Friday, March 09, 2012

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Friday, November 11, 2011

The Jobs, Jackson parallel

Much has been written about Steve Jobs already after his untimely death. Another celebrity who has been posthumously in the news is Michael Jackson, due to the Dr. Conrad Murray trial. I was recently watching the taped recordings of his final days showing his preparation for the "This is it" tour where his music director for the show talks about Michael's penchant for perfection and detail, how he knows every bit from his records, every note, every tempo, and how he wants them to be just so in the reproduction for the stage.

Listening to all that, I couldn't help but notice the parallel with Steve Jobs who has been famously associated with his attention to detail and undying urge to do every little bit right. Steve apparently fiddled with all aspects of his products, from early prototypes to colors on the inner wiring to layout of the factories. You could similarly see Michael detailing the various nuances for the production. Such as the various cues for his music entourage to pick up from his antics on the stage. Every pause and transition perfectly timed, allowing the audience to sink their teeth (or ears) into the music, letting them wait with anticipation for his trademark moves. Steve was every inch a showman as Michael. He is known to have meticulously rehearsed his gigs on the Buena Vista dance floor, perfectly choreographed for maximum effect. If only he could moonwalk as well!

Thinking through this further, Steve was unique in his ability to marry art with technology unlike any of his contemporaries. He had this unrelenting belief in combining hardware and software for best overall results, controlling every bit of it himself. Now it is par for the course to talk about user experience and "beautiful" technology. But not long ago,he was in the minority. Michael was similar although in his own way. He was unique, in his time at least, to marry music with video like no one else had contemplated before, while he controlled every aspect of the product, tightly integrating audio and video. While it would have been tempting to let someone else do the video, he realized how treating it as a single product will enhance the user experience and he was dead right. Nowadays, artists of any ilk dish out music videos and we never pause to think how it all started. Just like Steve, I'm pretty sure Michael wasn't the first to produce music videos. But he took it to a whole new level that raised the bar for the industry.

No doubt, there are some dissimilarities as well. Ever the minimalist Jobs was probably the perfect opposite of the extravagant Jackson. Jobs was compulsively secretive and protective of his personal life and also of his body or the products he produced. It is said that he refused surgery to remove the cancer in the first instance because he couldn't imagine someone prying into the perfect package that he is. He applied the same philosophy to his products. On the other hand, Michael's life was stuff from reality TV and I wonder if there was any part of his body not altered by a surgeon's prying scalpel. Finally, while Steve believed drugs almost gave him a new perspective on life, sadly it's the same drugs (albeit not the exact same one!) that ended Michael's life.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Documentation hazard

In the past few years of my working life, I have struggled to understand why we generate so many documents of various sizes and purposes of which only a small fraction ever gets consumed. As humans we probably have this undying urge to express ourselves in more words than necessary (note to self, keep this blog short!). Why should a product spec extend out to a hundred odd pages? Why should a transformation plan or growth strategy document run into the size of my Tempur pillow?

Mind you, I haven't even introduced consultants and lawyers yet. Invite a consultant to do a small piece of boring work such as define a governance process of some kind, you are guaranteed to get a long and winded process with about 10 approval "gates" that is viewable at best only when printed on a 6ftx6ft wall. Each gate must have at least 5 input and output documents with pretty templates for each. Never mind some of these documents will have to repeated at various gates. Also, never mind that even in the most optimistic scenario, one cannot ever go through this process without burning months and one's own sanity. Finally, I would bet that not a single soul involved in the process ever read more than 10% of the documents.

At least with consultants, it's easy to see why. You are not paying big bucks to a consultant for a simple 3 stage process that fits into half a napkin, even if that would do a fortune of good for the company. The system is such that managers expect reams of printed paper and consultants never disappoint.

I saw a TED video yesterday where this guy has taken it upon himself to simplify legal documents, specially ones in the public domain. He has constructed a one page credit card agreement in simple English that has apparently been ratified even by legal experts. He's doing the same for some IRS documents that has already been adopted by the agency. If only we could employ the same trick in the corporate world...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Peaceful coexistence of religion and corruption

The fact that India is one of the most corrupt nations, specially among the larger ones, is no secret even before the recent events. An average Indian appears genetically corrupt. But then an average Indian is also religious. What has always amazed me is how such religious fervor can so easily coexist with corruption. If you believe in a force beyond you and also believe that you could hide from your own conscience but not Him, how could you indulge in such habitual corruption?

Thinking through further, I wonder if we have turned God into a corrupt being as well. The typical temple goer cuts one or more deals with his or her favorite god. "Let me pass this exam and I will come to Tirupati to part with some follicles" or "get me a new job and I will return the favour with a donation to the temple fund" etc. 

The fact that we are at it over the years makes me think that God has been obliging regularly. Divine graft has therefore become a role model for everything else. So we are corrupt not in spite of, but because of, religion. Of course, the cynic might say that corruption is so much in our DNA that we have conveniently assumed it applies to divine matters as well.

So is there a cure that doesn't require a "thousand" Hazare's to starve? Probably. If we could have an Indian Moses who walks out like someone from a Castaway sequel set with just one Commandment that says "thou shall stop bribing me", it might break the link between corruption and religion. Without a role model, successive generations of Indians then lose the plot and as Darwinians would agree, the corruption gene might just mutate or become vestigial to the point of extinction.

Now who could play that Moses part well? No! Not AB guys...

Are we too thick to live with thin clients?

I am no computing expert but I can't help noticing how the technology industry just cannot seem to make up its mind between thick and thin clients. 

If I were to start with the mainframe era (just because I am too young to know what predated it!), it espoused the view that the real meat should reside in those big boxes in the basement while the clients should be confined to a dumb enviously green existence.

Then came this apparent revolution towards client / server technology which gave more credit to the poor terminals. UIs suddenly became quite rich not just in look and feel but in stealing a march on business intelligence as well. Ironically, they were called thick clients just as they upped their IQ!

However, the smart client dream came to a screeching halt with the advent of web-based technology that heralded the era of "server-side" computing as if it were a fundamentally new paradigm. UIs became thin again overnight as if someone stuck a hoover on their backs and sucked out their brains and brawn. Although mostly a losing battle, the UI camp hired a few lobbyists in the form of Adobe and a few others who tried their best to wrest back control into the UI with some limited success.

What goes around does come around in technology! The whole smartphone and app store craze has now brought the spotlight back to the thick clients. They are just called by a new name, apps. It's not all over though. There are many others who are trying to "cloud" this phenomenon by moving back the heavy duty stuff to big boxes all over again!! So while RIM thinks you don't need an app to browse the internet, Apple emphasizes even a browser is just another app.

Not sure about the clients, but we are just too thick to make up our minds...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Who's more accurate - the drones in the sky or the ones on the ground?

I would have thought it is quite difficult to identify, target and kill terrorists in the hinterlands of Pakistan. However, it is surprising this is occurring on a daily basis of late with increasing accuracy. This is not just about killing some guy who looked suspicious or had tattoed "Death to America" on his bald head or had the same number of wives as Bin Laden. It is about targeting a named terrorist.

But, if you thought this was admirable enough, there's something even more incredible. Pakistani authorities take less than an hour to confirm who was killed and where. How could that be possible if they didn't know the terrorists' whereabouts beforehand? I imagine there is a map (probably superimposed on Google Maps) somewhere with the ISI that pins down all the names and locations of key terrorists. The moment US reports a drone attack and publishes its coordinates, one of those names probably light up and even prints out a message for the administration to read out to the press.

Makes you wonder who is more accurate - the drones in the sky or the drones (i.e the parasites who live off of American aid) on the ground?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A 7 month old sloth

I wish I could say I took a sabbatical from blogging to explain away the hiatus. But, the harsh truth (harsh may be redundant for those who believe truth is always harsh) is that I've been a sloth, almost 7 months old now! Meanwhile, world has moved on churning out event after another.

The UK election drama that was expected to condemn Labour to the third spot eventually led to a ConDem coalition. Kim Jong was rumoured to be Il while he was just getting Un ready for primetime. Obama extracted his medicare bill through the bowels of the Congress using emergency colonoscopy, which amounts to his sole victory to date while many of his supporters are still saying "Yes, We Can" - move on from the audacity of his hope to some Palin dope, that is.

Allahabad High Court produced a brutally long judgement that seemed more like wishful interpretation of law, not the other way around. Everyone and his paternal grandfather has released autobiographies. Blair, Mandelson, what next - the 33 miners who rediscovered light in Capiapo? Bin Laden?

The usual Indian song and dance barely saved the day at the XIX CommonWealth Games. And, finally, on the personal front, a 6 week old squirming by my side past midnight as I am typing this out.

7 months of blog-worthy events have just passed by. Time to make amends and to promise myself to put thought to paper (cloud, to be more precise) more often.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

When you don't need a thousand words...

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But, what if you don't need a thousand words? To take a specific example (obviously, this blog was motivated by this very example!), every so often you find restaurants or bars separating restrooms for men vs. women with creative props or pictures that no doubt make good dinner conversations. But, do you really need to be tested when you are either desperate or intoxicated to discern one from the other and make the right decision.

Even the seemingly innocuous stickman can sometimes take more than a closer look. Is that a skirt or just a guy with a fat butt? How does it work in Scotland? Is that a Scotsman in his traditional kilt? On the flip side, don't women wear trousers - why do women put up with such stereotyping?

Why not just make it dead easy and spell it out "Men" and "Women". How difficult is that? When just two words are not just sufficient but most effective, don't waste nine hundred and ninety eight other with a picture!

Twitter about a blog about a tweet about a...

I recently added a few fervent twitterers on LinkedIn, so much so that my first page is predictably filled with their recent updates on Twitter. It's quite amazing how self-engrossed some folks can get - were they like this even before Twitter came along or has Twitter pushed this nascent narcissism to the fore? There's an update every 20 minutes or so about what they are reading, will be reading, will be eating / cooking... when it's time to time to brush on both sides of the night and so on...

Switching to the other side of every tweet, who actually follows them? What if they are engrossed in their own tweets? Do you tweet about the fact that you are just about to read others' tweets or blogs. Say "just about to read 'Tweet from a twat', and then on to 'Electronic trash' before tweeting about all that".

Pushing this argument further, do I tweet about this blog before or after? Where does this chain ever end? Maybe until the next fad is in... wait until you hear about it on someone's blog or a tweet or a blog about a tweet or ...