Humans still beat machines by a mile (or more)

June 3, 2015

There is this constant spiel on how robots can uptake human jobs in the not so distant future. I had my own reservations about that. I for one, had always compared the natural evolution of human processes. For example, we may be writing far less after the invention of typewriter and word processor, but we do write with our mind as often as ever. May be the Input / output medium may not be a piece of paper with a pen, it’s still the organic human mind at work. Advanced robotics or Artificial Intelligence can all come. But to replace our good old neural network that collates and compiles our thinking, they have to go miles.  They need to develop the equivalent of emotion and sense. They need to smell a flower and call it by a name. That, isn’t going to be easy.

So with that basic framework, I chanced upon Marc Andreesen’s post.  He had squared it all up and with illustrations.  Please do read it if you want to get rid of your lump-of-labor inhibition.


Languages of a lesser God…?

July 11, 2013

Recently the Union Government has conceded classical status to Malayalam.  Malayalam is indeed a great language, no doubt.

But one question bothered me quite a bit… Which language is not…?

I checked the definition of `Classic’ and the consensus seems to be “Belonging to the highest rank or class, having lasting significance or worth”.  By that standard, almost every language irrespective of the popularity of its following or  the number that use or speak it can be safely regarded as classical because language in essence is nothing but a certain ethnic culture in an aural capsule.

While I was ruminating such abstract arguments, serendipity led me to this wonderful critique on the subject by Sunil Menon of Outlook.  There were these lines that I read, re-read and marveled at –

“Why should the law consecrate unequal status anyway..? Scr­­­ipt is an accident of history, a technological artefact; writing a special subset, not the source code. (Tulu and Malaya­lam once partook of the same script before one lapsed back into ‘nature’ and the other fash­ioned itself as an epitome of literacy.) On what grounds do you keep out script-less langua­ges that possess a rich lode of, say, epic poetry from the roll of honor—besides saying you are blinded by the cult of the book..? This is the nub of it. Our attitudes to literacy show this. Ever wondered why literacy is always a “mission”, bringing “enlightenment”? We have uncritically adopted the metaphors of colonial-era eva­ngelists, so that modern literacy is built on a grain on inverted self-loathing that transmits not just knowledge but self-loathing itself. That’s why education now equals de-racination; it distances its victim from traditional cultures. This breeds an anxiety that finds solace only in chauvini­stic affirmations, or tokenisms like the status of a language. It’s this whole complex loop of attitudes that comes to roost here.”

That’s quite some thunder.  Hope it triggers some serious re-think in the corridors that matter.


Why my walks are no longer a leggy march

March 12, 2013

Not sure if my walks have made me lighter or pushed down my blood sugar levels, but they have begun to add a lot of meaning to my existence. The long, solitary walks are such a pleasurable experience that I just can’t miss them even for a day.  Agreed since I had always preferred solitude to inane company but then the walks are indeed a world apart. I remember keeping my circle of friends limited on purpose so that I had fewer influencers to my decisions. That linearity of decision making process made it easy for me to readily own up their outcomes, both good and bad.  The buck just stopped with me and I love that.

I take the usual, boring route for my walk in this ever busy city. Staying bang in the middle of a city, I have no fallback to a quieter walking track.  Everywhere it is crowded and noisy.  Rather than getting used to it, I think the years of acquiescence have trained me to blank out the sights and drown the noises, at will.  No big deal that – I turn on the volume of my inner chatter and stay attentive to its machinations. The walk is no longer a leggy march, it becomes a sequential soliloquy or a series of well stringed Q&A. Way more funnier than having a friend to chat with.

The conversations begin and end with my conscious being as I delve deep into my grail. The observer, the listener and the talker in me is my own micro-conscious being, except that it becomes the macro during these walks.  That’s how all things around me vanish, all sounds get drowned.  The experience is bliss, for want of a better word.  But there is one problem, I fail to pick up from where I had left off the previous day.  So I thought I should pen them to keep track and here I go with my post # 1.

Go put your best foot forward, founder…!

July 10, 2012

Most often startup entrepreneurs wonder how big businesses get built even as they can’t get theirs past the gate.  My business brings me up close with several puzzled startup founders to whom I often relate this Forest analogy. Think of any business as an ecosystem, like a forest, and track the company’s growth from its small beginnings to large-scale maturity. In addition, the forest analogy gives us insight into the process of organizational renewal — a challenge that faces many big businesses even today.

The natural development of a forest, or forest succession begins in an open patch of land that provides equal access to sun and rain. Its initial colonizers are migrants, weeds, and wandering animals that spread seeds. These colonizers are the entrepreneurs of the ecosystem. They are attracted by the ready availability of small-scale resources and the absence of competition, a combination that enables everything to grow like crazy.

Creation requires destruction: Look for openings on disturbed ground — turbulent markets where information is scarce and navigation is unclear. What economists call market failures, entrepreneurs call opportunities.  This is what made me quit my job and start out on my own.

Never worry about the big businesses that look unbeatable. Look at the destructive close of a mature forest’s cycle to get a grip on this point. A forest fire ends the climax phase. The older tall trees, as they age, drop their lower branches on the ground and are also vulnerable to attack by bugs as they turn into standing firewood or the fuel. As the fuel builds and the forest becomes more tightly connected, fire becomes inevitable, culminating in conflagrations aided by parched land, dry grass and absence of fire tenders. Smug organizations have the weakest disaster management systems which a nimble startup can exploit to the hilt.

What if there is a forest with with great fire fighting systems…?  Many fledgling founders had asked me. My own analysis tells me forests need fire. Fire tests the system and breaks down the tall hierarchies (old trees) that monopolize the resources, recycling them into nutrients. Indeed, fire marks the completion of one cycle for the forest. It creates the open patches that attract the entrepreneurs. It makes way for variety to reenter the system, both in the form of the seeds and weeds and in the creation of multi-aged stands of the dominant species. Such an ecosystem is once again loosely connected because resources can flow through it in many ways. It is no longer vulnerable to being wiped out by a single event, and the perpetual cycle of forest succession begins again.

Go put your best foot forward.  Period.



Only the chosen one wins…!

May 25, 2012

Never ask “Why is it happening to me…?”

Instead, say “I am the chosen one…!”

Life situations are meant to be accepted than questioned. It is so because not everything is in our control. We can only play with the cards that we are dealt. Still at the first whiff of trouble, we grumble “But, why me?” As if it’s ok if someone else were to go through hell. Let’s call it the loser’s camp.

Every life situation presents itself over a course of time, seemingly not always in a rational, cause-to-effect sequence. That’s when we say things happen at random, future is uncertain etc. But I strongly suspect everything happens with a definitive cause and effect relationship except that we can’t possibly relate every effect to its rightful cause. I may catch fever, but it takes even a trained Doctor to run several tests, try out a few drugs before he could detect the exact cause, diagnose the nature of the ailment and prescribe the right drug. In such unquantifiable situations, the members of the loser’s camp settle for the puzzled pitch “Why is it happening to me…?”

In this camp, people refuse to go about their lives as usual after having asked that “question”.   A sense of resignation slowly takes over as they lose interest in almost everything.   That momentary wallow in self-pity drowns them and those around as well.  They give in to their destiny so readily instead of coming to terms with it or exploring ways to get out of it.  Curiously, asking that question “Why Me” automatically “shifts the blame” to someone or something else besides us for the situation we are in.  It allows us to pass on the responsibility to own up and fix things and makes us a bit less sadder.   Not many realize that the `blame shift’ gets us only a temporary reprieve, without alleviating the misery.   It qualifies us as `escapists’ or `shirkers’ – big time.

Being a shirker – how does that help or pacify us over a seemingly hopeless situation, is a much larger question. We shirk because we delude that we didn’t ask for the misery,  so are no longer responsible to fix it. Things have reached a dead end as far as we are concerned and now it’s somebody else’s problem to find a solution.  We somehow wish it fades as it had come about, by the natural turn of events and with passage of time.  The reprieve that we momentarily experience does not originate from lessened pain, but comes from our delusion that we can `rest easy’ ( now that the blame has shifted).  It gets us the very “rest entitlement” that we have been seeking out.

Can we get any more absurd with our reasoning…?  Never.

Logically, every problem ends only with finding a solution, not by palming it off to someone else.  If you are hungry, it is not enough if someone else eats.  When we face a life problem, it is for us to solve.  If shirking from it calms us down, it shows absence of initiative and drive that is badly needed to get out of the hole.

That brings us to the opposite camp that loves to look at every problem in the eye and deal with it as if (s)he is the chosen one.  Let’s call it the Winners’ Camp.  Anyone who is able to face up to a problem can meet it mid-way and solve it to his/her advantage.  That’s why it is important to think “I am the chosen one”  instead of  asking “Why Me”.  When you do that, you are playing to win by elevating yourself to a higher realm of awareness, rising above every one else to own up, face the problem and crack it.   You are being responsible.  It is emphatic and makes a statement,  instead of  faking a question.  By owning up, you are not whining or even attempting to shift the blame.   You see your affliction clearly and get down to work to get rid of it.   You are courageous and you know how to regain your composure quickly.  You get back up to walk each time you fall down.  Success never eludes you if you play to win.  That’s exactly what you just did by affirming “I am the chosen one”.

…Packing off on holidays…!

April 18, 2012

…So, it’s holiday season for the family.  We have zeroed in on Club Mahindra’s floating cottages on the Ashtamudi backwaters in Kerala to spend our next seven days starting Saturday, the 21st April.  Hope to do some live blogging from my holiday destination too, since it’s my own way of unwinding…The waters, the breeze, the ambience and the cooing birds (hope they are there aplenty) should form a nice backdrop to stir the connoisseur and the casual writer in me.

But right now, it’s not exactly about the vacation.  It’s the anxiety of packing as I keep adding to my check list. Camera charged ? Check. Cell phone chargers packed in..?  Check.  Food coupons carried..?  Check. Swimsuits..?  Check. Cash and Credit cards..? Check.  This is the trouble if you are not just a holiday freak, but are hell bent on giving the family a great time.  If my daughter creases her forehead even once ( ” Papa, we forgot the chargers home, I can’t text my friends..!), it’s enough to screw the holiday fun.  I see them happy and I am thrilled to bits.

What’s adding to the tension is my ever vigilant wife who is taking the flight only on the D day.  Normally if she travels with us, I don’t have to worry about these chores. That’s been her department ever since we got married and my task was simple – Just look ahead to the vacation…Period.

Thank you, Meenakshi…Haven’t said that in a long time…Have I…?

Talent is hard work alright, but train to deflect judgmental disdain

March 21, 2011

Jonah Lehrer talks about Talent

Woody Allen nails it as he says “80% of success is showing up”… It clearly sums up why Talent is not genetic… One certainly can’t bet on a Test Cricket gene or a Twenty-Twenty gene…It’s all about skill developed by intense, deliberate practice. Going by pure statistics, I guess one can safely say Talent = Hard Work. Period.

The basic trait that is required for hard work is often presumed as grit. But I would take a step back and think what leads you to be gritty. You look at a faculty and feel the excitement. You sense blood surging up your veins and your heart beating faster and beads of sweat bubble up on your leather. You want to do it now, not a second later. You make a few frantic phone calls and are not put off by the conditions they put forth. You say Yes, almost without a thought. You dive right in.

In the process, you’re sub-consciously ready to assume the risks that go with it. It could mean ejecting out of your own zones of comfort developed over the years of regular exposure. It may as well expose you to a new set of circumstances and people about whom you have no clue. They may be talking stuff that sounds near Greek to you. You don’t cower, you persist.

Then comes the big question… How long before you hit the right road to success…? It could take months or even years to be on the same page as those others you revered. The interlude could be cruel, your near and dear ones look down upon you as if asking “what made this guy go so very nuts..?”

That is one harrowing question you may find difficult to deal with because it is never asked. It is implied in their deignful stares and demeaning walk aways or even not so subtle whispers. Suddenly lights around you get turned off and you realize you are dithering in darkness of ignobility and contempt. You are looked at like a loser and it hits you hard even before you know you failed. Surviving this ignominy is so hard unless you have a balanced mind. The ethos to accept failure as well as success on an even keel may have been your asset, but you may not be so ready to accept early judgmental admonitions from all around, express or implied. This is one sphere where practice has to focus on, not just the attribute that you go after to master.

Why not Peter Orszag move to citigroup…?

December 23, 2010

Courtesy author, blogger and friend Ben Casnocha, I read this piece by James Kwak on Peter Orszag moving to Citigroup after resigning as Budget Director under Obama administration and the rant goes like this.

“This is the mindset of the ambitious educational elite: You go to Harvard (or Stanford), maybe to Oxford (or Cambridge) for a Rhodes (or Marshall), then to Goldman (or McKinsey, or TFA), then to Harvard Business School (or Yale Law School), then back to Goldman (or Google), and on and on. You keep doing the thing that is more prestigious, opens more doors, has more (supposed) impact on the world, and eventually will make you more and more famous and powerful. Money is something that happens along the way, but it’s not your primary motivation. Then you get to Peter Orszag’s position, where you can do anything, and you want to go work for Citigroup? Why do our society and culture shape high-achieving people so they want to be executives at big, big companies that are decades past their prime? Why is that the thing people aspire to? Orszag wanting to work at a megabank — instead of starting a new company, or joining a foundation, or joining an NGO, or becoming an executive at a struggling manufacturing company that makes things, or even being a consultant to countries with sovereign debt problems — is the same as an engineer from a top school going to Goldman instead of a real company. It’s not his fault, but it’s a symptom of something that’s bad for our country.”

Here’s my take –

Terrible cliche. I see it as way too presumptuous of the squeaky critics that ordain a simplistic linear transition from domain knowledge to industry vertical, depriving the candidate of the range of options before him.

If it’s the creative mind of the engineer that is being seen as having been manipulated by the lure of a fatter wall street pay check, it’s the very original creativity of that mind choosing with little external prompt to apply its potential in a disparate dimension to experience a radically innovative if not a revolutionary outcome. After the meltdown, perhaps it’s a bit too off-putting to recognize the contributions of financial engineers in developing exotic derivative products like the ABS, CDS and so on, but let’s not forget that what caused the crisis was not the genus of these products, but its specie that got grossly misunderstood, misapplied and miscarried. Not in the least when the very products helped raise a significant portion of the billions of dollars for funding scientific and industrial research by the world’s major corporations that sustained several manufacturing innovations.

It’s ok to trim the flab, but don’t chop off the muscle that holds it together.

Art of keeping it simple…

November 22, 2010

I am a great fan of the fine attributes of tolerance and grace, because I am not so well endowed with those. I see my mother and feel jealous about her as she has those in plenty. But no matter how hard I try, I blow my fuse at the slightest provocation. Bad habit, sooner I get rid off it, the better.

But despite the deficiencies as above, I am simple, straight as an arrow and a happy guy too. Coming to think of it, I keep my life simple like most men I know.

So this post is for my readers with a feminist slant…

How do men keep it simple…? I read a chain mail that got lodged in my inbox with the title “Why men are never depressed”…

Men Are Just Happier People– What do you expect from such simple creatures? Your last name stays put. The garage is all yours. Wedding plans take care of themselves. Chocolate is just another snack. You can be President. You can never be pregnant. You can wear a white T-shirt to a water park. You can wear NO shirt to a water park. Car mechanics tell you the truth. The world is your urinal. You never have to drive to another gas station restroom because this one is just too icky. You don’t have to stop and think of which way to turn a nut on a bolt. Same work, more pay. Wrinkles add character. Wedding dress $5000. Tux rental-$100. People never stare at your chest when you’re talking to them. New shoes don’t cut, blister, or mangle your feet. One mood all the time. Phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat. You know stuff about tanks. A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase. You can open all your own jars. You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness. If someone forgets to invite you, he or she can still be your friend. Your underwear is $8.95 for a three-pack. Three pairs of shoes are more than enough. You almost never have strap problems in public. You are unable to see wrinkles in your clothes. Everything on your face stays its original color. The same hairstyle lasts for years, maybe decades. You only have to shave your face and neck. You can play with toys all your life. One wallet and one pair of shoes — one color for all seasons. You can wear shorts no matter how your legs look. You can ‘do’ your nails with a pocket knife. You have freedom of choice concerning growing a mustache. You can do Christmas shopping for 25 relatives on December24 in 25 minutes. No wonder men are happier.

Why I never felt like the Ferrari…!

November 19, 2010

When people ask me “Have you ever longed to have a better life, a better past and a better present…?” my instant answer is “No”. And they don’t believe it.
They think I am either lying or am giving a very guarded response and concealing frustration. I tried telling them it is my nature never to regret anything in life and accept life as it unfolds, but they would have none of it. And they are not alone in feeling so.
I go back and search my soul a bit. Why did I give such an answer…? Did I lie…? Should I be longing for what was never mine…? Should I load up my mind with “if I had that then, I could’ve been this now” kind of fallacies…?
I am convinced I was honest. I had always been mentored by experience, never by another human or a guru. The reason being I had always trusted my instinct, my capacity to observe and learn and always felt a self-taught internal lesson lingers longer and works far better than an admonished external one. I use this pet metaphor often. What if a Ferrari that could race at a speed of 350 mph, had been driven at just 100 mph? How would it feel if it had an experiential mind of its own…? Either the driver was not enthusiastic or he was just way too risk averse. Perhaps the roads were not up. Perhaps he didn’t trust the machine. But the machine was sure it could do a 350 mph but it could do nothing to spur the driver to step on the gas. So what will it do except to despair over its helplessness…?
If I were the machine, I would have felt helpless. But I am not. I am a human endowed with heuristics. I can think of ways and means to be the driver and the machine. This realization had gotten lodged in mind way back early in my life and had taught me never to despair, but to take a different route to hit the goal. And in 90% of the cases, I had succeeded sooner than later, and in much larger proportions than I had ever imagined. And as regards the 10% reminder, I had recognized that life never is about what you want, but what you need. Perhaps I never needed the 10% at all. The 1:9 sacrifice ratio has just been fair and nothing to be grieved over. What have I got to regret…?

That said, if I had a choice then and had not exercised it, I have room to regret. Or if I had multiple choices and had exercised the wrong one, I could feel remorse. But most occasions throw up just one choice and that having been acted upon led us to a later misery, we should learn to cope than brood over it. Again the wisdom dawns only in hindsight and not at the moment we choose to do or not do something. So never live to regret anything in life over which you had little or no control over.

I was convinced I’d given the honest answer. Worrying would have gotten me nothing. Regrets lead to disappointments and later frustration. I must thank my super set of genes that made me look inside more for answers than to look outside and seek them out from externalities that I knew I could never have controlled anyway.
So I never felt (desperate) like the Ferrari.