Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

Election 2012: A Tale of Two Americas

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

Like everyone else who hasn’t been hiding under a rock for the past decade, I am familiar with the many issues which divide us – gay rights, abortion, taxes, healthcare, etc. etc.

However, while watching the presidential election coverage on CNN last night, I was struck by the more fundamental aspects of division that exist among us.

We are divided by where we live – rural America or urban America. Obama captured the vote in almost all the urban areas across the country (even in the red states) while Romney captured the vote in almost all the rural areas (even in blue states).

We are divided by who we are – white heterosexual males or not. Gay whites, women and non-whites went for Obama big time while white heterosexual males went overwhelmingly for Romney.

We are divided by how we dress – casually or formally. The folks at the Obama campaign headquarters were a colorfully dressed rag tag bunch while the folks at the Romney campaign headquarters were looking prim and proper in their pinstripe suits.

It does seem like some of us are clinging desperately to a past – where many lived off the land, white males were running the show and restrictive dress conventions were the norm.

Until everyone of us catches up and starts to live in the present, we’re going to continue to struggle to build a great future …

Mentally ill people + Deadly weapons = Mass murders

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

This simple equation explains our position with respect to situations like Aurora and Oak Creek.

If we want to do something to change things, there are only three options:

  1. Eradicate mental illness
  2. Eradicate deadly weapons
  3. Ensure mentally ill people don’t have access to deadly weapons

For #1 to work, every type of illness would need to be treatable. Furthermore, everybody would need to be regularly evaluated and treated if necessary to ensure nobody escapes the net. Given we’re still deeply divided on universal health care, universal mental care has a snowball’s chance in hell …

For #2 to work, we’d need to ban deadly weapons and ensure extremely strong enforcement of the ban. Given the strength of the gun lobby and our track record with enforcing drug laws, this one looks like a non-starter as well.

For #3 to work, we’d need to not only give up on our privacy but also hope that all potential threats can be detected/dealt with in time. Also, we cannot underestimate the resources needed to pursue potential threats to determine if they are legitimate or not. So this one too looks pretty bleak.

Folks, our only hope that we may yet solve the problem stems from the fact that I sucked at high school algebra …

From hero to zero

Monday, May 14th, 2012

All in the space of ten days. That my friends is the sad story of Scott Thompson.

Here is a guy presumed to be at the pinnacle of his career after having successfully led PayPal for several years. A knight in shining armor who was going to make history by saving Yahoo from the doldrums. There he was confidently slashing, restructuring and strategizing at Yahoo until the past caught up with him.

A seemingly innocuous claim of a CS degree from 30+ years ago was all it took to bring him down.

What a shame! In one fell swoop, everything the man has done for three decades is out the window. All that matters are the headlines screaming everywhere that he lied about his degree. People are cracking jokes at his expense all over the place. Yesterday at Tiecon 2012, I heard resume padding jokes no fewer than half a dozen times.

The higher they are, the harder they fall …

Google Developer Day Report

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

Spent the morning and part of the afternoon at Google Developer Day.

Google sure knows how to throw a party! Plenty of free food and drinks, a pool table, bean bags – you get the picture :-)

On a more serious note, they made several new product announcements – Google Gears, Google Mashup Editor and a new version of Google Web Toolkit.

Gears is an open source project (BSD license) done in partnership with Adobe’s Apollo. Gears has three components to it – a database (SQLite)  for offline data storage/access, a local server for storing and serving pages/scripts while offline and a utility to create worker thread pools (for any heavy computes on the client – not sure a lot of people are going to need this unless they are doing serious analytics – I’m sure Google is planning some use for it). Google Reader is the first Google app to be Gears enabled – the guy demoing the app wanted to show how it works when disconnected and had a lot of trouble getting off the network! (he unplugged his network cable and his wireless came on). I think this is really a sign of things to come. I personally believe that putting a lot of effort in to support disconnected access is a temporary thing and a likely waste of resources. I believe that thinking of interesting possibilities in a continuously connected world is more worthwhile …

Google Mashup Editor was not so impressive – at least with the short demo I saw. To be fair, I should check it out before spouting, but hey, that hasn’t stopped me before :-)  Seemed like a bunch of HTML/XML hacking required – lots of sleight of hand involved in the demo to make it look easy – the guy clicked on links titled step 1/2/3 and voila! more HTML/XML appeared in the editor pane …

I’ve never been a real fan of Google Web Toolkit. I tried it sometime last year and it sucked! There was a lot of stupidity with carefully naming interfaces/classes/methods a certain way to make sure everything linedup right. The programming model mimicked the classic GUI development model which is pretty outdated – I like using markup for describing UIs – to me its the single best thing about XML. Looks like a million people checked it out over the past year -  no mention of actual uses …

In the afternoon, there was a very interesting talk about Google’s compute infrastructure. Google apparently uses the cheapest hardware it can lay its hands on and uses lots and lots of it. They have several layers of abstraction to make it easy for their programmers to create applications over this massive hardware infrastructure. They seem to have optimized for a class of computing problems – very large scale query/analysis on entities that are essentially bags of attributes. GFS is their lowest level distributed storage engine. BigTable provides a SQL-like abstraction over GFS. MapReduce allows programmers to collect attributes of interest from a collection of entities in the first phase (Map) and then do analysis on the values of the attributes in a second phase (Reduce).

Attendance was quite heavy – 1500 at the San Jose Convention Center venue and 5000 worldwide. I bailed early, the event was scheduled to go on until late in the evening, ending with a dinner at Google’s Mountain View headquarters. I’m sure the event will be bigger next year with invited talks as well (this year was Google only). Looking forward to it …

No room for Aristocracy

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

Was listening to a report on NPR about the Queen of England’s visit to Virginia. The reporter was interviewing someone in the Governor’s office who is responsible for ensuring Virginians followed proper etiquette during the visit. This lady had a real fawning manner when she spoke about how there were so many Anglophiles in Virginia eagerly lapping up the etiquette lessons.

What a total waste of time and money!! I’m sure that set of skills will serve Virginians very well as they compete for livelihoods with folks from all the hungry economies of the world :-)

I cannot believe that in the age of Web 2.0 where meritocracy rules and is quickly threatening bureaucracy, we have a bunch of losers still stuck in the era of aristocracy. IMHO, aristocracy has absolutely no place in today’s society – what has the Queen ever done in her entire life to deserve this level of respect ? Virginians, get a life and quit living in the past.

Freedom at Midnight

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

I had read this wonderful book a long time back and wanted to read it again. Managed to get a copy recently and read it – as fascinating as the first time I read it. The book deals with the time period surrounding the independence of India and Pakistan (1946-1948) and is very relevant in the current context of the sectarian violence in Iraq.

The book describes the painful process of partition that the people of India and Pakistan suffered through and the role various actors played in the surrounding events. What struck me as I was reading it this time is the depth and stature of leadership that was involved in dealing with the crisis – Mahatma Gandhi, Louis Mountbatten, Jawaharlal Nehru and others. These are some of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen. Mahatma Gandhi singlehandedly contained and curbed seemingly uncontrollable levels of violence by fasting on two occasions (and nearly dying on the second occasion) – such was the respect and admiration of the common man for him. No Army (even the famed British Army that had prevailed in WW II) was up to the task.

When I look at the current sectarian violence in Iraq, I see very strong parallels with what happened in India and Pakistan during 1947. However, what appears to be missing (admittedly, I have a somewhat distant view provided by mainstream media) is a strong and capable Iraqi leadership that can lead the country out of its current crisis. In such times, baser instincts rule people and an endless cycle of revenge takes hold. And, going by historic precedent, it seems like even the presence of a mighty army like ours cannot really help quell the violence. What Iraq needs most is leaders that can calm her people down and make them see sense – until then I’m afraid we will only end up wasting the precious lives of our young men and women to no avail …

Google Product Search – Not For Me

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

Saw the news on Google reworking its shopping search site and decided to check it out. For a while now, I’ve been using thefind and like it – way better than all the comparison shopping sites both in terms of usability and quality of results. While Google’s Product Search is an improvement on Froogle, I think I’m going to stick with thefind for now. Here are some of my issues:

  • All the criteria that can be used to narrow search results are at the bottom of the page while valuable real estate in the right sidebar is occupied by ads. I guess Google decided to sacrifice usability for revenue (makes sense, Wall Street now drives this ship) …
  • The lists of brands, stores, etc that can be used to narrow searches seem to have quite a few errors – for example, Packard Bell was listed as a brand for “sheet sets” – when I clicked on the brand, I was shown sheet sets from Pottery Barn – wondering if the matching initials had something to do with this … I spotted a few more errors in a similar vein, leading me to believe there is some cleanup needed behind the scenes …
  • I really like thefind‘s interface better – visual information (which is really important for shopping IMO) dominates over textual information and screen real estate is used more effectively overall.

Full Disclosure: I am good friends with Nanda Kishore – ex-CEO of thefind and we have collaborated on other projects.

Virginia Tech – What Next ?

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

Now that we’ve once again seen the extent to which a madman armed with a gun can totally shatter innocent people’s lives – what are we as a society going to do about it ? I see the following options:

  1. Ban guns
  2. Arm everyone
  3. Track and imprison madmen
  4. Wear Kevlar underclothes
  5. Do nothing

We all know what we’ll choose …

Web 2.0 : My Take

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

Having sat through 3 days of the Web 2.0 expo 2007 and listened to all the confusion surrounding the term and what it means nearly two years after Tim O’Reilly introduced the term – I thought I’d take a shot at putting down my own take on the term.

In my view Web 2.0 is quite simply a statement about the maturity of the web. The web in its current form has matured along three key dimensions:

  • The technical dimension – browsers have matured, web application frameworks have matured, server and network infrastructure used to deliver web applications have matured; all this allows for things like AJAX, Saas, Mashups, etc. to happen. None of these are fundamentally new ideas or concepts, they were all tried early in the web’s lifecycle and failed because the web was simply not ready for them. Javascript was simply too hard to get right across a set of browsers because of spotty support, most ASPs rushed to web-enabled applications in the shortest possible time and did a terrible job with them, there were hardly any web services to speak of until recently.
  • The business dimension – there are a well established set of business models on the web today. Sure, there are new ones being invented all the time (more on this later), but there are some fundamental patterns that are very well used and understood.
  • The user dimension – users have gotten used to the web and have come to rely on it. With the advent of tools like review sites, blogs and wikis, users have gotten accustomed to active participation as well. Users both as individuals and in the context of their businesses have come to trust the web (sure there are security issues, but these exist elsewhere as well).

Given all of this, a set of new possibilities open up. Carlota Perez in her somewhat dry but extremely informative book Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital discusses the sequence of events that unfold whenever a technological revolution like the web occurs. The final phase of a technological revolution is what she calls the “golden age” or “synergy phase” where she talks about a set of techno-economic factors that come together to change all relevant business models in a fundamental way. We are simply witnessing the beginnings of this phase with the web (the phase itself typically lasts 2-3 decades). So, what are some of the business models that have already changed/are currently changing because of the web:

  • Commerce: this was the earliest to change and is now very mature.
  • Software: this is in the early stages of change – two big changes in Software are Saas and Open Source – probably be a few more years before the dust settles.
  • Telecommunications: this one is nearly mature – the big change has been the consolidation of services – i.e. the emergence of the bandwidth utility like the electric/gas/water utilities – today, one can buy all their bandwidth needs (wired and wireless) from a single vendor. The remaining piece is for the wired and wireless worlds to come together, which I believe is happening as I write this …
  • Media/Advertising: this is again in the early stages – big changes are the format (digital assets) and peer production – again, be a few years before the dust settles.
  • Finance: this is really still in its infancy – sure, a lot of the trading/banking activity has moved online and there have been some benefits; however, true innovations around business models have not happened in a big way – peer production seems like the big change here (Prosper is a great example) – probably be a much longer time before things settle here.
  • Services(IT/Healthcare/others) : this appears somewhat mature – big change is in collaborative delivery from multiple/remote locations – not sure what other big changes are likely because of the web.

So why then does all the confusion exist around the term Web 2.0 ? The answer again is quite simple – marketing. What we’re seeing is quite similar to what is related in the story of the blind men and the elephant (one version rendered here) – various parties selling various things (books/conferences/software/services/whatever …) are associating whatever meaning is convenient to them with the term Web 2.0; confusion quite naturally follows.

I’m as sure as the day I was born that there are a bunch of sane people who see the full picture and are busy dreaming up all the new possibilities that this mature web we live in offers up …

Day two at Web Expo 2007

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

Keynote session was pretty interesting – the hosts were pretty dull and seemed very nervous to be in front of a large crowd (3k people was the number thrown around).

The launchpad portion had a couple of interesting products – Vidoop (Name 2.0 sucks!) is easily the coolest idea I’ve seen in a while – very innovative approach to solving the single sign-on problem and Tellme’s updated local information product with a visual map/voice navigation capability also seems pretty slick and useful.

There was a panel discussion around Mobile 2.0 – very revealing for me – did not realize we are in the middle of a rapid convergence of mobile networks with the internet. This should bring some real change and excitement to the mobile scene.

There was a somewhat bizzare higher order bit presentation by a guy from Sun – he rambled on and on about an organization called Architecture for Humanity – while the organization seems really cool and is doing some very great things – I for one did not get the point of his presentation at the conference – seemed incoherent and pointless …

Bill Tancer from Hitwise and David Sifry from Technorati presented a lot of very interesting data on trends on the Internet. A couple of datapoints that were extremely unique and interesting – stats on writers vs readers in the “participatory web” and the demographics of writers and readers. No surprise that writers are much smaller than readers – turns out to be < 1% for sites like YouTube and Flickr and around 5% for Wikipedia. What is really surprising is that a vast majority of readers are under 35 and a vast majority of writers are over 35 (don’t remember the exact numbers and can’t seem to easily locate the foils – another aspect of crappy conference organization – no well defined process for foils). As Bill put it very well, it is the older generation educating the younger ones.

John Battelle did an excellent job of interviewing Eric Schmidt. Although I must say I was a bit disappointed he did not ask why Google shut down access to its SOAP API for search …

Highlight of the afternoon was a very lively and humorous session by David Hornik on viral marketing. His slide format was very interesting – just a single thought on each slide (sometimes just one word). Should try it sometime in the future. Wonder if there is a cool name for this format …