Wednesday, December 5, 2012

When technology changes your life!

Last week, I wrote about how technology can make you mad!

Last weekend, I was also watching TV, and saw something amazing that I had to write about! It is an amazing application of technology  - an innovation that is hard to conceive due to its simplicity!

Technology rocks!

Watching Dr. Sanjay Gupta's The Next List, I was riveted to hear about Max Little, a genius mathematician from the U.K. He is responsible for what I consider an amazing medical innovation.

Max Little is not a doctor, he's a mathematician. A really smart mathematician!

Max applied audio analysis techniques to create a test of a 10-second "aaah" recording to detect Parkinsons - with 99% accuracy!

The muscles of the vocal chords are impacted just like other muscles in the body due to Parkinsons. Vocal aberrations (possibly imperceptible to the human ear) can be detected by audio analysis. Important - this can likely happen even before the more obvious symptoms kick in! Early detection.

Not only is it an almost 0-cost, consumer-friendly way (call on the phone?) to test for presence of the symptoms of the disease, it is also likely the only tangible, metrics-driven way to track the progression of the condition!

The idea makes sense ... now! But conceiving it, and actually getting it to work in this domain is as out-of-the-box as it gets!!

As out-of-the-voice-box, I mean!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

When technology makes you upset!

A lot of people were upset when Apple's maps sent them to the wrong place. This became such an issue that it led to Apple apologizing, and eventually, folks lost their jobs over it!

Now, this happened because technology did not work!

Here's an example of when technology worked (as (poorly?) designed) but upset me. I'm not livid, but I'm definitely not pleased with the situation.

If you are able to see my new profile in LinkedIn (you may need to sign in), you'll see nice little logos beside each of my career stints. Cool, except that I was stunned to see the Autonomy logo beside my entry for Verity. The LinkedIn engineers probably feel very good that they are able to automagically divine that Verity is now a part of Autonomy. Now, why hasn't the logo already updated to the HP logo? Of course, ... a bug! Ideally, they'd have identified date ranges as important for this specific association!

Now, anyone who knows me knows my negativity towards Autonomy. Here's a blog post I'd written after Autonomy acquired Verity in November, 2005. I was not very pleased with how it went. Others felt the same way. It felt wrong!

Luckily, I'd already moved by then (I had joined Yahoo!), so I did not have to work for Autonomy. I could not!

Since then, I've heard lots of stories of how badly Autonomy treated its employees, especially my ex-colleagues from Verity -  that definitely left a very bad taste in my mouth about the company. In fact, to be very honest, the only reason I have an allergic reaction to the Tottenham Hotspurs is because they wear the A logo on their jerseys.

Call me juvenile! I'm fine with that!

Now, Autonomy is embroiled in a deep controversy about cooking its numbers for HP.  Now, ironically, technology has associated my name with a company I've never been a fan of, and worked hard to beat. Double irony! HP could technically use Autonomy software to target Autonomy execs.

I wish the LinkedIn technology had failed in this case! 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tiger Kids

This post is dedicated to the kids!

If you want to build a high-end computer, watch the video above: Poseidon: Components Overview, followed by the more detailed Poseidon: Computer Build.  If you’re not curious about what it takes to build a high-end computer, you can skip these steps. But read on...

The video above is of Ronny’s personal summer project last summer. He’d just turned 17. The video was completely shot and edited by Rikki, who is 13.  I started my education on computers at age 19! Okay, you, say - that’s not a big deal, kids grow up with iPads these days, and, if you watch the videos above, it’s doesn't seem that hard...

It is! Especially, when, at 17, during your summer vacation, you’re also doing a 9-5, 5 days-a-week internship at a Silicon Valley internet startup! And you just returned from participating at the National Speech and Debate Championships with your team. And you have to IM your friends, play Starcraft. And Tetris. Prioritize! And you’re also expected to write a 10-minute original advocacy speech, which has to be approved so you are allowed to participate on the debate team next fall!  And you’re getting ready to start your college applications as the summer expires... and … Weekends? What weekends? You’re in a hard hat atop a second-floor scaffolding at a Habitat for Humanity project.

I did some extra-curricular stuff when I was growing up, but it’s ridiculous to put them in the same category!

A lot has been written on Tiger Moms and Tiger Parents and shuttle services! Yes - there is a lot of pressure parents create in driving their children to perform and succeed. No denying that, and us Asians have been known to do our fair share...

But this post is for the kids!

A few months back, I was asked by a friend’s son if I would agree to do an interview for a high school project essay about Google. Sure, I said, thinking I’d be happy to invite him to the famed Google lunch and show him the mini-kitchens and the nap pods and lap pool and the volleyball courts.  He comes in, and he asks about Google’s policies on privacy and user data! His questions were deep and covered a lot of ground. Egad! This is like a media interview! Be careful...

I should have expected this - these are tiger kids!!

The thing is this - the kids who are pushing themselves are not succeeding only because their moms have aggressive feline traits and bad driving habits! They are succeeding because they are driving themselves and their peers to a level of effort and performance that is difficult to comprehend. A sampling of Ronny’s tiger peers: One of his classmates has found an issue/defect in the whooping cough vaccine! Another is a math whiz at the national and global level. Another understands the U.S. economy better than almost everyone in congress! (I’m being dead serious here!) They are all at the state, national levels in speech and debate. And they built a world-level knowledge bowl team, top notch science bowl team (of their own volition) or went off and helped communities in South America. They take advanced classes - perfect grades, great SATs.  I don’t have time to talk about the Royal Bengal. And, we’re not really counting the things their tiger parents got them to do - music, this and that.

Some of them are too lazy to exercise! (I have to get that out of my system!!)

I know the parents.  Yes - we participate and volunteer time and I’m sure we push and prod and want them to succeed - to reach their potential. But the point that’s often missed is - these high achievers are driving themselves and each other to achieve. Achievers achieve!

And so far, I was not talking about the super-duper athletes that are in these schools, who are the next generation of Olympians. Who wake up at 5 a.m. to practice water polo before school and also practice after school because they are the best in the state. And travel. And have to manage their academics. And...

These are tiger kids. I expect (and hope) that most tigers will do well in their lives.

The unfortunate thing is that some of these kids will not get admitted to the college of their choice! Seldom, it will be because they will bequeath a slot to someone even more brilliant and accomplished. Sometimes, it will be because these schools want diversity and will take less accomplished applicants. Sometimes, ironically, it will be because of their parents - because they marked “Asian” for race in their applications.

It’s a zoo out there! There’s only room for so many tigers!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

From Googley to Googly

I have evolved to be more soccer crazy than cricket fan! Growing up in India, I did play cricket. I was a better bowler than batsman; I switched to batting left-handed; it was more stylish, and … wonder of wonders … I was more effective! (Baayein haath ka khel! - for my desi friends.)  I was a leg spinner. Once in a while, I did accomplish the effect of a Googly - it’s a tricky ball that goes the opposite way to what you’d expect. (I see from the Internet (which is always right!) that I used to accomplish the effect in a wrong fashion :-))

After almost six years of being Googley (being a Googler, doing things from the inside), I’ve become a Googly - I’m taking a different path going forward. This ball just took different spin.

I’m no longer with Google. I’ve joined a startup called Lexity! Lexity’s built a technology-driven marketing platform for ecommerce - filling an important need for merchants who would rather focus on running their businesses than figuring out how to deal with the complexity and nuances of online marketing using multiple channels. Stay tuned for more coolness!

Google was a unique company to work for - the focus on execution and innovation is amazing, even for a large company, which it has now grown up to be. I’ve learned a lot about company culture, open communications, empowering small teams, persistence, devotion to the consumer experience, and the tradeoffs required to rapidly launch quality products.  The food, the shuttle and the table tennis were icing!

At Google, I navigated several products - Google Search, Google Alerts, the Google Custom Search platform (that now powers several products), Google Services for Websites, Google Search Appliance and Google AdWords - many teams, many friends! This has kept me on my toes, but I expect the startup environment will teach me many new things!

New ball… new delivery!

I’m looking forward to continuing to deliver great products!

Stay hungry! Stay foolish!” - as a wise man said.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


This post is dedicated to an ex-colleague of mine - Neil Latarche - who passed away recently.

The photo above is at a Madrid hotel I stayed at  - these doors are elevator doors. The interesting thing about this hotel is that each floor was designed by a different famous designer and had a unique decor, character and personality. Each floor has its own attributes and parameters. You had a choice for which floor you wanted your room to be on. You had to navigate through these choices for your hotel room selection. Then get on one of these elevators. Doors to choices!

At every step in our lives, we're faced with options. Doors! Sometimes, doors shut, and sometimes, doors open. Sometimes, when we're in comfortable surroundings, we know what's behind the door. At other times, when in strange surroundings, we have no clue what's on the other side, but we walk through those doors anyway, hoping that there's light and warmth on the other side. Sometimes, there are friends and laughter on the other side. At other times, there are only strangers!

Every once in a while, the door leads to a room that has no floor, and there's only nothingness when you walk through. We'll all walk through that kind of door once - it will be the last door we open.

Neil was a really sharp guy - we overlapped at Verity (which no longer exists) - he spearheaded the implementation of Verity's parametric search - structured navigation with attributes and choices.

Verity's logo was that of a door - a portal

Neil - you will be remembered!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The essence of quality

I finally wore my Adidas Samba shoes out! They’ve had more than 6 years of constant and heavy use - indoor soccer, soccer coaching, table tennis, daily wear to work … in other words 7x12 use!

Comfortable, good-looking and reliable. I just replaced them with …. Adidas Samba shoes!

I have a t-shirt that was free gift when I made my first “large” investment in graduate school after I came to the U.S. - a pair of Bose 4.2 Bookshelf speakers that cost almost half my monthly stipend! The shirt has been used for many many years (I date myself by getting more specific) and it still does not have a hole in it or a broken stitch. My bookshelf speakers now double as surround speakers and sound just as good as the first day I bought them. Bose seems to not only make good speakers, but also buys high quality shirts to go with them. The result - I bought, over the years, more expensive Bose free-standing 701 music speakers as well as a Bose center-channel speaker to complete a custom surround setup that sounds fantastic. My son has a bose Companion 5 system and we both own Bose headphones.

Since graduate school, I’ve purchased a total of 6 automobiles, of which 5 have been Toyotas(Lexus). The sixth was another Japanese car (Suzuki Sidekick Sport) which saved my life by not flipping over when I skidded across 5 lanes of the freeway when someone cut me off. I was happy with it, but I did not want to drive an SUV after that incident. These Japanese cars have all been (fingers crossed) good quality vehicles. Yeah...I’d love to buy a Porsche, but my next car will likely be a Japanese car for multiple reasons :-)

There are various ways to judge product quality, but there’s one metric that only high quality can drive - loyalty.

And repeat use!

Friday, August 17, 2012

The meaning of life!

Can you caption this picture?

The last time I referred to GATTACA (one of my favourite movies) here on my blog (2008),  I was discussing  “thought-provoking DNA-based decision making”. Read "GATTACA ... here and now".

Today, reading about DNA storage, some truly mind-bending work from scientists at Harvard, it’s apparent that I was previously referring only to information flow in one direction. The entirety of information available to us today, or at the least, selected significant portions, can potentially be stored in a few grams of DNA. Safely. Robustly. For posterity.

Devices have input and output

The decision-making component is the data output process. Now, scientists can control the data input process, completing the picture.

It may just be that the entirety of life is the creation, storage, dissemination and interpretation of sequences. Now that we can possibly control the interpretation of the sequence, and can also store the sequence robustly, we only need to fully control the construction of the sequence.

How simple life can be!  

How complex life will become!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Laughing Buddha

Rajen Mukherjee (October 1928 - July 2011)

You held me when I came into this world
I held you when you left ...
I miss you!

We used to call him the Laughing Buddha - the Happy Man - and touch his belly in jest!

He’d comply with a smile.

I was wondering what to say about my father. In addition to going out of his way to be helpful to people (numerous jobs, school admissions, permits, recommendations) and rising to the occasion to help people in the community (he'd get the streets cleaned up, get dustbins put in place... he left a legacy of 2 beautiful parks in Bangalore), the thing I cherish most about him is that he was truly a happy person and enjoyed life. He had no regrets.

He was a true networker - had I imbibed those skills from him, I’d have had a very successful career :-)

He was a true adventurer - saving to buy a one-way ship ticket to England with nothing lined up at the other end - I’d never be able to do that - my sister does this stuff!

He was a true story-maker - sitting next to Ava Gardner at Wimbledon (no tennis blood in him), becoming secretary of the Karnataka State Badminton Association (not  a drop of badminton blood in him), being at the Queen’s Coronation (not a drop of royalty in him), getting his shoes polished at Trafalgar Square by a local bloke soon after he got off the ship in England (he wanted to get that out of his system early - I guess there were drops of indignance in him), playing cricket (once) on the grass at Old Trafford) (no cricket blood in him either! :)), getting a job with the United Nations Labour Organization and dropping that opportunity on the floor to return to India to honor his father’s wishes to get married and settle down …

I can pen stories, but I’m not a story maker.

He was a small man, but a third of his body weight was bigness
He could pick bones out of any fish with a fork* (* try that with hilsa/ilish)
He would evict illegal street vendors with a flick of his finger
He could brew his own wine when he wanted to
He would launch Diwali rockets with his bare hands
He was the "most interesting man in the world"!

He would be likely to say - "I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I might just prefer Dos Equis."

Our minds opened up at a very early stage in our lives - western music, mariachi, Nat King Cole, berets, western food, sausages for Sunday breakfast … not common across families in middle-class India back then. 

I am not what he was, but he contributed so much to who I became.

I miss him.