Sunday, January 25, 2015

Fifty Times

Reading these lines from Seth's Godin's post produced a rather visceral reaction in me today. 

[I say 'choose' because anyone who has worked with programmers understands that the great ones are worth far more than the average ones. Sometimes 50 times as much. That's because great programmers are able to architect systems that are effective, that scale, and that do things that other programmers can't imagine until after they're done.]

What he says about great programmers I have been saying to the powers that be in my organization for a long time now. Not that anyone disagrees in principle but it is still a huge leap in faith when you decide to replace fifty with one. You almost make this person into a God. They just have too much power and control. They operate at a level that is inaccessible and incomprehensible to most people. 

Maybe those are the reasons why there is irrational resistance to hiring them. The average programmer is a mortal. They are practicing a trade and may be skilled at best. They are not savants. I have worked with a few 10x programmers in the course of my career. Have not been in places where it would be possible to run into the 50x ones but I do believe they exist. In the meanwhile we struggle with a team fifty times the size it needs to be and still not see light at the end of the tunnel.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sheep Not Snowflakes

This Wired story makes for very interesting reading. It indirectly explains why it is so hard to shop for clothes. Even with the seemingly endless variety there is overwhelming monotony - season after season, store after store. Once you have stocked up on the wardrobe staples, the rest gets much harder if your goal is to find clothes that express your individuality. 

There is many ways to join the sheep herd but nearly none to be a snowflake. Some of my friends shop for clothes at consignment stores because it easier to come by something unique there. Then there are those like Mrs L, who I knew many years ago, who have their all their clothes tailored in Hong Kong - completely bespoke and very much a snowflake.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Thrift Nostalgia

Browsing through the discards and rejects of other people's lives often leads to serendipitous finds for me. I don't go to yard sales as much I as once used to but there are thrift stores I check out from time to time. Recently we found a book of sheet music for piano for a dollar. These are hits from the 70s with lot of nostalgic value for me some of which has been passed on to J. She has either heard or heard of most of the songs in the book and was excited to try and play them. 

Lately, piano has become a bit of a struggle for her. A demanding teacher who expects her to practice an hour each day - time she simply does not have. The fun has started to ebb away as J works on correcting her flaws week after week. The book brought about a sudden change. She loves to play tunes she is familiar with and sing along. She is not so worried about being good enough for Ms T - this is her music to have fun with. It makes the work that is assigned much easier to endure. She often loses track of time as she plays - something I have waited a long time to see happen.

This would be the best dollar I have ever spent.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Humanized Machines

A fridge door that can serve up hot coffee or soup controlled by wi-fi can look like an excellent idea when you are down with a bad cold, feeling miserable but not really sick enough to get too much attention. You just stay in, rest up and let it pass. In that state,even heating a meal is a pain. 

So ideally, you pick out what kind of soup you want, have the app let you know its ready so you can drag yourself with great difficulty to get it. But connecting this to a robot butler to deliver it bedside would make for a much sweeter deal.

Obviously there are ways to improve and personalize the experience even more. There could come a point where between the fridge, phone and the robot butler your care is better managed than any human in your life who would need to juggle several things to create the time for you. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Change In Likes

This article on how we grow to like foods we once hated is an interesting read. Have seen that happen to me and others I grew up with. The unthinkable reversals have happened. I used to attribute it to something strange that goes on with our taste-buds as we age - makes us like things as older adults that we hated as kids. 

It made sense when J says "I bet you would like it because I hate it. Adults seems to love the very things kids hate and the other way around". It seems to work that way quite often down to specific types of Halloween candy that J will have in her reject pile. Quite often I may find something that works for me. Similarly, J is not interested in the kind of chocolate I like. As she grows older, we seem to find more things in common when it comes to food. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Versatile Women

In a recent conversation with J, I learned some cultural norms of middle school. Girls are either taken seriously or not by their peers (male and female) based on how they present themselves. If she looks like she spends most weekends at the mall shopping cute outfits and an hour in front of the mirror each morning she is not taken seriously. Those are the signs of a bimbo. To that end, when invited to a party a serious girl can't stray too far from her native image. 

I challenged this assumption strongly and asked J why a girl who wants to be taken seriously cannot be versatile. There is a time and place to project a geek image and one in which to demonstrate social adeptness. Being in your comfort zone and around people just like you is easy for anyone - it takes no effort and as such there are no rewards. It is much harder to get comfortable outside that familiar ecosystem. 

When I was growing up in India, I recall "Satarupa" (one having a  hundred beautiful forms) women were held in high esteem. I have been lucky to know a few. Mrs S was in her fifties when I was in middle school. She had degrees from Princeton and Yale. Had traveled the wold, taught in universities, been in senior executive roles outside academia and was the mother of three grown up kids. She was invited to our school to talk to girls about career, work life balance and being a woman in a man's world. 

There was no minimizing or glossing over the challenges she had faced but she was positive about her experiences. You could tell she did not hate men in any way. She talked about forging partnerships with them and not being adversarial - learning to stand your ground but not losing your femininity in the process. She showed up in a sari like any other woman her age that we knew. 

Being girls we noticed her excellent taste and the light touch with the make-up and jewelry. She looked wonderful for her age and radiated confidence. She delivered a speech that rivals anything I have heard to this day. She shared her passion for baking and how she took lessons from pastry chefs in different countries where she had lived and worked. The importance of family rituals, celebrating festivals came up. She talked about how they did things in her home - there was nothing there we could not relate to. Our stay at home mothers did exactly what she did. 

Then there were some pictures of her over the years, as a student, newly wed, young mother, milestones in her career and so on that she shared. Old grainy images we saw through a projector that transformed our thinking about what it means to be a woman. Mrs S was indeed "Satarupa" and if her life thus far was any indication it had served her exceptionally well. It is a meeting I valued then and treasure to this day. There was no girl in that auditorium that did not want to be like Mrs S - in essence even if we could not replicate her life.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Data Diet

Love the idea of putting organizations on a "Data Diet". Hoarding all data in sight just in case there is some buried nugget of intelligence waiting to be tapped into is no different than being a pack rat at home and not letting go of useless junk just in case. '

The common rule for de-cluttering our living spaces can easily be transferred to organizations being data pack rats. If no one missed a certain something in the attic, garage or basement for a year or more then it is time to review its need to exist. Most often the item in question will be revealed to be an impulse buy whose time has come and gone or just plain old junk that need to be trashed. Likewise will cold or dead data.

The promise of hidden treasure in a data dumpster is just that - a promise. Very rarely does it get fulfilled. But everyone is out there hoarding everything they can just so they don't miss out if and when technology becomes smart enough to do something fantastic with it.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Job Schedule

I got some good parenting advice from a friend recently. Being that J is thirteen, I am trying to get her ready to live alone when she goes to college. Doing laundry is one of the tasks on the list. The mother in question told me that my strategy was going to fail big and everyone would come out of the experience frustrated. I had worked out with J that she would do her laundry on Friday evening after she came back from school. H told me that was a set up for failure. You cannot give the kid a new job and a schedule to follow along with it. 

They need to be eased into the job first and once they get a hang of it, try to frame a schedule. Cannot jump the gun and expect results. Her son who is high school now, has taken all of three years to learn the job and is yet to get on a schedule. Clearly, it has nothing to do with academic ability. The kid is an all A student in a highly competitive school with near perfect SAT scores. According to H, they are not wired at this age to do chores in an organized way. We need to let these things slide as long as they do what they are really required to do. Her son being case in point. 

As of this weekend, J has washed and dried her clothes with minimal supervision. We have accomplished step one - teaching her the chore. Following H's advice, I will be reminding her to repeat this activity once a week and learning not to get impatient when I am ignored.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Compressed Memories

Can so relate to this article on the curse of compressing reality. After a major event passes in life, the details of the hours and the days that were part of it are compressed into smaller packages to be archived. The highs and the lows get adjusted toward the middle so that the big event is just another random thing that happened to you. A few years go by and you are left grasping at washed out images, their sequence (and meaning) long destroyed. 

Some days I am just grateful for the minutes that I remember in full color detail. What the weather was like that day, the smell of the air, the feeling of well being  and then the event itself. Not all of it but the moments that stood out and stayed etched in memory

Friday, January 16, 2015

Into The Woods

J was all excited when I picked her up at the movie theater after the show last weekend. She and a few of her friends had just watched Into The Woods. As I usually do, I asked her to tell me about the movie in the car and she launched into a plot summary with great enthusiasm. Now, it takes us about fifteen minutes to drive from said theater to home. I was parking in the driveway before the summary was done. 

Several times during the narrative I had to struggle to stay awake. Fractured fairy-tale cocktail turned into a movie sounded like a terrible idea. It would ,make for a boring ramble and contrived connections. But the kids really loved it and I was not sure what the draw was. Just the length of the plot summary was enough to keep me from watching this thing.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tweeting Characters

My hairdresser was complaining about how there is too much electronics in the toys for her six month old. She has to look harder for old fashioned things that don't have any. She hates things that have an app for it. It was an interesting perspective from someone who is only twenty three. But again she was home-schooled and is probably not representative of the general population. Anyway, people like her may not appreciate the ability to tweet and text with characters of a book. It takes even more away from the real book experience, the ability to shut out the world and escape into a fictional land.

This is a whole new genre of literature waiting to be created crowdsource style. We can hook up Captain Ahab with a twitter handle and let him air his views of the world to the readership and respond to their questions along the way. He could be running direct communications with readers via text as well. In so doing, we have created content that can (with some editing) be shipped as the Didactics of Captain Ahab. A whole another book that comes out of the belly of Moby Dick.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Poetic Business

Loved the poetic language HBR uses to describe the betrayal perpetrated by Yahoo on its Flickr users. The travesty of customer trust is described thusly :

What Yahoo is doing just isn’t what we had in mind when we put our photos under the CC-BY license. We were trying to contribute to our culture in some small way. We were participating in the gift economy. We were sharing.

Now Yahoo has inserted itself into our enchanted triangle. The connections among the vertices of that triangle had been characterized by sharing and goodwill. But Yahoo has turned our photos − our gifts − into commodities and reduced them to their cash value.

Was trying to imagine using language such as the above in work communication. Here is one way I can think of using it in my local context "Now Org X has inserted itself into our enchanted triangle. The connection among the vertices of that triangle had been characterized by collaboration and agility. But Org X has turned our creative energy - our ideas - into tasks and reduced them to their billable hour value" 

Needless to say whoever wrote such a mail would get some serious attention from the powers that be. They could not cite inspiration from HBR to explain their poetic excesses away.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Used Bookstore

E took me to an used bookstore  knowing its one of my favorite places to visit. It is something we have in common. Our tastes are very different so we rarely recommend books to each other. I do like to check out her bookshelves when I am visiting. A lot of interesting material even if their appeal to me is limited. This time I found a 1928 edition on eastern religions that was a good read. 

E likes that Netflix understands who she is and would never recommend that she watch The Wolf of Wall Street. She is almost afraid to try something that does not come with their stamp of approval for her. What they don't recommend is a great sign of their understanding of her preferences and E is very impressed to say the least. Anything I had to say about letting a corporation control and manage her media intake fell on deaf years. She just loves the convenience too much. At the end of a busy day Netflix is the concierge service telling her what may be good movies for her to watch and she follows their guidance faithfully. She is the ideal customer for the service and its learning algorithms. 

On the other hand, E is holding out against online and mobile banking - she needs to go to a physical branch and that's the only way she will do it. I don't know if the behavior is representative of her demographic but it does feel rather anomalous. I was pleasantly surprised to see her using the phone as her GPS but still not quite clear on what type of digital media consumer she is. Would not be caught dead on Facebook, loves Netflix, still balances her check book by hand and heavily depends on Yelp and TripAdvisor to plan her travels. Pondering her digital persona was an interesting exercise with no outcomes.

The used bookstore has become a much more chaotic experience in comparison to what she has going on with Netflix. The one we visited was pretty disappointing all around and a telling sign of the times. The books they categorized as "classics" made us both cringe in horror - the one time E and I agreed on books. The tastes of the reading population is reflected in a used book store. It is clear that people are  generally sticking with best sellers and the top ten charts. Not many are seeking quirkiness and oddball writers, one hit wonders and out of print books. There are not many personal libraries left either to receive book donations from. There is always the library book sale to pick up a popular paperback on the cheap. The used bookstore was supposed to give you access to worlds in reading you did not even know existed. 

My experience reminded me of Charles Simic's excellent article on the demise of used bookstores.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Striking Balance

Only J can tell if she considers me a "pushy parent" but she recently told me that her best friend knows that I don't sugar coat my feedback. It can be direct and "mean". As an example J cited the following difference in parental approach : For homework the kids had been assigned an essay on a very boring topic. When J showed me her first draft I said this is D quality material at best and needs a complete makeover to be remotely acceptable. I asked her to be efficient with her time and wrap it up quick - not let work expand to fill all the time there was. I did point out to the areas of improvement but only in the end. The best friend's dad on the other had her delete a very badly written paragraph saying that was more suitable for a creative writing assignment. He went on to add that she was off to a good start and with some work could get a lot better. 

Per this Scientific American article, me being pushy (if that were indeed the case ) could hurt J in the long run. Over the years, I have found that the school does a great job of finessing feedback to kids and being politically correct. The only place she hears direct (and possibly harsh) feedback is from me. I figure it will build her tolerance for people in the real world who will not be too concerned about sparing her feelings. I can be generous with praise when it is deserved so she does get positive affirmation too. I have not seen my style  hurt her self-esteem so far. I take comfort knowing that comes a point in a girl's life when what mom says is not terribly important. They are their own person and asserting their place in the world with or without mom's approval. J is getting there. If my input is not interesting it just gets tuned out. I hope between my efforts to give her a dose of reality and her ability to tune out as required , we are able to strike some balance.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Alternate Gospel

I have a budding atheist in my home. J is on the fence about God at this time but likes what little she knows about Buddhism. She would much rather there were a scientific way to explain God away. That would just make things easier for her and life would be all in good order. I prefer not to bias her one way or the other but encourage her to learn about all religions and see what makes sense for her. I tell her maybe there is a way to create something personalized that meets her needs and the content could come from various sources. No one religion may be right for her but ideas from several could be.

In a time where information comes packaged, small and easy to consume TED Talk style, getting her interested in any serious reading of religious texts is an uphill battle. I choose mine wisely - there are many more urgent ones I need to fight and win with her. The metaphysical development of J has sadly got to go on the back-burner for now. That said,  The Gospel According to Terry is a fun read - something even J will have the patience for 

the Almighty has proven more resilient than His celebrated detractors and would-be assassins. God “has proved remarkably difficult to dispose of”; indeed, atheism itself has proven to be “not as easy as it looks.”