Wednesday, November 28, 2007

To Mumbai, Pune and back

After almost 8 years we went to Mumbai and Pune. Both the cities are still attractive in patches. After all, I lived in those cities for a few years and can't just hate them.

What's new
More fly-overs, more air-conditioned cars were common for Mumbai and Pune. Mumbai as usual, exhibits poverty and wealth that strike you on the face. One big positive is the highway between Mumbai and Pune. It is truly world class in quality and maintenance.

From Dehu Road to Aundh, for every hundred feet that is one new construction. The advertisements promise silicon valleys and such western paradises right along the slopes of Western ghats.

Pune, for its part has its traffic increased a hundred fold. In spite of fly-overs and automatic signals, traffic was bad from Aundh to Cantonment area. Everyone was on the edge and city looked so different with rude drivers. Pune city now has many multiplexes and shopping malls. I didn't have enough time to visit any of them. We managed some time to visit the old city for shopping.

What hadn't changed
The old city remains more or less the same. Appa Balwant Chowk (ABC) has the same book shops I've seen about 20 years ago. The narrow roads and the chawls remain the same. Autos are still cheap. I would have paid more than twice, had it been Chennai. Even the air-conditioned cab between the airport and Dadar in peak traffic costed me just Rs 200 - can't think of that in Chennai.

The greenery of Pune University is still in tact, though I saw some ugly new concrete showing up here and there within the campus.
The ubiquitous red paan stains are always there in every building I saw.

After all, Pune and paan stains are as natural as Chennai and greedy auto drivers.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Purpose of a translation

If you have boarded a flight from Chennai's Anna International Airport and you can read Tamil, you might have noticed a sign "மெய்ப்புல அறைகூவலர்". Ever wondered what it could be?

If you can read English, then you can make sense of what this means - yes - it is "Physically Challenged". I can't imagine who can come with such a dumb translation - that too from English to Tamil in Tamil Nadu.

A physically challenged person who knows only Tamil has no use of such a sign board in Tamil.

Friday, August 10, 2007

India is marching ahead

I thought it was a joke when I saw the link with the text "Start a New Life with SecondShaadi.com". I thought one of the NRIs with a good sense of humor wrote a blog, making fun of Indian "match-making" aka dating sites. I continued to believe that this is a joke when I saw the Copyright note as "Pahwa KBS. All rights reserved." I thought the author is smart enough to coin a last name - first name combination that sounds like "bhakwas" - or rubbish in Hindi.

After careful analysis, it dawned upon me that this could be serious business. The CEO is from some management institute, must have done his due diligence before starting a venture. Who knows, there must be venture capitalists who might have done their due diligence before funding it. It could be a simple number game. They must have thought - "About 10 million Indians get married every year. Of this, if 5% are remarriages, we have a business of 500K people who are looking for a product to cater to their needs. That will be our product". (Disclaimer: All numbers here are purely fictitious.)

But someone thought of purely Indianising the dating market. The major matrimony sites launched brands to cater to various ethnic groups. There are still fragments to be captured and so Mr. Pahwa came up with his secondshaadi.com.

Be prepared to expect the launch of gayshaadi.com and lesbianshaadi.com soon. AFAIK, these are remaining fragments.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Rajini for President

I read this article by Rajeev Srinivasan on Rediff - A whiff of the Manchurian Candidate.

Rajeev suggests a few names for the President of India. Here is my serious recommendation:

Rajini Kant - And here are the reasons.

1. Hardworking: Against all odds, he worked his way through to be the highest paid actor. (What's wrong in being an actor?) Even at the age of 57, he works to make money for the people who invested in him.
2. Integrity: The man is known for speaking his mind. Read his interview with Balakumaran some 30 years ago. He doesn't try to be some who he is not.
3. Simplicity: Ask anyone who has met him.
4. Hindu Values: Not the Bajrang Dal kind of Hindu values, but the ones like his respect for the land, values and beliefs.
5. Wealth: He is rich. Another reason in addition to the above for communists to hate him. That's also a qualification as per Rajeev.
6. Intellect: He knows at least 5 Indian languages.
7. A symbol of national integration: - a Maratha born in Karnataka, successful in Tamil Nadu and known all over the country - well almost.

As an update, I doubt if Rajini is good enough to be a leader based on two instances:
1. Made a provocative speech when the Kodambakkam group staged a one-day fast for Hogenakkal water project. (I heard Kamal and Vijayakant made sensible balanced speech. )
2. After making such a speech, in spite of protests in Karnataka, he didn't apologize immediately, but chose to do it only when there were hurdles to the release of Kuselan in Karnataka. After all, collection is more important than conscience.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Sivaji Experience

Photon organized the Sivaji show at Abirami. All employees got tickets to the movie yesterday. I managed to collect a few more for my family from abstainers.

I like Rajni and Shankar movies for the sheer experience. Sivaji does a lot more than just fulfilling this expectation. The crowd was great. The situation was just right for a Rajni movie. Pardon my crude comparison - the energy is comparable to the one of the crowd to 'Govinda' chants at Tirupati or the Arohara chants at Palani. For them Rajni is a God, so the comparison is not all that crude.

First opinion was - I loved the experience, wouldn't mind watching it couple more times.
Now to the details - It didn't touch like a Mudhalvan or an Anniyan - for the hero is not a common man - but a superman.

The movie is probably more perfect than the earlier movies in terms of details. The attention to detail is mind boggling. In the song 'Sahana', there is a piece 'theneer kondatho'. The visual had Rajini and Sreya having tea - in a transparent cup - without milk. The shot lasts for about 1-2 seconds. Still, the detail is so good that I can remember it.

Sometime last year, the small club house adjoining the tennis court near my house was painted.
A board with the sign "Velachery Police Station" was placed. For the next day and a half, the area had festive look. Rajni, Manivannan and others were there shooting a police station scene. When I watched the movie, there is exactly one reference to Velachery - Vivek mentions that TamilSelvi is from Velachery. The scene shot in my area comes for about 5 minutes, mostly indoor. For a second or two, just to set the context of the place there is a shot showing the outside of the police station. The shot didn't show the name board that I mentioned. Well, the point I'm trying to make is it just shows the attention to the details. It also means why this was the most expensive movie ever made in India.

I hope to collect the DVDs of Shankar movies to train people on what it means to show attention to details.

Everything about the movie is worth writing about - be it Rajni, Shankar, Sujatha or Rahman - upto Muthkalai who appears in just one scene. The casting is perfect for the side roles. Shankar probably is specializing in the casting of government employees. Right faces are picked for them, the auditors, the hit-men and the cops. Shanmugarajn (Peykkaman of Virumandi) is probably specializing in the corrupt cop role!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Home Wireless Network - My experience

I have a my primary home computer for the past 11 years. When I take work home, I needed to connect through the primary computer to access the Internet. Way back in 2002, when I had this requirement, I setup a home network with a twisted pair cable. I was excited with my learning of crimping and other basic skills in laying network.

Now that the technology is old, and I felt the lack of mobility an issue. I can't watch TV and check my mails sitting in the living room. And I got used to the wireless at work, I wanted the same comfort at home. I searched for a device that would work with the ADSL connection I have with Airtel. I came across Netgear's DG834G router that has a built in modem for ADSL. I was a bit worried about the compatibility issue. Airtel usually supplies a Chinese or Taiwanese hardware that doesn't have signed drivers. Though Airtel customer support confirmed that DG834G would work with their ADSL, I was skeptical. I even thought of getting a router from them. They quoted some Rs 5500 to be paid in advance and a lengthy routing of the request to get the wireless setup.

I decided to take a chance with my limited knowledge of ADSL and router. I bought DG834G from IT Depot at Adyar for Rs 3750, set it up myself in less than 10 minutes. It is an overstatement to call the operation a setup. It was much easier than that. It works fine and I had a lengthy 2 hour phone conversation over Skype immediately after setting up the wireless network. It went perfect without any glitches. The default settings ensure good security. The only issue I had was probably a mix-up in the package. Though the package claims that the power supply pin is localized, I got one that looked like it was designed for Singapore or Europe. I needed an adapter to use it with my spike buster.

I think this post will be useful to anyone who wants to signup for Airtel's broadband or setup wireless network at home. If you are mildly tech-savvy, there is no need to rent a non-standard ADSL modem or pay the exorbitant fee to setup the device.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Deepak Amin - The Boss


Where there is so much hype about Sivaji, The boss, Deepak Amin comes to our mind. Deepak's story started like Sivaji's. He returned to India after being a Technical  Lead with Microsoft for about 6 years. He returned sometime in late 90s and setup a software company called 'Indicus' in Mumbai. The web has many documents about the energetic CEO of the companies - Indicus and vJungle - both non-existent now.

But I know Deepak as a boss and a great human being. He too tried to work with the biggies of Mumbai and Gujarat to do something to help the poor. The systems and the people running it believed in maintaining the status quo of corruption and exploitation. Read more of it in his article that inspired hundreds to return to India.

By the time I began working for him, he had settled to a small business called Indicus and stayed away from the bad guys.  But even then, occasional hafta collectors and Ganesh Chaturti organizers would show up at office to collect money.  He handled them politely in some cases and not-so-politely in a few instances.  I do remember him for the charity he organized to help the poor children go to schools and colleges.  The kids were even invited for the company's annual day as they were treated as a part of the Indicus family.   I still remember the gratitude in their eyes for Deepak.  

Right now, he is the CEO of Covelix.

Deepak Amin's article that inspired many to return to India

For the sake of quick reference, I post this much read article in my blog.  The person who wrote this was Deepak Amin - by boss at vJungle and Indicus.  It was written sometime before 1998 - that was when I decided to return to India and contacted him.

"A quick background: I went to the US many moons ago (1987 to be precise) seeking the proverbial American Experience trudging the standard route of undergrad in IIT, postgrad in the US, summer job,H1, job in software co., Mexico for visa, etc. You know the schpiel. Worked at Microsoft for 6 years and decided to return to Bharatland in late 1995. Set up www.indicus.com and started churning out code from Mumbai. Been at it for about a year now.

Returning to India:
Having come back and ensconced myself very comfortably into India, and having met several others who have tried this, some successfully and some others not so successfully, I'd like to aver that there is one and only one thing that you need to have to pack your bags and take the boat back to desh: an ATTITUDE. Period. You should really want to come and live here. As soon as you start applying the logic that most of our analytical minds are wont to do, you're hosed. Oh, the pollution is so bad in India! Jeez, it's so crowded in Mumbai. Holy cow, look at the traffic in Bangalore. Mein gott, my kids don't have any open space to play soccer. Hey, there's no private place to take my girlfriend on a date. Forget it bete, then you should just stay back in the US. You should have the attitude that whatever you can avail of in India, you'll make the best of it.

To illustrate this with a real life example: Another friend was once telling me at work that he was really serious about returning to India and that infact, he had even calculated in detail how much he would need to earn to have a decent standard of living in India. Cost of a house, cost of owning a car, cost of milk, school fees, etc. He had come up with a neat Rs. 15,000 per month (a couple of years ago). As soon as you start going through this exercise, you're history (unless you've saved up a good pot of greenbacks, in which case, please ignore my email altogether). You need to think the other way around. You should manage with whatever you make (within reasonable limits ofcourse). You should deal with the pollution, because that's just incidental. Same with the traffic, --do-- for soccer and ditto for your girlfriend/boyfriend. As expected, this friend never returned to India.

professional life
OK, now let's deal with professional life. Mind you, I took the entrepreneurial route, that too in Mumbai, so my views on this will be heavily biased. Applying them appropriately to a regular job life in some other city/village is left as an exercise to the reader. I decided to start my own software company. Believe you me, it's been ..um.. character building, to say the least. I started Indicus Pvt. Ltd. and being the regular stupid NRI (yes, I vehemently believe that NRI's are consummate suckers when it comes to dealing with the Indian business climate, usually only initially though), I went about trying to do things like a decapitated chicken. Ofcourse, I learnt very quickly the folly of my ways and rectified them as best s as I could. I first tried to get into some very big joint ventures and immediately ran into some big gun minister and minister's cronies who quite blatantly asked for unearthly bribes and comfortably and politely threatened to ruin my business if I didn't oblige.

On the contrary, they heard through the grapvines about my efforts & interests and they contacted me on their own. Introductions, phone calls, emails. Yes, technology is being used even there. I was outraged, livid and yes, completely stunned, not so much by the corruption itself, but by the blatant nature of it. I refused to get into this mess and decided to not pursue this business at all (ofcourse, there were other reasons too that came up later on that didn't make the business possible, but they're moot to the current discussion). If there was one thing that I was crystal clear on, it was that I wouldn't pay bribes and promote corruption. I didn't come back to India to indulge in such profanities. I can go on ranting about these kind of miserable wretches until eternity, but then I'd be digressing. So let's get back on track.

OK, so I decided to go back into my shell and start really small. We've rounded up a really smart, dedicated and passionate bunch of people to take on the world. Wait! Did you think that I wouldn't have to deal with corruption just because I'm starting small. Hah! The postman came to us and said, "Saahab, aap humko khush rakho toe hum aapko khush rakhenge". He was promptly thrown out of our office. So he promptly forgot to deliver * any* mail to us for two months. Finally showed up during Diwali with all the company mail of the past two months and said, "Saahab, Diwali kaa bakhsheesh?" We didn't give him any. Sent multiple letters to the main p.o. about our problems. Fortunately, someone out there decided to relent and our mail has been coming in..oh.. rather regularly I would say. Same kissa (story) with our telephone lines. The lines were brought up to our office. But the phone instrument was. Then the phone instrument was installed, but it was disconnected from the central office because some random letter had to be sent. And then the *same* line was used again, "Saahab, aap humko khush rakho toe hum aapko khush rakhenge....(you get it)". Amazing. Are these guys related or what?

Nope, no bribes from here buddy. We cribbed, sent letters, went to the office every single day, sent our peon to the c.o. everyday for about a month and then finally got the telephone line through. Phew! Now Indicus can start thinking about doing business over the internet. VSNL, well, that's another story, for another time. Talk about retrogressive thinking! The builder of our office, the electricians, the water supply, the carpenters, ....are we having fun yet? ... the registrar's office for company registration, the RBI, the banks (yes, international ones too, so don't nobody give me no "phoren" crap!), the Export Promotion Council for Software, et cetera. OK, I'm getting bored and so are you guys probably. There's too much to write. Let's cut this down . Amidst all this, we were busy whacking away at coding, developing business, hiring, etc. Short end of it is that we've finally reached steady state. Express Computer has expressed interest in writing about all these trials and tribulations.

So what, am I some sort of a masochist? Au contraire. I'm having a whale of a time. It's a rollercoaster ride, and I've always been a sucker for rollercoasters! What we're attempting to do at Indicus is very different from what most of the software companies here in India are doing. We don't get into the fray for selling our services for $11 per man hour to General Electric. We're collecting a bunch of smart, committed and passionate guys with a very high level of integrity and who don't care to take the next boat to Umreekland or to Barbados (believe you me, that's the rave these days). We are attempting to build products and technology. And we will attempt to get into the global market. Mind you, we're nowhere close to achieving it yet. And yes indeed, there are other companies out there who are attempting to do the same. The point I'm trying to make (before some idiot out there starts lambasting me for peddling my company) is that it is possible to do great work from India, it is possible to find companies who want good (and even phoren) experience. There are a lot of people who share these dreams and principles that I am writing about. We have had *incredible* support and feedback on these issues not only from others in the industry and the especially the press, but also from a lot of the students in colleges in Mumbai (during our campus recruitment drives). The ingredients are there. The quality and the quantity is there. Just the right focus and bingo....we'll have a movement!

Um, let's not get too philosophical yet. So what about those of you seeking jobs in India? Yes indeed, there are tons of companies in India who will be more than happy to employ you. The biggest advantage that you'll have is that these companies can rest assured that you don't have your sights on some American or European company to "jump ship". Yes, your phoren experience is certainly valuable, but don't let that get to your head. There are a lot of people here in India (I speak for the software industry) who are very intelligent and very savvy too. The classic problem that returning NRI's face is that of demanding special attention just because they're NRI's. Remember what I said earlier about "managing with what you have". Take advantage of your experience et al, but don't expect to get the red carpet when you go next time to check your baggage in at the Indian Airlines counter. Doesn't matter if you have a funky accent. Most yuppies from "Downtown" Mumbai will have it too (the "Oh Gaaad, it's soo haht todjay!" variety).

Personal life:
You'll face the maximum problems on this front, if at all. When I was winding down in the US, I was quaking in my pants about this aspect of India. To give you another quick rundown, I'm a rather outgoing, outdoorsy kind of person. I love to party, dance, hike, climb, travel to exotic places, eat exotic (veg) food, play squash, work out, etc. Am nuts about snowboarding. Been skydiving, bungee jumping, dinosaur bone digging, gold prospecting, you name it. Loved to go for broadway shows, operas, film fests, roller coaster rides. Suddenly I find myself in Mumbai, living at home with parents, *all* friends in the US or Europe and nothing but crowds, cows and carbon monoxide around me. My only companions are my misplaced interests and radical thoughts about society and life in general. And they're not helping. Eeks! But then "Passion creates possibility" (quoting Lynn Hill). A lot of these e things can be done in India too (perhaps more easily in some cities than others). You can go dancing (Copa Cabana is one wild place!), hiking, climbing, traveling (yes!), etc. No you can't go snowboarding for the day to Mt. Crystal or for the weekend to Snowbird. But you can go skiing easily to Aouli, UP.

There is a plethora of really good films (not the trashy commercial types), some great plays, etc. Sorry, no operas. Occasional broadway plays produced locally. Lots of foreign films at British Council type places (NCPA, MaxMu, etc). One real problem in big cities like Mumbai (I've heard the same about Delhi) is that you don't get memberships to (health) clubs at all. Even money can't buy them. They're closed for life for new members. Great. So I gave up squash and got into running. Hey, they even have an International marathon in Pune (participation levels of 10,000+). The other problem is that unlike in the US, you cannot just jump into your car, go pump some weights at the local health club and come back at night to spew out more code. Doing something like that out here at least in Mumbai is an ordeal. So you end up not indulging in most of the activities.

The biggest problem that I faced when I came back to India was adjusting to living at home with my parents again. Don't get me wrong, I love them to death and all that mushy stuff. But having lived completely independently from age 17, I found it hard to come back home and start living at home with my family. Not used to people asking me when I'll be back, whether I want to eat, people waiting for me to have dinner and I not going home at all because on an impulse I decided to stay back in the office all night, late night partying, etc. My advice (if you care for it) is to not underestimate this problem. Particularly for those of you who are married. Wives typically get very used to living an independent life in the US. If you come to India and start living at home with your (spouse's) parents, you're suddenly subject to a whole lot of social obligations that you don't really like. ex. cook, clean , meet random relatives you don't give a damn for, etc. And it takes a lot to change the thinking of older people. Of course, I'm not in this latter situation, but I know of people who threw in their gloves and returned to the US because of this.

All in all, I'm very pleased with personal/social life. Again, it's the attitude that's the saving grace. Make the most of what you *have*, don't expect what you *had*. Note that it is very possible to get things done efficiently in India . You will be amazed at how organized crime and corruption is. Grease the right palms with the right "weight" and sit back and watch the wheels churn before you, in complete harmony with your desired goals. This is true of a lot of other countries too. Wherever there is an inefficient and pernicious system in place, there is a parallel system that is set up to "bypass" " it. However, it is possible to say no to corruption and inefficiency. Infact, there are large sections of the government that will surprise you with their efficiency and integrity. Things will eventually get done, perhaps even immediately. But typically you have to pay a "price" for it. Either money/services directly or a lot of time (=money) and patience! The currency is yours to choose. My choice is clear to me. And so it is for a lot of my other friends and colleagues. We are all trying to find strength and encouragement in numbers, and as each day passes, we find newer, fresher and more energetic blood wanting to join the crusade. Indeed, it is possible for you to feel passionate about rattling the society here, about shaking the very foundations of an industry and about jolting the country awake. For that is exactly what is needed (IMHO). And a lot of us are attempting to do that, in our own small ways. Not because we came back to India with lofty dreams from the US of A, but because we came back to India and share the dreams of the teeming millions who have been in India much longer than you or I. And yet their hopes of seeing change are so much higher than ours. The sheer determination of the common man in India to survive against such overwhelming odds is mind-boggling!

The Indian system:
This may surprise you, but it works! You need to work a little harder to see it work, but dammit, it works. You may moan about corruption in the traffic police, or in the railways, or the registrar's office. But believe you me, if you *write* to these departments, things will_ happen. Once you write a letter of complaint, the government s is bound to take action on it. It may take a week, a month or even six months, but I assure you that you will hear back and action will be taken on your complaints. But you need to write. Most people don't do this and then bitch about the ineffective government. Yes, this can be made more efficient, but it works. Again, you may complain about Enron facing problems in India and how the people here are making life miserable for it, etc. But abstract out the pros and cons of Enron's woes. Look at it from the system's point of view. Here comes a company. They made some business and "education" proposals. One (part of the) govt. was kosher with it. Another set of people decided that they weren't. So they got the courts to stop them. So Enron lost 2 years. Things got thrashed out finally. The legislative in the country provides a forum for people to bring forth their concerns. The executive ensured that their concerns were addressed. This is precisely the role of the system. It works. I personally wouldn't want to trade that *freedom* to voice my concerns for anything in the world. Not efficiency, not wealth or prosperity. You may disagree with my concerns, but heck, you can't take my right away to have them addressed. Nothing in the world is worth my freedom. This past one year has undeniably proven to me that India is really a free country, much more e so than that paragon of freedom: the United States. We can debate the merits of this statement till we drop dead, but I don't have the time or the patience to do that. Perhaps another time.(I used Enron just as an example to illustrate my point.)

A couple of random thoughts on equally random topics: Standard of living in India (pure, unadulterated materialistic approach to life): I have only one succinct comment to make about this. If I were to live as a middle class man, I'd probably live in the US. However, for the upper middle class, and especially the rich folks, India wins hands down. Very simple reason: If you have money in India, people *really* listen to you. Orders of magnitude more than in the US or any European country. You are king. There you have it Your Highness.

Sacrifice et al: Please guys. Spare this junk about how much you had to sacrifice when you left India and how much you are willing to sacrifice to return to the motherland (violin in the background). Sorry to disappoint you, but you get no brownie points for that. You left for the US of your own accord. Nobody held the gun against your head and said, "Listen buddy , you had better go to America and buy your Accord and follow it with a two-car-garage-house then a 40 in. multiframe TV and mow your lawn every weekend or I'll blow your brains out, gotcha?" And the same thing about "The Sacrifice" being made when you leave America and return to India . C'mon guys. Wake up and smell the coffee. No one in India is going to give you any sympathy for it. I left the Indian social fabric for the aggressive individualistic American pursuit of wealth and knowledge. I subsequently left Pizza Hut's Veggie special for Ghasitaram's pani puri. Sounds like fair give and take to me. So what's the big deal?

Before you take the leap to return to India, think hard about why you really want to be back in India. Are you coming back for the love of the motherland? Think a little harder about how much you really love the motherland. Take all the factors that I've only briefly touched upon in this mail and recalculate your love. If you don't have your head screwed on right about this issue, you're going to become one hell of a bitter nut after you get hit with the barrage of hassles in India. Or are you coming back because you need to take care of your parents? Think again. Chances are that you'll have a difficult time acclimatizing to the home/family scene here anyway. Moreover, how long is that going to last? Additionally, can you manage this remotely? If you're still convinced that this is the right answer, then do it. This was one of the reasons I decided to come back(though not the primary reason) . Or perhaps you want to come back to India because you can't bear to have your children identify themselves with America before they do with your relatives back home in "mera gaon, mera desh"?? Perhaps it's a better idea to just reconcile to the idea and stay back in the US (assuming no other reasons). What's wrong with being American?

Lastly, those of you who are still thinking just of coming back to India, just for the sake of thinking that, or those of you who have decided to settle abroad: you don't have to feel guilty about your decision. America is a great country (as great as it is evil too). There are a lot of things that are fantastic about it, as probably with most countries. Once you've decided to live there, get comfortable with the concept. Let go of your senti thoughts about returning to India one day. This particular lie repeated multiple times will *not* became the truth. It's not going to happen. The sooner you reconcile to that, the happier you'll be. Ditto for your spouse and kids. Call yourself American and be proud of it. The worst is when you're living in America and you've got your mind partially in India and you're not moving your fat derriere to do anything about it. Dhobi kaa kutta, na ghar kaa na ghat kaa.

This past one year in India has been like a roller-coaster ride.... in pitch darkness.... without seat belts! I call it perennial l adrenalin gush.. Nothing to beat it!"

--returned one"


Monday, June 04, 2007

What is the best size for a blog article?

I got a link from Ram on his most recent blog; I began reading it and skipped a few paragraphs here and there. After I posted a comment to his article and re-read his blog, I realized I had missed some key information from his post earlier. Because of that my comment didn't sound right. I do not know how to edit a comment, so I left it as it is.

This brings me to the topic of the day - what is the best size for a blog article? Most of my blogs fit within one page of the monitor with a resolution of 1024X768. My blog has links to the right of the article and a lot of blank space around. So, I'm a man of few words.

Does it mean that my blogs are more of summaries of my views that details? Is it good to have long, multi-page blog? I don't know.

I lose patience with online articles and emails that are more than a page long. It either means that the author uses too many words to explain something simple or that there is a lot of information which is irrelevant to me.

What do the very few frequent visitors of my blog think?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

More on the limitations on processes...

A few days ago, I cribbed about the process for process sake. More today...

After CMM, I heard 6 Sigma is the next buzz word for consulting companies in India. The idea is to ensure quality with a process that can be repeated. My view is that this suits the hardware industry a lot more than software industry. And I strongly believe that Indian software industry uses it as a marketing feature. How else can you explain the extended working hours of employees and delayed projects? Shouldn't quality of work reflect in quality of life?

For comparison purposes, I would split the car or other hardware manufacturing into two main functionalities - design and production. My understanding was, a process definition and practice would address quality concerns in manufacturing more than in design or inventive thinking. But when it comes to software, it is hard to separate the software like that. Design of software continues to flow into the lines of code and the underlying framework and OS. It is virtually impossible to ensure repeatability as the problem each software tries address may be different. The solutions can also be different even if the problem remains the same. A single smart developer can offer 3-4 solutions to a fairly trivial problem.

If you want to ensure quality honestly and not marketing sake, you would probably look at the theory of program proving and such sources instead of software engineering. Since the current set of processes are defined by Managers who were engineers, it is not likely that they would look at pure Mathematics for quality.

The US software industry is probably better off with more people with in-depth understanding of the science of programming. A well written program from MS or Sun can be a good sample in teaching programming. I am not referring to the hodge podge of programs MS includes in the tutorials and samples shipped with .NET and other libraries.

In spite of better designs and processes, there is often a divide between the customer facing product management and the technology groups in many companies. Surprisingly the designs and processes which were solutions at one time are parts of a problem at a later date. More on this and TRIZ later....

Monday, May 28, 2007

US techies 10-times more productive than Indian

US techies 10-times more productive than Indian
If the above link didn't work, here is the gist:
Wipro's earnings is $50K per employee while top US IT companies make close to a million dollars per employee.

First some questions:
  • What is the ratio of expenses vs income per employee in the US and India? There may not be such a big difference in this criteria.
  • When talking about IBM, Dell etc., does the statistics include their operations in India and other countries or not?
  • Does the statistics include the contract workers or consultants for US companies?
  • Would American companies have the same efficiency if the cost of outsourcing increases?

I am fine with Indian companies generating less revenue per employee as Indian companies contribute a lot toward employment and overall spread of wealth.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Process, People and Innovations

In Indian software industry context, ISO, CMM have been the buzz words. They were used by the consulting companies to score a marketing point and in the process, also brought in some organized way of working. I am not a big fan of process for process sake and I'm going to bitch about it in this blog.

Way back in 1995, when I worked for a relatively small consulting company in Mumbai, I was asked to write the test plan after I finished all the development work. There were two problems: 1. Usually developers are not the owners for test plans and 2. We were making a mockery of the process by writing the plan when the product was about to be launched. When I protested, my boss said that the organization is going for an ISO certification and it has to be done. Better late than never was his argument. I didn't argue further and complied. But that gave an idea on what process and quality mean to people.

When I was in US, consulting for a number of companies, there were hardly any documentation. Process was there, but was very subtle. Check-in comments and notifications, code reviews were all followed not for the sake of them, but as a standard practice.

After I returned to India, I worked for one of the top 5 consulting companies in India and faced a lot of documentation for the sake of ... documentation. I hated the work. The Manager was not a fan of efficiency or brilliance in software design and development, but liked to define useless processes on and on. I quit the company within 6 months and joined a start up and started implementing simple processes - like reviews and simple plans that could be followed.

In the past few years I come across a number of candidates who have experience in CMM Level 5 companies and know nothing about innovation. They are rendered as the next generation of sophisticated clerks by the respective organizations. British rule left us with systems that were designed to suspect people supported by processes run by clerks. CMM rule is doing the same to our Engineers killing any innovation. I doubt whether a piece of the process was designed to fix a problem after it was "experienced". Processes are blind following of rules defined by impractical Managers, copied from one organization to the other. They generate loads of documents that no one reads after the first month.

To be continued...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Giving up on Microsoft

Giving up on Microsoft

Like Jeff and Mike, I started programming with MSC 6 and used almost every version of developer tools from MS, including MFC, ATL and a console based editor called PWB for Programmer Work Bench (I would like to call it a People's Work Bench for its simplicity and utility). At times, I strayed into Open source for more practical solutions. For our organization, we chose Linux based server apps like Samba domain controller, Postfix / Sendmail mail servers and portals based on Liferay. We had time to play around with these and weren't willing spend money on Windows and Exchange servers. I chose Lucene on .NET over full text search as we needed search to work remotely. And Lucene seemed to be a lot more fun to develop than FTS. But I would always choose the developer tools from MS over Open Source tools. Even if Eclipse offers a plug-in for C#, I would consider the express editions of C#/ASP.NET a lot easier to use if cost is a factor. If I have the luxury of spending a few thousand dollars, I will always choose MS developer tools.

At one stage in my career I wanted to work for MS. And within a few months after I was rejected, I was scared of competition from MS as they could build a better product faster and market it easier as compared to the product I was working on. From time-to-time, I might choose between MS and Open Source, but I can't hate either.

For those who choose one and hate the other, don't blame it on MS or Open Source. Blame it on your upbringing that doesn't allow you to stay in shades of gray but expects you choose between black or white.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Effects of sleep deprivation

I have always tried to get as much as 8. hours of sleep for I know the subtle side effects of sleep deprivation. These subtle effects cause huge damages. Sleep deprivation is the reason behind most accidents between midnight and 4 AM.

For those with less awareness and didn't know about this, here are some symptoms of sleep deprivation.

1. Lack of coordination between the brain and the organs. This manifests as biting of tongue when eating, tripping while walking etc.
2. Increased frequency of déjà vu. Déjà vu is nothing more than minor malfunction of the brain. With sleep deprivation the frequency of déjà vu experience increases. If you felt like a psychic, get over it. It is just an effect of less sleep.
3. Black outs. As an event happens, the brain switches off for a fraction of a second to process inputs from sensory organs. This results in an experience like watching a movie from a scratched DVD.
4. Signs of OCD - obsessive compulsive disorders like doubting if you locked the door, switched off lights etc. This is because, the brain may not have registered the action due to some kind of black outs mentioned above. To compensate for this state, the mechanism to doubt and question kicks in.

Monday, April 09, 2007

SEOs - The new pornographers of the web

SEOs - The new pornographers of the web

The business managers in my last job wanted to give a good push on SEO to reach a wider audience, read higher page views. One part of the organization's web sites managed more page views by doing a number of changes suggested by the SEOs. The sites I managed weren't doing that great for many reasons - the primary reason being the pages do not change much to force the crawlers to visit the site more often. The belief was the more frequent a crawler visits your site, the chance of your site showing up in the first page of Google's results. The second important reason was - we just didn't have good content. That was an e-commerce site. Until the SEO buzz, getting good content from vendors means, getting a nice photograph of the product and nothing more.

In addition to the stand-alone e-commerce site, we were selling on Amazon too. Amazon's guidelines on the content gave me a good idea on what is important. I came to the conclusion that fixing the content first is the first step towards better performance is search results. Fixing the content is not easy considering the constraints from the vendor (poor detail, spelling and language) and from the application (limited fields / length).

I chose to get the content fixed with changes to the application and setting expectations with the vendors. This is better than running behind a phantom called SEO. I believe good detail and user experience are more important than search engine optimization. Translating this to brick-and-mortar model of businesses, the efforts are better spent in designing your shop in such a way that people can find the products they need easily than to put up huge hoardings to drive people to you shop.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Google Desktop plugin for Outlook - Side Effects

I installed Google Desktop in every machine I use. I love the Ctrl+Ctrl to reach any document or email in the fastest way possible.

There was a third party plugin for Outlook some time back. I used it for some time and then realized it was hanging Outlook and the system. So, I uninstalled the plugin. But the recent version of Google Desktop comes with an add-on for Outlook. I guess this comes from Google itself.

Of late, I began experiencing problem opening an appointment from the Calendar. I do not know if Google tries to sync-up with Google Calendar as we use Google apps for domains for our emails and domains in our organization. I can see the contents of a meeting request in the preview pane, I can accept the request, the alert would show at the right time. But when I try to open the item, Outlook would report "Cannot open this item for reminder. Operation failed."

After googling for sometime, I bumped into a solution that suggest to switch off a plug-in. The procedure is as follows:
1. Close Outlook.
2. Open it in safe mode by typing ""C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\OFFICE11\OUTLOOK.EXE" /safe" in the Start -> Run box or command prompt.
3. Go to Tools -> Options -> Other tab -> Advanced Options button -> COM Add-In Manager -> Uncheck the item "Google Desktop Outlook Tool bar" and click OK.
4. Go to Tools -> Options -> Other tab -> Advanced Options button -> Add-In Manager -> Uncheck Google Desktop Search Outlook AddIn and click OK.
5. Restart Outlook.


Let's hope Google fixes it in the next release of Google Desktop.

What is bad about Reliance or Birla in grocery retail

There was this program on Showtime - Penn & Teller's BS on Hating Walmart. The theme was, it is fashionable and nonsense to hate Walmart when Walmart is doing so much for the community in terms of low cost goods and employment for unskilled. Can this be extended to India? Are Reliance and such big shops good for the communities? The answer is no.

Walmart opens shops in every place where there is scope for selling cheap goods. They probably won't open shops in glitzy malls. On the other hand, the big chain of grocery stores in India open in clearly upper middle class area. In Chennai, I see them in places like Anna Nagar, Egmore, Adyar and TTK Road. Even within these places, they stay away from lower income group areas. So, their aim is not to offer low cost products to needy community. The number of jobs they create is far few as compared to multiple small sized grocery shops catering to same number of customers.
Every time such a big shiny shop opens, they threaten the survival of traditional grocers and vegetable vendors. I find myself thinking like a commie here and with a reason. Even as big shops offer some employment, they kill the entrepreneurship of small time traders by pumping in more money. I think India's economy was kept alive during the days of socialism by this small-time business people who managed to sell products made by equally small scale businesses. They were probably below the radar of socialistic governments and their controls.
A company like CavinKare (with products like sachet Velvette shampoo) could come up just because they could sell through the regular grocery store. I do not think, a Food World or Trinetra would care to sell sachet shampoos from an unknown manufacturer. At some point, bigger shops need to care about margins vs shelf-space and can not support smaller businesses that make things like packaged food items with low investment.

I would compare the big shops to the organized religions like Islam, Christianity and Communism. They all offer some good stuff to start with. You can't complain about the teachings of prophets, messiahs and thinkers. They are probably fine. But they deny the option of alternate views and dissent by the sheer power they had acquired by setting up an organization, getting influential people to support it and marketing.

I would pay extra to keep the street corner vegetable vendor in business. I would probably do some impulse buying to encourage my grocer to compete with Trinetra opened in the same street. We need these small businesses to survive and flourish for the good of the people and the country.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Jobs in India

Joel's Jobs In India had just two job postings since it was announced a week ago. Joel says there is a good set of visitors from India for his blogs. Still, two postings in one week doesn't sound good. The reasons on why Joel's blogs get so many readers and the postings are so few:

1. The readers are usually middle management in large organizations and top management in small organizations. The middle managers of large companies have no say in where the organizations should look for candidates. The top managers of small companies do not post jobs in portals, instead they look for resumes in portals and call them.
2. Large organizations do not care much for the software skills of the candidates. For a fresher, they look for candidate with over 75% in engineering in any branch. For 2-3 year experienced, they look for the basic criteria plus the candidate should have worked for 2-3 years (not necessarily software development). For middle and senior management, there are far fewer requirements and they get filled by consultants. The HR for these companies are not going to post ads in Joel's job site.
3. In the past few years, it has changed from candidates applying for jobs to employers soliciting candidates that they source from job portals like Naukri.

In Indian IT job market, it is the quantity that matters. It is no different from a sales job. The HR makes 1000 calls, schedules interviews for 500, 200 attend, 20 clear the technical interview, 10 accept the offer and 5 join. I may be exaggerating the numbers, but the fact is - to get more people, you just need to start with a higher number.

In another context, Joel mentioned that the best programmers aren't looking for jobs. Those looking for a job aren't likely to be the best was his argument. I do not understand what changed between that comment (2 years ago) and now.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Udit Narayan and Tamil songs

Mukundhan commented about Udit Narayan's voice and pronunciation here.

I thought Udit Narayan's voice was a good fit to Prabhu Deva in Kaathalan. After that, I can't think of any other song where there was such a good fit. Remember paruvayillai in Run! I do not understand why north Indian singers who aren't pronouncing well should sing in Tamil. This includes Sukhvinder Singh, Sadhana Sargam (best of the lot) and Adnan Sami (well, he is not an Indian first, but that's not the point).

SPB mentioned it in an interview that he introduced Sukhvinder Singh in Telugu, and later in some other movies he didn't think that the singer did well with pronunciation. It is possible that most new male singers in Tamil and Telugu are highly influenced by SPB, Yesudoss and TMS. This probably forces music directors to look out for fresher voice. That explains why Udit Narayan and Sukhvinder Singh sing in Tamil. For the same reason, SPB and Yesudoss were used in some Hindi movies.

Gone are the days when the entire media laughed at Yesudoss for singing 'Therukkoile' instead of 'Thirukkoile'. I do remember our folks in Mumbai commenting on SPB's accent (note, not pronunciation) when singing in Hindi.

Now, we accept bad pronunciation by singers just as we accept Chennai girls' Tamil spoken with English accent. How's it in the North?

Blogging about blogging

Since I love Google Analytics and I was curious on how many visitors I had to my blog, I set up a GA account for my blog. The results I see assure that I am not Joel Spolsky. I noticed that a fresh grad working with me gets a higher traffic to her blog. That's what a link on her blog on how much the content is worth.

The results on GA indicated an interesting information.
If you blog about a current affair (like song release of Sivaji- the movie), there is a chance that your blog may get some new visitors. I got just one. On other days, I get the usual co-workers and ex-coworkers visiting my blog.
It is essential that the blog must be current. I blogged about the dark matter after reading about it on Slash Dot and Time magazine. My blog was about this article and Rig Veda. I had a surprise visitor who used the keywords for which my blog appears 3rd in the results.

Well, I do not write for eye-balls. I write because it is one way scratching my brain itch. After I write about what I wanted write, the thought disappears and doesn't bother me any more. It is just like writing a letter to God about your sorrows to feel better.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Sivaji Songs

It is probably not legal. But sites like oosai.com have the songs from the movie in streaming format.

I don't expect Rahman's music to be catchy in the first listening. You hear it again and again and start liking it. Of the six songs (seven if you count the two versions of 'Sahara Pookkal Poothatho'), just two stay in memory. 'Sahara Pookkal Poothatho' by Udit Narayan, Chinmayee and Vijay Yesudoss, Gomathi Sree is probably the best of the lot. The song is not great, but is at least good enough that the tune stays in memory after the song is over. 'Vaaji Vaaji...' by Hariharan and Madhusri is slightly fast paced, catchy and could be a hit. Madhusri's voice reminds me of Lata Mangeshkar's current voice. Nothing more to write about it. The song 'Kaaveri Aarum...' by SPB appears to be the usual Rajini's opening song. My father would comment as - 'தெவச மந்திரம் மாதிரி இருக்கு'.

On hearing the songs, I feel A R Rahman is getting old. When was the last hit from him?
While typing this blog, I heard some of the songs a second time to get the lyrics. Hey.. I like them. Hmmm - Another Rahman's album here.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The American Way: Upto the minute forecast

Another cold day, here at Farmington Hills, MI. It looks like it might rain. I am stuck in my hotel room on this Saturday too. I have no car as I my US driving license expired a few years ago and I do not have an Indian driving license. The place is a typical suburbia with little public transportation facility.

My co-workers staying in the same hotel want to go out for lunch. I think it is fine as I'm getting sick of my own cooking and reheating of frozen food. For every decision after that, you need an extra information, called weather. Should I wear the thermals, should I wear just a sweater or do I need a jacket? Can we go by taxi or just walk the distance? You need to know the weather before you venture out, be it by car or by any other mode of transportation. In tropical countries like India, there is not much to decide. At best, you may have to carry an umbrella if think you need it.

So, you need to know the weather. What is the best way to know the weather? I find myself going to my Google Home page, check the temperature and plan accordingly. I find it absurd when I can feel the weather simply by getting out of my hotel, I am so dependent on the systems that predict and tell the temperature. I think systems like this are useful for some part and then they begin dictating our lives. This is probably unique to the US.

More on how systems affect sensible way of living later.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Quality goals in Minutes of the meeting document

After a meeting today, I shot off the minutes of the meeting as an email. The content was limited to the attendees, decisions made and subsequent tasks. I noticed my project manager creates the MoM as a Word document, places it in a folder for the project in a file server. I wonder what is the right approach.

Mine ensures that the notes are visible with no extra effort. The recipients can always search for it in their emails; Google Desktop would index it and the purpose of the minutes is served. Everyone is informed, and the information is available whenever needed.

What about the project manager's approach? The information is always there, but do people read it and comment about it? I doubt. This is probably the CMM/ISO kind of quality. Not my kind!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I didn't know painful it would be to use Visio

The task is simple. Make changes to an existing activity diagram created in Visio. The changes small, remove a few activities and related connectors. Add a decision and connectors to existing activities. Sounds very simple, easy to understand etc.,
When it comes to resizing, I don't know why it gets so complex. I agree I didn't read the bloody user manual. But GUI is supposed to make it easy that you don't need a user manual.

All I'm trying is to position a few text by the side of connectors and decision objects and resize the objects so that they look similar to the ones that exist already in the diagram. To move a text, I need to click on the object first. Did that and no complaints on that. To select the text block, I need to click on text tool in the tool-bar. Why don't the right click menu or the UML diagram tool has any link to this?

To resize the object, I removed all the protections Still it resizes proportionally. I do not know how to change this behavior.

Text label attached to a connector do not show up. Moved it, selected it, I could change it, but not see it after I'm done with the move, selection or change.

The only other UML tool I had used - long ago was Poseidon based on ArgoUML engine. It was a good product for its price.

By just piggy-backing on Office, a crappy product like Visio can survive!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Are you smarter than a fifth grader?

Now I'm in the US, my evenings are spent in front of TV like most Americans. I try to limit my interest to couple of re-re-...-re-runs of Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond. Occasionally I channel surf during commercial breaks. In one such surfing I bumped into a game-show / quiz program - Are you smarter than a fifth grader?

My initial reaction was, it is another program for stereo-typing. One participant was an African American woman who thought US is in the Eastern Hemisphere. Another was a blond who didn't know how to get the radius from diameter. As there was no defined political correctness or incorrectness about jokes on blonds, there were jokes on blond dumbness. The anchor person didn't get such a freedom with the African American woman.

The aim of participant selection looked as if, it is make fun of them. May be that's what guarantees viewership!

On to more serious thoughts. I compared the questions with the curriculum I'm familiar with - that of CBSE in India. I ignored the localized History/Geography questions. Coming to Math, I think Indian kids do not do Algebra so early in their schools. From my school days to my son's, I see arithmetics getting maximum coverage in India's schools - rightly so. I think it is sensible and practical to do arithmetics in early classes. In India, I haven't seen a grocery store boy who are usually school drop-outs, using calculators!

My uncle who is a teacher for about 40 years, compared the academics in India and US. "In India, everyone is normalized to the average. The brighter student doesn't get much extra information to move up faster. Dull students get support from the system with annual exams that can be met with enough cramming. The American system allows for the brighter students to learn more, faster. It helps them become entrepreneurs, scientists naturally. The dull students just drop off to flipping burgers."

On comparing the affirmative actions in respective countries and its effectiveness, I think the Indian system is better in a way that it helped a lot of under privileged students to land in decent jobs and raise to the level of middle class. In the process, India lost some bright students to US and European countries in the brain drain. There was also slower growth in terms of quality of life, infrastructure and wealth. But, I think that's ok. I'm sure a generation of under privileged have come out of the shell and are doing better. That gives an assurance that Indian system is working.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

My comments to What is happening with IT

My comments to What is happening with IT

I used to think that our attitude toward white man is the reason, for stretching our work-times for client calls. But I came to realize that we are a service oriented country and that’s the way we are.

I had been on the other side of the outsourcing line where I outsourced a project to a vendor. The vendor worked just like any other software company; the developer showed up over weekends to finish project etc., There is nothing about white man or black man.

I do agree with you that our youngsters have no concept of fun outside of work. This worries me. I worked with a developer who felt very sad when the organization announced 5 day weeks for 2 and and 4th week every month. He had nothing to do on a Saturday. At some point all the consulting companies encouraged these people to virtually live in office without realizing the negative effects of it. We all will come out of it.

As far as comparing Microsoft and Infy, I do not think Infy is a loser. Infy had created a good amount of wealth for its employees just like MS. Infy didn’t get into lawsuits over monopolistic business practices. Infy’s product called Service will be a popular product for generations. Infy chose a market where innovation means better processes, better people, better quality. MS chose a market where innovation means tangible products.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

BPO wants the real you

BPO Wants the real you

This is ironic. There is a section of BPO that lives by impersonation. The tele-sales or customer support done from India does accent training and changes the names to suit the market. If a corporation can fake a superficial identity of an individual, it is business strategy or tactic. If the same is done by an individual, it is a crime.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Dark Energy - Dark Matter

Out there is an article on "stuff" that is out there, but not perceived. I could have been an physicist with my B.S in Physics (cleared Properties of Matter in the third attempt). But I am not even an arm-chair physicist as I just do not have the required number of connections in my brain to comprehend papers like that.

But this is an interesting one. Bhagawan once said, "The manifested is knowable and the unmanifested is unknowable." I'm sure the scientists mentioned in the article would agree. But what is this unmanifested?

Rig Veda says - (from Sacred Texts web-site).
1. THEN was not non-existent nor existent: there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it.
What covered in, and where? and what gave shelter? Was water there, unfathomed depth of water?
2 Death was not then, nor was there aught immortal: no sign was there, the day's and night's divider.
That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature: apart from it was nothing whatsoever.
3 Darkness there was: at first concealed in darkness this All was indiscriminated chaos.
All that existed then was void and form less: by the great power of Warmth was born that Unit.
4 Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning, Desire, the primal seed and germ of Spirit.
Sages who searched with their heart's thought discovered the existent's kinship in the non-existent.
5 Transversely was their severing line extended: what was above it then, and what below it?
There were begetters, there were mighty forces, free action here and energy up yonder
6 Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation?
The Gods are later than this world's production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?
7 He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it,
Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.

The dark (meaning unknown - not dark as black or negative) energy can manifest itself as identifiable matter or energy. Then the known Physics can take over to measure and explain it. Physics has matured in the past centuries to see that matter can be energy and vice versa; Physics accepts unpredictability and so on. We will be humble enough to say that there exists something that I can't see, feel or measure. We will one day realize that we are not different from "it", but a just manifestation of "it" with some set of properties.

As long as some properties could be defined, we are in the realm of material world where gravity is just natural to try to get back to the oneness from where everything started.

Friday, March 09, 2007

vJungle and Google Apps for your domain

Some eight years ago, there was this start-up called vJungle, setup right next to a Microsoft building in Bellevue, WA. The company targeted small and medium businesses for its product - a suite of on-line applications from email, calendar, document repository to payroll. It had everything and more that Google Apps for your domain has now. Well, almost everything. It didn't have document or spreadsheet editor as part of suite. Other than that, it had a chat window within the browser, a web-site creator application, domain name registration etc., The company had the vision for the product - all that a small business needs. It had the people who could pull it off. It had the processes and the culture from Microsoft as the engineering and management team was predominantly ex-Microsoft folks. It was going fine in 2000 and the fall started in 2001. Funding was hard to come by and then 9-11 happened. After a lot of struggle it was acquired by an European company which also didn't do well.

I feel vJungle was a bit too early for the days. It integrated with a payroll processing company based at Texas, an e-commerce product called Kurant and with fax processing service provider. Each service integration was unique, but I guess that was probably the start for Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). There was also use of XmlHttp which is now called as Ajax, but am not able to recollect which service of vJungle used the technology.

Overall, it had everything to make a useful good product - the team, technology and culture. What it lacked was the clarity on how to make money with such a product. I guess this problem is still unresolved. Though Google offers these apps, I am sure, Google must be funding this division with its hard-earned money from Adwords.

The other reason why vJungle didn't take off was the bandwidth limitation of those days. It was the days of 56K, and most small businesses wouldn't have had a T1 line.

I usually do not think of the bygone era, but vJungle makes me a bit sad as vJungle's target market is still there to be serviced.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Great Indian Bargain

I had four international relocations between India and US in a span of some seven years. Tasks in almost all these relocations had a line item - "Sell off stuff that you can't carry". This line item gave me a lot of experience and insight into the mind of the bargaining customers.

It was the last big relocation that gave all the interesting experiences. Selling my household items in the US was a bigger task simply because there were more items to sell. I went through the normal grind of posting ads in Indian grocery stores and Microsoft's intranet through a friend.

The probable buyers came from the usual ethnicities - Indian, American and Chinese. I would consider the Americans as the most reasonable customers. When the price I quoted didn't meet their offer, they just moved on. They probably had more important things to do than extract a bargain. Successful transactions were completed in less than 5 minutes. One executive from Microsoft even gifted me couple of software titles as he was impressed with my selling price. In all the transactions, the cost of time spent on the bargain should be more than the actual savings they would get. The American customers just gave a higher priority to their time.

The experience with some of the Indian and Chinese was a bit different. The difference was, they had all the time to do the bargain, while I had less time to sell them off. Even after settling for a price, one guy paid $500 less for my car and I had to ask again to get the full amount. It was like, he could save $500 if I was too polite to ask for it. By that time, I had enough experience that I realized there was no need to be polite. Sale of furnitures and some toys went through worse experience. The buyes always asked for more and wanted to pay less. That was the time when the 'Yeh Dil Maange More' was the popular slogan. For some items, I didn't want to go through the sale just because I didn't want to waste my time and decided to donate to charities.

Moral of the story was: If you want a good bargain, be prepared to spend more time. In other words, time is money.

A few years later, I find myself getting into a situation where I have to apply this learning. When I quit a job, the employer decided to hold back my last month's salary. Let me not get into the details of it on why I am on the fair side of the situation. This blog is not about that. This is about how we treat time w.r.t money.

For me, the amount is high enough that the time and effort I spend are worth it. So, I would hire a lawyer, pay him a percentage of the settlement I would get and try everything to get my money. In the process, to be cost effective, I will try to maximize the settlement. For example, I would try to recover the money I spend for the legal process, charge interest for the delayed payment etc.

What surprises me is my ex-employer's attitude towards time and money. The money they owe is indisputable salary and not a negotiable commission or some such thing. So, there is no monetary gain out of the issue. Even before the situation gets into the legal process, all the key people had spent a lot of time on the issue without making any progress towards a resolution. If we were to consider the salaries of these people, the cost of the time lost in the arguments and discussions is plain intangible loss. The time would have been better spend on what is good for the business.

I came across another set of top guys, each one's net worth was more than a few million dollars. These guys spent an hour of their time discussing whether to buy a phone in India for $3 more or to buy it in the US at a cheaper price. It was just one piece of phone and the difference was just $3, still they chose to spend an hour's time discussing that.

It surprises me that we Indians give so little importance to time and such a high importance to money.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

OOP - POO

Your code OOP or POO

Since I started with functional languages and programmed in Pascal and C in my first couple of years of experience, I didn't get too carried away with OOP ... for extended periods. The obsession usually lasted for a month or so before I got practical.

The other day, I interviewed a guy who has been a business analyst. He had all the technical jargons of the past 10 years in his resume. If he could show some UML, I would have considered him for an analyst role. If he could write code, I would have considered him for a tech lead role. If he could do both, I would have him take my job. The person threw bull and jargons at me at an alarming frequency. Every sentence had stake holders or components or some such shit that are candidates for stop words in a management meeting.

Since he started talking about a requirement for logging, I asked him to design a logging system. If he could just copy Log4J, I would have been happy. If he could write a simple function declaration, that takes a bunch of relevant parameters, I would have been happier. He kept talking about it for full 45 minutes with out writing anything.

I thought he could be a Manager in some ISO/CMM type company and wished him good luck.

Let me try writing a declaration for logging.

void LogIt(int level, string systemName, string errorMessageFormatString, Object[] params);

  • The first parameter could be cleaned up by using an enum with values from {Critical, Error, Warning, Info}.
  • The second parameter can be used for source file name, or a combination of both.
  • The third and fourth parameters work together like the String.Format function.
  • The function is not supposed to return anything or throw exceptions. I recently came across a java application that couldn't report the actual exception as it threw one more exception in logging the error.
  • If you want to OOP it, encapsulate it in an interface with more complex logging function. There could be multiple implementations of this depending upon the mode of logging - display, file, event log, email alert and what not! And it is no more simple.
  • With C/C++ macros, this could be even simplified... with some dirty macros.
Is there a simpler logging?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Death for 3 AIADMK men in Dharmapuri bus burning case

Death for 3 AIADMK men in Dharmapuri bus burning case

Finally... Now, let's wait for the next set of drama. Will Kanimozhi and other human rights activists oppose the death sentence? Their argument had been 'death sentence doesn't prevent repeat of crimes'. Let's not get into the childishness of this argument but return to the question 'Will they oppose it?'. They might. As we all know our political parties do want to be restrained by a fear of such punishments. Who knows - there could be day when someone in the ruling alliance want to commit the same type of crime.

They might choose not to, as none of the criminals in this case seem to belong to a minority community. Human rights in India means, mercy to the criminals from minority community.

Will the families of these criminals be allowed to meet with the President? I felt betrayed when the President gave audience to the family members of Afsal Guru. For an article by Francois Gautier rediff, I wrote to him as folllows:

"I disagree with you on Hindus having a Sikh Prime Minister and a Muslim President. To most Hindus, the Prime Minister and the President are Hindus too. I am surprised at your definition of religion. Just because Mr. Singh sports a turban and a beard and Mr. Kalaam has a Muslim name don't make them non-Hindus. Their understanding of the culture, their value system are essentially Hindu."

By the time the verdict is to be implemented, there could be a new government at the centre, state, a new President and a new political climate that might allow for a repeat of the Afsal Guru clemency drama. Anything can happen - it is India.

Friday, February 16, 2007

I am sorry for the Americans

This is my 5th visit to the US. Like a few other trips earlier, I landed on a cold cold winter. Earlier I had entered the US from Boston's Logan. This time, it was Detroit. My team of developers huddled in a van and drove off to a hotel in the southern suburb.

After dropping our luggage, we drove to a grocery store to pick up some snacks and essentials. Everytime I visit the US in winter, I make it a point to buy an anti-static spray. This time I had a laptop and didn't want to damage it with static current from my hands. The stores hadn't changed much, more or less the same set of products I saw three years ago.

I spent a lot of time watching TV in the evenings after returning from work. It is sub-zero C outside. Two news items that caught the attention yesterday.

Two old men had died when they were clearing their driveway of snow. No doubt this is a sad event for the respective families. People need to be totally insensitive to make a news out of this. A common observation in such news items is - there must be a villain in the story. One lady blamed the blizzard for the death. The man had had three bye-pass surgeries, was over 70 years of age and a mildest strain could have been fatal for him. If it were not the blizzard, he might have died when mowing his lawn or just watching football.

To blame someone probably comes naturally to many. My son started attending play school in the US when he was three. He could hardly speak a full sentence in Tamil or English. But he managed to learn - 'tis your fault' within the first month. This trend goes all the way up the career path where Managers always want to assign a head to a failure. This has caught up in Desi land too. I don't blame the lady in the news item or my son or my boss - assigning a head as a reason for failure gives a nice closure to the problem. So and so screwed up and there ends the matter. Even in the ancient period - 'புள்ளும் பொழுதும் பழித்தோர் அன்றி உள்ளிச்சென்றோர் பழியலர்'.

The reason I find this strange is because of my ability to see the whole instead of the single failure. An action happens with so many factors that we don't give credit for. If my team released a successful product, every team member, the employer, the market and the economy and in turn the man on street - are all behind the success. Similarly, if it fails, one of them might not have helped the success. In that case, just accept defeat and move on.

The other event that happened yesterday was the job at Chrysler. For someone from India, where such a massive job cuts aren't common nowadays, it is shocking. I am really sad for the people who would be jobless and have to wait for the dole from the government. The consolation is, there is at least a government that will care for them for some time.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Back at Photon

About a year and half after I left Photon, I joined back yesterday. Photon has changed a lot in terms of facilities. It is one of the very few companies in Chennai that has best wireless connectivity. A Dell Latitude was getting ready for me as I completed the formalities with HR and introduction sessions.

Everyone from tech lead level and higher has a laptop with a good configuration. It contributes immensely towards better productivity.

With every language and platform getting more complex, not depending on the Internet can adversely affect the ability of the developers to solve problems faster. Photon has realized that and so, there is unrestricted internet connectivity for every employee. This is something Photon can be proud of. I had worked with a few other ISO / CMM level companies where getting connected to the net is a major problem. You have to navigate through various levels of systems to have some net connectivity.

Photon's processes are also a lot different from the other companies in the same space. The processes are defined not for the sake of it, but are designed for following. There is still a lot more to do; I hope they will happen in the coming months.

The workspace is a big improvement from the cramped offices at Adyar. Here is one more area where I would prefer some more improvements. The current setup probably suits the developers who often get into pair programming. For senior developers and leads, who do design, I think they would need more peaceful environment to think.

Overall, it feels good to be back among the hardcore techies with high energy.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tata Sky Customer Support

Some time back I had blogged about Tata Sky's customer support (I'm impressed). The experience with them in the past month makes me post a correction to the original blog.

As usual with the cheap Chines remote controls, the replacement I got from Tata Sky failed within a week. It looked some kind of paralysis where controls on the left hand side of the remote wouldn't work. Seems like the remote control has a dysfunctional brain of its own. I complained to Tata Sky about a month ago. As reported earlier, the customer support persons were very courteous and promised a replacement as early as possible. I made 4 or 5 more calls and every time the support person was extremely courteous. But that's all to it. I didn't get a replacement remote control.

Looks like they are out of stock but the call center people will have no clue. All they can do is to take my call and forward it to some agency and hope that agency would fulfill. Too bad they invested so much on an unreliable piece of hardware.

On comparing SCV and Tata Sky, there is no change to my opinions on both. With Tata Sky there is at least someone to take your call, answer and escalate.

From my side, I sit closer to the TV and the DigiCom box and use the buttons on the box instead of the remote control.

Monday, January 22, 2007

நான் ஏன் மதம் மாறினேன்...?

தருமி: 55. நான் ஏன் மதம் மாறினேன்...? 3

An interesting blog. Good writing by all participants. Since questioning is not often encouraged in Christianity and Islam, I guess Dharumi's "thought process" is more interesting than a Hindu questioning.

In the realm of mind, all questions will be there. Allow them as they exist only in the realm of mind. When questions can't be answered by books or introspection, the mind gives up and enlightenment happens. You become free from all bindings.

Then, there is a rebel mode that happens when the bindings are gone. But slowly and surely one sees these bindings as something within the mind and He stays more conscious. One can even play with these bindings and see the mind deriving little pleasures. This is the active state of being. The Gita talks about the active state with enlightenment where the sthita-prgna performs his duties without attachment to the effects of it.

When enlightenment happens, in the passive state, it is not possible to differentiate between living and non-living, good and bad, God and Evil. That is the state of being God. At that level of consciousness, God is not someone or something sitting in a far off universe watching you; God is something that you are, you experience and the experienced.

Until one reaches that state of consciousness, allow for all debates on God and see experience of futility of the concept of God and that of the debates.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Airtel - Is there someone out there to manage their sites

Search for airtel broadband on Google or just click the link airtel broadband - Google Search.

You will come across at least 4 sites - airtel-broadband.com, airtelworld.com, airteltelephone.com and airtelbroadband.in. I don't know why an ISP needs so many sites with so little information. I am trying to find out a best broadband usage plan and none of the sites have this information. Some of them just do not respond and some show jsp / jrun errors.

It seems too many people outsourced the web site creation for airtel. Here is a company that doesn't care what their web presence is. I guess their sleek commercials give them the confidence that they can run a business successfully with bad customer service and support.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Scott Rosenberg: What Makes Software So Hard

Scott Rosenberg: What Makes Software So Hard

The hardest part is not making software but explaining to Managers on why software development is hard.

Recently, I took over maintenance and enhancement of a piece of software from a junior developer who left the organization. He had made less than reasonable decisions on where to store some options. His decision was based partly on the business Manager's input and partly on lack of experience and guidance. The business guy had wanted a page in which he would be able to enter gifts that we recommend for various occasions. The developer chose to keep the occasion information at page level and have corresponding numbers attached to the product set at the database level. This is not the best decision, but considering the time crunch and the push from the Manager, the developer went with this decision. Over the next few weeks, the requirements got more complex - there are occasions where you need to get the age of the person involved, where the person lives and so on. The developer kept patching it up and then left the job. I hope this project wasn't the reason.

When I had to maintain the system, I did some cleanup and moved the occasion information maintained at the code behind level. Now comes the next request. It is to add a new occasion. The business guy thinks that adding an element to a drop-down is all that we need to do. He is not able to think in abstract to define requirements. The usual way he works is, I show a UI and then he wants changes. This time I decided to move the information further behind to the database level. Before I do that, I am waiting on what more information should we look for and do a total redesign.

That's how software development works.