working hard are all true.

3. 10,000 hours

After you pass out of college, you will get inspired by Jimmie Hendrix and Santana - and go join a guitar class. But you will drop out after a few months. You cannot give up just like that. Any art, talent takes time. Researchers have found that it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice before you can become an expert. They have analyzed the school years of high school music teachers and talented artists who play in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.  The successful artists would have spent 20-30 hours every week of their school life playing their instrument.

Mozart became famous only after 10 years into his career. Beatles played 8 hours at a stretch 7 days week in a shady bar for 3 years before they became world famous. Almost all the famous authors would have produced numerous works before they would have had a best seller. Whatever profession you are choosing - put in the hours - long hours, weekends - so you can quickly reach the 10,000 hours - and then magic will happen - and success will come along with it.

So good luck on your career. Life is hard and complex - and therein lies the beauty of it. If your life is simple or easy - then it will become boring. Whenever you find that your job / career has become easy and you are not learning anything - change your job. Try to keep searching for complexity - you can enjoy life a lot.

PS : I know you are curious to know who your life partner will be - sorry the time travel protocol does not allow me to reveal that :)

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Flow - The Psychology of Optimal Experience




This is a very interesting book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Have you ever wondered the difference between pleasure and enjoyment?

Pleasure : 


When you are involved in a pleasurable activity - it takes your mind out of the worries you are having ( watching TV to escape from stress ) and satisfies the needs of the moment ( drinking coke to quench thirst ).

Enjoyment : 

An "enjoyable" activity, not only gives you pleasure - but gives you the feeling of fulfilment, the feeling of joy and living life.

You need to put some effort to "enjoy". Playing a guitar, compiling linux, playing badminton - all these are very enjoyable activities. It takes effort, requires skill, practise and is extremely rewarding in the end.

There needs to be clear goals and feedback in such activities. 0 errors, 0 warnings is the reward in the end - till then you should keep tweaking,do more research, try different approaches.

You lose your self-consciousness and sense of time. Your entire concentration is on the job at hand - and will give you immense enjoyment.

Autotelic Experience

When you have really enjoyed an activity - you had just had an autotelic experience. 

When you solve a sudoko puzzle - you really do not gain anything in the end. The boxes get filled - so what? It is the time you spent solving the puzzle that gives the maximum enjoyment. This is an example of Autotelic experience. The reward is the activity itself.

There are some who can derive this experience on all the activities they do in a day - watering plants, washing the car, answering customer support emails. These autotelic personalities can go from one task to the other - and their mind is always in the "zone" - they are happy throughout the day - they are immersed in the "now" and they enjoy their life.

There are lot of by-products - the task gets completed perfectly. There is a sense of peacefulness around this person - which affects everyone else in a positive way. It is a joy to work along side such people.

So how can one cultivate an Autotelic personality? :

The suggestion given by Mihaly is quite simple - for any activity :

Set a goal
Become immersed in that activity
Pay attention to what is happening
Learn to enjoy the immediate experience.

In Conclusion :

I started observing that I go into the "zone" when I code or when I write a blog post. I have talked about it here - http://venkat2.blogspot.com/2009/08/getting-into-zone.html.

This book just opened my inner brain - there are so many activities that we do in a day - exercise, playing with a kid, washing the car, cooking - what if we aim to go into the "zone" in all these activities? Thats when we will get "flow" in our life.

Then life would be more enjoyable - and more meaningful.

Peace.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How to handle Developers!

Here are a few tips if you get pushed to managing a team of code monkeys..err..developers.

1. Deadline is 8 hours away and they are whiling away time by reading Joel Sposky or watching a South Indian actor dancing in a superman costume.

Ignore this - they are just warming up.

2. After the above intellectual stimulation they go for coffee.

Again, be patient. They are refueling.

3. Call them for a meeting to explain how grave the situation is. Only 6 hours is left.

Stop stop. Don't call them for a meeting now, it will just drain the warm up and caffeine effect they are having now. They are about to enter their "zone" where things will start "flowing".

4. How to know what the status is?

Hmm..it is a difficult thing. If you send an IM or an email it will interrupt their flow which will make them very angry, or they might mistake you for micro managing things. Wait for one of the developers to go for a bathroom break and follow them there. Of course you should be of the same gender.

There you ask - hi hows it going you are aware of the deadline today right? If the specimen nonchalantly asks - "what deadline" - don't panic. He is just messing with you. In fact the developers are very conscious of not being fired / or not getting the next hike - they usually would have a mammoth credit card bill - because of a 3G iPhone, or a flight ticket to Ladakh..

So don't worry..patiently explain to him that the clients want this by EOD - so it will be great if we can deliver it. He will just say a hmm and will take his own sweet time to comb his hair, or gargle, or one of the thousand things he can do to frustrate you - so do not wait for him but move back to your seat. Things are going smooth - if there was any problem or the deadline cannot be met he would have told you - trust me on this.

5. You see a few developers packing their bags

Time to go ask your QA team if everything is fine. If you had not troubled the developers throughout the day there is a good chance the stuff is done well and your team has met the deadline. Now you can prepare for the telecon with the clients and draft the congratulatory email to the team.

Of course it is not this cut and dry. Use your judgement - you will get better at it as you go. Understanding the developers mindset is having half the battle won.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Earth hour is a sick joke on us

So you participated in the Earth Hour? Good for you - this will encourage Bescom ( or TNEB or whatever entity ) to give more power cuts - Oh so our customers don't want power - lets cut some more. 

There are so many power cuts in a day for varying durations. Our office UPS beeps almost the entire day - and I have started getting "flow" when I hear the beeps. At times when the beep stops ( because power is back ) I start browsing and cannot concentrate on my work.

We have placed an order for one more home and lighting UPS - Jan Feb we were able to manage without a fan, but now it is unbearably hot. The term "sweat equity" takes a different meaning for us! 

Anyway, I applaud the western world to interrupt the power for an hour in a year. Great. I wish they do it every week. And also they switch off the AC and lighting on weekends when they leave office. 

And we Indians - let us see how to increase power production. I initially thought I will go with the flow and participate in Earth Hour - but later realised we are kicking ourselves in the butt - why will I sit in darkness - let me enjoy the little power Bescom had blessed us with. 

With the nuclear technology US is going to give us ( thanks to Manmohanjee risking his turban et all ) , I am waiting for some enterprising hackers from national market to  come up with a desk top mini nuclear fission reactor to ease our power woes. I will buy one - even if it is going to mutate me into an ogre!





Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sharad Sharma's talk in Bangalore OCC - Mar 21

Today I attended the Bangalore Open Coffee Club's meeting in an interesting venue called Jaaga. Before I  jump into Mr.Sharad Sharma's speech / adrenaline shot - will talk a little about Jaaga. It is spear headed by Freeman Murray and Archana Prasad. They have identified an unused piece of land - and has built this structure with minimal and eco-friendly materials. This space can be used by NGOs or communities who want a place to get together, startups can come and plug in etc.  They call it the Urban Community Art Architecutre Experiment - http://jaaga.wikidot.com/start. Brilliant concept and I am sure you will be visiting this place sometime in future - it is going to take off well. 

Now to the Orbit Change Catalyst's lecture ( thats his twitter bio  http://twitter.com/sharads ) 

Mr.Sharad Sharma took us through his entrepreneurial journey and kept giving his insights and his learning peppered with lot of interesting anecdotes.

1. Innovation Blow back

Innovations are happening right now in India; a few being cataract surgeries, cardiac operations at low cost and better success rates, bio technology startups, products on cloud computing, and so on. These technologies / businesses will now start out of the emerging markets like India and will become global. This is the innovation blow back.

He also asked the crowd to look out for the "Inflexion points" - Oil crisis is one, Systems biology is one ( where probability / mathematics is needed to take Biology to the next level ), Cloud computing being another. He advised to identify the inflexion point that excites you - "pick the one that tickles you to death".

Some interesting anecdotes:

* CDMA technology - first showed up in Korea ( because they could not penetrate US, Europe market where GSM was entrenched ) - and now it is percolating to the other regions.

* Airtel is having a return of 38% ARPU - Additional Revenue Per User. Whereas Verizon's return is only 12%. IBM, who consulted Airtel,  is now taking this business model outside India.

* AT&T approached Infosys in 1993 for a buy out. Mr.Narayanan Murthy politely declined - and today Infosys has 3 times market cap than AT&T.

*It took $89 Million to launch Chandrayaan. Ning has so far obtained $140 Million as investment.

He also touched upon Early Adopters Vs Pragmatic Adopters and how today with the recession - the market is left with only Pragmatic Adopters ( who make the purchase decision only after they are convinced of the ROI and expect a whole product unlike the early adopter who makes quick decision after a view of the part product itself) - and Indian market always had only Pragmatic Adopters. He hit it right on the head; if you have sold to Indian customers you will know this first hand. 

He credited Guy Kawasaki for starting this "Bootstrap movement" - where the startup has to think of making money from day 1 - unlike the startups during the dot com boom.

2. Essence of Entrepreneurship

It's a state of mind and there are a few important things

Be comfortable to be the underdog
Hold a contrarian point of view
Ability to influence without control
Ability to tell stories.

3. Rules for personal conduct

He said 7, but I missed one of them :)

Give more than what you take
Set up people for success
Say what you mean. Do what you say
Share good news and bad news
Cultivate a learning mindset.
Cultivate internal drive for excellence 

Some books he suggested during his lecture that I will be adding to my reading list.

1. Getting to Plan B by Randy Komisar and John Mullins 
2. Crossing the Chasm - Geoffrey A Moore
3. Whole new mind - Daniel Pink

Towards the end he conducted a role play of how VC money, Investor (LP) and Startup funding works and why it is essential to pitch for only the amount a Startup really needs. 

This post is definitely not a complete record of the speech. Please add more if you were also at the event.

Finally it was great networking with lot of enthusiastic people - the next google / apple is brewing somewhere in them! Thanks to Amarinder, Ramjee, Vaibav and other organizers of the OCC for this event. 



Monday, March 15, 2010

What the doctor ordered!

AI - Ad Industry
Doc - The Wise Doc

AI : Doc - we need a way to show ads on prime time.
Doc : Ok?

AI : We need to show ads every 2 minutes
Doc : Hmm.

AI : Is it even possible or are we greedy?
Doc : Any thing is possible my dear AI. There is a religion worshipped by Indians that we can exploit. It is called Cricket. Let us come up with a 20 over format and force the players to play fast - so you can show ads every 2 minutes - between the overs. Also encourage the batsmen to treat their wickets with scant respect - so they will get out quicker - and you can show more ads during that time.

AI : What about replays?
Doc : Screw the replays - no one will care how the batsman got out - either he will be clean bowled or caught somewhere on the boundary line.

AI : That is wonderful. God bless your wisdom tooth.
Doc : You are welcome my dear friend. Even though you did not ask I will give you one more opportunity to show more ads - introduce a "strategic time-out". The viewer will now wait eagerly and guess the new strategy - and meanwhile he will watch all the ads you throw at him.

AI : Brilliant.

And so happened IPL1, IPL2, IPL3.... and so the soap mobile soda sellers became rich, the cricketainers become richer, the worshippers wasted their prime years watching cricket and tweeting and blogging.. err..hmm..ok bye :)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review of What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell


In summary - it is another brilliant book by Malcolm Gladwell. A little difficult to read - he uses so many names, numbers and you have to skip them while reading. Hi Malcolm here is a suggestion - use footnotes next time - your book will be half its size and will sell well.

Here are some interesting snapshots from the book I still remember.

Ketchup and Spaghetti sauce



This chapter is a follow up to his TED talk where he explains how there is no one perfect "taste" but there are perfect "tastes". There are so many spaghetti sauce varieties in the market and here is an enterprising person who tries to apply the same model to Ketchup and tries to go against Heinz - the market leader. However he is not as successful.

What I learnt from this chapter is that each product / market is different - what works in one will not work in another. When the inventor of "tastes" model was asked why it did not work for Ketchup he shrugged off saying "Ketchup is different".

Enron fiasco

This is an interesting chapter where Gladwell argues that Enron never hid the dismal finances it had. It was all out in the open in the thousands of pages of SEC filings it did. So when the CEOs were taken to trial it was pronounced that they did not disclose the truth - the judge was way off the mark. Yes, they were responsible for the mess that got created and were mute spectators to it - however they never hid the information.  The point he tries to make is - it is difficult or at times even impossible to pick the "real information" hidden beneath the mountain of information.

How are we going to solve the problem of information over load? Is there another Enron which is quietly filing its annual reports with disaster hidden somewhere deep inside?


Talent myth

This is about McKinsey's philosophy of hiring the best and staffing your company with them. This is what they advised Enron too. During performance appraisal, they split the employees into A,B and C groups. A - are the best of the best - the ones who got promoted got a huge bonus. B - are the mediocre ones - made a decent salary and encouraged to become As. Cs are to be fired.  They hired from all Ivy leagues, had fancy power points, ideas, business models - and the hot shots killed the company in the end.

In contrast, Walmart, P&G etc. do not hire hotshots, have a "mediocre" performance appraisal policy, conventional salary structure - and are still around and will be around for another century.

So, for big enterprises - perhaps the uber talents are not good. They have their place in the ecosystem and they would thrive well in smaller firms that are trying to become big, research and development companies, startups etc.


The above is just a snapshot of the chapters in the book. There are more interesting stories - dog training, hair dye market, FBI investigators on serial killers - and it breaks all the myths/stereotypes/conventions.

Very entertaining and very informative. Thumbs up!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Entrepreneurship ka side effects

Here is a light hearted look at what a journey as an entrepreneur brings to you !

1. Sleeplessness

"Dreams are not what you have when you sleep, dreams are those that don't let you sleep." - Dr. Abdul Kalam

You would lay awake the night before meeting your first customer, day before product launch or because of one of the many excitements this journey brings. It is like when you are in love or you have spoken to your crush. And if you start getting a good nights sleep continuously - you should be worried - it is a lull before a storm!

2. Fatigue

You work really hard day in and day out, days at a stretch. And you would hit the wall. You cannot browse, go out, read a book or listen to music. Your brain will just refuse to co-operate. Solution is to just veg out - switch on the idiot box, make yourself comfortable and watch something that will not tax your brain. It will last an evening or a day max - see it through and you will be energised for another long run.

3. Ideas

Suddenly you notice that ideas flood your brain. Wherever you look around you get an idea. You read a news article, a blog post - and it gives you an idea or it opens a new path or teaches something new - so you can incorporate in your product, or the way you sell. It is great to get such ideas, but it is even more important to grab them and make them yours. Always keep a small notebook with you - and keep noting them down.

4. Respect

You will start appreciating other businesses who started from scratch - Apple, Microsoft, Tata, Infosys... list is endless.  You will start respecting their founders even more. You respect your teams and your own strength and shortcomings. When you meet another hard-working entrepreneur you identify with him.

5. Belief in Kismat / Luck

People might say entrepreneurs create their own luck. There is nothing called chance - it is all because of the dedication and hard work. However, each entrepreneur knows inwardly that there is something called luck. It visits them at the right time - whenever a bad news / failed deal happens - they know that luck is sure to visit them soon. And it does without fail to lift the spirits and keep them going.

The above is a list from my personal experience in running my startup - ApartmentAdda. What do you think are entrepreneurship's side effects?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Debug PHP in IntelliJ IDEA

IntelliJ IDEA 9.0.1 has support for PHP. And the fine folks at JetBrains have given debug support which is awesome squared !

In just a few minutes you can get debug going on for your PHP applications.

Note : These instructions are for the ultimate edition of IDEA ( not the community edition which does not have php support ), and Ubuntu 10.04.

1. Install xdebug :

sudo apt-get install php5-xdebug

2. Add xdebug configuration at the end of php.ini

sudo vi /etc/php5/apache2/php.ini

Append these lines at the end

xdebug.remote_enable=On
xdebug.remote_host="localhost"
xdebug.remote_port=9000
xdebug.remote_handler="dbgp"

3. Restart apache

sudo /etc/init.d/apache2 restart

4. In IntelliJ here is how I have configured. It is quite simple actually.


Here is the Run configuration


Here is the PHP Setting. Point the server root to your folders.




5. Now put a break point in your code and click on the debug button. A new browser window will be launched, navigate to the page you are testing and voila - it hits the break point.

I am yet to figure out how to display the variables with the values on the bottom pane. For now doing a mouse over shows the values which is good enough for me.

Happy Debugging !