Kirtika's blog

Work empowers personality

“Bill O’Reilly who precedes me on our channel, is like a superhero. Because if you meet him in person, he is kind of shy, quiet. He would never dominate your dinner table. But you put that guy behind that desk, and he grows into this larger than life personality. And I have a little bit of that. When I sit in front of that desk, I don’t care who’s across of me, I don’t care if its a Republican or Democrat or President. It doesn’t matter. I only have one master and that’s my audience. I will serve that audience and if you try to dodge or weave, you will get pinned down. So I feel very empowered. In person, I am not a shrinking violet, but I don’t have quite as much, uh, power.” 

– Megyn Kelly, 2014 interview

Notes from Thinking Fast and Slow

This post is a collection of insightful concepts and statements I found in Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. Apologies for the lack of coherence towards the end – the volume of the book ensured I got down to just jotting down the meat of the matter without any context or detailing.

  • Fundamental premise of the author’s work: Economics says humans are mostly rational and their thinking is sound. The departures from rationality only occur due to emotions such as fear, affection and hatred. The author documents systematic errors in the thinking of humans – these are errors due to how our cognitive machinery is designed, not a corruption of our thoughts by emotions.
  • Expert intuition: Thousands of hours of practice in anything (mostly your work) in a controlled environment with a good feedback loop can set you for taking good decisions just by “blinking” instead of having to “think”. A good example is a firefighter anecdote, where an experience guy ordered his team to head out of a  house with no visible signs of danger. Only in hindsight did he realize that his subconscious was processing subtle danger signs related to smoke and fire. Note that this only works with controlled environment, with no underlying randomness (cases of firs are different, but there is an underlying pattern to the kinds of houses and kinds of fires they deal with, and the behavior of materials reacting to fire) as opposed to environments with fundamental randomness, such as stock markets. The stock traders doesn’t have a reliable, non-random feedback loop – so he cannot develop such “blink”-style judgement expertise.
  • Notion of two Systems: A human mind has two systems – System 1 is intuitive, guided by associative memory (and hence affected by feelings) and FAST. System2 is deliberate, responsible for complex logic, reasoning and calculations, any kind of decision-making that needs effort, but it is also SLOW and LAZY. Much of the book focuses around understanding these two systems, how most humans rely more on System1 than they need and the errors arising due to biases wired into System 1. System 1 is flawed, yet it also very good at constructing coherent stories.
  • Notion of two selves: The “experiencing self” and the “remembering self”. Human memories are not perfect reconstructions of reality. Humans are guided by the remembering self and this makes them expose themselves to unnecessary pain.
  • Limited attention power of humans: As demonstrated in the selective attention experiment.
  • “We can be blind to the obvious and we are also obvious to our blindness.”
  • Illusions: Muller-Lyer illusion is a famous example of how our cognitive machinery is flawed (even after understanding the concept, it presents a reality that is hard to accept). Not all illusions are visual – many are cognitive, and those are the costly ones.
  • Example of a cognitive illusion: Psychotherapists often have a strong attraction for a patient with a repeated history of failed treatments, thinking that they may be the ones to succeed in curing him. (Hint: the patient is a psychopath!).
  • Flaws of System 2: System2 is lazy and reluctant to invest more effort than is strictly necessary. It believes it has chosen thoughts and actions, but these choices can be, in reality, guided heavily by System 1. The concept of priming is an example of this.
  • On pupils and psychology: The pupil of the eye is a window into one’s soul – if you perform a slightly non-trivial calculation with a periodic frequency with a camera focused on your eye, it will record very regular pupil dilation and contraction events. The pupil dilation is an indication of mental effort – pupils contract immediately when a person gives up or finds the solution.
  • On why training matters for System 2: Unlike a house’s circuit breaker, which completely breaks down in case of overload, System2 will focus its attention on the most important activities, letting go of the rest. The selective attention test video linked to above is proof of that. With training and over time, as you get more and more familiar with a task, fewer brain regions are involved.
  • State of flow: Flow is a state of effortless concentration,  so deeply focused on whatever one is doing at the moment that one loses a sense of self and all one’s problems. Flow leads to optimal experiences. All variants of voluntary effort – cognitive, emotional or physical – draw atleast partly from a shared pool of mental energy.
  • “Ego depletion”: This demonstrates the “shared pool of mental energy” concept. People instructed to stifle their emotional reaction to an emotionally charged film will later underperform on a test of physical stamina. Another example – studies show that favorableness of results from judges increases in the short time after lunch. Tired and hungry judges tend to fall back on the easier default possibilities of denying requests for parole.
  • Over-riding intuition takes hard work: The insistent idea that “its true, its true” coming from System 1 makes it difficult to check the logic. Lots of mental effort goes into training your System 2 to kick into action more often, whenever needed, but its worthwhile. Some lucky people are more like System2, most of us are more like our System 1.
  • Strong link between self-control and cognitive aptitude: The Stanford marshmallow experiment is a good example of this.
  • Concept of Priming: If you saw the word EAT and then saw SO_P, you are more likely to complete it as SOUP. If you saw WASH and then saw SO_P, you will complete it as SOAP. The experience you are subjected to (reading a word) triggers a portion of your associative memory, and so now your retrieval is biased.
  •  Priming as applied to experiences: Priming is not just about words, ideas and thoughts. In an experiment, young people who were asked to assemble a sentence from scrambled words related to old age, walked slower than the others in part 2 of the experiment when they had to walk down a hallway.
  • Influencing of an action by an idea – the ideomotor effect. Clasp both your hands together and index fingers of both hands pointing at each other, now think of the line joining the tips of the two fingers and see how your fingers twitch!
  • Reciprocal priming: Thoughts/ideas/words influence actions – that is priming. The inverse of it is reciprocal priming. Smiling naturally invokes positive, optimistic emotions and thoughts.
  • “Act calm and kind regardless of how you feel” – you are likely to be rewarded by actually feeling calm and kind.
  • Useful resources on priming: understanding how you are less in control of your actions than you think, and how priming affects your performance.
  • Money-priming leads to increased self-reliance – money-primed people (exposed to thoughts of money) persevered almost twice as hard in trying to solve a very difficult problem. Money-primed people are also more selfish.
  • “They were primed to find flaws and this is exactly what they found.”
  • Cognitive ease – when things are going normally. Cognitive strain – when you need more help from System 2.
  • The cognitive ease inflow-outflow machine: Things that lead to cognitive ease are repeated experience, favorable conditions such as a clear display and good font, primed idea (such as, being introduced to the concept through a nice subtle watermark in the background) and a good mood. What comes out of cognitive ease is the following feelings/emotions – “feels true” , “feels good”, “feels familiar and effortless”
  • “Cognitive easy is good and recommended in some cases, but dangerous in other cases (where it prevents System 2 from kicking in and makes the wrong judgements via System 1).” As an example, the performance of Princeton grads in puzzles went up by a notch when the font worsened, causing cognitive strain and system 2 to kick in.
  • Cognitive Ease: Pros: More creative. Cons: Makes judgement errors due to familiarity.
  • Cognitive Strain: Pros: More vigilant, suspicious, invests more efforts. Cons: Feels less comfortable, leads to less intuitiveness/creativeness.
  • “Illusions of remembering”: You think David Steinbill (made-up name) is a celebrity just because the experimenters exposed you to his name in a casual setting before the experiment!
  • “Illusions of truth”: If you are put at sufficient cognitive ease by the mood and environment around you and by previous similar questions,  you may agree to the phrase “chicken has 4 legs”. It takes a while for System 2 to kick in and tell you this is not true.
  • “Anything that makes the cognitive machine run smoothly will also bias beliefs”
  • “Familiarity is not easily distinguishable from truth”
  • “If a statement is strongly linked by logic or association to other beliefs or preferences you hold, or comes from a  source that you trust or like, you will feel a sense of cognitive ease.” This is because the lazy System2 will just accept the suggestions of System 1 and march on.
  • Awesome example of cognitive ease effects: Stocks with pronounceable tickers perform better than the tongue-twisting ones! (like PGX or RDO). 
  • Mind is biased toward “causal thinking” and doesn’t understand statistics or regression to the mean easily. Good example of regression to the mean – ask a bunch of people to take 2 attempts at darts. The ones who did the best in the first attempt will get worse (relative to themselves) in the second attempt. This causes instructors to (faultily) conclude that admonishing leads to better performance in the next attempt and praise leads to worse performance in the next attempt.
  • Intensity Matching: Humans unknowingly transfer evaluation from one situation to another (which merits a different way of thinking/evaluating) applying “intensity matching”. Trivial example – give a long description about a school girl really sharp at reading and then ask the audience to predict her college GPA. Reading skills at age 7-10 have nothing to do with GPA, yet instinctive answers from the audience indicate “intensity matching”.
  • Common human fallacies while making predictions (or forming “intuitions” about situations): neglect of base rates, and insensitivity to the quality of information.
  • Intuitive predictions tend to be overconfident and overly extreme.
  • Moderating the extremeness of intuitive predictions is not always a good thing – example, venture capitalists need to call extreme cases like Google correctly, even at the cost of overestimating the prospects of many other ventures.
  • Consider the range of uncertainty around a most likely outcome. (KR note: This is reminiscent of Aswath Damodaran’s recent lecture at Google about valuation – where he defines a range of variation on every single parameter in his valuation, so his end prediction for the stock price of Apple is a large histogram)
  • The most valuable contribution of the corrective procedures that the author proposes to fix “wrong” intuitions is that they force one to think about how much they know.
  • WYSIATI – Human mind’s bad fallacy – what you see is all there is.
  • Asked to reconstruct our former beliefs, we often bring up our current ones instead and many cannot believe they ever felt differently.
  • Hindsight bias – people cannot reconstruct their past beliefs accurately. This makes it difficult to evaluate a decision properly – in terms of the beliefs that were reasonable when the decision was made.
  • The worse the consequence, the greater the hindsight bias (KR note: reminiscent of parents saying “I told you so” when things go south in a marriage they were arm-twisted into agreeing to).
  • Hindsight and outcome biases foster risk aversion.
  • System 1 makes us see the world as more tidy, simple, predictable and coherent than it really is.
  • Halo effect: Depending on whether the company has been doing well or not recently, the same CEO will be called “flexible, methodical and decisive” or “confused, rigid and authoritarian”.
  • Therefore, you can’t do pattern mining to identify what works for successful companies. Examples of this kind of failure are “Built to Last” and “In search of excellence” (companies/theses mentioned in both the books melted down in a short period following the book).For some of our most important beliefs, we have no evidence at all, except that people we love and trust hold these beliefs!
  • Amazing experiment the author does with 25 top financial advisors – he gets a spreadsheet that has them ranked (with data on how much returns they generated), on an annual basis, for 8 consecutive years. He studied correlations between year 1 and 2, year 1 and 3…. and so on until year 7 and 8 (28 correlation coefficients, one for each pair of years). The average of the 28 corelation coefficients was 0.01!!
  • People with the most knowledge are poorer at forecasting than people with some knowledge of the field/domain/situation. With knowledge, the person develops an enhanced illusion of skill and becomes unrealistically overconfident.
  • Simplicity is often way better than complexity. Paul Meehl’s “little book” – simple, statistical rules are superior to intuitive ‘clinical’ judgements. Book by Gary Klein – “Sources of Power” – Analyzes how experienced professionals develop intuitive skills. Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink” is along the same lines.
  • Emotional learning is similar to Pavlo’s experiment – the dog had “learned hopes”. Learned fears are even more easily acquired (KR note: perhaps more applicable to women, being the more emotionally susceptible gender).
  • Lesson learnt: Train yourself hard, in a regular environment with a good feedback loop so that the “expert intuition” that you are developing, actually holds true.
  • When you see data that seems to define a BASE RATE, ACKNOWLEDGE IT, LET IT CHANGE YOU.
  • Planning fallacy – overestimate benefits, underestimate costs.
  • How to overcome the planning fallacy – Develop an “outside view” by involving a ton of “reference class data” about similar projects.
  • Sunk-cost fallacy – You didn’t have a reasonable baseline prediction when you started out, and when you get the baseline you ignore it because it’s too late in the game and you’re already invested.
  • More optimistic people are the ones who are inventors, politicians, military leaders etc. They take more risks than they think they are capable of.
  • Entrepreneurs are inherently more optimistic. Chances that a small business survives in USA for > 5 years are 35%. 60% of new restaurants are out of business after 3 years.. yet people still open new ones and are optimistic about them.
  • Study shows CFOs are grossly over-confident about their ability to forecast the market.
  • Pre-mortem: Just before an important decision has been finalized but not committed – you imagine you are in the future, the decision has failed, and look at what could have wrong. The main virtue of the premortem is that it legitimizes doubts.
  • “What rules govern peoples’ choices between simple gambles and between gambles and sure things?” Amos and Kahneman set out to understand humans make choices, without assuming anything about their rationality.
    Econs (perfectly rational, selfish, stable taste) & Humans (WSYIATI, tastes change, not fully rational or fully selfish).
    Bernoulli’s experiments/conclusions: “A risk-taker with diminishing marginal utility for wealth (which is most of us) will be risk-averse.”
    – Flaw in Bernoulli’s theory: You need to know the reference before you can predict the utility of a given amount of wealth.
  • People become risk-seeking when all their options are bad.” :-) This is insightful. Simple example – which would you pick – lose $100 for sure or lose $200 with 50% probability?
  • Loss aversion ratio for most people is in the range of 1.5-2.5 (potential gains have to be that factor higher than potential losses).
  • Brains of humans and other animals contain a mechanism that is designed to give priority to bad news.
  • Goals are reference points. Avoiding the failure to meet a goal is a stronger motivator than the desire to exceed it.
  • Perceptions of fairness are based on our reference points.
  • “Altruistic punishment” (punishing a stranger for behaving unfairly towards another stranger)
  •  Smart negotiation tactic: falsely hold on to something as very precious or important to you, thereby showing that you’ll stand to be pained a lot by giving it away, when in reality, you were prepared to give it away all along.
  • Consistent overweighting of improbable outcomes – a feature of intuitive thinking, leads to inferior outcomes.
    – Opportunities to frame a fact differently, such that one way of framing evokes a different mental/emotional response. (e.g. probability of DNA testing failure – defendant will say “1 in a 1000″, accuser will say “0.01” – because accuser wants to show DNA testing works for certain, defendant wants to create doubts in the jury’s head).
  • Human nature tends to be risk averse for gains and risk-seeking for losses – it is COSTLY to do so! You should favor taking risks in gain-scenarios and reduce risk-seeking when it comes to losses.
  • Countering the “loss aversion” mentality that you were wired with – take a $100 loss with 50% chance, $200 gain with 50% chance gamble. Offered one gamble you will probably pass it ($100 loss will feel more painful than $200 gain). However, if offered 100 of these, no fool should reject it (compute the expected value there – the chances of you losing money are insanely low- like 1 in 32000).
  • So, the next time you think of loss aversion, think of life as a bunch of these small gambles – you win a few, you lose a few, but the chances of you losing overall in the long run are slim.
  • Be rational enough to avoid your loss aversion.
  • “Combination of loss aversion and narrow framing is a costly curse.”
  • Mitigating loss aversion: evaluate your portfolio only a quarter, else loss aversion will make you overtly sensitive to minor fluctuations and make you react on daily lows.
  • Investors sell more losing stocks in December, when taxes are on their mind. The tax-loss harvesting advantage is available all year, but then mental account prevails more during the other 11 months (“disposition effect” -think you did well by selling a gainer instead of a loser).
  • The “sunk cost” fallacy is both identified and taught as a mistake in business and economics courses, and there is evidence that graduate students in these fields are more willing than others to walk away from a failing project.
  • “Losses evoke stronger negative feelings than costs.” e.g. “Would you accept a gamble that offers a 10% chance to win $95 and 90% chance to lose $5?” or “would you participate in a lottery ticket worth $5 where you have a 10% chance of winning $100 and 90% chance of winning nothing?” The two problems are identical but people like the second one way way more.
  • Interesting example: Credit card industry lobbied hard to make vendors say it’s a “cash discount, not a credit surcharge.” (if you are paying different amounts for cash v/s card). People will much more easily forego a discount than they will take a surcharge.

Nora Denzel’s advice to women in CS

Happened to watch this GHC 2012 keynote from Nora Denzel, someone who’s broken the glass ceiling in a number of ways. The gist of her advice to women in CS is in 5 crisp points, worth archiving, so here it goes:

  1. Fix your attitude – if 5-7 years into your career, things aren’t going as you’d like, step back and check if the problem is with your attitude. There are no ‘career paths’, just ‘career obstacle courses’  and you need to have the right attitude to counter those.
  2. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable always – Growth and comfort are OR-ed bits, not AND-ed bits. You can either be “comfortable” in your career or “growing”. The times when she was most scared or felt most challenged were the times when she was growing the most. The times when she felt relaxed, over phone-calls and meetings that she didn’t have to pour herself into – those were the times when she was stagnant.
  3. Act as if  – When you are uncomfortable and feeling scared/getting into self-doubt, “act as if”. She cites Sally Ride who was extremely scared on her space ride because she knew all the failure points of the system, but acted and came across like a confident, smart and well-put together astronaut.
  4. Control your PR agent – and that’s you yourself! Every message, piece of speech or act/conduct coming from you is your PR statement.  She cites examples of women in her organization who were doing well, but when complimented by senior execs, instead of saying thank you, replied by emptying all their self-doubt  (I wasn’t good here, here and here).
  5. It takes a village – Enroll the help of others. Its not what you know, its not even who you know, its who knows what you know. 

“Only The Paranoid Survive”: Thoughts on the Andy Grove bestseller

Andy used to teach a strategic management class at Stanford GSB  while working as Intel’s CEO, so this book stemmed from both his experiences running Intel and his reflections on those experiences while teaching.

  • Only the paranoid survive is a phrase attributed to Andy in the valley. He strongly believes in the value of paranoia when it comes to business since business success sows the seeds of its own destruction.
  • The book focuses on strategic inflection points, times in the lifetime of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. These bring full-scale changes in the way a business is conducted, so merely adopting new technology or changing a few processes here or there don’t count.
  • A classic example of a strategic inflection point is when Intel went from being a memory technology company to a microprocessor company. This was an inflection point for Intel that later caused inflection points for many others – such as the mainframe industry, with PCs becoming ubiquitous.
  • The lessons of dealing with strategic inflection points are similar, whether you are dealing with a company or your own career.
  • No amount of planning can help anticipate these changes. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan at all. Liken this to how the fire department works –  they can never anticipate where the next fire will be, but they can and do work towards being agile and efficient enough that they can deal with ordinary as well as unanticipated events.
  • For Andy personal, the Intel pentium division bug was a huge inflection point. It changed how he and other management folks thought of the company and interacted with their “customers” (or even who they thought their customers were!). This is reflected in the difference between how Intel initially dealt with the issue and later, after it had blown out of proportion. Intel was used to thinking of itself as a giant start-up, one that dealt with businesses and supplied to businesses (OEMs, computer manufacturers) and hence dealing with engineers in a closed room. The Pentium FDIV incident put them in a spot where they had the ordinary Joe customer calling up their support staff and asking for a replacement component. They realized the world at large thought of them as yet another “big corporation”. Initially Intel’s stance was “we will decide whether the bug affects you or not”, which was rationally valid. The FDIV bug wouldn’t have affected the ordinary home user anyway.. But they soon realized this would not work with the end customers and offered to replace every single chip shipped out. This cost them a whopping $475 million in those times (~750 mn today).
  • Andy’s statement from those times are fairly amusing. “We found ourselves dealing with people who bought nothing from us directly yet were very angry with us.” “Suddenly I found a CNN crew awaiting me.”
  • Top management or folks in leadership roles are usually late, even the last folks, to know about inflection points. Andy acknowledges this was the case with himself in the FDIV incident. “It took a barrage of relentless criticism to make me realize that something had changed – and that we needed to adapt to the new environment.”
  • He encourages listening to foot soldiers (marketing, sales crew out in the wild) and middle managers with a keen ear, watching out for signs of change. They are the first ones to feel the effects of a strategic inflection point and it shows in how they change the way they perform their jobs. This will inevitably happen – when Intel’s memory technology business was floundering, middle managers managing the foundries and assembly lines had quietly begun reducing the amount of resources dedicated to memory and increasing the proportion of logic components such as microprocessors, for that would help yield better results for their divisions and themselves.
  • A 10X change – Michael Porter’s 5 forces talk about the factors that can endanger a business – competitors, customers, suppliers, new entrants and substitute products. Andy adds complementors to that list – other businesses from whom customers buy the same products. They have the same business interests as you do and travel the same road as you. A very large change in one of these forces is what Andy calls a “10X” force.
  • The microprocessor and the personal computer were a 10X force in the computer industry, which changed the industry from vertically integrated players in early 1908s (IBM, DEC types – doing everything from low-level hardware, fab-bing in-house to high-level operating systems) to a horizontally spread (Intel, Motorola dominating chips,  Compaq, Dell and IBM doing the PC-making and Microsoft leading the software side) during early 1990s.
  • Jobs’ NeXT is an example of a company that refused to acknowledge this 10X force, but eventually bowed down to it, turning into a software-only company.
  • These inflection points affect not only the high-tech industry but all businesses around us. A wal-mart store opening in a small town is a 10X force for the small shops in that town.
  • It takes a great amount of determination and objectivity to move yourself (and your team, if there is one) through an excruciatingly tough series of changes. This happened at Intel in 1985, when they had been going through a tough time in the memory business for about a year. There were great emotions attached since this had the foundation stone of Intel as a company, but it wasn’t working out for them. Andy asked the co-founders what would happen if the board kicked them out and brought in a new CEO. “He would get us out of memories.” “Then why don’t you and I walk out the door, come back and do it ourselves?”
  • The word “point” in inflection point is a misnomer. It’s not a point – its a long, torturous struggle. Intel was being beaten by the Japanese in memories since early 1980s. Intel’s performance slumped badly around 1984. Andy and the founders got to decision making only in late 1985 and it wasn’t until mid 1986 that the switch was made. Its worth asking two things here – (a) is the same timeline even affordable in today’s world? Perhaps for the size of Intel or other tech giants, who have a lot of runway left, huge “war coffers”, perhaps such a timeline is still affordable. (b) is a similar timeline affordable when making career/life decisions in today’s fast-paced world?
  • Signal or Noise: When evaluating whether a change is a 10X force or not, false negatives are a big problem too. Andy walks us through his thought-process while evaluating the “RISC vs CISC” debate and while debating the implications the rise of the internet would have on Intel.  It is worth noting that ARM surfaced as a dominant competitor to Intel only after Andy stepped down as CEO – I wonder if this has to do with the fact that his judgement of RISC not mattering was right when he was CEO (mobile hadn’t emerged, power still wasn’t a concern in desktops, and memory/frequency walls had not been hit, and x86 was providing better performance than RISC) but the people who followed in his footsteps failed to change the judgement when the scenario changed.
  • Listen to the Cassandras – Cassandra was the priestess who foretold the fall of Troy. For a company these Cassandras are people who are out in the field, and can feel the pulse of the market, the situation. Field sales managers in remote markets will know a lot more about upcoming changes than the top management sitting in California. Who are these Cassandras when it comes to individual life/career decisions?
  • Debate a lot – When dealing with RISC vs CISC, Andy brought in senior folks, middle managers from all functions in the company, customers and partners. He was also careful to offset for the biases and interests of these different individuals. Sometimes its OK to factor in the biases and accept them – a business only succeeds when it can serve the interest of outside parties.
  • Arguing with data is a double-sided sword. “You have to be able to argue with the data when your experience and judgement suggest the emergence of a force that may be too small to show up in the analysis but has the potential to grow so big so as to change the rules your business operates by.”
  • Let people speak their minds without fear of punishment. Cultivate an environment where everyone is aware that someday, some development somewhere will change the rules of the game and everyone is on the lookout for those kinds of changes.
  • It is the fear (of losing) that gives me the will to listen to Cassandras when all I want to do is to cry out, “Enough already, the sky isn’t falling yet” and go home. Simply put, fear can be the opposite of complacency.
  • “From our inception on, we have worked very hard to break down the walls between those who possess knowledge power and those who possess organization power.”
  • Managing an inflection point is a two-step process – let chaos reign and then rein in chaos.
  • Dealing with an inflection point  and dealing with loss: “A manager in a business that’s undergoing a strategic inflection point is likely to experience a variation of the well-known stages of what individuals go through when dealing with a serious loss. This is not surprising because the early stages of a strategic inflection point are fraught with loss – the loss of your company’s presence in the industry, of identity, a sense of control over your destiny and most troubling, the loss of being affiliated with a winner.”
  • The difference: “denial, anger, bargaining, depression and ultimately acceptance” here becomes, “denial, escape or diversion and finally acceptance and pertinent action.”
  • Escape or diversion: Senior executives want to be legitimately occupied with things that demand their constant attention day in and day out and things that can provide a sense (illusion?) of progress , so that they can avoid looking at the small-ish signs that  foretell an impending strategically disruptive force. Grove hypothesizes that this is why several Japanese major consumer electronics companies acquired movie studios, the senior management wanted interesting diversions, rather than coping with a secular slowdown of the core business. He himself wrote “High output management” in the years preceding the memory crisis, and wonders if that was an accident. :)
  • The inertia of success: When people suffer from this, they believe that just working harder and doing the things that got them there will work, given enough time. “Just give us some more time” is a phrase that is often heard in this context.

Fortress

The iron gates, the daunting locks,

The nauseating chains, the bolts and knobs

Each of them checked, every path blocked

The guard let out a relieved sigh.

“Much at stake ‘ere, can’t afford to be lax”

Deep, dark secrets the fortress does hold

Of times when souls were axed

When kings turned rogue

In and out danced a sunbeam,

And the guard did sneer,

“Silly little thing, do as you fit deem,

You won’t be ruffling a thing here”

It manoeuvred through the crevices,

The guard looking on amused,

And then it spread into dark premises

Leaving its ‘blessing’ behind.

The iron gates, the daunting locks,

The nauseating chains, the bolts and knobs

Each of them checked, yet unsure

Nonplussed, the guard did look around

The fortress would never be the same here on.

How Will You Measure Your Life – Musings on Clayton Christensen’s book

Driving out of San Diego on a fine spring afternoon, enchanted by the amazing weather and the freeways crisscrossing in what seemed like an intricate pattern, I asked my friend at the steering wheel, “What would it be like to drive on a road where you couldn’t see/know anything beyond a short distance ahead of you?”  His response was prompt but deep, as if I had asked something obvious – “that’s called life“.  Clay Christensen’s book emphasizes this and offers some ‘frameworks’ to think about how to live and measure your life actions, both professional and personal.

Clay focuses on three  aspects – finding success and fulfillment in one’s career, having happy and deep relationships with one’s family, particularly with spouse and kids, and finally, leading a life of integrity and staying out of jail. The last one is interesting- it has a fair bit to do with the fact that many alumni from his Alma mater (HBS) end up there, and that Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling was his classmate.

He claims he teaches you how to think, and not what to think, citing the example of how he taught Andy Grove to think about the research in “Innovator’s Dilemma” in the context of Intel. I have mixed feelings about whether I walked away after reading this book knowing how to think, but it certainly posed some difficult but life-altering questions to ask oneself before embarking on professional and personal ventures.

Usefulness of ‘theory’ in dealing with life

Clay encourages people to develop theories about what works and what doesn’t, in different aspects of their life. Having a theory that can explain what will happen, even before you experience it is valuable, since the only other options are to drift ad-hoc or make decisions based on data. Data is usually available only about the past. Relying on that data is  ‘like driving a car looking only at the rear-view mirror’. You don’t want to go through multiple marriages to learn how to be a good spouse or wait until your last child has grown to master parenthood. Having a good theory, one that dispenses advice in the form of “if-then” statements, is like having a compass to navigate.

The order of sections

Interestingly, Clay orders his sections into career, family (spouse followed by kids) and then integrity in that order. The choice of career over family is a debatable one, but Clay justifies it saying you’ll likely spend more hours at work than in any other aspect of life, so making sure you find fulfillment at work and are not making any compromises is vital.

The Balance of Calculation and Serendipity

“You have to balance the pursuit of aspirations and goals with taking advantage of unanticipated opportunities.  Managing this part of the strategy process is often the difference between success and failure for companies, and its true for our careers too.”

There are two distinct and conflicting approaches that one comes across in life – “have a plan for the next X years, know where you are going” and “take it as it comes”. Clay’s advice is that both of these approaches are valuable, and the key to happiness lies in knowing when to use which one. It is worth asking oneself – What are the circumstances where it’s best to be deliberate, to have a plan? Where does it make more sense to be emergent, to be open to the unexpected?

He provides the example of automaker Honda, who entered the US market in the hopes of selling large bikes that didn’t fare well against US competitors. While they were struggling to establish their presence in the target market, a certain lower-end almost toy-ish bike model became popular, by chance, in and around Los Angeles. Honda shifted its strategy to focusing on these smaller bikes and eventually wrote off the original business unit. This allowed it to not only survive in the US market, but also thrive in a niche segment that it had created for itself.

This balance of pre-planned measures and embracing opportunity is difficult to achieve. Success is difficult if the firm doesn’t focus on getting everyone to keep working together in a certain direction (if an incumbent strategy is working). At the same time, the same focus can cause the firm to dismiss as a distraction what might be the next big thing.

Also, shifting gears is only possible when the firm has money left-over to pivot and try another approach. In most cases of failure, the firm spent all its resources on the original strategy which failed. The same applies to decisions taken at an individual level, personal or professional, where you want to conserve some resources to be able to try alternatives and iterate, if things go wrong. Only a lucky few get things right at the first attempt, and that’s not bad. Success doesn’t depend on getting it right at the first go, it hinges on whether you continue to experiment until you find an approach that works.

The disconnect between what we think and tell ourselves, and what we actually end up doing

Firms often articulate a certain ‘strategy’, that describes their plans and intentions. But the true ‘strategy’ really comes out in the form of how the firm allocates its resources and people, at the level of minor individual decisions made on a day-to-day basis. There is often a disconnect between what is said or intended and what actually ends up being implemented. The same is true for us as individuals. Do our choices of what we do with our time, energy and resources actually reflect what our priorities are?

“The trap many people fall into is to allocate their time to whoever screams loudest, and their talent to whoever offers them the fastest reward. That’s a dangerous way to build a strategy.” 

Do our actions really match what we intend to do? A good example would be the number of people who end up in fancy-sounding consulting, IB, VC/PE positions post b-school with prestigious titles, but with no clear path to their stated goals. A number of these folks entered b-school with specific dreams, such as ending up at a CxO position in a certain industry. Clay addresses this point as he describes the example of Nolan Archibald, chairman of a Fortune 500 industrial tools manufacturing company.

“He built his career by registering for specific courses in the schools of experience. Archibald had a clear goal in mind when he graduated from college – he wanted to become CEO of a successful company. But instead of setting out on what most people would be the “right”, prestigious, stone-stepping jobs to get there, he asked himself, “What are all the experiences and problems that I have to learn about and master so that what comes out at the other end is somebody who is ready and capable of becoming a successful CEO?” He made some unconventional moves early on in his career, moves that his peers might not have understood on the surface.”

In Archibald’s own words – “I wouldn’t ever base the decision (of what job to take) on how much it paid or the prestige. Instead it was always – is it going to give me the experience I need to wrestle with?”

 

Knowing what really motivates us

“When we find ourselves stuck in unhappy careers, and even unhappy lives, it is often the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of what really motivates us.” 

Clay talks about his classmates who ended up being unhappy despite (or because of?) prestigious roles in Fortune 500 firms. They had trouble finding meaning in their jobs and/or had work lifestyles that prevented them from having healthy, well-nurtured personal relationships.

Happiness in work and life comes from two kinds of ingredients – hygiene factors and motivation factors. Aspects like compensation and work environment fall under the hygiene category while the motivation factors include intangibles such as recognition, responsibility and personal growth. Too many people because they over-emphasize the hygiene factors (“Let me get a high-paying job for now, once I am financially settled, I will do what I care about”) and downplay the motivation factors. Before they know, they are stuck in a rut and it is difficult to switch gears. Clay talks about this in a professional context, but it was hard not to think of Indian arranged marriages, where some people pay more attention than required to the hygiene factors (superficial ‘personality’ traits, financial status etc)  and the motivation factors (what would motivate the guy/girl involved to stay in a long-term relationship and do well in it) are almost ignored.

Clay plays up the role of managers in arranging for these motivation factors to work out. I wonder what the managers I know think of his statement – “If you want to make a difference in peoples’ lives, be a manager. You are in a position where you have 8-10 hours each day from each person who works for you. You have the opportunity to frame each person’s work so that, at the end of every day, your employees will go home feeling like they are living a life filled with motivators.”

“When you find out what really works for you, when you are in a place where both hygiene and motivation factors are satisfied, then its time for you to flip from an emergent strategy (take it as it comes) to a deliberate one (I have a concrete plan for the next X months)”. This is easier said than done.

“What’s important is to get out there, and try stuff until you learn where your talents, interests and priorities begin to pay off.” Nothing new or unheard of, but  golden advice nonetheless.

Clayton’s journey is well worth remembering here, he has had a mixed of planned and spontaneous decisions himself. He accidentally ended up a grad-student at b-school after years of consulting and a start-up, and his best work (“Innovators Dilemma” and “Crossing the chasm”), what will probably be his strongest legacy, came between ages 37 and 43. The numbers are worth remembering for people like me or my friend who recommended this book after a discussion on quarter-life crisis!

“What has to prove true for this to work?” and other important questions we fail to ask ourselves

As firms embark on something new, hockey stick charts and promises of growth are common. In all cases of failure, one of the major reasons is that the assumptions behind the promising models weren’t rigorously challenged or tested. While this is common knowledge in firms who actively try to counter it, as individuals we make the same mistakes in embarking on something in our lives. Some questions worth asking oneself before considering a new stint, personal or professional –

  • What are the assumptions that need to prove true for me to succeed in this assignment?
  • Which of these are within my control?
  • What assumptions have to prove true for me to be happy in this choice that I am contemplating?
  • Am I basing my position on intrinsic or extrinsic motivators? What evidence do I have?
  • Is there a way I can swiftly and inexpensively test if these assumptions are valid? How about making sure I am being realistic about the path ahead of me?

Life Investments cannot be sequenced

Some of us think of life as a progression – thinking about taking care of aspect X for a while and then turning our attention to aspect Y. That rarely works well in practice.

“The danger for high-achieving people is that they’ll unconsciously allocate their resources to activities that yield the most immediate, tangible accomplishments. This is often in their careers, as this domain of their life provides the most concrete evidence that they are moving forward.”

This can tilt and skew your priorities. Investing time and energy in building a long-term happy relationship with your spouse or kids are things that don’t offer the same immediate sense of achievement that a fast-track career does. It takes decades of investment before you can put your hand on your hips and say “I have had a great married life” or “We raised our kids well”.

The consequences of neglect aren’t immediate and quickly visible either. Few people know of the scientific study that discovered the number of words spoken to an infant and the manner in which they are spoken (“Language Dancing“, something that I suppose Indian mothers are naturally good at) make a huge difference in the child’s cognitive abilities all the way into their teens.

What job did you hire that milkshake for? – Understanding what is required of you in a relationship

This is an interesting case study on how Clay helped a breakfast chain increase its milkshake sales not by standard means such as knowing what customers to target or what offers/changes would lure them, but through a deep understanding of what ‘purpose’ the milkshake was being used for by these customers in the first place. The findings were far from obvious at first, but intuitive given that Clay had framed the problem in terms of “what job is it being hired for?”

Clay observes that a number of unhappy marriages are actually based on selflessness. He cites the example of a husband who comes home to a tired wife attending to young kids, and gets to work immediately with the dishes and household chores without her knowledge, only to realize that what she needed the most was some adult to talk to after a day spent around restless infants. The chores are the least of her problems and him doing them only adds to her guilt.

“If you study marriages from the job-to-be-done lens, we would find that the spouses who are most loyal to each other are those that have figured out the job that their partner needs to be done – and then they do the job reliably and well.”

“A relationship is not about finding someone who you think is going to make you happy. The path to happiness is finding someone who you want to make happy, someone whose happiness is worth devoting yourself to. It is natural to want the people you love to be happy. What can often be difficult is understanding what your role is in that.”

On Parenting

Think of development as composed of three components – resources, processes and priorities. Parents today are spending too much time and effort making sure their kids have the right resources (enrolling them in all sorts of classes, doing work for them etc) while hindering their kids from figuring out the right processes. The ‘processes’ are the ways in which the child realizes her priorities and what to do with the resources at her disposal.

“Start early by finding and giving them simple problems to solve on their own, problems that can help them build their processes and a healthy self-esteem. As I look back on my life, I recognized that some of the greatest gifts I received from my parents stemmed not from what they did for me, but from what they did not do for me.”

Encourage your kids to stretch – to aim for lofty goals.  Urge them to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and try again. Celebrate failure if it’s a result of a child striving for an out-of-reach goal.

Not placing enough importance on the schools of experience – both as individuals and firms

Clay cites the example of fighter-pilots who are selected based on intensive tests that are intended to weed out all but the most gifted, the most skilled. What is really happening here is that the test experience and preparation for the test shapes how the pilots deal with setbacks or stress in high-stakes situations. What’s being mistaken for “high skills” is a “great skills along with a high degree of exposure to certain experiences”.

A survey among hiring managers, showed that by their own admissions, they didn’t do a good-enough job of picking the right candidates. Hiring managers who were interviewed said that 33% of their choices were superb, 40% were adequate and 25% turned out to be mistakes. Considering how important hiring is to a firm, the numbers are surprising.

Nolan Archibald’s example earlier is a good case-study of how it pays off to make decisions based on a possible experience-portfolio rather than superficial indicators.

On family culture and integrity 

When it comes to family culture, the examples we set for our spouse and kids are important.

“Most of us want to try to be consistent. But in the pressures of day-to-day living, that can be tough”. Left unchecked enough, “once” or “twice” quickly becomes the culture.

You know that several aspects in life will often switch to autopilot mode. You need to properly program the autopilot in your life and family by setting the right examples.

On marginal cost v/s full cost

“The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” Carol Lewis

We think in terms of marginal costs all the time, the incremental difference a small step will make. But we end up paying the full price, whether we like it or not.

Following your principles 100% of the time is easier than doing it 98% of the time.

 

How to identify and stick to a life-purpose

There are three parts to a purpose – likeness, commitment and metrics. Sketch out the “likeness”, which is like an outline or negative of what you see yourself and your life as. This will serve as the blueprint and guiding compass for your decisions and actions. Put in commitment to making that blueprint come to life. Instill the right metrics to track yourself, being careful not to get caught in the caveats discussed above.

“Take the time to figure out your life’s purpose, and if you do so, you’ll look back at it as the most important thing you ever did”

It is worth nothing that Clay advises his students to do this while they are still at school or early on in their post-school lives.

 

Credits: AT for recommending the awesome book,  Ashish for instilling the book summarizing practice and Sujeet for reminding me often to revive this blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting infected

“He didn’t sleep for four nights. Four whole nights. And if that trip had been his idea of a vacation, where, the psychologist wanted to know, did he work ? “

“He didn’t want to fight for petty wins when there was a bigger game in town. And the bigger game was pinball. You win one game, you get to play the next. You win with this machine, you get to build the next. Pinball was what counted.”

Its a tough task not to relate to the characters and the story that Tracy Kidder unfolds before you in The Soul of a New Machine. He depicts heroism in systems engineering and makes circuit designing sound like the sexiest job ever. He ensures that you, despite being a mere reader, get the kind of adrenaline rushes the 30-odd team did as they set out to build the next-generation 32-bit minicomputer over that one year period.

The book has a Pulitzer prize to its credit and has been called the “original nerd epic” by many critics. Given all that, attempting to write a review would be sheer folly. Several people have done a great job of it before. Below however, is an attempt to log what I learnt from the book and what I enjoyed the most. The post is long and verbose, but it doesn’t count.  The hope is that the (usually non-existent) reader will be inspired somewhere midway to give up on the post and grab the book instead.  :)

So what makes the book so likable ?

Bringing out something that is Transcendental

The technology that the book talks about is far outdated today. From minicomputers to  the age of handhelds, we have long taken for granted technology that the protagonists considered path-breaking. However, Kidder’s observations about the way engineers work, what keeps them driven, how teams deal with long-term challenging projects still remain valid in the current world. Even technically, there are certain insights he provides which really amaze you as they come true now . For instance, “A time would probably come when components would operate so quickly, that the distance the signals would have to travel would ultimately affect intimately the speed of most commercial computers“. Its something we take for granted now, but to have this insight 30 years back is brilliant.

The Author, his narration, his attitude
Hey, its a journalist trying to understand the computer industry. So on first thoughts, one probably doesn’t expect much of an insight on the technical side. I expected the book to be a “view from 20,000 feet above” of the intricate process. Wrong. The book taught me more interesting things than any course on computer design or architecture I took. The author claims that he struggled with the technical details, but eventually, in the book he brings them out as the most amazing analogies teachers could give. From microcode sequencing,page faults, instruction caches, logical  address spaces, privilege levels and protection rings – he has a simple, handy explanation in day-to-day parlance for anyone. He makes sure that not knowing the technicalities does not prevent the reader from appreciating the challenges that the engineers faced.

A peek into corporate dynamics
For those engineers who look at management with a sneer, this book is only bound to magnify that feeling. On one hand you have the brightest of people ever, facing impossible deadlines in designing something thats ground-breaking. On the other, there are the managers who seem to be practicing what they call the “Mushroom theory of management” – Keep them in the dark, feed them shit, and watch them grow.

  • A logic analyser costs ten thousand dollars, overtime for engineers is free.”

Bringing out a good technical product is about a lot more than making a good design  and getting it manufactured – thats the lesson one learns from the protagonist. Ah, the protagonist ! He is an engineer at heart but when circumstances demand, he strategizes, cooks up plots and gets more adorable with every move he makes. He is a perfectionist but also he knows when to move with the times, and write on his board – “Not everything worth doing is worth doing well”.

Dating the engineers, Up Close
Every now and then, you get something to keep you in awe of those people. It could be when the main designer spends twenty hours in the library hunting for quotes and flourishes to add to his ISA specs.

  • “They revealed the class of feelings that Wallach brought to his job. And with these, he had signed his name to his piece of the new computer.

Or it could be how the midnight programmers approached life.

  • Taking that machine apart was a fantastic high. Something I could get absorbed in and forget I had these other social problems.”

They talk and live engineering like a religion and their passion is contagious.

  • Writing microcode is like nothing else in my life. For days, nothing comes out. The empty yellow pad sits in front of me,reminding me of my inadequacy. Finally it starts to come. I feel good. That feeds it, and finally I get into a mental state where I am a microcode writing machine.”
  • “The pressure, I felt it from inside of me.”

Leadership
People (yours truly is a good example) keep fumbling and keep flailing around trying to figure what leadership is. In that regard, the protagonist here is a rather uncanny phenomenon as a leader. He leads by example, but he also does a lot to turn his own team against himself. No one really knows whats on his mind. And yet, he evokes respect.

  • West is interesting. He’s the main reason why I do what I do.”

Working in teams
Team dynamics can be interesting and confusing at the same time. The book teaches you to accept it in whatever form it comes.

  • “Often Guyer leaves at around three in the morning. Veres comes in a few hours later, looks at Guyer’s notes in the logbook, the pictures he has taken on the analyzers. And he instantly knows whats wrong and how to fix it. They make a marvelous debugging team, but only when not working together.”

Burn-out
It happens. To even the best of us. Accepting it seems to be the best way to deal with it.

  • “I am going to a commune in Vermont and will deal with no unit of time shorter than a season.”

Being distraught, yet being happy
Theirs is a tough industry. To put it in the words of the author, the industry’s short product cycles lend projects an atmosphere of crisis.Computer
engineering is arduous in itself, and this makes it more intense. Hours are long; emotions get taxed. The technology changes every year and its hard to keep up with the kids fresh out of school. A long-term tiredness can easily creep over by your thirties.

The fun part is that these guys still discover things that keep them going. Be it messing with each others’ files, programming ridiculous AI onto each others’ terminals or getting yourself an unencrypted copy each time your boss sends something encrypted to his server.
Masochists they are, but that doesn’t stop them from being fun people to be with.

Random Musing – Of computers, engineering and life

  • The protagonist can lie to himself  :)   – “I gotta keep life and computers separate, or else I ll go mad.”
  • Time in a computer is an interesting concept. When I sit in front of the logic analyzer, twelve nanoseconds is a big deal for me. And yet, when I realize how much longer it takes to snap my fingers,I have lost track of what a nanosecond really means.”
  • She’s romantic, foolish, unrealistic – everything an engineer’s not supposed to be. But I like her.”
  • He could write two to three hundreds lines of code in his mind, but he had a hard time remembering his own phone number.”
  • “I don’t care how computers get sold. I just build them”

You could say I am infected.  Seldom do you find a book which makes you fall in love with every alternate line.  For the reader (again, if existent) who bothered to read it all the way up to here – here is a list of books next on the infection spree (oh yeah, I am pretty free this semester or at least thats what the assumption is ) – It would be great to hear from you if you have views on the below list or other recommendations –

Getting OpenEmbedded accepted for GSoC 2010

It has been a long period of hibernation for this blog and its now time to make good use of the aggregation privilege on Planet LinuxToGo that Florian has given me. GSoC 2010 announcements are out, and mentoring organizations have now about a month or so left to plan out their applications. This blog post is to discuss the possibility/feasibility of Open Embedded applying as an independent mentoring organization for GSoC 2010 and to gather views/comments/ideas on the same. Speaking to a couple of OE developers on IRC, this sounds like a decent idea for various reasons that I shall elaborate on here ..

Why OE should apply as mentoring organization for GSoC :

1. Lots of good ideas needing implementation
Chris ‘kergoth’ Larson came up with an interesting compilation of tasks and concerns list for OE [0]. Another current source for ideas is the uservoice page, though most agree that it needs more promoting [1]. So yes, there are lots of things that could make up for interesting OE project ideas,though we need a better compilation.

2. Better exposure for the community
GSoC is an ideal place to get prospective developers and possibly do some good community propaganda.

Why OE makes for a good organization suitable for acceptance in GSoC :

1. In 2006, OE was a part of GSoC under handhelds.org. The community and project are now large enough and well-supported to apply independently.

2. The prime requirement an organization should meet for GSoC acceptance is good ideas and good mentors. The latter, I am confident, are abundant in OE. From my experience as a GSoC student with an (unofficially) OE project, we have a large number of people in the community who would make amazing mentors. Some of them have already been mentors earlier, either for other communities or in 2006. As to good ideas, as mentioned earlier, we have some head-start,with a couple of places describing what is needed. What we need is a perhaps a page on the OE wiki, putting them all together. Ideas could be segregated into two categories – the recipe based ones (though there might be issues with this) like a gnome OE port and the ones which involve python hacking/working on the bitbake core.

What needs to be done :

1. We need to set up a Wiki page or some space where we can call out for mentors and prospective ideas.
2. Figure out whether GSoC projects involving just recipes would be acceptable to Google and if we have good enough ideas for that category. My own project last year was of that kind, but then as rightly pointed out by someone, I was just lucky. Projects that involved hacking on the bitbake core will surely be well-received.
3. Are there other open-source projects that OE could act as a umbrella organization for ? Being an umbrella org for smaller projects with good ideas greatly increases the chances of acceptance.

With organization applications typically starting in the first week of March, we have about a month to go to do the above. If you are an OE developer reading this, comments/suggestions /flames are more than welcome.

Disclaimer: I am keen on seeing OE get accepted in GSoC this year,but that has nothing to do with any aspirations of applying as student/mentor. A summer intern with Microsoft Research implies that I will be officially out-of-touch with open source/GSoC. I do however have vested interests in the sense that, I would love to see OE reaching out to more people and perhaps some OE contribution from my univ. and country.

[0]: Tasks: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/112715/Documents/OpenEmbedded%20Tasks.html/index.html
One more here: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/112715/Documents/OpenEmbedded%20Usability%20Concerns.html/index.html
[1]: http://openembedded.uservoice.com/

Science Fiction – Echoes from the Unknown

There is a lot to write about the Shaastra gone  by (for those uninitiated,  it is the technical festival of my university,IIT Madras and one of a kind in India), but only if the typical CSE assignment drills would stop …. :( But there is Science Fiction to talk about, where I got the first prize in rather queer circumstances. It isn’t usual for a contestant to come to know of a writing contest midway through it, to run to the venue midway and somehow jot down stuff while supposedly overseeing builds. Well, I had fun :)

Thanks to a classmate,I have my story ready to be put up here. So here I go to log my story below before I lose it like I did last year. I am satisfied that I could point somewhat to how life is getting technologically interesting but alarmingly mechanical with time. To the rest, well, comment on it and I shall know.

Credits :

1. Amrita – The co-ordinator who took the pains to ask me to write, when I was totally clueless about the event, maybe just because my story placed second last year.

2. Arun Chaganty – For being stubborn on typing out the story and “proving his vettiness.”  (Someday, I shall understand how his personal scheduing algorithms manage to bring out fantastic results while being so pointless on the face of it.)

3. SuperVol Subhashini and my co-coordinator Vijay, who took care of the lab setup for the two hours that I was furiously scribbling away.

The Story:

It was built by the human race for human research and supposedly comprised of humans. Yet, there was nothing ‘human’ about this place. Eureka, one of the most awe-inspiring technological breakthroughs of it’s times was a bundle of paradoxes, in more ways than one. This giant space-ship laboratory was the cradle of numerous astounding discoveries in space-time relativity. But the discoverers themselves had no clue of space and time themselves as they worked away to glory round the clock in a setup that floated across the cosmos at gigantic speeds.

Inside one of the special research chambers of Eureka, it was yet another day for Zora. Well, it was ‘just another day’ for this beautiful and composed lady, even as each day witnessed her coming up with some milestone invention in human-embeddable chips. “If only we could embed the infinite computational resources that we make use of every moment, integrating it with our brains and empowering it…”, she would always say, “there would be no limits to what we could achieve.” Her ideas and work made her among the most respected and looked up to scientist in Eureka, and that was enough to keep her fuelled and working non-stop. The fact that her loved ones thought she was out there making machines of men, having already turned herself into one in the process didn’t make much of a difference to her.

Read the rest of this entry »

GSoC 2009 – Winding up…

As Google Summer of Code 2009 draws to a formal close, its time to sum up all my work and the fun I had with my project, thank the people who have stood by me all this while and hopefully give some insights into the project. Read the rest of this entry »

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