Sunday, July 28, 2013

Wind of Change

I am timing this post to see how much time I have to spend on writing average posts, so this one will be smaller

So quickly, let me put 3 points which will be the theme for this post:
  1. Trip to Tiruchirapalli, Pondicherry
  2. Aam Admi Party launch
  3. The power of not understanding things
And we begin.


1. The trip

So we went to Tiruchirapalli (T) and Pondicherry (P) in a group of 7.  At T, we visited two temples, both of them really old.

The first one of them was at Srirangam. It had lots of temples within the main compound, and as soon as we entered, we could see three of them together. Even before I could search for a place to wash my hands, a couple of pundits (the priests) started calling us out to their small temples. For few moments after our entry, God had become a fish, we the fish buyers, and the pundits the fish sellers. The place had many beggars, who were occupying one or the other pillar in the complex.  touching your feet and trousers, begging for money. And the indifferent people and pundits, some cursing the beggars, others doing charity by giving coins to each one of them. So much for the peace you are supposed to find in a temple.

There was one temple in the whole compound, among the myriad devoted to various forms of the deities, where I could feel some levels of peace, and yet the experience was short lived, for as soon as I came out of the temple, it was the usual site once again - priests calling you out loudly to visit their temples, beggars pestering you and the clueless crowd pushing you around.

So pissed off was I, that at one point, I was thinking how the smaller temples could be thought of as being small business units, each making its own profit and losses, the master temple as the main consolidator group. It didn't take much to imagine from there, how the loss making temple would eat the resources earned by other temples, the main temple board having its own cost centers and profit centers.

Ok, enough of the blasphemy.

The second one was at Thiruvanaikaval. It was maintained much better, and here the compounds were much cleaner. 

The grandiose levels of architecture made me marvel about the amount of human effort that would have been spent in constructing it. The scale at which it was constructed left me wondering how the maintenance of it would have been handled for centuries, since it was built in around 10th century, and has more or less retained its current structure.

Needless to say, the experience was much more profound at this one, where we were lucky enough to have reached just before the temple was going to be closed.


2. Aam Admi Party launch

So yesterday, the Aam Admi party was formally launched here in B, and I, along with a couple of my friends tagged along for the 3hour long event at New Horizon School.

It was inspiring to see thousands of well educated and literate people of the city turn up for this event. A couple of times, I found things to be a bit cheeky, but overall, it was definitely good. 

One thing that I will surely remember is the passion with which Arvind Kejriwal spoke.
I don't know whether he will win or not, but I know for sure that he will bring about immense amount of change to the system, if he is successful in entering it.

The only goof up happened, when while answering the queries, he said he was happy with the way the state unit was functioning, and said, that the team gets really tired working day in and day out in Delhi, and the energy he found here was refreshingly new and had charged him up like anything, and that he should come here every month to recharge their batteries. He was quick to correct himself in the next breath and say recharge the mental batteries.

It is just one example of how his earlier statement in isolation could have been used for propaganda to say that he meant recharge monetarily from the unit here (substantial funds were raised during the event).

Nevertheless, I still believe it is a long road ahead before AAP can make a visibly large difference to Indian society. 


3) The power of not understanding things

I was recently watching a Steve Jobs video, an interview that he gave in the initial days of the mac in the 1980's. (I am a Steve Jobs fan, but then, who isn't?)

And during the whole video, I couldn't wonder how a man so smart trying to explain things logically could be so unreasonable in his demands. And then it dawned upon me, he wasn't unreasonable because he couldn't understand reasoning behind the decisions, rather he was unreasonable by character. It was his way of forcing people around him to give their absolute best, and nothing less.

If we were to think of it, the sub optimal happens because someone somewhere makes some compromise, which is not in the best overall interest. But once you remove those compromises, once you start thinking only in terms of the best inputs, you reach the best output.

And the same is true for any kind of profession or trade.

The system is rotted because people *understand* why things are happening the way they are happening, and once you can *understand* those things, you can be made to compromise.
And all it takes to put everything in order is an unreasonable man, who won't allow compromise of any kind.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. - G.B. Shaw


PS: It took around 2 hours to write this full post. Also, the name of the post is inspired by point #2.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Its something unpredictable.

1) The social world: Part 1

A while back, I had noticed a couple of random people following me on twitter. After following me for a week or so, they both stopped following me.

One of the accounts, when it was following me, had some 10000 followers and was following 40000 accounts. After a while it had unfollowed me, and I checked to find that it was still following some 40000 accounts, but now had around 30000 followers. A while after that, It was following some 10000 accounts, and had now amassed some 40000 followers.

If you think of what is happening behind the scenes here, you will realize, that a behavior very peculiar to the users of social media twitter is being exploited here.

The usual behavior on twitter is, you follow people who interest you
However, there is another behavior, to which a lot of general public / twitterati adheres, And that behavior is, that if someone follows you, you follow them back. Think of it as a way of saying "Hi", as a means of how you respond when someone extends a hand of friendship towards you.

And this behaviour can be statistically and programmatically exploited to gain massive number of initial followers.

You follow people, keep it to your business. If you follow say a 100 people every day, and even if half of them follow you back within a week's period, then when you unfollow them all, you have 50 new followers. You do this repetitively, play around with the x and y of equation, and you can easily amass an initial z number of followers.

Who followed whom and when did that happen is anyways not a public information. Also, when someone wants to do a credibility check, the best they can usually do is go through the timeline, check out the tweets, interactions, the number of followers and so on, all of which can be maintained if the perpetrator is an intelligent person.

2) The social world: Part 2

Now imagine if you could do this and say, have 500 or 1000 or 10000 different accounts with each having a reach of say 10000 distinct followers on the average.

Then you have successfully created for yourself a powerful mini network within the world of twitter, and if you can tweet intelligently from a subset of those 10000 accounts simultaneously (say from 500 accounts amongst 10000), you can basically create twitter trends, and just sway public opinion.

The public opinion changes, because people don't know most of the other people who are tweeting.
With that follower reach, even if 1% people re tweet, and from those 500 accounts out of 10000, if 2 tweets are sent on the average from each of the 500 accounts, then, you have .01*10000*2*500 = 100000 re tweets.

Its enough to start a trend, and the average people just need a slight trigger - The average human is anyways not smart enough to understand he is being conned. I think this makes for a fantastic marketing tool :D

You can easily create guerrilla campaigns which endorse your products and services. Of course, doing all that at scale requires numerous resources, and this tool can also be used for bad mouthing a competitor. 

If it can't be used for evil, its probably not a superpower,   

And in this case, there are tonnes of opportunities for potential gamification.

3) Social Media - Part 3

So I tried to do something similar with a fake facebook account (anagram of my name, account later removed), and guess what, within a period of two weeks, I could increase my friend count by 200+ people. I ended the experiment when I crossed total 350 friend list.

Of course, facebook blocked me from sending out any more useless friend requests for a month, so you can gauge the number of requests going out of my fake account. But the key lessons here were:
  • People are more accommodating in accepting friend requests, if you have more mutual friends. Say 50. I tried to have minimum 10 in majority of cases
  • There are always some open networkers, who accept friend requests from all people with decent enough profiles. 
  • You target the open-networkers first - they are easy to find, they usually have number of friends in thousands. Until you have found some 20-30 of these. Than you start sending out requests to people who are at next level in network chain
  • Again, even here there will be a probability, that only x% (say 40%) of your friend requests are accepted and so on. Make it count, Dont send requests to people whom you have nothing in common with. If someone turns down your request, they can always mark you as unknown, in which case facebook can block your account from sending friend requests faster :P 
  • Use graph search extensively, it helps to elongate/extend your potential network, based on you current network of friends
  • The shocking part was the humongous amount of private data and information that people were willingly sharing online. Agreed that they were sharing it with friends alone.

4) Corporates vs startups

I was having a discussion on startups vs corportates. and there were some good observations we made to each other based on my limited experience and our small discussion.

  1. The style of estimates
    At a regular corporate, if you can finish something in 4 days, you say you can do it in 5. At a startup, you say you can do it in 3.5, and try to do it within 3 days.

  2. Roadmap
    In a corporate, you almost always know, what you are going to work on, what the roadmap will be to achieve the goal. In a startup, the whole roadmap may change within a week, and the final product will more often be something radically different than first envisioned.

  3. Work pipeline
    At a corporate, you try to work less, because there is always a work pipeline, and if you work more than the average, more work gets pushed at you. In a startup, you like your work so much that you just want more of it

  4. Access to key people
    In a startup, you almost always know the key people well. All your ideas can be directly discussed with the higher ups, in the raw format for you to learn. In a corporate, there are additional links in the chain, the time is far more scarce a resource and a significant amount of toning down of message and response might happen. not to mention, the time taken is of course more.

  5. Job description
    A corporate hires you to think in a particularly constrained manner, A startup expects you to simultaneously be responsible for multiple angles of a problem. You may have to think like a Product manager, break tasks down into technical requirements like a business analyst, and code it like a technologist, even though you are just a software engineer.

  6. Time To Go-Live
    In a startup, it takes really small amount of time to see the fruits of your work in action (days?). In a corporate, it takes much longer for that to happen (months, years?)
5) Philosophical thoughts - questions of existence

Every time I have a doctor experience, and I can't start pondering over the question of existence. Who am I? Does the world as I know really exists, or is it just a figment of my imagination? How real am I? When someone dies, then doesn't the world, as that someone knew, also dies with him? And how can you be so sure of dying one day, until and unless you are actually dead on that day? And when you are dying, what part of you is actually dying anyways? If the world is a matrix, then how many such matrices are possibly there? If we live in a 3D matrix, doesn't someone who belongs to the 4D matrix become a god for us? And then, don't we become the gods for creatures of the 2D matrix, the gods of death and preservation. We can help them survive, we can kill them. but we can't create them from scratch. or can we? and if there are different levels of the matrix, what is the highest level in the matrix, is it a 10D matrix, where 10 are the number of unique dimensions? 

There are may questions like these, that I would love to discuss and deliberate upon.

Anyways, if for a while, you start believing that the world exists because you think it does, it potentially opens a lot of powers of the subconscious. 

Why would you fear anything, if it were all your imagination?

You just need to keep imagining the world. And redefining it.

6) The importance of head start, and upbringing

Head starts make a world of difference. I often wonder, why some people are more successful than others. And the reason is usually head start.

Every small thing we do, say using the computer, or driving a car, everything has a head start. 

So take for example a kid (A) who started using a computer at a very young age of 10, vs someone who first used one in his college (B) , and both graduating from the college at the same time and age. The former is clearly at an advantage - he is more comfortable, and if both of those guys have an equal interest in computers, he will be more knowledgeable than the latter on their graduation day.

Extend that duration a couple of years more, for some job role. If both these guys work up their job with equal enthusiasm, once again, A is at an advantage.

The thing with head start is, it accumulates over a period of time.

And the thing with success is, it requires a lot of head start, and/or a brilliant strategy to game your opponent(s).

7) Thoughts on the value of time

So a while back, I talked about how the time should be measured by value you have created, and not by hours or days. Going forward with the same theme, let me give an example of how you can choose to utilise your time.
Say you earn 36000 rupess a month. Now, that translates into 1200 rupees a day. That translates into 50 rupees an hour. You might spend an hour sleeping, or you might idle it away, or you might do work in it, whatever.
But if you want to grow, you have to create a value of more than 1200 in those 24 hours, on the average. Example - Someone will pay you 5000 bucks only if he is extracting a value of 7000 bucks out of you, and to be paid 6000 bucks, you will have to show potential to create a value of 8000 bucks within those 5000 bucks constraints.

So suppose, you need to buy groceries. Now either you can go to the supermarket, spend an hour there buying stuff and standing in a queue. Or you can order the same things online and save on your time spent in those transaction. Of course there is the traedoff when the supermarket is running special discounts, and you are saving more there. But in general, the discounts will be smaller at physical store, and the cumulative output due to increased hours can shoot up your productivity.

Take another example. You need to buy a bean bag. Now in the local market, it will cost you 1000 bucks, but if you go to another area, located an hour away, you can get it for 800. In this case, you will go through a bit of physical fatigue, which may degrade the quality of your next couple of hours, you will idle away 2 hours which means a loss of 100 rupees. So, the net savings will be what, some 50 bucks? And imagine if you spent those four hours doing something more productive, you would have been able to extract more value out of your time.

The above examples were both of something you absolutely needed to have done. Now take the example of a pool of tasks, that you need to do, and none of them are critically blocking you, but all of them are important to you. The answer, to how you proceed ahead, is the answer to how startups function in general - Picking tasks that help you create more value faster for non critical tasks, while picking up blocker tasks on priority.