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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: , ,

Wed, 10 Mar 2010:

Don't trust me on this ... I've been wrong before.

The difference between good friends and bad shows itself when you're wrong - when you're wrong and you don't know it. Sure, misfortune is a true test, but it hardly comes around every day and I'm glad it doesn't. But try being wrong about something. And you'll notice a strange fact.

These days friendships are too shallow. We're too independent to really need them. No, I'm not decrying the current times from the chair of age. I'm talking about the way my life's taken. And I notice that I've stopped being wrong - there was no wrong way to live my life. For a while, I thought it was because I finally had life figured out.

And I was wrong. Wrong on both counts. And people have noticed. I've been insulted. Told off by people that I was an idiot. But I didn't care for insults. They've never been a way to make me comply with anything. People have tried shame on me for years and failed. I've rarely got anything to prove to anyone but me.

A friend would've told me why. Felt comfortable enough to sit me down and outline the flaws. Because I'm not my mistakes, I'm more. Friends have got stuff to salvage, the snipers from afar don't seem to. There's a world of a difference between "He's such an idiot!" and "Don't be an idiot". And I react very differently to both.

Like I said, I've been wrong before. And I see no reason to stop now.

Well, you know what to do. Also, bring popcorn.

The need to be right is the sign of a vulgar mind.
              -- Albert Camus

posted at: 03:19 | path: /philosophy | 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: , ,

Fri, 04 Sep 2009:

Occasionally in life, I have a blinding flash of the obvious. An idea which has been hiding out there in plain sight, just jumps out and catches my attention. I don't even claim to be original about this, but at least I hope that here's the first time you've seen this in writing. Here's one of those ideas I had when I was 14... looking back at the all the years.

The world has a plan for you. The day you were born, you've watched it unroll in front of you. The system tries to coerce you to its plan with its checks, balances, pains and rewards. The system is all around us in our culture, environment and upbringing. It's implemented by the powers that be, to turn you into a well oiled cog in society.

If you're reading this, you've probably already dismissed the plan. You, the individualist, is determined to make your own way in this world. You've already recognized its shortcomings, pitfalls, weaknesses and in fact, you know you're cut out for bigger things. You are the person you are because you chose to branch out from it, rather than conform to any expected norm.

This is not a bad thing in itself. But the powers that be, they fear the change you represent. They will resist you, they will force you into their systems of indoctrination. You will fight, you will fail. As your idealism tends to wear out, as it grinds incessantly against the real world, you become frustrated with your impotence in this world. The rebellion becomes destructive - to yourself and others around. As you're thrown out of society's inner circle labelled as an outsider and a troublemaker, you're reaching an end which you do not deserve.

There are only two basic rules of survival for the individual:

  • Work the system
  • Fuck with the system

It doesn't get any more contradictory than that.

I listened to the world carefully as it whispered its rules in my ear. I didn't agree at first, but I still listened with as much care as I could muster. Because the day I stood up and disagreed with it, I didn't want to disagree because I didn't understand. I wanted to dismiss their plan because I understood and understood all too clearly.

The System is not your friend or your enemy. Being caught in it is like being caught in a raging torrent. You don't escape it by swimming against it, the only way out is downstream. You need to know the currents, the way the water flows to let the stream take you where you want to go.

Fight the System head on and you will most certainly fail. It is not fair, but that's how it works out. You need to focus your efforts on what you want to do rather than in wasting it on the system's clampdowns. Don't reject it outright, but instead ride the river - use its power to your advantage. But don't let it change who you are, understand that you are making the system work for you.

But you will need patience. Almost infinite quantities of patience, because the Machine will never move at your pace. The right moves at the right time, holding your breath waiting for the right moment and you can move nearly anywhere you want to get to. Without giving up an inch of your inner self, at complete harmony, but in complete control - in surfer cool fashion, you'll be able to move about.

But how do you not become a drone in the process? Society, as powerful in mainstream life as it may be, is not omnipresent. Sooner or later you'll have people around you who do not belong to it. By reaching out and connecting to such people, you'll build yourself a little sub-culture where you are truly truly free. You'll be able to disconnect from the hum-drum of the rest of the world and truly enjoy human interaction sans rules built by others. And those moments will reasure you that you haven't lost it, yet.

Just like any surfer on a wave, now comes your time to stand up & shine. Once the machinations of society are second nature to you, the threads pulling each human being around you start to pop out of the background noise. Even as a non-conformist, you'll be able to manipulate the world around you to your own ends. As you delve deeper into the systems within systems and wheels within wheels, you'll start to "see the code" to the world.

You'll be surprised about how much of your blatant individualism will be tolerated by the powers that be, if they can't detect a threat from your existence.

Don't be an idiot. Don't complain into the ears of your peers. Don't fight the system and self destruct. Know in your heart that you have something to offer to this world, whether it wants it or not. That is not worth risking for any rebel posturing or meteoric martyrdom.

But in the end, they won't call me a rebel. Because I wasn't ... I was just being myself.

So be you.

Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being.
          -- Albert Camus

posted at: 16:03 | path: /philosophy | 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: , ,

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: , ,

Sat, 04 Nov 2006:

Very little is known about the Life and Mating Habits of the common Code Monkey. But that should come as no surprise to anyone who has observed a specimen in the cubicles of Asia. But observations from cubesville have often been indicative of a certain flux in the population - a trend to migrate over longer distances. Unlike the famed lemming of the north artic tundra, which takes a downhill (to say the least) approach, this migration is more often in search for higher ground. Is there some herd mentality to it or is it merely an individual moving on ? Join me, as we dig deeper into the mysterious world of the code monkey.

Of late, I've been feeling the urge to leave Yahoo! and go do something else. I couldn't explain exactly why, because I probably have the best job imaginable - work on what I want, from wherever I want, a couple of meetings a month and play pool all afternoon. But the urge was still as strong as ever. It needed a rational explanation and I started to itemize and categorize the possible reasons as objectively as I could. A couple of recent discussions on slashdot and india-gii have added fuel to that fire and then I read this.

Career Phases: In general, the company you work for is really really important for your first couple of jobs. It should come as no surprise that junior engineers want to work with a strong brand. This sets them up to move onto be senior engineers in places which pay better. Experienced engineers are not too desperate to seek out things which look good on their resumes - they're interested in other aspects of the job than how good it will look on their resume in a couple of years.

There's a flip side to the career phases argument too. If you've read the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, you might remember a class of wizards known as the Sourcerors. Now that nearly all magical spells have been formed out of the raw magic, the discworld needs no more sourcerors.

Now, software companies are like miniature discworlds. There is a phase in the company's life cycle (it is a cycle, it repeats) when the ground is fertile for new ideas. And this age of miracles, attracts the brilliant miracle worker who can shape reality around such ideas. But such proto-geniuses have little to do in the adolescence of the company. As the work force muscle builds up, the concept of a superstar engineer dies and slowly but surely, the emphasis shifts to overall throughput of a team than individual brilliance. When a manager (and his team) can outperform any individual engineer at the same task, the company needs the best managers they can get, rather than a couple more brilliant code monkeys.

People outgrow companies and vice versa.

Wages: Money is like air. A little bit more doesn't do much when you have enough, but you'll know it when you are running short. But there does exist a certain stress level beyond which people do not think it is worth their pay to work - but a large percentage of salaried workers never approach that limit. That is where an interesting economic hypothesis pops up - Efficiency wage hypothesis. Even when you get paid enough, merely the fact that you are paid does not induce any sort of gratitude or loyalty towards your employer - it is money in return for services rendered. But as the shirking model in the theory indicates, often you do get what you pay for.

Pay hikes are often nominal and are significant only when you are promoted. Meanwhile people being freshly hired are being hired at pay scales more in terms with the market demands. Over a period of two or three years, the difference between your hiked pay and your peers being freshly hired climbs to a significant value to prompt you to get back to level. Most companies to refuse to raise the pay of a long standing employee to the levels of a freshly hired of similar level, giving various excuses - the most general of which go - who told you that ? That's not true. And in this world of salary confidentiality, rather than counter that argument, you'd probably try to get a better pay package elsewhere - and you probably will.

Raises don't match lateral entry pay packages.

Vertical Space: Most indian companies don't have a good technical ladder. In an industry where company half lives are measured in years, waiting around for those above to retire is hardly any option. Generally the way to climb the ladder is to move somewhere where you're closer to the top and work towards building the rest of the ladder downwards. In other words, the easiest way to get promoted is to be somewhere small and grow along with it - after all companies don't need to be promoted (*sic*) to grow. But some are unfortunate enough to end up pushed down as the management brings in fresh talent to supplement the growth. This is somewhat in line with the career phases argument where fast growth, high risk approaches are suitable after the initial few years of establishing a brand pedigree.

Last one out is a...: Community is a usually disregarded factor when considering job hopping. But the web of friends can outweigh some of the advantages a job hop might bring. More important would be your relationship with your direct boss. Having to work under a new person and develop the same rapport takes quite some effort and the average asocial code monkey dreads the thought of having to go through that *again*. On the other hand, this explains how much more precious a manager can be, because when he leaves he disturbs the general inertia of his direct reportees.

The moment the community at work starts breaking up, be it due to overwork or attrition, the downsides of leaving start to diminish. Eventually, you'll be able to point out a single departure which snowballed into a mass attrition throughout the company - even if everyone went in their own directions. At some point, a $n people can't be wrong correlation turns into a causation going into a spiral of departures.

Attrition turns into super-attrition when a strong community breaks up.

I've sort of started to understand why people need to switch jobs, about every couple of years - not out of greed or disloyalty - but as suggested by pure common sense. But a closer inspection of the scenario does indeed suggest that status quo is an assumption - a valid assumption for vast majority. That could change, I suppose (or rather, hope).

There's a corollary to all these observations, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

The biggest mistake you can make is to believe that you are working for someone else.

posted at: 14:21 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,

Mon, 29 May 2006:

People are sheep. They move in herds, believe in numbers (look at democracy) and avoid solving anything in person. This is, contrary to common sense, perfectly normal and how the world should be - read it through and then let me know, if you think otherwise. Before I can explain to you exactly why people are so timid, I'd have to explain why the Original Hero in our particular story wasn't the Go-Getter Hollywood crafts its dreams around. And it all starts out pretty normally [1].

So, I'm sitting around at my parents', munching on some easily munchables in front of the idiot box. Tuned in at the moment is one of the new cartoon channels which is reinventing Tarzan for the youngster of today. So there you see Tarzan telling his ape friends that the new evil leader (complete with silver back, huge fangs and red eyes) is weaker than the entire family combined. After hearing that motivational speech from somebody hanging upside down from the arms of the giant ape, the entire family drives the bullying big male out. And they all lived happily ever after, at least until the next episode.

Now, to pick out where this particular story diverges from stated 'real' world into a more fictional human world. But first, I want you to marvel at the sophistication of the tool at my disposal now - language. Sure, a cat call in the night or a howl in the distance is communication too. But our chatter possesses something unique in itself. We talk about things that could be - we talk about the future as if it were real. The first time your mother told you don't do that, or else $bad_thing_could_happen.... was when you were introduced to the very possibility (that word itself speaks volumes) of things that could be. In other words, the animals could understand what could be done if they joined forces.

Now, human society is very peaceful compared a lot of other social mammals. In almost every other primate society there is a lot of bullying and fighting at lower levels than the alpha males. Even in a stable society there are always some murmurs of disapproval and fights happen in the background. So what's different in our world that stops this from happening ? While I ponder about such important questions an advertisement for clean teeth (uhmm... I mean toothpaste) pops up.

*CLICK*. Yet another soap on some other channel. *CLICK*. Same story of a family broken by something. *CLICK*. Ah, it's a veritable cat fight between two women with bindis large enough to cover Switzerland (you *know* that I stole that analogy). Oh wait, they're just stopping at name calling. I guess language comes up as a winner yet again in this story - so where are the sheep people that I started talking about ?

Language is merely the tool. You might think the real clincher in the deal is how language helped organize things (like the Tower of Babel for instance). Well, before mankind was big enough to start dividing ourselves over language, religion, caste and creed, we lived in tribes. The organization there needed to kick some ass more than the mot juste and language was hardly (yet) the way to get your average cave-woman interested.

Even with philosophy running in parallel, daytime soaps are boring. *CLICK*. Oh, its some mafia gangster flick and some guy's getting shot because he ratted out some 'brother' to de cops. And he did that because the other guy made eyes at his sister. Seems fair, I think. If I were in the same posish, I'd be wiping the blood off my knuckles too. Wait, he didn't stand up and fight, he merely went to the Big Brother and squealed like the family pig (George Orwell is a genius). Language has its advantages for the weak and oppressed.

But didn't evolution stick up for the 'Fittest' or something ? So, if you are weak and oppressed, you'd do good to the species to stay out of the gene pool. Then why does human society discourage bullying and stick up for a very unnatural concept called fair play. Because long back during the dark ages of human evolution, language helped the weak to team up and beat up the bullies. That's just a prediction and this movie's getting way too bloody to have a happy ending.

*CLICK*. It's one of the 24x7 news channels and it's showing a strike in some factory plant somewhere. The union is demanding special protective masks and compensations to the families of its employees who have succumbed to halitosis. The basic co-operative skills mankind developed in the distant past for hunting large animals of the last ice age have been subverted to bring a factory to a grinding halt. On the other hand, the weak worker class have no way to fight the system other than uniting. And it looks like they're coming out winners.

The critical combination of language and co-operation form a very sharp tool in the arsenal of the weak and the timid. The call goes out - All for one and one for all. Such coalitions and brotherhoods must have picked off every one of the stereotypical aggressive alpha males when the species was passed through an evolutionary pressure like a famine or disease. Of course, you can't blame the mob - dying out was hardly a worthy choice. The badass alpha male just didn't Fit in with the times of crisis.

Even today, our society runs on the basis that its combined might is significantly bigger than is in possession of any one individual. This is why democracy is so popular, because aggressive individuals do not survive in a majority of their own - this town isn't big enough for the both of us. But we still need the risk taker, adventurer and explorer - they deny society and are labeled mavericks, become recluses in old age. You know the examples. We're not like them, as much as we admire them.

Still, somewhere in our primitive brains, we crave for an absolute leader to settle our disputes, punish the wicked and reward the good deeds. The all powerful, ape lord of our own tribe, that we used to see and obey everyday in those dark and distant days when we had hardly climbed down from the trees. We worship him, live our days in awe of his awesome power, sleep nights under his protection and follow him across hades if necessary. Oh, my God, what am I talking about ? (*heh).

Us humans, we are such a coalition of the timid, where decisions are by consensus and where politeness overrides correctness. That's the way it is and short of mass genocide there's nothing you can do to fix it. So quit cribbing.

  [1] - Nothing except loud music or talking women seem to snap my brain out of overdrive.

Let the meek inherit the earth -- they had it coming.

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

Wed, 24 May 2006:

I hate being the bad cop. For all that cliched formula attached to this particular idea of Good Cop, Bad Cop the sad fact is that it really works. The very idea that a person would often agree to a moderate in the presence of an extremist picking the seemingly lesser evil.

Sometimes to do what's good, you have to make others hate you.

God instructs the heart, not by ideas, but by pains and contradictions.
               -- De Caussade

posted at: 20:46 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,