Sunday, August 27, 2006

Swimming Across: A Memoir by Andrew S. Grove

"Only paranoid survive." Andy Grove  the founder and ex-CEO of Intel said this.

If you read (or listen to) this memoir from Andy Grove, you would understand the why he might have said so. This memoir traces Grove's childhood in Hungary to his coming and settling down in the USA. Grove who was a kid during world war II was personally affected by the war. His dad was taken away to work in some camp. He and his mother had to do everything to protect themselves from ire against Jews.

It's a very interesting read. Creates a nice picture of life in the eastern Europe around that time. Grove remembers facts and figures quite well.

Grove is an exceptional success story. An immigrant who came to the US after abandon his college to escape from the brutalities after Hungarian revolution went on to earn Ph.D. from UCB and founded and was CEO of Intel till 1998. Amazing success story.

This is not a book to pick up some business secrets from Grove. There are other books by Grove to teach some fine points which he perfected. This is for general light non-fiction reading with some fun. Groves childhood was not very ordinary and he did have some funny incidents we can all enjoy.

Good book.


Ads by

Ads by

Powered by Qumana

Friday, August 25, 2006

Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World's Greatest Outlaw by Mark Bowden

Pablo Escobar was one of the richest people in the world during 80s and 90s. His enormous wealth did not come from legal means. It did not even come from arms business which is many times semi-legal at best.. Escobar's all wealth came from pure and clean drug trade. He was the king of cocaine.

At one point he had so much clout that he was indeed the one who called shots in Columbia. His drug trade had made him a billionaire and more. His lifestyle was comparable to any king. He was capable of getting rid of anyone who dared to cross his path. It may sound unbelievable today but he got many important persons such as a presidential candidate,  judge investigating cases against him, many cops, his rivals among others. He knew what gangsters learn very fast that it is the fear of death and destruction that created more panic than anything else. So, he made every killing a sensational one.

He had several jets for drug trafficking purposes. He had several private airfields in Columbia and many other neighboring countries. His main destination was US. With a well oiled organization he flooded the US with cocaine. Occasionally, he had his own shipments seized just to divert attention from bigger shipments and what not.

This book focuses on the manhunt for Escobar which ultimately resulted him being shot dead. Escobar was able to manipulate national and international community using his enormous wealth and political patronage which was for sale. But, extraordinary violence he used to deal with his problem became impossible to bear even for people who would have allowed him to carry his activities if he were do them quietly. With several bombings and other acts of meaningless violence he had become such a big pain that a surgery was needed to get rid of him.

During the course of time he also fell out with the US for whatever reasons. US which had Manuel Noriega of Panama hauled to Miami to stand trial wanted to do the same with Escobar too. Escobar somehow managed to negotiate surrender with the Colombian government in lieu of extradition to the US. The constitution was amended to make it impossible for anyone to be extradited from Columbia.

At that time US had a change of policy related to covert operations. After having retreated from a disaster in Somalia, the new Clinton administration was hesitant to get involved directly  to deal with Escobar on foreign soil. Otherwise a clandestine operation mounted by elite commandos would have gotten rid of him in no time. US decided to make all training and infrastructure available to the Columbian forces to track and kill  Escobar. But, they were not able to make good use of it. Of course, Escobar had informers everywhere.

Although the US policy prevented covert operations on the foreign soil, US retained the right to hit back against anyone anywhere if the person  caused harm to the US interests. Escobar provided ample opportunities for that.

Even within  Columbia opposition was mounting from government and competition. Even people who were generally okay with Escobar's narcotics business were feeling that he was maniac and created unnecessary violence. They created many rivals and vigilante groups to go after Escobar and his interests. Vigilantes killed many of his top aides one by one. There was a tit for tat for every Escobar attack. They showed him that he too had soft spots  and when hit there, he too withered. They targeted his lawyers, his relatives  and his business partners.

All this  drove Escobar to desperation. His empire had crumbled. He was trying to hide in a slum. He stopped using cell phone after realizing that Columbian police had started tracking his movements  and started using radiophones with complex array of transmitters, re-trainsmitters. Also, he spoke on the phone while traveling in a car. So, even if his coordinates were detected, he was gone from there when the search team arrived at the location.

Finally the technical people with advanced gadgetry supplied US defense forces conned Escobar to be on the phone for long enough time for them to locate him for the operation. Escobar who was taking maximum precaution to avoid tracing somehow got carried away and stayed on the phone for long enough for elite commandos storm the place and gun him down with his accomplices. Thus came the end of one of the most notorious criminals in the history of humanity.

Mark Bowden who wrote best seller 'Black Hawk Down' which dealt with US operation that went sour in Somalia wrote this book also. Very well written and balanced. In order to avoid coming across as repetition of all the info available about Escobar, Bowden does a good job of tracing his growth as how Escobar became what he became, his lavish lifestyle, his operational excellence in transporting drugs in old Boeing passenger planes with their seats removed etc. makes a very interesting read.

As far as I could recall there has been no one like Escobar who held his country to ransom and looked all too powerful only to be chased and hunted like an animal. You know, many people have drawn parallels between Escobar and Indian mob boss Dawood Ibrahim. If you just compare their lavish lifestyles, of course, you can put a whole bunch of mob guys in the same club. But, that's where the comparison ends. Escobar did not have to live as a virtual prisoner as Dawood has to live in Pakistan or wherever his masters choose to put him. The comparison of their expensive tastes be it wine or cigar or food or women, I think they shared common interests. Both men appealed to some of the best pimps in the world, had their harems filled with all variety and sowed their wild oats anywhere and everywhere. Dawood continues to live and probably will for good years to come. Despite US, UN etc. designating him as global terrorist nothing much has changed for him. Plane loads of goodies (including moles) continue to be ferried for his pleasure from Bombay even today right under the nose of authorities.

Nice book. Audio version read by the author is also nice.


Ads by

Ads by

Powered by Qumana

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pain & Gain

We do things that we do only for two things 1) to avoid pain 2) to feel good.

To feel good is straight forward. As long as we do not do harmful things to feel good, other activities should be fine. Achieving our goals, being successful or whatever that can make us feel good, even if it is temporarily, is okay. Although most of these do not last and some times reaching the goal actually feels sort dampening because you miss the thrill of the whole journey that you undertook. Probably that was more fun than reaching the goal.

To avoid pain is somewhat involved. Many times in order to avoid pain we do not pay enough attention to what bigger pain we are putting ourselves into. Take a simple example. For whatever reasons, we are quiet and do not speak up even when it is necessary. It is not that we can not muster up courage to speak. Actually it is our goal to avoid the pain. You may ask where is the pain here? Pain here is the pain of having to spend energy to make our point, argue, disagree, confront and what not. OK, by not speaking up we avoided something that would have made us uncomfortable. Temporarily fine. Can we feel good about this? While avoiding this pain, we have pushed ourselves into ever deepening marsh of self-pity, self-deceit, lack of confidence and depression. The pain that we are going to endure because of this may be unknown at this time. But, in the future when we miss out on opportunities because of lack of communication skills, lack of initiative, lack of enthusiasm, the pain we feel and unbearable frustration are not worth our time and energy.. At that time, it may be difficult to make the connection but that is the truth.

Biggest regret is the regret of not having tried. All of us can recall opportunities that we missed because we did not even try. This pain more than those occasions when you tried your best but did not get what you wanted. At least there you have  facts. In  this case, all thru your life you keep wondering what would have happened only if you had tried. What all it could have lead to and so on.

May be that is the reason they say 'no pain, no gain'. If it is a certain type of pain and not worth to go thru it, sure, avoid it by all means. But, keep in mind what other pains we may be inviting by not undergoing the pain now. It is like exercising. At some age, exercising does hurt a bit here and there unless you are an ageless person. But, giving up the exercise completely will show up so immediately that if you are smart, you will get back of exercise regimen immediately. The body ache, general exhaustion, lack of energy, sluggishness etc. that follows lack of exercise is far more painful than having to put up with some muscle ache here and there.

On the mental front, most of frustration is not due to not getting what we want. But, it is mainly due to not knowing what we want. Since we do not know what we want to start with, we can not appreciate or enjoy it when we  get it. It is like not knowing where to go and feeling upset for landing in some hell hole just because you went wherever you went. Buddha  said - "Having what you like is happiness. Liking what you have is happiness."

Have you ever taken a moment to reflect on those days you felt really good at the end of the day? Invariably, accomplishing something lead to that good feeling. It need not be anything earth moving accomplishment but having been able to get thru most of your TO DO list for that day itself is enough to boost your mood by a few notches. This is the reason they say "feedback is the breakfast of champions." Without knowing how well you are doing you will not enjoy or improve even those things that you need to. Setting small goals and achieving them or making progress towards them goes a long way in making us feel good from day to day. This helps our self esteem, gives us a sense of self worth and results in overall good health.

In our current age of instant gratification, it is hard to set goals that take years or months or days. If you can set such goals and meticulously move towards achieving them, all the power to you. But, for many of us who need instant gratification small mini- goals are the best. We can hope that the energy from achieving mini goals will help us move towards bigger goals.

One way to start doing this is to start measuring everything that matters and work hard to improve on the numbers. Does not work for all scenarios. If you are driving at safe 55 mph, it does not make sense to set the objective of 65 mph if roads  conditions do not permit or your car can not take or if you end up speeding. Use this rule for, say,  to read 10 extra pages if you are reading or set a goal of reading at least 10 pages from a book that would help you personally or professionally.

As we probably know, our wish to avoid pain at any cost is never stronger than when we have to deal with people. When we fear rejection from people, we feel very strong urge to avoid that pain. When we feel we are not going to get what we want easily from people, we want to avoid that too. When we think the other  person is going to react angrily is again when we feel why take the chance of spoiling our mood. As mentioned earlier, all these once again lead to temporary relief from pain  with new bigger pains built into for the future. It is understandable that on certain days we do not want our mood spoiled. By all means, preserve that. That is only postponing or rescheduling. But, putting it off again and again becomes more painful that enduring the pain even if it happens. It is going to take us all a very long time before we can come in terms with our tendency to avoid small pains and face big pains later. We can take some steps such as preparing well in advance for such 'painful' encounters. We can do role plays with our friends. It normally happens so that we come out better than expected when we put our heart and soul into preparing for something very big. How often it has  happened to you - you prepare to fight some $50 charge. You think the other person is going to give you  a very hard time and hence you prepare and prepare and at the end the other person gives in without much problem at all. At that time, you should feel two things 1) learn a lesson that all the negatives that you thought were not useful 2) preparation always helps.


Ads by

Powered by Qumana

Strengths & weaknesses

Should we focus on our weaknesses and try to improve? Or should we focus on our strengths and make them even stronger?

Which approach is better?

Conventionally people have been more focused on their weaknesses or shortcomings and tried very hard to improve. Strengths - many times we do not know at all. Other times we take them for granted. Sometimes we think strengths are strengths because there is not much to improve on them.

However, the theme appears to be changing regarding how we look at strengths and weaknesses. Now experts are saying it provides only marginal benefit to focus on our weaknesses and spend inordinate amount of resources on improving them. Experts say our resources are better spent in working on our strengths and trying to become one of the best in whatever we are good at.

However, it is big change. Our weaknesses get most of our attention because they stick out like a sore thumb. Experts say as long as you work on your weaknesses to bring them to bare minimum level, that is good enough. Improving anything beyond is first of all takes a lot of resources. Second, you will  be only marginally good.

This phenomenon is easily observable when you prepare for standardized tests. You can improve your scores only to certain extent. After that regardless of the amount of resource you spend, your score hovers around a value and does not change much. Keep in mind this occurs only with standardized tests such as GMAT, GRE etc. I personally have observed this while preparing for GMAT. After 3 months, there was no much difference in the score.

There are server al other reasons to focus on strengths and  become even better at them. It is much easier to get better results at something we are already good at. Benefit-to-cost ratio is also very plosive. Small effort and your strength will improve by many folds.

Some people take this concept to people management also. HR experts advise that as a manager you are better off spending more time with your top performers than your bottom performers. For a small effort you would improve the overall output by many folds by improving the productivity of the team. I think here one has to keep in mind Jack Welch's 10-70-20 rule. Only 10% of your people are really top class. Fundamentally they are even better than you in terms of raw talent. If you do not have any in your team, then your team is really skewed. Smart managers always hire people who are smarter than them. 70% of your people are good performers and bring the maximum value because of their sheer number. These people need clear direction and support and they move mountains with their flawless execution. Bottom 20% are not necessarily poor performers. They are not just able to perform in your organization. They may be far more successful in other organizations.

Take a simple example - One of your salesmen sells 10 widgets and other salesman sells only 4 widgets. If you spend certain amount of time to coach them, first salesman will sell another 4 more widgets. Second salesman will sell another 3 more widgets. With your help, you improved the productivity of first salesman by 40 percent and second salesman by 75 %. So, should you spend more time with the second salesman? No. You should spend more time with first salesman and see if you can help him improve more than 40%. Because even without any improvement in second salesman's improvement, you are now selling 18 widgets versus first 14. With focusing on second salesman, you would only get 17. Most of the times it is more fun to work with high performers whose enthusiasm to get mentored will go a long way in keeping your enthusiasm going. The bottom performer may improve his productivity marginally. To get that probably you spend much more effort and do not enjoy the experience as much.

So, should you always ignore bottom performers? Not at all. Not communicating with your people is the biggest sin  any manager can commit. Selectively isolating people should qualify for capital punishment. There is no pardon for that. You must keep everyone up-to-date with all the information they need. Extra time is what you spend with your top performers. Instead of taking your ire against low performers in all indirect ways, there are several ways you can be fair to them and provide them a exit path. If you were involved in hiring them in the first place, you are more to be blamed. Majority of the personnel mistakes can be avoided with careful hiring.


Ads by

Ads by

Powered by Qumana

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


When we say mentoring, we normally think of CEOs mentoring their Protégé, senior managers mentoring people with high management potential. These are stereotypical examples. Mentoring is not confined to only these. In fact, mentoring  can be done by almost anybody. Everyone of us know something about something that another person probably does not know. We can become their mentors.

One of the areas that I have personally benefited from mentoring is the area of accountability. Holding someone accountable is important because accountability is one of the necessary factors for success. Accountability also cuts the other way. When we have to make some one accountable, we have to ask some questions and drive towards some commitment and agreement. Many times  people who  ask  the questions are at some higher level (our boss or teacher etc.). When questions required to enforce accountability are asked point blank many times they can be very intimidating and seem very insensitive and attacking. When they sound differently than intended, they may render the person immobile or defensive or anything else other than what you want him or her to be that is accountable.

Another pitfall of asking direct questions on accountability is that you would only hear what the other persons thinks you would like to hear. You ask when something will be done. They you hear some 'ah's and 'oh's. You feel impatient and ask the most dreadful question 'how much are you done?'. If you ask a software engineer, answer invariably is 90% and remaining 10% takes another 90% of the time. Not a useful question.

Sometimes people just become defensive and say most irritating 'I don't know'. They are not incorrect.  But, we are not in our best behavior either in becoming irritated at their 'I do not know'. Both are wrong here. 'I do not know' when uttered without something to follow to make it look positive will make you come across as someone who does not do his/her homework or not ready to take additional responsibility and what not.

One of my former mentors was very good at recognizing above problems. Being an engineering manager, he had few direct reports including me. He never used to ask seemingly intimidating questions such as 'when it will be done?' 'how much is done?' I think he was too smart for such dumb questions. He always asked for written status every week. So, even if someone did not feel comfortable in raising difficult issues ( such delays, problems etc) in person with him, they could hide behind status reports. He was way too good at scanning even some of the most verbose status reports and hone in on risks. That was an impressive skill. He used to make note of such risks and invariably used casual conversations to know more about the risk without even you realizing that he is getting all the project updates when you felt you were having a casual lunchtime or water cooler discussion.

Even when he needed to talk about project related things. He took enough time to make a small talk and somewhere he made you talk about the project and status on your own. The very fact that he listened with 100% attention itself made people so comfortable with him that they just opened up. 30 minutes spent with him and people reeling under all sorts of project related stress came out refreshed.

For engineers, it is very difficult to answer questions especially related to schedule, completion etc. without giving adequate explanation. It really bothers them when we ask point blank questions and give an impression that you just care about the bottom line and not the info behind the answers. You may say 'no excuses' but engineers say 'these  are not excuses but explanations.' If you are interested in getting to the bottom of the issue, do put up with explanations even when you feel you do not need them. Lame excuses - of course make a no excuse rule.

This mentor of mine always asked most of the questions not related to the actual milestone. In answering and deliberating on the questions related to activities making up the milestone, he got the status, he got the update on risks and engineers gave the best update without feeling intimidated. At such a nice environment at the end when the manager asked questions about completion we were so relaxed  we did not feel that we had to cover ourselves on the dates we were committing. We committed dates to the best of our knowledge because we felt the person had enough appreciation for the explanations we provided regarding risks etc. Most of the time we lived up to commitments just because when we were so relaxed we could quickly take into account most of the things and provide the most accurate estimate. The manager was a strict follower of management-by-walking-around. As  he fostered open  and non-intimidating culture, he got new updates on daily basis when he ked around.

Since we felt so comfortable in dealing with this manger, we automatically felt very serious about our commitment to him. So, accountability was naturally enforced. We were clear that accountability meant either keeping the agreement or renegotiating the agreement well in advance. Personality was the only thing that used to hold us off from using this technique with other managers but with him we were only welcome to use it. We did renegotiate the agreement mostly in a positive way to tell him that we are done ahead of the schedule or found a cheaper alternative to a problem.

Bottom line is when you ask people questions which make them accountable, it is very easy to feel defensive and intimidated. Do not let that happen. Do not ask direct questions. Ask many innocuous questions which will not intimidate people but allow you to deduce the same information if you could connect dots from different questions. Basically be a nice guy first then you don't have to be a tough guy.

Some people say managers who are so friendly come across as weaklings and people especially ones working for them take advantage of them. As long as you have enough stuff to be respected and credible, people can not and will not take advantage of you just because you are nice guy. If you do not have the stuff to evoke respect from your people, they will take advantage of you despite your forceful personality. One of my most respected mentor is a high level executive in public company. He is responsible for 100+ million $ P&L. You can imagine how nice guy he is if I tell you, it did not take more than 24 hours to get a response personal e-mail I sent to him to just keep in touch.

Successful people always remember - "it is nice to be important. But, it more important to be nice." "If you want to gather honey, you certainly do not kick the bee hive." "You can attract more flies with a drop of honey than with a bucket of vinegar."


Ads by

Ads by

Powered by Qumana

Sunday, August 20, 2006

How to Talk So People Listen: Connecting in Today's Workplace (Hardcover) by Sonya Hamlin

Nice book on effective communication.

A lot of books on communication focus much on technique and leave out the most important thing that is people with whom we have to communicate if we want to be successful. And without any doubt, people who matter are the most difficult to communicate and win over - bosses, clients, customers, authorities, spouses (according to some:)).

The author keeps people always on the radar. So, all her advice and wisdom centers around how to take all the tips and techniques with people at the center.

Very well written. The way book is typeset is also very good. Well organized short paragraphs, short sentences, lists etc. help make it an easy and quick read. This format also helps for quick reference too.

All in all a good book.


Ads by

Ads by

Powered by Qumana

Mixed Doubles

After a long time, one nice film. A very low profile, independent film from talented Rajat Kapoor.

Swinging (between couples) is one subject that has been talked in hushed tones for time immemorial even in India. If it found mention in novels (even in Kannada) way back in 80s, it was going on at least on small scale.

Now with new wave of liberalism sweeping the country with increased buying power and rise consumerism, it makes sense for some one like Rajat Kapoor to visit the subject again.

Good film. Ranvir Sheroy (Pooja Bhatt's husband) and Konkona Sen Sharma (veteran actress Aparna Sen's daughter) are really good. Their day-to-day life of commoners is so well depicted. You would want to watch it just for that.

Husband (Sheory) middle aged man is bored or thinks he is bored with daily hum drum of life. He somehow thinks change of partner may help reduce that. A 'phenko' (bullshitting) friend from America comes and tells him about his experiences with swinging and how common and enjoyable it is for both couples. Of course, friend was bullshitting but that does not matter. A new bug has entered into the head of the husband and he goes extraordinary length to explore swinging opportunities and to convince his wife. She vehemently rejects first and later she gives in when he emotionally blackmails her.

They find another couple interested in swinging. Rajat Kapoor and his wife (Koel Purie). They set up the date for the experience. The experience they undergo is interesting and marks the end of the film. Positive is our age old principles and values seem to strong enough to steer us clear of obnoxious practices such as swinging to a large degree. Negative is such things are increasingly happening. Collapse of one's values is the beginning of the end of a society. Hope we wake up before it's too late

Rajat Kapoor and Koel Purie as other copule are also good. Boy, that Koel Purie has that eerie feeling of 'chudail' in her whole personality. Scary to the bones. Her mannerisms, dopey eyes, she is one hell of an actress for such roles.

Review from the netflix is below:

Sunil (Ranvir Shorey) and Malti (Konkona Sen Sharma) have been happily married for a decade, but their life has become dull, especially in the bedroom. In an effort to add some spice to their relationship, Sunil suggests they try wife swapping. At first, Malti refuses, but eventually she's won over. However, the sexually daring husband gets more than he expected when the couple has to deal with the aftermath of their amorous adventures.

Ads by

Ads by

Powered by Qumana

Circle of Fear

Circle of Fear : A Renegade's Journey from the Mossad to the Iraqi Secret Service (Hardcover)
by Hussein Sumaida (Author)

The author has some similarity with renegade Israeli intelligence officer Victor Ostrovsky who went on to write a couple of best sellers after he ran away from the Mossad unable to work for an agency which he thought was doing more harm than good.

Here we have an Iraqi who nurtured the fantasy to work for Iraq's arch enemy Israel only to be found out by Iraqi intelligence. If he was not the son of a very influential person with close ties to Saddam, he would have been summarily executed. Saddam who eliminated people for even very small mistakes allowed this guy to live and work for Iraqi intelligence. Now this man is in trouble with Mossad for having abandoned them suddenly and having to work of Iraqi terror apparatus against his will. How he manages to come out of this vicious circle what the book is all about.

Book lacks much substance or the author has failed to bring out the best in the form of the book. No where you would find anything extraordinary. Even some of the precarious moments seem to be brought about by circumstances and taken care of again by circumstances. No where you would find the author having had to do something dare devil to escape from the circle of fear. I am sure some of the things that the author accomplished such as managing to get out of the country in a clandestine manner, arranging for his wife's escape so that they could reunite outside of Iraq etc. must have been really heroic of author. But, it does not come across so.

Since the author was the son of a very influential diplomat, references to some famous Iraqis are found in the book. Saddam's two sons Uday and Kusay were his playmates. Tariq Aziz, an educated Iraqi who was the mouth piece of Saddam's regime was a regular visitor to his house. Abul Abbas a notorious PLO terrorist had once did business with the author and references to some not much heard about intelligence people and their unmatched cruelty and ruthlessness.

The author finally manages to flee out of Iraq and makes Canada as his new home. There he now lives a very low profile life to avoid being detected by Iraqi intelligence. This book was written around the time of first gulf war. 15 years since then a lot has changed. Saddam is gone. So are his sons and whole Iraqi Baaht party regime. Iraq is in civil war and America is being required to end what it started.

This is a moderately interesting read. Nothing much to enjoy in terms of sensational spy escapades.


Ads by

Ads by

Powered by Qumana

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Olympus WS-300M 256 MB Digital Voice Recorder and Music Player

Recently I wrote about the best practice of recording your meetings as an effective practice to capture good information from meetings when taking notes is not easy.

This is a nice little digital voice recorder for such a purpose. Very happy with the purchase.

Very sensitive voice recorder. Just place it in the middle of the table and it can record even remote sounds quite well. In the highest quality mode, it can record up to 8 hrs. Transferring the recordings to a computer is also a breeze. No need for a cable etc. Comes with a built in USB plug which goes right into your computer port. Once plugged in, the recorder shows up as another drive like your pen drive.

Files are recorded in WMA format. Since many editing programs require MP3, you may have to use another software utility to convert if you need to edit for marking segments of important things in the meetings such as decisions, action items, etc. There are many freeware tools available to help with that. I use the one from Jodix.

Built in speaker is also a great help to transcribe notes. Comes with a pair of earphones too. If speaker is used, battery drains off quickly. Otherwise, one AAA battery seems to last for a quite long.

You can record all your meetings, listen when required, miss nothing and take your management skills to the next level. Or listen to them when you can not sleep worrying about your projects :)


Logitech Quickcam for Notebooks Pro

Very nice web cam.

It's amazing to see how basic video conferencing has evolved over last few years. Two years back it was not that fun to use web cams with instant messaging services. But, today with web cameras like the one mentioned here, it's really fun to keep in touch with others.

This webcam is suitable for laptop users. Similar web cams are available for desktops too. This camera has a built in microphone. So, you do not have to work with messy headphone/microphone gear on top of your head or struggle with external gear. Very sensitive microphone. Automatic face tracking really works. Just set it up and it will track for the best picture quality. With broadband connection and this camera video conferencing is a reality. Sometime due to network issues, voice quality can be a problem. In that case, you can use regular telephone for voice. Being able to see other party makes such a big difference while having conversations that you would want to have this.

1.3 MP is adequate. Although on eBay found some web cams with much higher resolution. The fact that they are not available easily on prominent retailers such as may indicate something about their quality and/or usefulness.

This web cam also can record video and take still pix. The software that comes along with this to do all that is really user friendly.

Great little toy to keep in touch with friends and family back in India and elsewhere. Can be used for business communications too as long as you do not mind dressing up to take your con-calls when working from home:)

Little pricey but worth it. Face tracking itself is worth everything. Otherwise, there are other cheaper ones and you would spend half your time adjusting the position and focus and other half time with messy cables that the fun is over.

On small concern is that the camera heats up and it can be felt. So, unplug when not is use. The camera and the software is good enough to qualify for real plug and play.

Sometimes online retailers offer good bargains. discounts $30 if you make this as the first purchase using their VISA card. treated me very fairly and honored the discount that I had not used for close to 2 years. Thumbs up to them also.

Ads by
Ads by

Powered by Qumana

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"Good to Great" by Jim Collins

This book has been on BW and other best seller lists for a while. Jim Collins was also the co-author of an earlier best seller "Built to Last".

This book is a result of an exhaustive study where the author and his team tried to identify companies which changed from good to great. Greatness is determined by a set of parameters which are quite stringent. Some of the parameters include 15 year span, 3 times the returns of broad market average among others.

What stands out is among 11 companies that met good to great criteria, there are no technology companies. No Intel. No IBM. No Microsoft. It is not surprising that a few technology companies remain without significant change for 15 years and technology is much more volatile than regular companies.

Most of the companies that figure in the book include 'boring' companies such as paper manufacturers, steel, medicine etc. GE, Walmart etc. do not figure.

The book provides a nice framework for anyone to build any part of their lives from good to great.

Although the other book by the same author "Built to Last" came first, now the author thinks that 'Good to Great' comes first. Once you build a great company, using the principles from 'Built to Last', one can create enduring companies which last for centuries.

I think some of the other things that stand out and  refreshing are.

1) Many 'Good to Great' CEOs were neither charismatic nor very strong personalities. In fact, many thought they could never be successful as i is a common perception is that you need strong willed, aggressive, ruthless task master and Type-A personalities to be successful. It is true that such personalities many times become CEOs but fail to take good companies to greatness. Some examples given are of Al 'Chainsaw' Dunlop who was notorious for cutting down the workforce to save companies only to sell them off. Lee Iacocca who saved Chrysler from bankruptcy but that went straight into his head and company did not become great and was soon gobbled up by German Daimler group.

2) Being able to be best at what you do is key (Hedgehog concept)

3) Three circles leading to greatness - what you are best at, what drives your economic engine and what you are passionate about.

All in a really nice book. Audio book ready by the author is also very good and author tries to make it as personable as possible. It may help to read thru the paper version after listening to the audio book first. There is a lot of good material which is hard to absorb fully by mere listening.


Ads by

Ads by

Powered by Qumana

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

100 Ways To Motivate Others: How Great Leaders Can Produce Insane Results Without Driving People Crazy by Steve Chandler, Scott Richardson

Steve Chandler's motivational book.

Steve Chandler's "100 ways to motivate others" is one of the best motivational books that I have read or listened. There is so much insight that one can get from this book that it is to be read/listened to be believed. It's not like many preaching style books. For every one of the 101 principles Chandler provides, he gives a lot of illustrations and examples. Many examples are true life experiences from the co-author Scott Peterson. Scott Peterson's piano teacher, Ronnie Marcado, features prominently in the illustrations on mentoring and motivating. Some of the wisdom attributed to Marcado is really an eye opener for managers and leaders.

Narration of the book by Steve Chandler also scores high points. Many times even great writers of great books fail to impress  when they read their own books. However, Chandler, who does  a lot of motivational talks, creates the ambience of a virtual seminar in the book.

This book is certainly recommended  for anyone who wants improve  day to day life. Chandler is a great author and speaker. For me, he is in the same league as Dale Carnegie and Brian Tracy. Regardless of specific books written by these authors, I recommend all of them because they are really good. Chandler is a nice addition to league of masters such as Carnegie and Tracy.


Ads by

Ads by

Powered by Qumana

Powered by Qumana

Sunday, August 13, 2006 An Historic Murder Mystery set in the Internet Bubble and Rubble by Tom Evslin

Very interesting and captivating novel.

This novel is available, in full, for free access at -

This book should appeal to variety of interests - entrepreneurship, investment banking, greed of era, sleaze &sex at the highest levels, suspense, Israel & Palestine conflict and what not.

The author who is said to have experienced the bubble first hand as an entrepreneur does an outstanding job in walking us thru the typical machinations behind the madness of bubble burst. Wannabe entrepreneurs can learn a lot as how to watch their backs when they want to take their companies public or deal with mergers & acquisitions.

It's a murder mystery surrounding the murder of a CEO. The author has been very creative in using some things that became synonymous with bust including everyone becoming day traders, yahoo chat boards, stock charts, over hyped media exposure and so on. That creativity is certainly praise worthy.

At times, the novel does become boring especially if you are reading from mere entertainment perspective. Too much details about 9/11 etc.

All in all a nice read for variety of interests.


Ads by

Ads by

Powered by Qumana

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Project management - best practices

Following are not entirely new or original project management practices. I just started using them recently and found them quite effective. You may want to try as well.

In high RPM companies, things change quite a bit and quite fast. It does not make much sense and not possible either to develop and maintain volumes of documentation. This is not discount the importance of having things in written so that we can refer to it when needed. But, when things are changing so much (during very initial stages of new product development), it make sense to let engineers focus on developing POC and free them from documenting every nitty gritty of their day-to-day work which anyway changes. However, the whole project team needs to be able to make use of the information being generated in several meetings, design discussion, JAD (Joint Application Development) sessions with the customer etc. Of course, as a project manager, you are responsible for tracking and compiling the information that you can use to report.

First thing to recognize is that there is a lot of information generated and it is just that it probably is not there in some form that can be readily used. All design idea, architectures, design discussions, UML diagrams are all probably there on white boards (till they are erased), flip charts. One practical way to capture these is to take pictures using a high resolution digital camera. This gives a lot of flexibility later for engineers to annotate them, insert comments etc. At a minimum, as a project manager, you can organize them into appropriate folders on some common repository for people to refer to. This is actually a documented and recommended Extreme programming best practice.

Second technique is to record meeting discussions. In rapidly changing environments, it is not possible to organize and schedule meetings that can stick to a strict agenda. You can provide a framework but discussions will move towards what is important at that time. In certain companies, a person is appointed to take meeting minutes so that as a project manager you can focus on  focusing others on the topic at hand. Unless such a practice already exists, it is not very easy or practical for the project manager to institute such a practice. As such engineers just hate all such what they call administrative trivia. They are right. It makes sense to let people do what they do best. In the interest of the project, you as the project manager, is better off recognizing that and taking care of most of the administrative trivia yourself. If you work as part of a PMO (Project Management Office), then you may in luck for some project coordinators (junior project managers) who can assist with you such administrative trivia. But, most of the time, it is up to you - how do you capture meeting minutes and notes from many meetings that happen. Here recording meetings with  good recorder helps a lot. You can use modern digital recorders which record in WMA or mp3 formats which you can download many times directly (using USB) to computer. There are many tools available to edit, bookmark and segment such audio files. This goes a long way in capturing, retaining and distributing a lot of good information generated in meetings. Just because meetings tends to be less organized does not mean that information generated in them are less important. If you do not capture them and distribute them, you are going to lose out and waste quite bit of time and resources. As a project manager, you may not be able to report effectively and that may affect your performance. Recorded discussions can be edited as needed, labeled and filed for general access.

However, please do pay attention to prevalent laws related to recording. One good starting place is In general, it should be possible to record as long as you have let other parties know. Always assure that recording is for reference only. People understand most of the times. It does become little tricky to make everyone understand on conference calls. Since not everyone joins at the same time, you have to let everyone know as they join conference call that you are recording the call. There may be some questions about your recording and so on. So, make it clear that you intend to record as part of the meeting invite. For people who are attending in person, you can state it once in the beginning and then the sight of recorder in very open is considered sufficient many times.

As a project manager, you are not merely responsible for collecting data. You are expected to generate information that can help management to manage project well. So, always go back to your recordings, digital pictures etc. and extract relevant project management information related to risks, costs, schedules, customer impact etc.

You can take this electronic data collection methodology to one more step and instead recording, you may choose to video record. Video recording for meeting becomes little too cumbersome and does not generate returns to justify the effort. However, it does have a great value in certain occasions. You have to get your engineers or experts do info sessions to help explain concepts to tech writers, technical support, professional services etc. When concepts are being explained, video recording goes a long way in help educating people. Make sure that such things are recorded. When a new person joins, you can have him/her watch all relevant recordings and they learn much faster than going thru voluminous docs even if they are available.

Bottom line is - as a project manager without formal PMO support it is very natural that you get overloaded with data. Not being able to collect all that data flying left and right is not going to help reduce your stress. So, anything and everything you can do to collect as much data regarding the project goes long way to help reduce nightmare. Project managers have many of them :)

Ads by
Ads by

Powered by Qumana

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Doing the impossible

"First do what is necessary. Then do what is possible. Suddenly, you will be doing what is impossible."

Saint Francis of Assisi

Ads by

Powered by Qumana

On Desire by William B. Irvine

On Desire: Why We Want What We Want (Hardcover)
by William B. Irvine

This is an interesting book especially if you have not read something contemporary on the very interesting topic of "desire".

If you have read some scriptures such as Dhammapada (a Buddhist classic) or Bhagvadgita (a Hindu classic),  you must be having a good perspective on desire. Desires are to be mastered is their general message. Many people confuse that message with something which is utterly wrong that desires should be suppressed or killed. Be it Buddhism or Hinduism or any other religion advocates - yield to desires, know the limitations of yielding to desires, realize the temporary nature of the satisfaction, understand that there is higher purpose for your life and then become moderate. Buddha's 'madhyama marg' advocates this very philosophy. This is credible because Buddha started with  repressing desires by living a very austere life and then when austerities started causing more harm than good, he realized the usefulness and effectiveness of 'madhyama marg' (middle path).

Irvine who is a professor of philosophy at some university in Ohio writes this book like one long refreshingly easy to read essay. He does not take one or the other position on anything related to desires but seem to say 'I have read a lot about desires from various sources. Here is a summary for you...go read if you like....' For people trying to find some concrete position being taken this may come across as something very discouraging. Otherwise, it is a good read.

The author must be complemented  for mixing psychology, human physiology, philosophy, religion very nicely to present a cohesive material in a concise format.

The book is divided into 3 parts. 1)The secret life of desire 2) The science of desire 3)Dealing with our desires.

One can expect to learn a lot about certain interesting communities and how they deal with the concept of desires. Amish people who belong to a closely knit community prefer to live with minimum modern amenities as a way to avoid and moderate desires. The author describes a few more similar communities and how they deal with desires. Right or wrong, it provides an interesting view of these much misunderstood communities.


Ads by

Ads by

Powered by Qumana

Valuable skills

You may have earned several degrees. Bachelors, masters, doctorates, diplomas and what not.

However, it seems to me that some of the most valuable skills are not taught in academic programs. If they are, I certainly am not aware of.

First and foremost skill that is very valuable in our professional life is organization skill(s). Start with organizing desktop to organizing everything. Importance of organization skills cannot over emphasize. Only people who have benefited from organization can attest to the value of organization and rich dividends that are paid on a small effort spent on organization.

Do schools or colleges or universities teach how to organize your personal and professional lives? Probably not. Many of us pick up and improvise on organization skills as we go along. We observe and learn organization skills at work and at home we are probably little better as we have seen it all along while growing up..

To make a point, does any course teach the information presented in David Allen’s best seller “Getting things done”? The material presented there is not anything radically new. But, it makes a big difference to see all that wisdom at one place.

Reading and/or listening to “Getting things done” and similar other books can probably be a good alternative to a course in basic organization skills. Smalls things such as coming up with working solutions to arrange our work space, organizing our files (paper and electronic), taking notes, tracking action items etc. make such a big difference in productivity that it has to be experienced. Unorganized mind is a wasted mind. Some people think that organizing every small detail takes away the creativity and spontaneity and totally unorganized life boosts creative energy. Nothing can be farther from  truth. On the contrary, discipline helps creativity by taking care of mundane things that absolutely need to be taken care of and frees the mind for creative pursuits.

So, think about spending some time getting some education formal or informal on organizing skills. It can start with organizing your workspace. Very soon, do not be surprised if you are called to organize your team, department or entire organization. People with superb organization skills stand out and are called upon very often to help reduce the chaos in  organizations.

Second most important skill or knowledge everyone should acquire is basic financial management. It is not required to become a CPA or major in finance. However, being able to make sense out of myriad of financial terms that bombard us on daily basis, goes a long way to successful financial state. To begin with, if a person understands basics regarding bonds, stocks, investing for retirement, practical understanding of risk and reward, some theory behind financial markets, some dos and don'ts, some historical perspective to weather inevitable short term financial ups and downs, debt, credit cards, rent v/s buy among others. It is criminal that some very talented people in other fields lack basic financial management skills or knowledge. They are either leaving the money on table by making mistakes such as not investing in 401(K), not taking tax benefits, not keeping track of all deductions, not investing wisely or investing based on latest fads, trying extremely speculative investments such options, futures etc. Many people put off acquiring financial knowledge for two reasons. One, they do not have much money now and do not expect to acquire much in the future. Second, they are already loaded and do feel they need to maintain it wisely. Both cases need financial acumen more than anyone else.

Get  basic financial management education and it may make huge difference of millions over your lifetime. Good news is that a lot of formal and practical education is available on personal financial management. Check out your town's recreation department and/or colleges and universities in your area. Armed with this education, you can very well pick and choose a financial advisor who you think can take care of you finances if you do not want to do it yourself.

Third important skill or knowledge is to acquire is interpersonal skills. Some people are blessed with great interpersonal skills. It comes naturally to them. They also can benefit from formal learning as if you become consciously aware of your strengths, you can further strengthen them. For rest, importance of teamwork and interpersonal skills should be taught from the beginning so that we don't learn them by  trial and error. It is much easier to recover from mistakes in other areas. But, relationships with fellow humans are far more fragile and are some time irreparable once we screw them up.

A lot of knowledge about interpersonal skills boils down to one simple thing that is to put ourselves in others’ shoes so that we can empathize with them. This alone when practiced effectively makes a big impact on how successful you can be. Once the other person knows that you empathize with him or her, then they work with you with full trust. Once people interact with trust, rest all falls in place. All other problems are solved because people trust each other.

Related to interpersonal skills is getting in touch with ourselves. It takes a lot of effort to harness even 10% of our true potential. A lot of our vital energy is wastefully dissipated by our prior conditioning, which results in all negative traits such as fear; greed, anger, jealousy and you name it. Making a conscious attempt to get in touch with ourselves from time to time and taking heart in reminding ourselves of our true mission goes a along way in keeping us spiritually healthy. With that, physical health and menthol health cannot help but improve. There are many good courses and books on different topics related to getting in touch with ourselves. If not anything, following should serve your adequately. Our classic scriptures and commentaries on them by eminent scholars are a good start if we want take the route of tried and true. On the modern front, Dale Carnegie’s books, Wayne Dyers works and works of many other social scientists are a great way to get in dialog with your core. Meditation and other practices which help strengthen your faith in anything that you value (God, work, family etc.) are a really great add-ons.

Start spending sometime on all of the above and you will be amazed at how purposeful your life will become. You also start feeling a sense of renewed energy as you take control of different aspects of your life.

Only thing to watch out is not get into the cycle of regretting and repenting. It is not at all unlikely for people to develop a sense of despondency and utter sense of having wasted so much over the years. This can lead you into self perpetuating cycle of self pity. Let bygones be bygones. Future is bright and we all have more than adequate time to live our life to the fullest.


Ads by

Ads by

Powered by Qumana

Friday, August 04, 2006


"Be kind - Remember every one you meet is fighting a battle - everybody's lonesome."

Marion Parker

How often we imagine things about people? For example, you send an e-mail to a long lost friend. You are certain that he/she  received your e-mail. But, you get no reply in reasonable time. It's quite natural for us to think negatively about our friend. If we are sure that the person deliberately ignored us,  such a thought may be justified although for just a moment.

But, many times, we can take a step  in the right direction and give full benefit of doubt to the other party. One way to avoid thinking negatively about people when they seem to act out of normal is to become their best defender. We can
say to ourselves that our friend may be out of station or may be some family problems or does not have access to the computer or our mail may have been filtered out by junk mail filter. By the way, the last possibility is way too common if you put seemingly innocuous plain 'Hello', 'Hi' as the subject line.

I think Steven Covey's famous book 'Seven habits of highly successful people' starts with one such example. Covey talks about an incident in which he was inconvenienced by a bunch of young boys on  local train. Covey felt angry at their father who was very much there but did not do anything to rein in the kids. Covey asked the father why he was not doing anything. The story father told was heart wrenching and changed Covery's attitude for ever. This guy's wife had just died in the hospital. You can imagine the plight of a man whose wife has died and has responsibly for so many kids. Covey says this was his clear understanding of often used term 'paradigm shift'

Many times similar situation will be going on with people who we think are arrogant or cranky or rude or discourteous. Even if somebody did it on purpose, it is still possible to feel compassion for them as people who on purpose act nasty are crying within for help, love, understanding.  Their poor behavior is their last refuge and last try to say in a clear and loud manner that they need help. We can choose to help such people. If we do not feel angry about someone with a head ache or stomach ache, why feel angry about someone with 'mind ache'? This was one of the things Buddha said. As we give
some medication to people with aches in physical body, we should be able to provide similar medication to people with 'mind aches'. In this case, patience, love, understanding are the medication. No one illustrates such a thing better than the people in a nice family. When one member is going thru some problem and is being nasty to other members, for outsiders it may seem that rest of the family is putting up with such a person for no good reason. But, the family knows better than anyone that it is in forgiving others that we are forgiven.

Point is to give every benefit of doubt to the other party. Even if you have to ask someone why they acted in a certain way or why they ignored you, it helps to ask them in a way that would help them bail out without losing face. For example, if someone never replied to your e-mail, asking them if they could not reply because they had some computer problems gives them a ready made exit. You don't care about the real reason, do you? You want to stop being ignored. What can be better than making the person feel all important and perfect than making him or her feel that way. Give them an impression that if not for some glitch, perfect person like him or her can not even be imagined to do such a thing.

Giving benefit of doubt is not easy at all. Our first impulse is to pay back with interest. But, once we realize the importance of BOD (Benefit of Doubt), we achieve so much positive turn around from almost everyone including some of the nastiest people that it becomes worth it.

Ads by

Powered by Qumana

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Fish Rots from the Head Down

"Fish Rots from the Head Down"

This is a good quote to remember when we feel like admonishing people who work for us or in some way look up to us for guidance.

Many times we hear senior managers complaining about ineffectiveness of their people. Parents say similar things about their kids. Many times the ineffectiveness is just a symptom. The root cause is somewhere else. Root cause is rotten, that is, rotten head of the fish.

If you go by the saying, it seems fish always rots from the head down. So do organizations and families. In any organization leaders to follower ratio is very large. If the leader is not effective, it trickles down and makes the whole organization ineffective.

How can organizations overcome this problem? There is one remedy to many problems ailing organizations. It's a like wide spectrum antibiotic which can treat a broad variety of bacteria. That remedy is communication. Leader has 3 priorities. They are communicate, communicate and communicate.

People always live up to your expectations. Expect greatness from even mediocre people, it creates such a positive pressure in them that they go too far in delivering performance which is at least a couple of notches higher. So, it makes sense not to write off people so early and easily. You should avoid hiring wrong people. Once you have  hired and confident about candidates capabilities, it makes sense to give them ample opportunities.

Second important thing is the power of positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement happens when you scold people or just do not communicate with people. We humans crave for feedback even if it is negative feedback. If we do not give feedback to people, their minds manufacture feedback. They are free to manufacture anything and everything. Majority of such 'manufactured' feedback is often highly negative and critical. This is extermely demoralizing and damaging. Unless people maintain a balanced life, such conditions have driven people to insanity.

Highly recognized motivational speaker Steve Chandler's book is subtitled "leader are those who deliver insane performance without driving people insane". That explains everything.


Ads by

Powered by Qumana

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Keep plugging on!

Imagine a rectangular enclosure. Let's say that it has only one exit. Consider some toy such as a toy car. This toy car, once set in motion, will continue to move unless it hits an obstacle. In this case, obstacle will be hitting any of the four walls. When this toy hits any wall, it tries to turn 30 degrees at a time till it enables itself to move forward. It continues to do so forever. We can assume that it has enough energy. Don't forget that the enclosure has one exit thru which the toy car can pass thru and get out of the enclosure. Now the question is how long the toy car has to move around before it gets out of the enclosure thru the exit.

This problem is really  a nice candidate to write a neat simulation program. There are quite a few variables that determine the outcome. Some that come to mind are 1) length 2)breadth 3) location of the exit 4) speed of toy car 5) starting coordinate of the toy car 6) departure angle and may be few more variables.

Simulating this must be a fairly straight forward exercise. We can imagine the enclosure to be 2 dimension coordinate system. Initialize above mentioned variables to some values and execute a loop whose exit condition is if and when the toy car makes it to the coordinate matching the exit.

But, more importantly, is there something else we can take away from this toy car which turns  by 30 degrees and continues to do so till it enables itself to surge forward?

This is the way successful people plug along. Eventually they succeed. Every time they hit a wall, they turn until they enable themselves to surge forward. Two things to note 1) they remember to recognize that they have hit the wall and turn without delay 2) they do surely persist till they get out.

Point 1 is very important. Many times when we hit a wall, we do not want to admit that we have hit the wall. Especially if it is our pet wall (i.e. close to our heart or ego). We waste so much energy banging against the wall that we destroy ourselves in the pursuit of a pet idea that has proven to be impractical.

Above mistake is so common in software companies especially ones that are managed by old time executives who have come from manufacturing or some other hard engineering background who think software can be engineered the way you build machines or bridges. Of course, certain variety of software can be engineered that way and it should be when requirements are stable, architectures are well understood and do not have many unknowns. But, it is utterly foolish to take that road to deliver cutting edge technologies. Problem is that executives fail to remember "software is like pan cakes. first one is always tossed out.". New product development ideas are not fool proof. More things are unknown than known. So, when you hit the wall in terms of requirement or technology or whatever, always remember to turn 30 degrees and change. Change as in CHANGE. Hitting the first wall may have costed you only a couple of hundred thousand dollars. But, not turning but continuing to bang will flush millions of dollars down the drain. Executives who are not spending from their pockets are more than willing to do because it just bothers their ego to come clear and admit that previous approach was not workable.

I think one of the best examples of this was by famous Coral software when at the height of Java trend  it tried to rewrite its flagship product Draw in Java. After many months they had to abort it as it was not worthwhile. I think the management team deserves to be complimented if they decided to drop the idea and not that they were forced to drop it because market told so in no unclear terms. In another case a Nasdaq listed software company tried to develop some kind of thin client framework and abandoned it only after customers dumped the technology. This was after 4 years and a few millions short. It had such a devastating effect that the that particular RD division was reduced by 60%. Other factors contributed too but precious dollars that were wasted on this could have been spent on something else. Morale problems from internal bickering and frustrations from having to use immature and unstable technology also caused many intangible problems. In this case it was management's utter stupidity and big egos that helped make this happen. Big deal!

In innovative pursuits such as new product development there is no such thing as a mistake or failure. When originally conceived idea does not work, it is just a result from an experiment. The blunder is when people do not learn from it quick enough and continue down the wrong path just because their ego or some other reason. In software, rule of thumb should be, 3 months, <100,000, get usable alpha with minimum feature set. If that is not possible to accomplish, pull the plug at the end of 3 months and choose some other path.


Ads by

Ads by

Powered by Qumana