Ganesha – the original lateral thinker

There is an ancient tale from Hindu mythology that illustrates lateral thinking (also known as –  “out of the box” thinking) that I would  like to share -

One day Lord Siva and His consort Parvati were sitting atop their abode on Mt. Kailash with their sons Ganesha and Karthikeyan when the sage Narada dropped by for a visit. Narada had with him a special mango of knowledge, to offer to Siva. After accepting the mango from Narada,  Siva and Parvati decided to have a contest between their sons.

Ganesha

Ganesha

Karthikeyan

Karthikeyan

The first one who circumnavigates the world three times would get to the mango of knowledge. Without further ado Karthikeyan  jumped on his peacock and started off. Ganesha on the other hand was busy eating his favorite ladoos and decided to finish them first. Karthikeyan had completed two rounds by the time Ganesha finally got ready to compete :-)

Ganesha simply approached Siva and Parvati and deliberately walked around them –  He circled them once, twice and three times and then claimed the mango.

When, Siva and Parvati asked him how he could claim the mango when he had not circled the world even once – Ganesha replied – “You both are my world”. Delighted by the answer Siva and Parvati gave Ganesha the mango, which he immediately gobbled up with relish.

Two of the important traits of good software developers are “enlightened laziness” and “Out of the box” thinking.  This tale is an example of both enlightened laziness and out of the box thinking – confronted by the immense task of circumnavigating the world – Ganesha – by simply thinking a little and restating the problem comprehensively defeated his brother Karthikeyan.

So, my eager friends – the ones who are chomping at the bit after the initial presentation of a project – eager to rush into coding it, please spend some time contemplating your problem.  Another, homily you might want to consider is -  “Think twice, code once” – You, might just save yourself a LOT of time and effort !! :-)

What is TED ?

TED is simply a gathering of the remarkable minds to talk about and listen to ideas that they think are worth spreading.  At a glance these are the facts about this organization -

  1. TED started out in 1984 as conference bringing together people from three worlds : Technology, Entertainment, Design.
  2. It was acquired (in 2001) by a Non Profit – The Sapling Foundation. Under the foundation TED has evolved beyond a conference in Long Beach to a have global presence with conferences in US (TEDConference), Europe (TEDGlobal) and India (TEDIndia). The curator of the foundation (and the conference) is Chris Anderson.
  3. The scope of the conference has also become broader to include subject matter, to cover almost all aspects of science and culture.
  4. The conference is very difficult to attend and is by invitation only – in fact there have been claims that it is elitist and the folks at TED have responded to this claim.

All this is public record – but, IMHO what makes TED different is – the quality of the speeches and that they are publicly available on the internet.

The speakers at TED range from business tycoons like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson to political figures like Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Gordon Brown to artists like Bono , Ze Frank and Frank Gehry (there are a lot more including Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall, Nandan Nilekani, ….- you get the idea).  What moves them ? What excites them ? What do they feel is going to change the world ? These are the topics that they are invited to speak on for 18 minutes. There is a TED Prize – 3 winners are chosen every year from the conference and they get support from the TED organization for “One wish to change the world”. I guess there is something about the experience that seems to bring out the best from the audience, and the speakers, because the presentations made here are simply awesome !

The other aspect of TED and indeed the one that made me aware of them their potential is their endeavor to record and publish all the speeches on their website. The website was started in 2006 is constantly evolving with the latest social networking (Chris Anderson is on twitter) and awesome high quality video. This was what really made me go – whoa… and grasp the power of the conference. I suspect this is also what brought TED to the mainstream and captured the imagination of people like me, who would never have even heard of such a conference otherwise.

Some videos worth watching are -

  1. Hans Rosling – Best stats you have ever seen
  2. Pranav Mistry – Sixth Sense Technology
  3. Karen Armstrong – Charter for compassion
  4. George Whiteside – Postage Stamp Lab

There is some really inspiring stuff  here – I sincerely recommend that you bookmark this website and add it to your reminder list to visit on a regular basis – get motivated and inspired !!

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Books Ahoy !

I am a bookworm – this is not a particular new or startling revelation to anyone who knows me. This particular love affair was fanned by my father who has a fetish for collecting things – books are one of these things :-) Over the years I have read a lot of books… I read comics and novels and magazines and newspapers. I read encyclopedias and almanacs and a whole lot of Readers Digest – I love their condensed books. I am the type of guy who will read the backs of cans or the small print in advertisements while waiting in lines :-)

Once I left college and entered the software industry – I became fascinated by the internet and awed  by the amount of information that was available. As my life became more and more nomadic (I was a software consultant) I found it difficult to carry around books (stupid international travel regulations restricting baggage to 30Kgs !) and buying books everywhere I went, while tempting, was way too expensive. Instead the addictive power of Google and broadband connections drew me to the flickering glow of the computer/laptop monitor.

Then suddenly blogging and RSS became mainstream and all of a sudden I was facing information overload. Bombarded by news items, article, opinions, rants, podcasts (I think podcasts a brilliant for certain situations – more here) and video blogging – there weren’t simply weren’t enough hours in the day to keep up!  I started feeling the computer and the broadband connection becoming a leash tethering me the glowing screen. I missed being able to lie on my back and or curling up on a couch with a book.  I bought a laptop and then a PDA (this was back before the iPod and way before smart-phones). Neither were satisfactory solutions – the laptop was too cumbersome, I was scared of dropping it and the battery life sucked. The PDA had more potential but had neither a big enough screen nor satisfactory software.

Last year I moved back home to Trivandrum (Kerala, India) – I looked at all the shelves lined with familiar classics from my childhood and promptly started reading them again (the lack of a reliable broadband internet connection played a part as well I admit). I found some of my colleagues at work shared my love for books and got recommendations, which I blended with my own list of books I wanted to read.   Then I went to the local bookstore and bought some books (actually I bought a whole lot of books) :-)

It feels good to be back reading books – I have broadband but it is not un-limited so I am more picky in what I use it for (software and media downloads mostly). I think I manage to grasp and read more using a book – I think the fact that unlike the computer there are no distractions or options helps one focus more and get deeper into the experience.

The price of books in India is a pleasant surprise compared to international book prices :-) There are few hard-covers and the books aren’t published using high quality paper but I can live with that. The only thing I miss is access to some of the comics/graphic novels I had when I was in America :-( I have heard of  the Kindle from Amazon and I think it’s brilliant – it is however – still a long way away from replacing a books.

PS: I have signed up for an online bookshelf called Readernaut check it out – you can signup if your are interested :-)

PPS: I am on Shelfari as well

Darwin gets a thumbs up from the catholic church

Here is the link – Vatican buries the hatchet with Charles Darwin

It’s over a hundred years too late but then this is the Vatican – it takes them awhile to get around to things :-)  I wonder what parents and school teachers will be telling their kids ;-) I can imagine the conversation -

Adult:  Remember that intelligent design stuff we were spouting about – turns out we were wrong after all.  My bad !
Kid: OK… Whatever you say…  Can I go and play now ?

Man, wonder what the die hard intelligent design folks will do – convert or accept the Vatican?
I’m going to grab some popcorn and watch the fireworks :-)

I admit – I know this feeling only too well…

Dilbert and the Internet

Now I don’t feel like this all the time but I have come to this conclusion more than once while reflecting on my life…

On the one hand I have an account in twitter, facebook, myspace, orkut, friendfeed, linkedin, plaxo, delicous, flickr, blah, blah, blah – on the other hand – at least I haven’t got an avatar on second life, not yet played on WOW or related online games and I have yet to record video or audio of the minutiae of my life  – though this blog is becoming more confessional with each post ;-)

To all who had to experience ‘Performance Reviews’

In my career as a software developer (such as it is) I have worked in a couple of large IT consulting companies. Of all the drivel that I have put up with in those companies – ‘Performance Reviews’ and the energy expended on them was the one that caused most frustration. As usual Scott Adams expresses my feelings about this with so much more aplomb than I ever could…

Performance_Reviews

Feel free to agree or disagree with me – leave me reply…

Extreme Googlemania – The Church of Google

So here I am minding my own business when I browse to one of my favorite web-sites UserFriendly and the featured link of the day is… Well check it for yourself – The Church of Google.

Now personally, I think this is a one of those ultimate sarcastic jokes – You know the ones, where you create this elaborate scenario and setup and when you deliver it – you realize – there are people that actually believed you and took all that crap seriously !! At this point of realization – different people act in different ways :-

  1. Some stop and try to explain that this was actually a joke and was never meant seriously and would everybody just laugh and be done with it and carry on with their lives.
  2. Some get on a form of euphoria – as if they found the ultimate sarcasm heroin – fan the flames even higher, all the while laughing hysterically at the number of cooks that fell for it.
  3. Some regress and almost as if drugged by the smell of their own farts, they consider themselves messiahs to a new consciousness and start believing the crap they are spewing.

I leave it to you to laugh, or vent about the Googlism, its ideology or its proofs. As far as I am concerned I have seen this particular joke before and its supporting arguments and counter-arguments. I had this discussion once with some friends of mine on alternative religion and they showed me this. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is an obvious parody (and I really love some of the stuff they pull) but it is one designed IMO, to prove certain points about the abstract nature of religion. However, The Church of Google is IMO a parody of attempts to scientifically prove religion exists which is a much more controversial contention, in my mind. I am certainly going to be keeping an eye out for these guys, though I find it interesting that so many people actually search for the term ‘Google’ on Google (all sort of delicious recursive paradoxes come to mind :-) at that phrase)

I admit – I admire Google – the company, their innovation, their approach and their unique ability to leverage their chosen battleground. This has been reflected in the posts that I have done about them. However, I think of them more as a bunch of really smart people with a innovative idea of automating technology at scale.

And that’s all I have to say about The Church of Google :-) If you are interested The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has a gospel, and they celebrate a holiday.

Update:  Now here is an interesting contrast to the Google worship of The Church of Google. Cory Doctorow wrote a short story of what could happen if Google went to the dark side.

Of podcasts…

I have to commute to work – this in itself is not uncommon and is not the point of the post. It is what I discovered to do with my time during my commute that I wanted to share. Initially I tried the various radio stations, and settled on National Public Radio station in Atlanta – 901 FM – WABE. It had the news and some fine western classical and the advertising was limited (or easier to tune out :-) ). Then it began its biannual fund-drive and I realized I needed something else during those week. That brings us to the topic of this post – Podcasts.

I had a heard a lot about podcasts – in fact they have been around so long that predictions of their demise have started coming up. I had downloaded and listened to a couple sometime back and I liked the concept. For awhile – I dallied with the thought doing it myself… Yeah – I know I can barely post enough for a blog and here I am thinking about podcasting – the arrogance of the man :-) . Then video blogs (vlogs) came along and I decided didn’t want really want to compete with svelte and sexy actresses pretending they knew what they were talking about ;-)  – but I digress …

So I started looking for some nice podcasts to listen to while on my commute. I have some favorites which I thought I’d put up post on…

  • Comedy – I decided to start out with something light and fun. I have a penchant for British humor and gave this one a try and liked it – Sowerby and Luff. Another one which is a very leftist American political comedy is NPR’s – Wait Wait Dont tell Me… – this is very topical and will make sense only if you are aware of the day to day dealings of American politics. Finally for geeky humor try – Ask a Ninja (this is a video podcast – so its not strictly commute friendly unless you are a passenger :-))
  • Philosophy – I have an audiobook of the seminal work of Robert Pirsig – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
  • Life in general – Another great podcast I found on NPR is – WNYC – RadioLab
  • Internet and life online – This is a category I created for those of us who trawl the internet. We monitor it using blogs and RSS readers. We go to sites like Slashdot and Digg and take the pulse. There are podcasts for people like us – in fact they are video podcasts – but they can just as easily be simply listened to – Diggnation, Geekbrief.tv, and TWIT.tv (This week in technology)
  • .NET Technology – DotNETRocks – This is a great podcast for keeping in touch with the happenings in the world of Microsoft (which if you have looked at of late is exploding in size and scope of the developer offerings).

Two – Oh Humor

I saw this great video (I don’t know much about the hosting website so it may be taken down in a few days) -

glumbert.com – Supermarket 2.0

It’s about applying the latest cool Web-Two-O- Ism’s to a Supermarket so we have – Tagging, Ajax, Commenting, Wish lists, RSS Feeds, etc.
My favorites are the parodies on – Pandora style recommendations and Amazon style selling items that other people who bought the same stuff also bought.

The DRM-Free bandwagon

Nowadays in the media industry, it is hip to be DRM Free. Witness the iTunes agreement and the Amazon announcement. What’s not to like – its a very “rising up against the man” thing to do and you get a lot of adoration from the masses to be sure…

Well as a consumer I think this is great but I also don’t think it’s the future and here is why I think that -
Mp3 as a format in my opinion is showing its age. To get lossless quality audio, mp3 files have to get pretty darn big. There are plenty of new and better formats out there both with and without DRM that do a better job compression and have better audio characteristics. Right now, this may matter only to audiophiles but they are still a proportion of the market which typically buy a lot of music. Based on this I believe that physical media is still going to be around for awhile but I also believe they need to undergo a price and quality adjustment.

Content itself is morphing – its no longer just music – its music videos, podcasts, video blogs, games, HD-DVD. All these content formats are typically longer and bigger than 5 – 10 minutes (the average length of a song) . They also have features that are not supported by mp3, so you are going to have to use new formats anyway. Downloading these files directly over the browser is going to suck for everyone except for those that have big broadband connections.

Both the iTunes and the Amazon announcements have talked about making unencumbered music available for sale. They have however not mentioned anything about the fact that this music is going to be bought and then shared over the internet. I might have missed the portion where they talk about using digital watermarking and if I did – someone please correct me. This does not address the fact that with todays technology it is really easy for someone to share a file indiscriminately with anyone and everyone on the internet.

I for one think digital watermarking should be used and advertised if nothing else as a deterrent. A digital watermark may not prevent me from sharing some of the songs I buy with my friend so he can hear a new artist but it would make me think before I shared it over a P2P network to the rest of the world since the file could be traced back to me. Of course the argument could be made that my friend could share it but if everyone knew the risk then they would share it only to friends they trusted not to do that :-)

References :-
Techcrunch http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/05/16/another-break-in-the-wall-amazoncom-to-sell-drm-free-music/

Download Squad http://www.downloadsquad.com/2007/05/16/amazon-announce-drm-free-digital-music-store/