Monday, July 27, 2009

“I thought of that while riding my bike”

“I thought of that while riding my bike” - so said Albert Einstein when asked about the theory of relativity. How many of us have “thought of that while riding my bike”?

All too often - in these days of crunchy deadlines and in a world that never sleeps, where someone on the other side of the world wants an instant answer, even though it’s 3am where you are - we don’t get the time to “think of something while riding our bike”. Sometimes we need to crack a problem or issue, or come up with a new idea or product and the creative juices just don’t flow. We lock ourselves away in a room with no windows, with artificial light, a blank piece of paper and a bright whiteboard and we try to come up with the solutions and ideas. It doesn’t work, does it? Rather than the lightbulb above our head glowing, our brains switch to neutral and the ideas grind to a halt - or at least that’s how it is for me.

Maybe we should do something different to spark the creativity - go for a walk, swim in the sea, watch the clouds, go ride our bike….. I’m a keen road cyclist and on a long spin, once I’m into my cadence rhythm, I find my mind becomes clearer; I’m able to think things through, come up with a plan, assess the strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities. The solitude helps me think. I’d struggle to do this in a plain room, with a plain whiteboard.

Ref: The Six Ninja's blog

Sunday, July 26, 2009

To tell you the truth

by Indrajit Hazra.

Let me be honestly brutal. The only way I can negotiate with this world without majorly losing out on what it has to offer is by dropping a little lie here and mixing a bit of facts with fiction there. I just have to ensure that I’m not branded a liar.

But what if I’m being told to be in a situation where lying is no longer an option? What if everything I say are fact-checked and then played back to me for my reaction? What if I am made to undergo a psychophysiological detection of deception (PDD) examination — what in my grandma’s generation was known as a polygraph test?

Well, for starters, I just won’t agree to undergo the test, would I? But that refusal itself is bound to send out a message that will travel faster than it takes a text message to reach from a Vasant Vihar mobile to a mobile in Vasant Kunj. Like a man running away from the cops, I will be considered ‘guilty’ even before it’s established that I have been fibbing. So the only way out is to hone one’s lying skills.

Which is why Yudhisthirs petitioning the Delhi High Court and howling against the prime time game show Sach Ka Saamna should chill. Participants on the programme are not Guantanamo Bay orange-suited residents who have been pumped with temazepam and forced to listen to Amitabh Bachchan reading Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s poetry. These are people who, lusting after filthy lucre (a perfectly reasonable human endeavour), agree to come and sit on the hot seat after a polygraph test to answer questions such as ‘Did you, after your marriage, sleep with your driver while returning from a Gurgaon party that involved throwing in car keys in a big salad bowl?’

As you can gather by the line of that question — and I’m only exaggerating a bit — Sach Ka Saamna’s big ticket questions are overwhelmingly family-wrecking in nature. Which brings us to the real issue that’s made people howl against the show “promoting obscenity” and — here we go again — “propagating values against Indian culture”.
Telling the truth is not an Indian tradition. Lies have thrived among humans simply because in the long run they work. The scary bit is being caught lying, and worse, being caught lying in public. Imagine a Congress MP being asked by Sach Ka Saamna host Rajeev Khandelwal the jackpot Rs 1 crore question: “Would you trade your mother for Soniaji?” Even being truthful here would be very tricky.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Napoleon's March

Probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn, this map by Charles Joseph Minard portrays the losses suffered by Napoleon's army in the Russian campaign of 1812. Beginning at the Polish-Russian border, the thick band shows the size of the army at each position. The path of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow in the bitterly cold winter is depicted by the dark lower band, which is tied to temperature and time scales.


A Brilliant Visualization
An excellent example of how magic can be created with data

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

45+ Excellent Code Snippet Resources and Repositories

40+ Tooltips Scripts With AJAX, JavaScript & CSS

45+ New jQuery Techniques For Good User Experience

70 Expert Ideas For Better CSS Coding

70 New, Useful AJAX And JavaScript Techniques

30 Handy Cheat Sheets and Reference Guides for Web Professionals

Build Wikipedia query forms with semantic technology : Create simple Web forms that drive semantic Web standard queries to take advantage of exciting new databases

Job Hopping

I have changed jobs a lot in my career of around 15 years. According to this article that might just have been a good thing for me.

"Software industry culture has an unwritten rule that if you don't like a job, or if you think your company isn't going anywhere, you leave. Instead of hanging around the office whining, you walk out the door and find something better and cooler to do. Because skilled tech workers are hard to find and interesting companies abound, employees, not employers, call the shots. This was true at Apple in 1984, and it's still true at Facebook today.

Worker mobility gives the tech industry fluidity, velocity, and energy. It creates a culture in which people routinely jump from one job to another, looking to get in on the next must-have product or service.

As it happens, that lack of loyalty has been a key driver of the software industry's rapid innovation over the past three decades.
AnnaLee Saxenian, author of Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128, puts it this way: "Job-hopping, rather than climbing the career ladder within a corporation, facilitates flows of information and know-how between individuals, firms, and industries. When combined with venture capital, it supports unanticipated recombinations of technologies and skill." In other words, we have Twitter today because a bunch of engineers who were trained at other companies quit their jobs and brought their expertise to Evan Williams' side project. It's like biology: In an ecosystem where microbes are promiscuously swapping genes and traits, evolution speeds up."

Another crazy week

by Manas Chakravarty

Monday: Protests erupted today in Daman, Diu and other areas near the Gujarat border on the Gujarat government’s failure to enforce total prohibition in the state. “Gujarat is the birthplace of Gandhiji and liquor must be banned there,” said a pub-owner in Daman, ushering in a busload of tourists from Gujarat into his pub. A local Gandhian observed the protests with tears in his eyes, as he told this reporter that even the smugglers in Daman were all for prohibition in Gujarat — an instance, he said, “of how Gandhian values can find a place even in the most hardened heart”.

Tuesday: As torrential rains flooded Mumbai’s streets, terrorists at a camp outside Lahore looked decidedly glum. Reports say that terrorists training for another attack on Mumbai have gone on strike, complaining that working conditions in Mumbai left much to be desired. “At the very least,” said a young jihadi, “we should get a flood allowance”.
Meanwhile, the LeT chiefs have been trying to find a few rain-free days when an attack on Mumbai could be carried out. “We must study the El Nino phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean because it affects the monsoons,” said a learned terrorist. But a young terrorist said all they had to do was follow the Mumbai Met Department’s warning of heavy rainfall. “Those days”, he pointed out, “are invariably bone dry”.

Wednesday: After the hullabaloo in Parliament over the TV serial Balika Vadhu, legislators are demanding that the popular cartoon show Tom & Jerry should be banned. “The cartoon is very violent with episodes featuring Jerry slicing Tom in half and Tom using everything from dynamite sticks, axes and poison to try and kill Jerry. This can severely affect a child’s psyche,” said a child psychologist. A policeman pointed out that the proper procedure if either Tom or Jerry felt aggrieved would be to file an FIR at the nearest police station and allow the police to investigate. “At the very least, Jerry should file a writ petition,” added a lawyer.

Thursday: The government was ecstatic today as the rate of inflation continued to be negative. Asked about the sky-high prices of vegetables and pulses, an economist said that wasn’t inflation. “That’s a mere price rise,” he said, adding that the great economist Milton Friedman had said that inflation is always a monetary phenomenon and that money supply growth was decelerating. “Besides,” he added, “prices of purified terepthalic acid, springs and jelly-filled telephone cables have come down”.

Friday: The US government congratulated India today on re-opening the dialogue with Pakistan. “When terrorists attacked us, we behaved immaturely by invading the country harbouring them and attacking another country on fake evidence. We are very happy India is behaving in such a mature manner,” said a State Department official. An Indian government spokesman said he was happy the US was happy.

Saturday: No buses were burnt in Kolkata today. In protest, the opposition has called for a bandh next Monday.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Why Incompetence Spreads through Big Organizations

Promoting the people most competent at one job does not mean that they'll be better at another, according to a new simulation of hierarchical organizations.

There's a paradox at the heart of most Western organizations. The people who perform best at one level of an organization tend to be promoted on the premise that they will also be competent at another level within the organization. I imagine that most readers will have had personal experience at the way that this hypothesis fails in practice.

In 1969, a Canadian psychologist named Laurence Peter encapsulated this behavior in a rule that has since become known as Peter's Principle. Here it is:

"All new members in a hierarchical organization climb the hierarchy until they reach their level of maximum incompetence."

That's not as unfair as it sounds, say Alessandro Pluchino and buddies from Universita di Catania, who have modeled this behavior using an agent-based system for the first time. They say that common sense tells us that a member who is competent at a given level will also be competent at a higher level of the hierarchy. So it may well seem a good idea to promote such an individual to the next level.

The problem is that common sense often fools us. It's not so hard to see that a new position in an organization requires different skills, so the competent performance of one task may not correlate well with the ability to perform another task well.

Peter pointed out that in large organizations where these practices are used, it is inevitable that individuals will be promoted until they reach their level of maximum incompetence. The unavoidable result is the runaway spread of incompetence throughout an organization.

Now Pluchino and co have simulated this practice with an agent-based model for the first time. Sure enough, they find that it leads to a significant reduction in the efficiency of an organization, as incompetency spreads through it. That must have an uncomfortable ring of truth for some CEOs.

But is there a better way of choosing individuals for promotion? It turns out that there is, say Pluchino and co. Their model shows that two other strategies outperform the conventional method of promotion.

The first is to alternately promote first the most competent and then the least competent individuals. And the second is to promote individuals at random. Both of these methods improve, or at least do not diminish, the efficiency of an organization.

Interesting idea that would be fascinating to see in action. What would be a suitable prize for the first CEO to implement such a policy?

Ref: Technology Review: the physics arXiv blog

Thursday, July 02, 2009

PHP object orientation - Separating concerns : Building more modular PHP applications
Translate Atom to RDF : From syndication to semantics with ease
The new role of XML in cloud data integration : Using XML to integrate Salesforce data with enterprise applications
An introduction to custom application development on the cloud using : Fundamentals and Workbook

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Chocolate Lines

"Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar in four pieces with your bare hands- and then just eat one piece "
"There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love chocolates and communists"
"It's not that chocolates are a substitute for love.Love is a substitute of chocolate. Chocolate is far more reliable thana man"
"Nine out of ten people like chocolate. The tenth person always lies."

Ours to question why

The first excerpt is written by Karan Thapar. I have always thought him to be a little stupid specially after his television programs and also his other articles where he had written about benazir bhutto as if she would have solved all the problems between india and pakistan if she was alive and at the helm of pakistan. I on the other hand think its probably the best that lady was killed or else pakistan would have by now used its entire terrorists against us while the americans would be eating out of her hands. I have not forgotten that while she was at the helm pakistan was the most vocal regarding kashmir.
So when I read this article, it came as a very nice surprise.----

At first, I was taken aback that the president of France should have spoken about the burqa and in an address to the parliament at that. But the more I read, the more sense it seemed to make. Presidential addresses ought to be about issues that transcend the daily struggle of politics and Sarkozy had framed the burqa in bigger, more important, terms.

“The issue of the burqa is not a religious issue, it is a question of freedom and of women’s dignity,” the French President said in his Versailles speech. “The burqa is not a religious sign, it’s a sign of the subjugation, of the submission, of women. I want to say solemnly that it (the burqa) will not be welcome on our territory.” Perhaps, more than any other, this sentence was received with rapturous applause. In fact, Sarkozy’s comments on the burqa captured the headlines, even though this was the first presidential address to the French parliament after Charles Louis Napolean Bonaparte 136 years ago and despite the fact that Sarkozy’s 45-minute address touched on many subjects, including the economic crisis.

Beyond his indisputably correct comments on the burqa, what struck me about Sarkozy’s speech was how different it was to the sort of fare we, in India, have grown used to. Neither our politicians, nor our president talk to us about issues other than politics. Either for reasons of misplaced political correctness or because they haven’t thought through the matter themselves — and I bet it’s the latter — they avoid moral issues. This, I might add, is both sad and a mistake.

Moral issues need to be questioned and debated. They must not be buried under the weight of custom or under fear of the controversy any comment could provoke. If politicians feel strongly about them they must speak out. Not just because silence would be deception but because that’s how a debate is started. And democratic societies need to question and debate.

Let me also add that just because a politician speaks doesn’t mean his or her point of view will be accepted. Sarkozy knows that only too well. So let not an exaggerated opinion of themselves become an excuse for timidity or reticence. However, because they are politicians and are practised speakers they could frame the issue intelligently and create a platform for equally thought-provoking responses. And that is important.

But will we ever hear Manmohan Singh, L. K. Advani or Sonia Gandhi speak to us about issues such as the right of women to drink in pubs, wear jeans in colleges and lead normal lives after widowhood? I hope so. But I doubt it.

The second one is written by Indrajit Hazra whose articles I really like probably because his thinking matches mine after all he is also a fellow bong.

Ever wondered what goes through the head of Ashok Srivastava each time a young woman in jeans walks past him? It’s demanding enough for the Convenor of the Uttar Pradesh Principals’ Association to stay composed when any jeans-wearing young woman walks by. But imagine the serious conflict raging inside Srivastava, a good man of the kind we don’t meet often enough these days, if a jeans-clad college girl with a dexterous figure — with the wind blowing through her hair — and humming ‘Jaadu hai nasha hai’ walks by in slo-mo.
Well, I can’t see his perfectly normal heterosexual reaction to a young, attractive lady wearing figure-hugging trousers being any different from yours (if you’re a man, that is) or mine — except, perhaps, in intensity, which in turn depends on the frequency of spotting women in jeans on a regular basis (not that much for Srivastava, I would presume) and one’s own hormonal balance.

What is different, though, is how Srivastava wants to deal with his biologically-driven affection for women in denim: by not having them anywhere near him. (In some societies, of course, a more effective method would be to punish women in jeans so as to make them stop existing altogether.) As far as I’m concerned, you don’t have to be a hick or a pervert or even the head priest of the Guruvayur Temple to be distracted by the ergonomic quality of jeans when fitted on to a charmingly-shaped lady. The nature of the limbs-hugging jeans, after all, is to highlight the physical attractiveness of the wearer. (Thus, the total pointlessness or more of, say, President Pratibha Patil wearing a pair of Levis 901s.)

No woman — or man, for that matter — wears clothes to look unattractive, not according to their own set of aesthetics, that is. Their objective may be to look ‘smart’, ‘traditional’, ‘radical’ or a permutation-combination of all three. But the basic premise, even of someone like Sushma Swaraj, is to present oneself as ‘attractive’, a diluted-by-evolution-and-social mores version of the original biological purpose of looking attractive: advertising one’s sexuality.

The woman-in-jeans, of course, elicits different reactions in different settings. A jeans-wearing girl walking along Flora Fountain in Bombay will be seen as a different entity from the same girl in jeans cycling along a Gorakhpur alley. It’s as different as an attractive lady in a sari in Delhi is from an attractive lady in a sari on the streets of, say, Melbourne.

So, much of everything that surrounds the business of women in jeans boils down to what men make of it — and what women make of what the men make of it. The pitch against women in jeans, of course, will never be in the following form: “I am reacting hormonally to those girls in jeans under that tree. Please ensure that they don’t wear such tight clothes and force me to think of things other than the price of plums!” Instead, the rationale is always on this line: “Other men — lascivious ones — are reacting hormonally to those girls in jeans under the tree. Please ensure that they don’t wear such tight clothes!” Here’s Ashok Srivastava’s version: “It has been seen that eve-teasers generally target girls wearing jeans or modern clothes.” The truth is that I don’t think he’s wrong. One man’s women in hip-hugging jeans can be another man’s women in bodice-hugging salwar-kameezes.

The latest jeans imbroglio won’t be the last jeans imbroglio. Men will — comfortably or uncomfortably — get turned on by this iconic, all-pervasive apparel that accentuates the wearer’s hips and buttocks.