Wednesday, October 31, 2007

35 Hours With The Thinking Machines.

Before the jaunt began I thought OMG 35 Hrs!!! How the F&$K I'm going to waste the next 35 hours of my sprightly life doing nothing but waiting for a bully train to stop next to my home...
Apart from a frisson of excitement that it brings, Homecoming also shades a reign of nostalgia...and that isn't easy. Especially when you have to cover long 35 hours travelling with odd worldly people who do nothing else but curse and sleep and wait for ends to come. Naah I thought I should plan out something. Looking into my Motri I found a book (Ah!), an iPod (Useless), and some print-outs (Good!)...something to work upon.

The Book had some chapters on different Philosophers, and I jumped to a seemingly exciting one on
Alan Turing. The quest was then to finish it all over in one slurp. For those of you who don't know Alan Turing was an English mathematician (actually...not really) who developed the concept of theoretical computing and Artificial Intelligence (to some extent). His ideas helped designing the First Computer of our era. He also played critical role in Second World War, deciphering the German cryptographic codes.

He contributed to the
Theories of Computability and also devised "Turing Machines" - a hypothetical computing machine which scans and alters a linear array of symbols on a tape according to preset rules. The machine in concept resembled an automatic typewriter that used symbols for math and logic instead of letters. Turing intended the device to be used as a “universal machine” that could be programmed to duplicate the function of any other existing machine. The machine can be said to be the theoretical precursor to the modern digital computer.
I also read about the
Turing Tests - a test for intelligence in computers, requiring that a human should be unable to distinguish the machine from another human using the replies to questions put to both. Interesting they were, but these pretty things all went above my head as usual :)

But what really caught me was the crossfire arguments on "Can Machines Think?" Most people dig with a kinda commonsense repugnance on the lack of awareness and consciousness a machine may never be able to gain - they'll do whatever they are made to do isn't it...but this can also be true with us humans. Consider John Searle's line of reasoning of a Chinese Room where some group of people are working on translation of Chinese to English. Assuming that *) There's an algorithm for translating the same *) People in the group work mindlessly and have no clue what English is...they just work apropos the algorithm. Isn't it like automation machines then.
So its not hard to imagine mindful machines who may act unconsciously or intelligently whatever they "wish" to...(I can see much counter-arguments now!)
Anyway I can debate long on it now...my 35 hours didn't go waste at least :)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Innovation Ecosystem - No! Not Another Cliché. [ Long Post ]

Weeks have past since there was this confluence-of-ideas inspired drive in my firm, which amassed flurry of opinions all around, from the small to the big guns. The helmsmen and change-agents here in the firm claim the venture had good impact and it will be an enabler for future growth perspectives...nonetheless my eyes blink skeptically on this and I feel things don't shake up so soon actually, even if they do the tremors and windfalls sound puny nevertheless. No comments on this further, I am no cynic :)
Based on research from various sources, I had actually put up an entry over there, on things revolving around Innovation, probably it was never read up, among the crossfire of thousands of hurled-up thoughts. Following is an edited, generalized version of the same (so as to politically save my ass):
A recent study on 759 public companies spanning across 17 global economies concluded that the factor most radically stimulating for innovation in an organization is not the research spending, or the geography, or the IP assets, but the internal culture upon which the firm flourishes. Coming straight to the point and not dealing with general platitudes, lets talk about the 'WHY/WHEN/HOW' things requisite for an Innovation Cult in a big firm:
**Innovation Measurement and Metrics: Our generation of companies have to deal with process indicators in terms of intangibles like system dynamics, clusters, risk returns, networks...gone are the days when it was possible just to have a look at firm's tech intensity, R&D investing and you can gauge how innovative the company is. Take an example of StarBucks Corp....the coffee chain ranked no. 9 in world's most innovative companies by BusinessWeek. Just sallying into new business models by selling music DVDs etc in its shop chains, it was gone places....where is it research investment...? A lesson worthwhile. We need to devise the right indicators of our innovation enablers.
**Networking and Communication on a different level: At P&G they are practicing this unique Connect + Develop strategy for driving innovation. They say they not just have 9K people inside P&G to work on, but additionally 1.8m people in the world having save kind of facility to innovate and contribute...and their model is an effort to utilize this maximum potential. It's not just about INHOUSE capabilities, instead leveraging on the knowledge society outside. We don't have enough money and infrastructure to embrace every technology sprouting in...we need strategic capabilities in a connected global model. We also need Continuous non-disruptive communication between higher echelons to the ground level...
**Personal Dynamics, Higher Management and Finally, Incentives! Another study said that some corporate cultures dictate with a 'rule-set' on how people are expected to work. Excessive focus on cost-cutting, quality, process-rigors, outsourcing vehemently leads to risk-aversion and incremental thinking, as if being hobbled with chains. Incentives can come to rescue here...A work-plan wherein entire members are expected to contribute in an out-of-the-book activity and partly compensated for the same - a sort of investment affordable ONLY in a big firms - can be rewarding. For a jump-start (If higher echelons will to take a chance!), an experimental select-groups of people from diverse backgrounds can be directed to work for a month on legitimized tasks, tasks people would come up on their OWN, task they would just Love to do!...and then they can be partly paid for the same. Won't it may serve a good purpose....or do I sound naïve here?
A giant global firm can snappily make use of the rich diversity it nurtures across different cultures, which can be consummately enriching in both ways, to the employee and their paymasters. However I feel at times corporate culture inbreds a zombie-ish attitude among the associates, each having their own-set of closed-cocooned career experiences and flicks as they get institutionalized in a big organization (Ironically, it also opens up many minds who flounder at times but swim smartly inside the big lake, and thus reach the wide ocean in long run).
Closing things up here, I feel that a firm with huge grass-root performers base doesn't need innovation driven by small set of creative minds working in silos and then being rewarded for the same, or by in-house innovation labs dedicated religiously for the same, or by Skunk works creativity or Bootlegging on darker side, but instead by an ecosystem wherein innovation comes from each cubicle, from every outreaching Heart!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Money Matters...Really?

Trying out a new B-Model is not so much of a bungling idea, especially when you fall into the "Been there done that" category, or when you are one of the "round pegs in the square holes" - Think-Different creatures. I am talking about the Grammy winner band Radiohead and their new bout of selling music for almost-free-"pick-your-price" strategy on their website. They say Ok here's the deal...we'll play, you give whatever you wish to. Initially it was anticipated to create havoc in music industry but its not so by now. Rightly so...so here are some bullets on the same:
  • The music makers have realized now that people are more keen to listen and buy individual songs rather than the complete whole album...This intially clicked to iPod makers and so they (Steve and Co.) packaged and branded the music as consummate digital byproduct, then evangilised it upstage and the rest is history.
  • The reason why I said "been there done that" is because normally only music lions would try this kinda fling which may click...zillions of indiviual artists in every little home carve that somebody would come and listen to their shit, and so they advertise publish it for free...do they become Beatles overnight?...But when you are as valued as Radiohead you know your market value and whatever you do may become a new fangle.
  • Trend-spotters may jump and say this may happen to other industries...say books, movies. But there's a difference. Music is something you like to come to day and again, and it just involves your effortless side ears. So it pays off more in terms of your time it takes and then serves back (I m not saying value). It's not true with other flicks...would you read Fountainhead a thousand times just as you would've listened to Summer Of 69.
  • Conventional wisdom says whatever holds more value should sell costlier... To rip it apart, the band guys have made a stalwart statement about their novel and perceptive way of judging the true value of some thing that's traditionally commoditized around money... And it may give totally new measure of some product value.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

On Urchins And Subprime Blues.

Certain things I find hard to chew, so why not start with a lucid "Once upon a time..."

...Imagine you were a scholarly school chap who has just sympathized on few naughty urchins in the class. You plan to help them in the next test by tutoring, on a collateral that they would never noise and rock in the class again - which carries the fine of even expulsion. Its a big deal (Risk) helping these dumb asses, cos it takes more T&E to assist them than other people, but the payoffs (Returns) are bright, for you'll win appreciation of others and will have peaceful time in class forevermore.
So there you go on a pedagoguing bout, spending extra hours for them and they meekly follow you so as to just pass the tight exam. They finally do...thanks to you. And they are all elated and sing and rock all around and now separate ways, duping you (Risk Failure).
Courtesy: RJ Matson, CagleCartoons.
And to add to your fury, they turn out good performers and do a stellar show and now classes and masses start admiring them like stars. At least the urchins pay the price and are expelled but who cares they are already stars! And now nobody wants order, nobody listens to you, instead its rock n roll time after s (Crash). You wander about preaching discipline, order and peace, and again pour incentives for everyone but there are no takers (excess supply). You falter, but wait for next exam, next opportunity to bounce back to the walls.

That was somewhat (oversimplified, if you take that) version of what has happened in the subprime markets in the US. Bullets follow:
  • Subprime: When you lend to somebody who doesn't have good credit history.
  • Something that's not ideal, burrowers not qualified for market interest rates - Loan rate much higher than normal ones.
  • Lending to Subprime borrowers - More the risk, more the return. Collateral security - Confiscating of property (House).
  • The situation: Most borrowers have defaulted. So many people selling their property (Real Estate Bubble) - supply outplaying demand.
  • Assets Backed Security: Things are entangled normally. Mortgage lender normally give loans to some set of people (say 20). If lender wants money immediately, he can sell if off to some vying people looking for long term investments (say MF, traders). This means a cascading effect - investors all around the world have lost grounds.
But ironically, good news is:
  • India is not hurt badly because exports to US is smaller part of GDP compared to other countries.
  • Compared to other markets, Risk appetite is less here, so investors all around have good reason to feel more secure in Indian market. Recent sensex surges are maybe result of that.
  • Lending norms pretty stringent here so Subprime crisis may never happens in market like India.
Even if the story doesn't help much, hope that you have some takeaway from here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Gen. Q And Its Three Q's.

The Flat World propagandist Thomas L. Friedman writes prolifically here in NYT about Americanism and the next young generation of 'Quiet Americans' - Generation Q - as he calls it, quite seemingly. He talks about 'more optimistic and idealistic' American teenagers he met in colleges, a shift which is a nice juxtaposition of how we outside perceive them to be - as brash free-wheeling ignorant inscrutables.

If I am not poking fun, such has been the perception that an insightful perview of American mindest came in this presentation - where they paralled it with nothing other but the country Flag: Red strips represent the Americans favoring war in Iraq, White strips for those who don't, and the corner Blue in for those who don't even KNOW where is Iraq!
However Friedman harks back against the so called 'Greediest Generation' of American typified by George Bush leadership, and is upbeat about the new reverberations that he observed in colleges, that represent a more cautious, constructive and knowledge savvy cult.

But what really caught me is his 'Three Questions' the American youth will now have for the political representatives of their country. They would say "Hey wait,
What is your plan for mitigating climate change?
What is your plan for reforming Social Security?
What is your plan for dealing with the deficit — so we all won’t be working for China in 20 years?"


Which brings me to our case...What's the three most haunting questions Indian youth would pry into our country helmsmen. I had to work out some time before I decided upon these:
*Will you get me a job?...If yes is it really worth enough (The youth doesn't know!)
*Do you have enough money,
including your fucking bribes/scams cheques, to build roads and bridges all around.
*Can't you cut some of your red tape and lets run and function faster before China shadow us completely, and then we have to deal with things when you're gone...

Folks any more stalking Questions you would vouch for?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Forget It.

Words for the Day:
Some people feel sorry and if that's not enough they fire it upfront with word-arts like "We Regret..." for some shitty unexpected not so over-the-top things to me...Ya I know those smart-asses really "Regret" if anything...
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And I say: You didn't deserve me anyway. FUCK It And Forget It.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

On Avocations And SideLife.

Often I wonder what would I label as "My Hobby". Not that old school question with plain replies of philately, cricket, movies and music. And I guess the myth widely prevails on how avocations are misconstrued with arbitrary-pastime activities. So when someone mentions "Listening Music" as his favorite spare-time gig I feel ire and sorry for that hopeless dude/dudette. I feel it is important how far you get along with things that you picked up on your youthful highway, worshiped it, and tied to your heart noose, so much so that you'll cherish it forevermore in your years to come.

So hypocritical is a generation and the culture that entails it that most of the times people keep grumbling about the job their restless ass has been loaded up with, about endless requiem of how they are caught in a soup in their current firm,
and the maximum you can get out from them as their "Favorite Pastime" is a zombie statement "Watching Movies, Sleeping". Huh! 24 hours is more than enough to living to the fullest a day, and given that normally humans are very stingy in utilizing their brainpower (if its not a myth - wasting 90% of the brain capacity you are capable of, and its not just about geeks)... I guess then the great Lord expected more from you here...

Enough of homily. For some people though their vocation is their everything...job and pastime, food and breathe, and love and life in fact. I salute them. If you are one of these creatures help others and show them the door {Yeah act Morpheus}.

For me I would label this Lucid-Dreaming things as my hobby (as of know, in quest for more). Because that's when I am lost in the wilderness of imagination, in the bubbles of creativity, in a shit-free world all around. I just make out anything: directing a scene for the last heard good song, or a scene from the last read fiction flick...or carving out words for my post up here in this blog...
or figuring out how to teach calculus to 5th class kid, or a rendezvous with SRK or Bill Gates for that matter :) bla bla bla. It's subtly enriching I would say...wish to make it count more.
However this apart my job is my sidelife
in status quo and still long way to go till the bird flies...

And yes the good Lord expected more of you here before he takes you away. Wake up from slumber find yourself, if ya haven't.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

2 + 2 Is 4. Always?

It's not easy to let your rational ego get spanked with trivial mundane questions. That's why in school days you'd try to jump upon those 2 + 2 = 5 things for hunting the lurking fallacy. However there's no single tunnel vision of stereotyping views, just as there's a million ways of interpreting a ray of light in a dark room : for Newton it's undulating waves at Godspeed, for a Devotee its the pathway to the God, for a child it is just-another bright eye-catcher, for a blind it simply doesn't mean anything.

So on a subjective note then, do 2 and 2 always make 4? When your were born you were blank and have no particular reason to take this. So these two 2's could well be anything for you. And when you were loaded with bits of information that comply to the sciences in this world, you were enlightened how 4 can actually sum up. This is all about Mind-Body entangling process - Just conceive of a world somewhere where they may have belief system to make the two 2's as 7.

If you still can't digest things consider this bluntly: There are two balloons in a mug, you place two more, so that you now have 4. Easy, but replace balloons now with drops of water. If you put in two drops, will you have 4 drops total?...or a single bigger drop of water. Are drops the new rebels?

So the crux is that numbers are one of the possible abstractions of the world around us, and are more visible because of their utility in the reality. And we make our servile minds adapt it...

Winston, the Protagonist in Orwell's 1984 says:

"Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two is four. If that is granted, all else follows."

But I would prefer 'five' in place of 'four' above. :D


PJ Pick: They say its a Universal Truth...right but still not Multi-Universal Truth... :)
Read about Hawking's Baby Universes for more.