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Mon, 30 Jan 2017:

We're into the second act, people!

This is a moment of despair, but you know what the second act is. It is a moment of character, where you get to find out if you're part of the narrative or not. Some of you reading are definitely looking away, but this is really for those who are staring out at the world in despair, watching it stare back into you.

Remember what the second act is - it is the rising action. The heroes' attempts to fix the crisis leads to ever worsening situations. And they can't win, because they haven't got the skills to deal with the forces of the other side. They must not only learn how to wield the light saber in attack, but also to believe in the force that flows through.

There's a part of me which wants to unplug the news and go back to where I have a vote. I could've done a runner with a clean conscience, refusing to fund the process with my taxes. But I've got a tiny american with me, who never got to decide what his future looks like. I cannot remain idle in his defence, but I didn't sign up to die trying.

So, I must think of the second act and what it demands.

Bassiano: And I beseech you,
          Wrest once the law to your authority:
          To do a great right, do a little wrong,
          And curb this cruel devil of his will.

Portia: It must not be; there is no power in Venice
        Can alter a decree established:
        'Twill be recorded for a precedent,
        And many an error by the same example
        Will rush into the state: it cannot be.

In this fight for essential liberties, the rule of law is overturned, we are lost. I hear the words of the lovely Portia from the Merchant of Venice. Thus we must look to the lawyers, to ride in like the cavalry. In Shakespeare's words of "The Butcher" in Henry V, lawyers for sure remember the laws and not easily forget that all animals are created equal.

JACK CADE: I thank you, good people:- there shall be no money; 
           all shall eat and drink on my score; 
           and I will apparel them all in one livery, 
           that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

DICK:      The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

The soap box and ballot box have not helped, let's just hope the next box has got enough stopping power. I'd hate to get to the last box, because down that way madness lies. To learn politics and law, so that my children may learn literature and art is no sacrifice, but the last box leaves us without civilization.

I don't know how this will all end. I'm not anxious anymore though, because there's one thing I worried about - that world would turn away in apathy. Because in the end what we will remember most often will not be the words of your enemies, but the silence of your friends. Do not imagine all is lost, do not mistake being out of power with being in the minority - there are more of us, when the numbers are in. This plot arc is long and we're just into the second act.

And though wise men at their end know dark is right, do not go gently into the good night!

--
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

posted at: 03:00 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: ,

Mon, 06 Jul 2015:

Here's a short quick set of questions.

Do you work heavily whenever a project causes disappointment, when you are under pressure or have had a quarrel with someone?

Have you built up a tolerance to your life style and developed strategies to cope with lack of sleep when driving?

Have you gone back to work in the morning only to not understand what you were thinking when you wrote some code last night?

When you work in a team, do you find yourself taking up an unfair share of work automatically?

Do you ever feel uncomfortable when you are too far away from work stress, particularly if you've turned off work email?

Are you in a hurry to get some part of your work done, before you have to meet the rest of the team for a standup?

Do you find yourself picking up some work to do, after you make sure your wife and kids are already asleep?

Has a family member or friend complained about you preferring to work instead of going to a social occasion?

Do you ever promise to meet for an event (kid's recital, date night) and missed it because you were caught up in work?

Have you noticed that despite spending more time at work, you get less and less done these days?

Do you eat very little or irregularly, during periods of overworking?

Do you ever feel depressed or anxious during or after periods of heavy working?

Have you tried to change your work habits for several attempts without achieving any real change?

Do you ever find yourself making excuses that this is entirely temporary, while consistently overworking for months?

Do you try to cram in as many lifestyle activites as possible into a single weekend, to make the break from work count?

Do you ever find yourself wondering how other people find time for their hobbies?

Do you motivate yourself with thoughts that when one day you're rich from all this work, you will be able to retire and pursue hobbies?

--
If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious.
Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him?
The workman of today works everyday in his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd.
But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.
        -- Albert Camus, "The Myth of Sisyphus"

posted at: 21:48 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Tue, 17 Jul 2012:

I ain't trying to preach, I believe I can reach
But your mind ain't prepared, I'll c u when u get there.

I'd be a fool to surrender when I know I can be a contender
If everybody's a sinner then everybody can be a winner.

I'ma scuffle and struggle until I'm breathless and weak
I done strived my whole life to make it to the mountain peak.
Always keep reaching sure to grab on to something 
I'll be there when you get there with muted sounds bumping.

We prefer to keep our eyes shut 'til it's right
When there's something involved that we desire.
So hold your head up high if you're poor and righteous 
I know times seem strife and problems seem endless.

But at the times of despair we gotta put ourselves together 
And if you feel you're out of the game.
Then you need to get back in it 
'Cause nothing worse than a quitter.
You gotta face responsibility one day, my brother 
So wrap up your pity and turn it to ambition.
And put your vehicle in 'Drive' and stop by my side.

As we walk down the road of our destiny 
And the time comes to choose which shall it be
The wide and crooked or the straight and narrow. 
We got one voice to give and one life to live.

Stand up for something or lie down in your game.
Listen to the song that we sing.
It's up to you to make it big I guess, 
I'll c u when u see me. 

I'll c u when u get there. 

Lyrics from Coolio's C U When U Get There.

--
It is not what we read, but what we remember that makes us learned.
It is not what we intend but what we do that makes us useful.
And, it is not a few faint wishes but the struggle that makes us valiant.
        --Henry Ward Beecher

posted at: 15:17 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Sat, 30 Jun 2012:
Life isn't fair: Justice isn't some inherent property of the universe. Chaos is. And no matter what any batman villain says, a coin toss isn't fair. But it is no reason to complain, because somedays it works in your favour. Good it might be, but fair it isn't.

Nothing is ever perfect: Perfection is a quest, not a goal. Sometimes it feels good to be done with something, put it aside and move onto the next thing on your mind. It might be half-assed, but it is not just a thought anymore, it is out there. Bear in mind, it's also out there for people to criticize - but that's not a thing to fear. Carry on the quest though, but look for it in your life not in others.

There are shortcuts in life: Sure there are shortcuts, they rarely look like one. I'm lazy and that has made me look for these a bit more often than others. It took a great teacher to explain to me that education was what got him out of a hard life. Made the whole process look like liberation instead of the enslavement I used to blame the school bell for.

Rewards are not for effort or patience: You can't argue with results. The only time to talk about the effort is when it goes wasted.

Money is important: I wouldn't blame everything on money, but the lack of money is the root of some evils. Growing up in the wide middle class of Kerala, almost every limit in life I saw was about money. I know it can't buy everything, but removing that limit lets me focus on the things that can't be bought or sold - also known as the important things in life.

Luck is overrated: I think so. But who can really tell?

People die (unfortunately): I thought I knew that, but every year tells me more about it than I ever wanted to know. My only tribute to the dead is to keep on living.

Never let fear stop you & never let greed drive you: I'm not exceptionally brave. But I've maintained the little inner strength I have by trying to reflect on my motives. And in cutting down the knee-jerk reactions to fear & greed, I've torn out the insecurities that fed my self doubt. No, I'm not afraid she will leave me and I'm not waiting for my next raise - I care that she's happy and I need the money, but I'm here to kick ass & chew gum. And I'm all out of gum.

Sometimes the right thing to do is to walk away: You don't have to win every fight. Trust me, you don't have the time to fight every loser who steps out. So don't start a fight you don't want to finish. And when it comes to true confrontation, be as Teddy "Bear" Roosevelt said, speak softly & carry a big stick. Whack him good.

You've been wrong before & you'll be wrong again: This bears repeating - being wrong is important. Just one advice - eating your own words is painful. Even more reason to make them sweet in the first place.

When you're wrong, change your opinion: What's the alternative?

Don't be a rebel, change something instead: I probably had my teenage rebellion way late. And it went about this by turning my world upside down and shaking it till everything that wasn't nailed down fell out. I thought I was watching the world fall down on me, but something else happened. And I came out of it armoured with purpose.

Intelligence and skill doesn't scale: Eventually there's just 24 hours in everybody's day. And I'm not going to put in all 16 hours into work - I have a life. But more importantly, I've learnt to work away from my loner approach to doing things (instilled by the student-beat-student education system) into doing things together. Cooperation scales way better and more easily. I wouldn't say this if I was Roger Federer, but I'm not.

You can't be anything you want: Nothing's stopping you from being all you can be. It'll take a while to figure out what limits we see are real and which ones are self imposed. Ambition will let you find that out, but that's when you need to take a reality check & cash it.

Everything's harder than you realize: Our society respects people who are "brilliant". In honesty, I can't really blame society for it when there's an easier target out there - The Karate Kid. Anyway, effortless was another word for brilliant. And I wanted some of that - so I tried to get that tag for myself. But in the process I learnt something, the things I love are easier for me. The sacrifices are easier and time just flies when I'm having fun.

Failure is OK, Defeat isn't: Sometimes you give up. Life's going to keep bringing up this topic, but the day I can't get up when life knocks me down, I'll be truly defeated. I plan to get out of this life undefeated.

Do not live in the present - tomorrow does come: It's a hellish momentary existence to live in the present forever. Hopes and dreams do not have a place in it, because there is no tomorrow. I've nearly killed myself to escape it & swore never to return there. I forever live in the boundary between days, sometimes wallowing in the past and sometimes pushing towards the future. Today is merely tomorrow turning into yesterday.

May not be much, but this took 10,000 days to come into being. And perhaps, just perhaps, I'm writing this down to read someday later.

--
22,000 days,
22,000 days, it's not a lot,
it's all you've got
22,000 days
      -- Moody Blues

posted at: 23:27 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Sat, 08 Oct 2011:

The last time I drove my bike fast was in June.

No, that's not true. I drove it fast today. Too fast, perhaps. But that leads me to another question, how fast is too fast? I'm not talking about the speed limits or the consequences of speeding. I find that my sense of speed is completely off depending on what I'm driving - I've hit 65 on a bicycle downhill, on a 75cc two wheeler, on a 350cc cruiser and of course, in various cars. The sensation is very different, but in reality the speed is the same. So, in a rather objective sense, can I tell my brain what my driving speeds really mean?

I've always been wary of heights - though not exactly when I've been climbing. I've jumped off enough tall things to have a sense of how it feels. Maybe that's the way I can explain this. Let's take 3 different speeds and work out how they feel - in "jumping out of the window" terms.

The calculations are rather trivial.

def height(v):
    g = 9.80665 # m/s^2
    # convert to m/s
    vm=v*(1000/3600.0)
    # v^2 = u^2 + 2as 
    s = (vm*vm)/(2*g)
    print "Height to fall from (for %d kmph) = %d metres" % (v,s)

height(40) # = 6 m
height(60) # = 14 m
height(80) # = 25 m

Now, the numbers clearly indicate the height goes up to the square of the speed you're driving in, rather than than linearly (duh, kinetic energy is proportional to the square of velocity). But what does scare me is what I've added for perspective is an olympic high dive, which sort of looks like this. Not to mention, you aren't going to be hitting a nice deep pool of water.

And I still drive fast.

--
It is impossible to travel faster than the speed of light, and certainly not desirable, as one's hat keeps blowing off.
    -- Woody Allen

posted at: 15:15 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: ,

Mon, 08 Mar 2010:

You & I both know there's no We here.

As I write down blog entry after the other, I've come to realize that there's only one person I can talk about with any sort of clarity - me. I can't speak for anyone else. Everything is as I observe, as I experience and as I feel - all mixed up into a general pile of nothing. To draw out a clear & coherent thread of thought out of that requires me to unravel a bit of myself in the process.

Self reflection leaves its own smudges in my thoughts. The searchlight of my mind leaves shadows, of contrasts & comparisons with itself. The similarities just merge into the backdrop, the differences stick out like a sore thumb. The edges & cracks appear, just like on a lake in winter, when the fluidity of thought is frozen into something solid.

And the words, like charcoal rubbing on paper, merely picks up what stands out. Everything in black & white, clearly marked out. Makes for a pretty picture, but is hardly what really exists.

Frame it up, hang it up and sign my name. And call it a blog.

--
My mind not only wanders, sometimes it leaves completely.

posted at: 03:32 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Mon, 26 Oct 2009:

People don't make decisions. Decisions make people.

That can't be true. I know to the exact dot, dash and every crossed tee to why I made the decision to write this blog. Or am I just writing out a rational framework as an after-thought to a pithy cliche? Maybe it's because I picked up an Orwell book and read Shooting an Elephant again?

I will never know. Not for sure. The sequence of thoughts that precede and follow an action are often so mixed up in retrospect. They get even more muddled up when I introspect deeper. I can't use my mind to understand itself. Going third-person collective on this stuff!

We strive to maintain a certain rational self-integrity as a survival trait. In some sense, our self images involve a picture of a conscious, self-evolved and rational person. We cling to it, however transparently false it might be to everyone else around. We are proud of it.

Impulsive decisions prompt a certain cognitive dissonance in deep dark of your sub-conscious. You know you aren't that kind of a person, but the act is behind you and there's no rewriting your actions. But perhaps there's other things you can change to make it all fit. Most of us fight it by becoming a new self, to whom the actions are a natural consequence of who they are. I understand, even have grown to respect that it's inevitable. But rather than admit that the change of heart was after the action, we'd rather revise our history a bit to recover a bit of internal coherence. Because in the disordered and confused world they live in, the coherence of self is perhaps the only thing they've got left to hold onto.

You've become a different person and it surprises everyone around you. The most convenient lie to trot out to mask all this internal turmoil is the ever cliched "I've always been like this, you didn't know me well enough!". I can't really read minds, but I've learnt to read people. Observing people will themselves into believing this - that they haven't changed due to their decisions and that causality flowed the other way around - has brought me some insight into the ways change has creeped into me.

I've come to embrace it. My decisions have changed me, some for better & some for worse. I'm a product of my decisions, not of my dreams or desires - of my decisions & actions. I live out my own punctuated equilibrium of personal evolution. And not everything that changed me came from within. I'm not taking anything away from myself with that admission. It's the truth.

But I've come to despise the impulsive pretenders of later rationality.

Perhaps despise is too strong a word. But it'll do for now.

--
One could laugh at the world better if it didn't mix tender kindliness with its brutality.
          -- D. H. Lawrence

posted at: 06:01 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Tue, 06 Oct 2009:

Occasionally, as I flip back the pages of my life, I find myself in conversation with a younger me from a much older time. As if caught in a flipbook time machine, I see myself change, grow and in some sense, stay the same. Once in a while though, I turn up a page with which I disagree with enough to need revisiting.

In the mid-summer of 2007, out of my frustrations with work was born an unadulterated rant of pure cynicism.

There's some sort of misplaced humility that is injected into us by our educational system. Or maybe it is some sort social stigma attached to the braggart or overacheiver. Must've been what was going through Lennon's mind as he penned down "they'll hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool". Eventually, the struggle to stand out and the pressures to blend in, find some sort of balance in your inner selves. You'll be happy to be the best at something everybody is doing. And even if you aren't, it's somewhat a partially ordered set. Life makes sense and the years roll on.

So you are the real deal, the bee's knees. To start off your career, you dive in and start pulling your weight. Even a moron in a hurry can see that what you're doing valuable, nay essential to the company. Your management wants to know that, it's exactly the kind of information they crave. When it's handed to them in a platter, they love it. But, you keep working, in your little corner. Nobody notices anything and if they do, it's when you fail. You complain about not being noticed to your peers, you write out long rants on your blog about how your life sucks.

Most people at this point in their careers blame the management for everything that's wrong at their job. And treat every peer who chooses to move into management as a blood traitor. I'm not denying that there are bad managers, just the same as there are bad people. But most managers promoted out of rank & file end up being good people with a job which looks like herding cats, except without any catnip. The people working under ordinary managers go passive agressive in their rebellion, complicating the situation further. Eventhough 'tis a betrayal every which way, it happens because nobody trusts anybody.

You are doing something very important and valuable to the company. Then why don't they trust you? Because they have had people work under them in past who were poor communicators because they weren't getting anything done. They even had good people work under them who secretly didn't like the plans, but kept their traps shut and worked towards a fait accompli. So if you communicate poorly, they are not going to give you the benefit of the doubt. No matter how many poor communicators actually end up getting work done, the managers will always remember the times they've been burned.

You don't need to be a 'Yes Man' or a atrocious sychophant to get your manager to treat you well. All you need to do is to make his job easier ... after all, managing you is pretty hard work. Though, there's such a thing as overdoing it. But that's yet another story altogether.

Watching your future with much interest,
  — future me.

--
Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
           -- George Bernard Shaw

posted at: 22:01 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Sat, 14 Mar 2009:

She's perhaps the most important person in your life - and you'll never acknowledge it.

Perhaps the only constant relationship you maintain over the years, without realizing it. It won't be hard - You'll do nothing more for each other than just listen - hear each other out. And it'll be enough, in fact it'll be more than enough.

She's a friend - a friend you never reached out to. A friendship born out of coincidence and chance. Not someone you want or desire, but someone who's always seemed to be just background to your life. All that makes her special is that your soul is naked to her - she's the one with whom you have never put up on your pretensions. She's the one who's never judged you for it. She's just this girl in your life, never platonic with a hint of impossibility to it. She's just there, somewhere.

But, when shit happens; She's the first one you go to.

--
All my friends and I are crazy. That's the only thing that keeps us sane.

posted at: 01:46 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Thu, 19 Feb 2009:

The word intellectual has been hijacked. That epithet was reserved for those who held views of their own on this world. For those who used their intellect and abilities to percieve the world in their own light. For the renegades of thought, not restricted by the dogmas of their time and life.

Somewhere along the way, it became impossible to distinguish between the true leaders of ideas from those who have squandered their potential as independent thinkers. It's not like the fundamental roots of philosophy have changed over the years, but the world of print is seducing those that wish to futher their development onto the beaten paths of the last century. I do not deny that on shoulders of giants we should stand, but not on their toes.

I meet people like that all the time. I in fact, enjoy the crossfire of ideas that results in. I'm growing, I'm learning without being taught. But I often feel like what I've wandered into is not the melting pot of ideas, the half-bakery of them - but the McDonalds of ideas. Ingredients sourced from all over the world, made with a recipe, packed and tastes the same all over the world. There's a pervading sense of sameness about it - the names dropped, the vocabulary and the people I meet.

The ends remain the same, but the means have lost their meaning. Existential angst is the source of all my philosophy. The contemplation of suicide is perhaps the only source of truth for me - to veer off that path, I've looked far and wide for meaning in my life, till I realized that ironically, that very same quest is the fundamental meaning of sentient existence. To find an answer would be a death unto itself - cogito ergo sum. There's only one certainty and depressing as it might be, the evasion of which is what's so uplifting about every day lived.

I'm not an intellectual. But I like to pretend to be one, because of the social acceptance it provides for my quirks. But beyond that, I'm merely a student of human nature - mine first and everybody's later. And that's just my arrogance claiming how unique I am.

--
The error of youth is to believe that intelligence is a substitute for experience.
            -- Lyman Bryson

posted at: 17:31 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Tue, 05 Aug 2008:

Money is what money does.

Living in the suburbs with an economic major for a dad, I was subjected to long drives filled with words like Price, Cost, Wealth and Money. Slightly different, shadow images of the same thing - Value. Transactions, hoards and transformations there-of. But this system of Value, has no absolutes - it's a general theory of economic relativity. The essential backbone of which is the equation of effort to value and in some essence has been as revolutionary to me as Einstein's has been to 19th century physics.

$$$: Money is worth what it buys you. The only reason it exists is because other people accept it and provide you services/goods. That'd be why it is infact called currency, because that is the most important property for money. But the exchange of money look like a zero-sum game - you gain only as much as I give. But transactions of value have to be a non-zero sum game. For a stable economic system, the buyer & seller should both go home with more than what they started with.

!Zero: The nonzero sum aspect of trade, is what set that juggernaut rolling in the first place. But to acquire more value than the other gives up, requires for an inequity of value in exchange of money. What I give up in return for money is more valuable to the person paying for it than what she pays for it. And thus the ship sails into the next port.

The Pin: The pin maker is a skilled man. All day long, he makes pins. It would take you an entire day's work to make a pin. He makes ten pins a day. If he demanded half-a-day's worth to make a pin for you, would you pay? I assume you would, after cribbing a lot about the rising cost of living, how they don't make them like they used to and how your children no longer behave. But you'd pay, take the pin & spend the rest of the day doing something fun.

And here's where the inequity of effort and value kick in. It is an equation, for sure, but one of the multipliers in it is skill at a task. The price you pay is fair for something if it takes more effort to do it yourself - DIY solutions excepted. The foundation is laid for the segregation of society into guilds, based on skill & strata based on the multiplier of effort to value. Productivity is no longer a measure of effort, but a combination of various other things.

The world we see around us is the effect of such a run-away economic chain reaction - where all's fair in the price war. There's nothing you'd buy at a loss, whether you profit in fluid currency is another matter altogether. You're built to be a winner at the game of value, but transmuting it into gold is another skill altogether. But you still got what you paid for.

On the other hand, there's probably one born every minute, who hasn't.

PS: this entry initially was penned in my notebook, when people protested about Apple dropping the iPhone price

--
The use of money is all the advantage there is to having money.
                -- B. Franklin

posted at: 09:12 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Wed, 30 Jul 2008:

Everyone has one story to tell.

But blessed are those who have the ability to articulate it in words. For the struggle of a mind to tell all and reveal; It's to its detriment perhaps, to give up a bit of itself. But perhaps it is the escape of a mind from the confines of a body, of thoughts from a mind. And of course, ideas from the thought behind them. This is perhaps the greatest leap ideas have ever taken - from mind to mind, over time and distance.

Free to move between the minds of others, the thoughts have transcended the original boundaries of man, to enter the realm of the plural. Man became men, me became we, you becomes us. No longer does it have a single pale shade of white, but the tinges of grey that everyone's dirty fingers have added to the paperback. Context & perspective, shift and shear the words' import and the meaning escapes the control of the author.

My story becomes yours to repeat, if not to experience. Or perhaps not. The true magic of the written word was never in its production, but in the re-production of emotions that such pithy squiggles can carry within them. The imaginative machinings involved in reading, as mundane as it may seem, is no less a daily miracle.

And the rest is left as an exercise for the reader.

--
The trouble with telling a good story is that it invariably reminds the other of a dull one.

posted at: 18:06 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Sun, 22 Jul 2007:

I thought I'd invented this term. I'd thought it was my small bit of original jargon to contribute. I even had about seven pages of scribbled over notepaper dedicated to the topic - several hours worth of cogitation on the topic from airport lounges, cramped airplane seats and other places of extreme boredom. Pages and pages of attempts to distill out the idea from an amorphous concept, which the two words which by themselves cannot contain.

But everything that's worth saying has already been said. Despite being original, I discovered, to my surprise, that I'm not the first one to use "honorary guy". Well, rather than waste effort explaining how I feel, let me point you to this this cartoon (oh, the irony). But before I rain on my own parade, let me try to unload my mental baggage.

Being the new kid on the block isn't easy. Especially when you are entering an insular psuedo-meritocracy. And by psuedo-meritocracy, I mean that the pecking order is regulated by assumptions of your merit before you get to prove yourself. Somehow anybody testing such waters is likely to find it cold and assume a rather defensive toe-in first approach to exploring the community. And that makes for uncomfortable beginnings everywhere - and beginnings are such delicate times.

People who are thrown into such situations broadcast very strong vibes, which are there for any intelligent human to pick up easily. Perhaps this is my personal bias, but the strongest of those vibes is that of a girl entering a primarily male dominated community, feeling defensive and wary. The message sent is probably a very tentative "Hi, here I am", but due to an outgroup homogeneity bias, the message comes across as a self-entitled demand to adapt to the presence of the newcomer.

Being the nice guy that I am, I usually comply. The effects aren't pretty. Instead of being myself, I revert to some fallback stereotype male persona. This ranges from the shy guy, the shuffler or the patronizing alpha male. The first two finds me as a stoic blinker (oh, yeah ... smile at me) and those girls who are relieved to find me the latter are generally marginalized to footnotes in my eyes. And those who actually hate me for patronizing them actually fills me with sadness & hope at the same time.

And then there's the minority who do not broadcast these messages, the ones who are comfortable being themselves and in turn just "let me be", without ignoring me altogether. These are people I generally treasure as friends - men and women, both. These are people whose opinion I take for face value, for that's not driven by any facade I present to them. And due to a lack of vocabulary, I picked "honorary guy" to refer to women of this group.

But rather than stereotype these people into a new bracket, what the term "honorary guy" really does is to suspend judgement based on stereotypes I've accumulated over the years. Sort of short-circuit out the homogeneity biases and treat them like the individuals they are. I guess I need a better word.

And as for the rest of them, I'm just being as little of myself as I can. Shut up, shuffle or condescend - pick one. After all, you asked for it.

PS: Umm... Dorothea had mentioned it on her blog, last year. Same arguments, different conclusion ... .

--
The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike
than those who think differently.
                                                   -- Nietzsche

posted at: 07:46 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Thu, 05 Apr 2007:

In one of my previous posts, I'd commented off-hand that the Indian F/OSS community doesn't have enough rockstars. But that by itself blossomed out into a rather heated debate on #linux-india, mainly because we never got to hear lawgon's wisdom on what actually is lacking in India. The debate was more tilted towards the effects of the so called "rockstars" than their origins, causes and well ... mating habits (Freud made me do it !).

But before you actually read this blog entry, I'd advise you to watch Kathy Sierra's talk from LCA '07. You can download it from here [101 Mb]. I'll be borrowing some of her terms and ideas because they talk about how people get involved and become passionate users.

Burn Through the Zone: Success is often a matter of persistance. Most people hit the "Why Bother" phase in the first few weeks of trying something new. But what keeps the persistant folks going is the knowledge of an attainable goal, a sort of beautiful picture of "what could be". The so-called "rockstar" of the community is on such a pedestal of achievement. Bereft of such an example, there will be hundreds who hit their first snag and quit - people who are capable, but don't see it worth their effort. Or maybe they just ran into the "I suck" zone, in Kathy Sierra's words (or well, pictures).

The rewards for being good at something have to be obvious and evident for people to try their best - therefore they work hard and succeed - which is a circular argument from the outside. After all only an idiot would set himself on a mission with no goal and idiots aren't our target audience here.

Emulation Mode: The biggest problem people have with this concept is that a rockstar lends hiself to emulation, producing fad-followers rather than future leaders. But the whole basis of human culture and learning has been mankind's ability to recognize a good thing when it sees it and of course, to imitate by whatever means available. You learn more by doing than seeing and the obvious way to gap that bridge is to attempt what the other idiot/genius is doing.

The right people will split out of pure emulation mode very quickly, as they realize their innate urge to do their own thing. And in any case, people who can follow in a clear (albeit beaten) path are still valuable to any community. I personally prefer them over the self-propelled idiots :)

"Coolness" factor: During the formative years of your life, for a large number of reasons, you do what's cool. The urge to stand out or blend in, as the need be, is something which primeval and probably the conflict of which is the essential misery of man. The effect of the rockstar (who by definiton is cool), is to add an aura of coolness to the act of contributing to something. But for some strange reason, coolness is unacheivable in a group of peers.

The rockstar himself is part of the coolness ying-yang as well. In the real world, without a suitable audience to shower admiration, the hacker has nothing to aspire to but some obscure achievement in a world of peers who would rather play down your work compared to theirs. I think jace had called it the Great Wall of 'So What ?' - where anything you did can be dismissed by these two magic words.

The hard part of being a rockstar is not to put up such walls when someone new comes into the community. Trivializing someone's work is hardly a great way to welcome someone into a group and can be perceived as an outright dismissal of someone's hard work. And indeed it does happen to every other developer, at some point or the other.

Honestly, half the "Because I can" people are into it because it's cool ;)

Beacons: In a community with an insanely large number of potential contributors, it is nearly idiotic to try to seperate the chaff from the grain by brute-force. A rockstar by this definition is an evangelist by action and a touch-point by reaction. A prominent figure outside his or her area of action attracts a lot of potential talent who can then be nudged towards potential mentors who have the time & talent, but not the visibility.

Such rockstars, who inspire/guide/find contributors are required for any community. They are the glue that holds together the gears that drive the community (oh, I kid ... I kid). They are like tiger in the jungle, their visibility & influence indirectly showcases the community - to those outside the community.

Communities grow anchored to such people - their visibility and the ease with which they can handle that is a valuable asset to the community. But it is possible to overdo it as well - you know the examples ...

--
The key to building a superstar is to keep their mouth shut.
                              -- - Bob Ezrin, rock music producer

posted at: 06:40 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , , ,

Thu, 01 Mar 2007:

Some people are born managers, some others acquire that talent over the years and then there are those who have it thrust upon them. But everybody's still gotta manage, play the game with the hand they've been dealt with and not all of them will make good poker players. From my shuffled set of manager cards, let me therefore deal out a card which has been played so often that, it is pointless to attempt a bluff. But first, some setting and scenario - from the receiving end of the card.

Case of the Mondays: Imagine working in a team of ten odd people. For some strange reason your manager seems to insist on the entire team showing up at 9 'O clock sharp, just like factory workers everywhere - except without the benefit of a siren to warn them. Except there are two free-thinking hippies who still show up at work at 11, with bleary eyes as if they've been working all night long - and maybe they have. The first clue that the management (no, it is no longer in singular) is displeased comes from an email, similar to the following with appropriate padding.

From: manager@company
To: team-world-wide@ 
Subject: Punctuality and Official Timings

We as a company ... blah ... blah ... customer ... blah
time is money ... waste no time ... read this long mail 
... with care and precision ... key aspects ... morale
and motivation ... blah blah

Of late, it has been noticed that people ... you know who
you are ... yada yada ... engineers show up late ... as 
late as lunch ... must encourage team work ... on mondays

99 bugs on the product ... Take one for the team ... 
pass it all around ... make sacrifices for the team ... 
ask not what the team can do for you but, ...

So, please ensure sync ... and conf-calls with onsite ... 
by coming in time every day.

Thanking you,
Your Neighbourhood PHB

No Names: A politely worded mail, which in the manager's opinion conveys the essence of his complaint in clarity. But such mails accomplish two things. First it fails to totally point out who's wrong and who's not. This indicates to those in the wrong that the manager is non-confrontational and is more likely to snipe from afar than come out in a melee. And by not naming any names, the manager assumes that the people responsible will know and take action. But by denying personal criticism, they are blocking off the employee's response in advance. There is no way for the employees who have incurred the displeasure to broach this topic and explain in person - without appearing petty. They might have a very good reason for coming in late every day - a conf call at 10 PM every night for instance.

Authority Erosion: Secondly and more importantly, such a public announcement erodes into your authority and trust from the other employees. When they see your orders disobeyed with impunity (yes, when ... not if), you are literally letting your targets eat into your authority, while building their own pseudo-authority as a rebel - especially if they are still good at their job. To give an appropriate analogy, it is indeed hard to keep faith in this world, when certain people aren't instantaneously hit by lightning, even out of stormy skies. In short, it pisses off more people who keep to the lines, when you send such a mail which gets an unconscious "Yeah, but what can you do ?" response.

I call this manoeuvre the Group Therapist, where someone having run out of his power and authority, tries to turn the peer pressure screws and essentially try to shame people into obeying. And sometimes it works, mainly because people are sheep. Nothing bad happens if it works, but as mentioned above, problems get worse if it doesn't work - especially over a prolonged period.

Grapevine: But private direct criticism can still work as a deterrant for others. The office grapevine is strong and long enough to actually leak what was said in that sound proof conference room - and the weird thing about people is that they believe hearsay more than an official memo. Gossip in general giving no advantage to the producer other than the thrill of being "in the know", while official communiques aren't viewed with such pink-tinted glasses - Making the water cooler conversations more effective at communication than any office memo ever sent. Strange, but logical.

If you've read Migration Patterns of Codemonkeys or Performance Inversion, you'd already know that my my bitter well of cynicism holds no answers. But they present some facts, pose a couple of questions and the rest has been left as an exercise to the reader :)

--
Long gone are the days when personal shame caused you to take personal responsibility.
              -- Linus Torvalds

posted at: 06:46 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Tue, 13 Feb 2007:

You've got to hand it to Steve Jobs. Moves he in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. I've ranked him as a master of mystery and hype for years, but never realizing what other depths of talent he might posses. I'm still digesting the lessons I learned off Machiavelli's classics (Art of War, lies at my desk, bookmark a few pages in), but it doesn't take a genius to marvel at the Machiavellian motions of this spin doctor.

Let's get our facts straight first. Steve Jobs is the CEO of one Apple "fruit company" Inc. His company makes and sells the iPod, which nearly monopolizes the digital audio player market. Now, in a very loose-laced attempt to follow the Gillette Razor Blade approach to customers, they have a nice little store which sells songs to any customer who might wish buy them.

Now, to curb piracy and pacify the rabid record industry watch-dogs (popularly known as the MAFIAA), Apple introduced a DRM solution named FairPlay. The system works and is lenient enough to keep people from breaking it accidentally, which lets the average joe ignore the fact that it exists. The iTunes Music Store however, has protections clauses in its contracts with the recording industry, which render the contract null & void if the DRM is broken and Apple can't fix it within a specified period (a fortnight).

So, as of date, iTMS cannot sell songs which would play on one of my MP3 players. Nor, can they relicense their FairPlay codecs to other vendors - because they are liable for all disclosures - accidental or not. So let us sprinkle some iMagic sparkles and see what happens.

The Pledge: Steve Jobs goes out there and proclaims - I wish for a world without DRM - really, that's what most reports about his open letter convey. Now, why would a man who has benifited the most from the status quo advocate such a step which might break his own monopoly ? The cynic in me, suggests - because he could profit more and in the short term, too. But selling un-DRM'd songs to users of other mp3 players doesn't look like something worth risking your credibility, like this - especially not when the iPod is the king.

The Turn: The Music Industry will NOT say yes. Warner music has already said that Mr Jobs' proposal is "without logic and merit". It would be idiotic of His Steveness to assume the industry would suddenly develop a conscience overnight. But they too want iTunes to sell more songs, even to people who don't have iPods - as it turns out this thought was spelled out in the open letter - because that's what Steve really wants too. Mysteriously, suddenly all the executives smell money in the air and they want it !

The Prestige: The open letter details another alternative - licensing FairPlay to current and future competitors, which isn't technically impossible but rendered practically impossible due to the protection clauses in the contracts with the music publishers. Having led their greed to this obvious alternative, when they suggest it (as their choice) I suspect Apple is about to ask them to rewrite that bit of the contract.

If Steve Jobs had asked the MAFIAA to reconsider their contracts in January, they'd have definitely smiled (like the smile that follows seals and has a fin attached) and asked for a cut off every iPod sold. But February is much warmer for Apple - where they are in a win-win situation. If the industry doesn't let Apple go drm-less (a near impossibility, that) - Apple come crying back to us, "They never let us have any fun !". If they rewrite the contract, letting Apple hawk their DRM, more money for Steve - oh, much much much more money than the extra DRM-free iTMS purchases would fetch. And just in case, they manage to go DRM-free, they'll have a new crowd knocking at their door - not to mention all the kudos for fighting those evil corporations for our rights.

All those options are good for Apple - but for anybody who buys from iTMS, only the last option is any good - Apple: 3, you: 1. But you've got to appreciate style, precision and direction of this so called "attack on DRM". After all, a best defence is a good offence.

Some lesson in negotiation that, woohoo. *But* - if it was that transparent to me - could it still work with RIAA ?

--
"No" is often the first word in every negotiation.

posted at: 06:46 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,