A Song of Despair

Found this brilliant piece of writing by Pablo Neruda, and thought I’d share it here:

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.

Write, for instance: “The night is full of stars,
and the stars, blue, shiver in the distance.”

The night wind whirls in the sky and sings.

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

On nights like this, I held her in my arms.
I kissed her so many times under the infinite sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her.
How could I not have loved her large, still eyes?

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
To think I don’t have her. To feel that I’ve lost her.

To hear the immense night, more immense without her.
And the poem falls to the soul as dew to grass.

What does it matter that my love couldn’t keep her.
The night is full of stars and she is not with me.

That’s all. Far away, someone sings. Far away.
My soul is lost without her.

As if to bring her near, my eyes search for her.
My heart searches for her and she is not with me.

The same night that whitens the same trees.
We, we who were, we are the same no longer.

I no longer love her, true, but how much I loved her.
My voice searched the wind to touch her ear.

Someone else’s. She will be someone else’s. As she once
belonged to my kisses.
Her voice, her light body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, true, but perhaps I love her.
Love is so short and forgetting so long.

Because on nights like this I held her in my arms,
my soul is lost without her.

Although this may be the last pain she causes me,
and this may be the last poem I write for her.

Found it on PoemHunter

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Why Makers Hate Meetings

Found this very interesting article by Paul Graham (via facebook and freakonomics blog) about people who build things usually hate meetings, and find it as a big waste of time. At the same time, when you are in the management frame of mine, meetings are the most important thing you do all day. I find this explanation really hits the nail on the head, since I have been on both sides of the fence. This is what Graham says:

One reason programmers dislike meetings so much is that they’re on a different type of schedule from other people. Meetings cost them more.

There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one-hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

When you use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

Completely true. When you are a developer, engineer, or architect (either software or real-world), by the time, you get around to understanding the problem at hand, and get the full perspective, its already a few hours, and if you have to head out to meetings at that time, the whole train of thought is lost, and you’ve go to restart again from pretty much the beginning.

Last few months, I have had to be on both schedules, and its a very difficult thing to handle. On the one hand, I develop software that goes into our solution, and on the other hand, I have to follow up with all the other developers, interface with Sales and Operations, and all the other aspects of business. And in most cases, you can’t draw up a schedule and take out chunks of a few hours and concentrate on the development. As a result, in most cases, at one time, I can wear only one hat – either be a developer and ignore everything else, forget about making phone calls, following up with people etc., and concentrate on writing code. At other times, there are complete days where I can’t afford to even open my IDE because I am wearing the managers hat and do all the other things I have been ignoring all the while. It also leads to a complete state of confusion at times when you change hats too frequently – and at those times, you know you’re losing it and its best to forget everything and take a break.

It’s a difficult balancing act – identify what requires your most immediate attention, and change hats frequently, so that collectively the whole organization is most productive, even if you feel that you are not at your most productive level yourself.

However, even though we may hate it, the way most of us (and with us I mean people who are never satisfied, and keep pushing ahead for more) we love it most when we have too much to do, rather than too little. Changing hats rapidly, probably take a hit on personal productivity, re-engineering yourself with the dynamics of the environment around you, basically going crazy, are a part of the job description, something you learn to hate – but do nevertheless – and grow along the way.

Ideas for new mobile operators

I was going through Rajesh Jain’s blog post where he has penned downs some ideas that the new crop of mobile operators could use, both to differentiate themselves at launch, as well as establish themselves, and get a large number of subscribers. Rajesh has himself given some excellent suggestions like:

  1. Focus on Data-hungry customers with a flat Rs. 99 per month plan
  2. Use a more open and participative VAS platform to entice users
  3. Open the User Profile to Third-party services

I’ve been thinking myself on how the new crop of operators (the Swan Telecom, Unitech-Telenor, Shyam Systema etc.) would market themselves, and would they take a niche or undercut prices and go for the masses. Well, Shyam has already launched as MTS (Shyam has chosen to use its JV partner’s branding straight away, so as to clear the way for a possible sale in the future I believe), and chosen to go after the masses, giving out a truckload of minutes free for lifetime prepaid. Too see a list of telecom companies in India, refer to Wikipedia.

The way I would like to approach this is to see what the shortcomings of the market currently are, and how they can be fixed, and I would probably enumerate them as these:

  1. Undercut prices further for the bottom of the pyramid – I think the prices at the lower end of the spectrum can go down further, and that’s because even though we are lowest cost mobile services country in the world, the distribution infrastructure has been commoditized (buying and selling prepaid credits, separate tower companies, billing systems etc.), and the lowest rung of customers that are added today, would not be as heavy users and will not occupy as much spectrum per capita. Since, currently mobile companies are more or less valued based on the number of subscribers, there will be a mad rush to acquire customers, and undercutting is the simplest way to do it. [This is already the strategy that MTS is using]
  2. More value for the middle tier – I think some of the mobile operators are going to figure out “one size fits all” is not possible, and there are lots of opportunities in segmenting and targeting. I personally see very unique plans applicable for companies giving out phones to their sales people, incoming plans for companies, family plans, lover plans (which already exist), college plans, children’s plans, election plans (?) etc. with a good number of VAS services that are bundled in for that target segment. Of course, this would require better content and VAS services, and hence more rev share for VAS players.
  3. Fanatical Support for the top tier – I think one place where the current operators are lacking is servicing the top tier really well. These are the high value consumers that perhaps constitute well over 40% of the market. In some cases like Corporate Connections, they do get enhanced support, but the large swathe of India still has many high intensity users, from SMEs, businessmen, lawyers, dealmakers etc. and some of the new operators could target these and probably charge them an extra Rs. 200 per month for extensive support and personalized services. For instance, I have an Airtel connection and my GPRS just refuses to work when I am on roaming, and I have probably spent more than 40 hours trying to find a resolution but in vain. I wouldn’t mind paying some money to get this issue resolved.
  4. Better Roaming (Domestic & International) – One place where most operators are lacking is good support and costs for roaming, both National and International. They cost a lot, they are painful because you can’t figure out how much you are going to be charged, and if it stops working when on roaming, you are dead in the middle of the desert. I would foresee prices in this area going down quickly, because customers of point (3) are typically also heavy users of point (4). However, this would require an India wide network, and a long distance backbone before this can be attemped, and I think Tata Docomo is very well suited for this.
  5. 3G and all the frills – This will be another turf fight, but I think its extremely raw now, and difficult to figure out how its going to pan out.

With all the new entrants, the media will be big winners, since they are going to advertise like mad – good news for newspapers, outdoor companies, and TV channels.

What do you think? How is the entry of the new players going to play out and what would you like them to do?

The Kitchen Computer : If she can only cook as well as Honeywell can compute…

Chanced upon this very interesting trivia in the Wired article on the new book by Chris Anderson (FREE):

Honeywell Kitchen Computer Advertisement

Honeywell Kitchen Computer Advertisement

“Honeywell Kitchen Computer, priced at $10,600”

“the Kitchen Computer was aimed at housewives and featured integrated counter space. Those housewives would, however, require a programming course (included in the price), since the only way to enter data was with binary toggle switches, and the machine’s only display was binary lights. Needless to say, not a single Kitchen Computer is recorded as having sold.”

The text of the advertisement read (source: Wikipedia):

“Her souffles are supreme, her meal planning a challenge? She’s what the Honeywell people had in mind when they devised our Kitchen Computer. She’ll learn to program it with a cross-reference to her favorite recipes by N-M’s own Helen Corbitt. Then by simply pushing a few buttons obtain a complete menu organized around the entree. And if she pales at reckoning her lunch tabs, she can program it to balance the family checkbook. 84A 10,600.00 complete with two week programming course. 84B Fed with Corbitt data: the original Helen Corbitt cookbook with over 1,000 recipes $100 (.75) 84C Her Potluck, 375 of our famed Zodiac restaurant’s best kept secret recipes 3.95 (.75) Corbitt Epicure 84D Her Labaird Apron, one-size, ours alone by Clairdon House, multi-pastel provencial cotton 26.00 (.90) Trophy Room”

Hmmmm …

Abir, Sancho and Lizzie

Book cover for My Friend Sancho

Book cover of My Friend Sancho

“I should introduce myself now. My name is Abir Ganguly. I work for a tabloid in Bombay called The Afternoon Mail. I am 23. I masturbate 11 times a day. I exaggerate frequently, as in the last sentence”

Thus begins Amit Varma’s (of India Uncut fame) newest yellowback My Friend Sancho (follow this link for the Author’s homepage on the book, or the Facebook fan page). Abir, or Abeeeer as he is called by friends in a state of bacchanalia, relishes a full meal of online games everyday, and then passes obnoxious PJs, enjoys being at Bookends a bookshop in Bombay’s Eterniti mall (good nomenclature!) and covers the crime beat in Bombay when he feels like doing any work. Abir is imaginative, wildly, his hormones getting the better of him at the drop of every pen anywhere in the world, his testosterone-tinted glasses seeing through every fabric. He is a witness to a murder and then finds himself in love with the daughter of the victim, Muneeza aka Sancho, when he is pushed into an assignment to sketch her father’s life. The story is about how Abir’s life gets entangled with Sancho’s, doesn’t have the balls to tell her the truth, and when he does, as is usually the case he is spurned, and finds himself in the state of abject despair (of course, since its despair in love!). The fact that his room-mate lizard is in no mood to empathize doesn’t help either. What happens in the end … umm .. read the book!

The best thing about the book is that its a very light read, very quick — I finished it off in two sittings. To the credit of the book, it managed to hold my interest even as I kept watching the results of the nations greatest jamboree, the Lok Sabha elections 2009. As you navigate from one wisecrack to another, you wonder if Varma was under the influence of err .. something more influential that lends to more fluent thoughts (a la Coleridge in Kubla Khan?) — you wonder if the wry sense of humour can be achieved in sobriety. The plot is tight, quick — though the book is more in the prose than the plot.

I remember the last book I had read with an equal gleeful page-turning urgency was The Inscrutable Americans, and I hope this book reaches the same heights of success!

Of course, the best fleshed out character in the book is the Lizard. I don’t think you can find another book where a Lizard emotes quite as much.

The Common Man Bowls every Political Party

 

The Common Man Bowls all Political Parties in India

The Common Man Bowls all Political Parties in India

Found this brilliant piece of work by Neelabh on the the Times of India masthead today, and deservedly so. It shows the way elections in India are a completely unpredictable affair — no amount of opinion polls and exit interviews can help. Every constituency is unique, every booth different, every election machine throws up surprises. Every seat is hotly contested, my booth had around 8 candidates. There is a mad scramble for votes, hook and crook both have their own role to play.

And the election results are always a suprise especially in national politics. Voters in India are confused about what is good at the national level, whats good at the state level — and many times your choice vary quite a bit based on the scale of the elections, and the candidate in your constituency. Besides, I am not sure if many people actually know the difference between the parties apart from the symbols. It’s a game of partnerships, with powerful sects, groups, communities with mass appeal, and if you pull the right leader, you pull all the followers with them. 

At the end, it really is like the big fat bowling ball that is quite unpredictable, try as you might to place it. The pins, kings and men, can roll with equal probability, and the pins that stay behind become the kingmakers the next time. Horses are traded, donkeys get promoted to ministers, blatant foxes smile behind the curtains of power, a new set of people make money in the next 5 years, policies be damned!

Yes, elections in India are quite an entertainment, quite like the game of bowling!

StalkDaily worm hits Twitter

Found a full post mortem of the latest worm to hit the Social Media scene – StalkDaily. Very interestingly, twitter allowed to add script tags in their profile, and 17-year old Mickeyy Mooney employed a cross-site scripting attack to not just post an update promoting his own site StalkDaily.com, but also added the same malicious javascript on the profile pages of who-ever visited an infected page. The modus operandi of the attack is described in more detail here.

This of course, made use of the authentication tokens that are present when you are logged into twitter – and while it couldn’t scrape passwords, it did its harm. Twitter is kinda more open than all others, since it reveals pretty much all its functionality through its API – it even gives the users the ability to even update their profiles. This, along with the fact that they allow Javascript inclusion in the profile (extremely surprising! why would they allow this!), makes it easy to do cross-scripting attacks here.

I was wondering what means can be employed to control this — and there are a few strategies that can be used here:

  1. Input Cleanup – Always clean up inputs when you are accepting anything from a foreign agent (user, website, api). This should include cleaning up script tags, cleaning up for SQL injection, etc.
  2. Secure Account Settings – Ensure that before changing account settings, users are at least made to put in their password once again, or it’s on a separate location (https) that prevents the same authentication tokens to be used. Yahoo/Google do that for all important account settings
  3. Sandbox External Code – If you do have to run any custom code that the user sends your way, run it in a sandbox. Rather than giving it access to all your data structures, create a new datstructure, populate it appropriately and let it spit out the results in some predefined format (say, XML). You can parse the results and display it again. Showing users’ code directly can be quite dangerous.
  4. Extra authentication for APIs – Give the API an extra authentication token, say an api key, that prevents the users to access your api’s without it. The challenge here would be distribution of this extra information. This can either be done by asking users to put in an extra api key when they give api access to somebody, or to make the software pass through a API validation step (a la OpenID, or Vista UAC) that only gives out the api key, after correctly informing the user.

Do you have any other tips?

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