Sunday, December 18, 2005

Crunching numbers - I

A little bit of mathematics:

Two people define one communication relationship, three people define three, & four people define six & so on. Extrapolating the logic geometrically, if resources are represented as vertices of a polygon & communication relationships as sides & diagonals, then the total number of communication relationships can be calculated as:

# communication relationships = n + {n*(n-3)/2}

where n is the number of resources.

For n=6, we have:

# communication relationships = 6 + {6*(6-3)/2} = 6 + 9 = 15

For a team that works very well (intuitively), each of these relationships needs to be a healthy one. However, ensuring that this happens from a project management perspective is an incredibly tough challenge.

So perhaps the best teams are constrained by their size.

Unfortunately, team dynamics are not usually seen from this perspective. Outside of training & product knowledge, this is also a very important reason why throwing resources into a team does not necessarily improve productivity or quality.

Post Scriptum- These thoughts are not original; I've read about this in various books & papers, & faced the situation in my own project. This post is just assimilation.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Every once in a way

The good part about being in India is that you toss your clothes into a basket & back they come washed & pressed. In the US, you can still toss your clothes into a basket but in this country, they just sit there looking dirty & crumpled. So you'll have to demean yourself by washing your own clothes. And while you're at it, you might as well be reading a book by the hotel's poolside, if listening to the washer & dryer is not exactly an eclectic practice of leisure as far as you're concerned.

So there I was sitting in my most nerdy pose looking absorbed & boring when a sweet woman came by & said that I'll have to excuse her for lunch. I figured that she was in charge of looking after the guests by the poolside & the gymnasium. I quickly assured her that I had no intentions of jumping into the water or out of the building, & she could bet a hundred dollars that I wouldn't touch the gymnasium with a barge pole.

Now I carried on reading & in the absolute solitude of the poolside, it occurred to me that I should tell the woman about how she is working for a "visionary" company. I say this because the book I was reading was "Built To Last - By Jim Collins", & it spoke about these great companies which have been exemplary in both their commercial & social aspects - so much so as to be treated as icons in their respective industries. Marriott, the hotel I was staying at, was one of them.

So I read for a while more before the woman came back. I calculated that my clothes must have dried by now. So on the way out, I excused myself & explained to the woman what I had read about Marriott & asked her how she felt about working here in the light of what I had just told her. Here is what she had to say in her slightly Hispanic flavoured English:

“Thank you, Sir. I have not read the book. But it does not surprise me. I know that I am working for a great company. I know because I see it on the face of everyone that works here.”

Monday, October 31, 2005


Maala pherat jug bhaya, phira na man ka pher
Kar ka manka chhod de, man ka manka pher

Question, examine, do not be institutionalized. A slightly bird's eye view of this Kabir doha learnt decades back. And decades later, the same lessons put down in print by a New Yorker. Edward Said & Kabir. Eons apart, aren't they?

Traditions of yore. Continuation for the sake of it. Unconditional acceptance of the has been.

What will you burn this Diwali? What will you illuminate?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Us and them

Among one of the things which is sometimes not addressed by managers while they are forming a team or when a project is starting off is the team or role specific bifurcation of goals which at times leads to the warping of the overall business goal. So the testing team does just testing, the development team does just development, the manager does not really care too much about the business domain and technologies, except perhaps a 35000 foot level summary of the entire solution space.

Add to this, the volatile nature of requirements and stiff timelines - and what you really have is an attitude of "how do I get out of this?". Next comes the strict delineation of responsibilities at a micro level, & therefore it becomes nobody's' responsibility to oversee that the solution as whole is the way it should be.

That everybody is a stakeholder in the project in her own right, is a notion that is neither marketed nor ever sold. Especially in the Indian environment, the drive to get certifications, define and collect metrics, & documentation heavy process models mean that you have just a lot of data ( though I doubt how representative or true these data are), & perhaps a lot accountabilities fixed - but these aren't necessarily contributing to the ultimate business goal i.e. solving the business problem. What this is doing however, is taking focus away at a managerial level from the solution to the solution delivery process. At the same time, such data is important as it is used in future sales pitches.

It is important to revisit and reunderstand the following:

  1. That, irrespective of well defined granular responsibilities, it is ultimately the product that is the most important.
  2. How the team is helping: If actual numbers are not too sensitive, percentages can definitely be exposed. Numbers apart from money can be shared. This will go a long way in cementing a tangible picture of the ultimate business goal that the engagement is helping with.
  3. Encourage communication and personal interaction - Change is inevitable and the turnaround time is of critical importance. It is okay to bypass change management system in the favour of speed & product quality. Increased communication helps build trust and solidarity & helps catalyze such actions.
  4. Look to fix the problem & not the blame/responsibility.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The city dwellers

When I tell you that a Banyan tree is about my idea of wilderness, & a crow is about how much I care about ornithology, you can make out exactly how much of an city person I am. And Venkat, I do not think has made it too much beyond the borders of Chennai, to start with and Bangalore lately, for anything more than a weekend. For him, if a place does not sell Scotch you can safely call it uncivilized, or wild. SA, of course, does not care much one way or the other as long as he is getting his sixteen hours supine & the remaining watching NDTV. SC, well, let's not go there...

Contrast this to Manoj, a one time wannabe vet & now a passionate technology professional, whose home in distant Sagar, then, was destination weekend for this bunch of gentlemen and a lady, reluctantly slipping away from their twenties.

And thankful though we all are to him and his folks for being such endearing hosts, for those cups of fantastic filter coffee, for the simple delicacies of their kitchen and for the warmth and heartiness of their hospitality, I look back with yearning at the rain soaking incessantly the ubiquitous green earth, the lake with a carefree litter of lotus leaves, the roads bending around the water gushing in the perennially inundated canals, the raindrops lingering on the arecanuts, & the mountain in the distance and finally at the summit, past a long, at times treacherous, drenching walk, the wind too strong for umbrellas, the elation too much to contain, the clouds cleared for one brief moment revealing in a dreamlike manner behind the curtains of still heavy rains, the tiny inconsequential bits of life we define ourselves by, so that the only, almost inevitable, thing to do was to stretch your arms and say, "Let there be light!"

The city pulsates, but it is incapable of making magic.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Nukes, America and India

Published: July 24, 2005, The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Bush in effect legitimized India's nuclear arsenal last week, offering to sell it technology that has long been forbidden to anyone who played outside the world's nuclear rules. So what will senior officials say on Tuesday morning when North Korea opens its long-delayed negotiations with the West? "I can just see it now," said one of those officials, who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the talks. "They come in, throw a newspaper from the other day on the table, and bellow: 'How can America demand that we give up all our nukes, while you just let the Indians keep all of theirs?' "

It's not an unreasonable question. The long-term implications of Mr. Bush's decision may not be clear for years, and some short-term risks seem evident to critics now. The timing is particularly awkward, in a summer of extraordinary tension with North Korea and Iran. "Asia is the continent with just about the most complicated nuclear problems we have: India and Pakistan, North Korea and Iran," said Joseph Cirincione, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "And by accepting India as a de facto nuclear weapons state, you are telling other countries that if they just hang tough, and put up with sanctions for a while, sooner or later they will be rewarded with status and military power. Is that the message the Bush administration wants to send?" India is no North Korea. It is a democracy. And unlike Pakistan, which gave rise to the biggest nuclear proliferation ring in history, it has kept strict control of its nuclear stockpile and its bomb-making technology. But the fact remains that for decades India flouted the world's nuclear safeguards. It ran a huge, secret nuclear weapons program, made easier by its refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It built its weapons by diverting material from civilian nuclear plants - just what the United States says Iran is doing. Iran denies it, but so did India - until it conducted nuclear tests. Still, as a matter of realpolitik, the administration argued, it has become silly not to acknowledge, at least implicitly, that India is a nuclear-armed state. "Our national interests have been intersecting," said R. Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs, who spent months working out elements of the deal, including India's commitment to allow inspectors to visit its civilian nuclear facilities (but not its military stockpiles) and to adhere to provisions of the non-proliferation treaty that are designed to prevent further leakage of nuclear technology.

"India needs energy and prefers clean energy, which means nuclear," he said. "It is worried about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and it is worried about terrorism. Those are our interests as well. And we know what kind of country India will be 25 years from now: A pluralistic democracy." That last point is telling. Washington is far from certain what China - India's nuclear-armed neighbor - will look like in a quarter of a century. So even while embracing the Chinese as the key to solving the North Korean crisis, Mr. Bush appeared to be bolstering China's longtime rival.

The administration hopes to sell that to the Chinese by noting the deal includes Indian support for a new global treaty that would cut off the production of all new fissile material, the stuff of bombs. Eventually that could cap India's nuclear program. The counterargument is that Mr. Bush has again divided the world into America's friends and its enemies, giving the first a pass and showing the second the stick.

It is unclear how he will deal with Pakistan; not long ago, he declared it a "major non-NATO ally," but administration officials say its proliferation record means it won't be seeing a deal like this anytime soon. Nor, the administration insists, will the North Koreans.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Law and all that

It seems to me that in a lot of cases we are fine with just being legitimate, & not looking to see if the legality ensured justice. A law is a broad guideline and needs to be put in the context of its application. A guideline cannot possibly engulf the total possibilities of its application and all the nuances of each possibility, & the comparative importance of each such nuance.

To consider an analogy, we can think of the process as solving a definite integral problem. The dependent variable is partly calculated by a predefined functional dependency on the independent variable, but is fully evaluated given its constant of integration - something which depends on the context of the problem. So identical integration problems may yield different results because this constant of integration might differ from one problem domain to another.

Similarly, blind compliance to laws means that we're not putting a legal guideline in perspective, that we're not looking at the history and the whys, that we're just deducing from codified text something which a computer can do cheaper, faster & better.

As we take it easy each day doing our bit & doing it legally, perhaps sometime - Sundays maybe - we should ponder on whether we stopped at being legitimate or actually fostered the case of justice.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Sundry Saturday Thoughts

There is this debate raging in the news channels about banning smoking on screen. A lot of film makers are being shown protesting against it. Mahesh Bhatt wants to show his grand mother smoking a beedi in a film on her, I believe its hypothetical and do not know if he actually meant it, and asks what right does anybody have to stop him from doing so. Shyam Benegal doubts if the thing is practicable at all with the media invading our homes like never before & a multitude of channels showing a million movies already in place with the characters smoking in them.

I was reminded of this thing I read in a 7th standard English text book. It was a short story by Oscar Wilde called "The model millionaire". Without going too much into the plot of the story, here is what the painter Trevor, a not so important character in the story, tells his friend, the protagonist:

'An artist's heart is his head,' replied Trevor; 'and besides, our business is to realise the world as we see it, not to reform it as we know it.

And that I think is rather strong protest.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Opportunity Cost

Opportunity cost is defined as the cost of writing off the second best alternative. For example, if you have money enough to either afford a dinner or a visit to the movies, then choosing to dine entails the sacrifice of the pleasure of watching a movie. This pleasure, then, is the opportunity cost of choosing to dine over going to the cinema.

Nothing, nothing at all, drives home the concept of opportunity cost as watching all those pretty women on Fashion TV.

However, attempting lousy diplomacy, I emphasize that opportunity cost is still about the second best alternative.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Begin post:
I generated the Fibonacci series using Python this morning. Just two basic observations:

  • I enjoy writing code, when I am not being paid for it.
  • I haven't improved since first semester; its been seven years since. My basic logical faculties remain rather basic.

Should you decide to leave a comment or two on this post, please begin with either:

  • # or,
  • /

End post:

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Aspects of a song

The Indian national anthem is excruciating in its detail and correctness. It is blatantly geographic & the slight element of poetry lies, in my opinion, in putting such details to verse. Contrast this to the national song which, essentially, describes, from the poet's point of view, the Indian experience - never mind the constituents which the anthem places more stress on. So while Tagore documents the primary rivers of India, Chatterji dwells on the quality of these waters. The anthem, in its historical context, is also servile in its theme; while the song, since the day it was composed, remains the most powerful evocation of Indian nationalism. The full poem - and only a part of this is the national song - is also a wee bit polemic because of its particularly strong Hindu flavour second stanza onwards, the fact that its language never fit any accepted form or grammar, & that it was written in parts over a period of time.

The many governments of India, primarily of the Congress party until recent years, has always deemphasized the revolutionary period of the Indian struggle for Independence of which the national song was an inseparable voice. And while the martyrs hardly find a place in public memory, the song continues to capture generations of Indian psyche in its wake just like it did more than a century back.

Or, at least, that's what I like to think.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The one

Just when the first dapples of doubt begin casting their ghastly shadows, just when you start wondering - chewing your lower lip with gusto while you are at it, for you like paying attention to such seemingly insignificant matters - if the hottest thing around is not you but the weather, the mists gather, the winds stir things up a bit & it rains.

Do you need further proof?

Monday, March 28, 2005


It was, in many ways, a typical Goan dinner.

Candles & alcohol on a windy seashore. A confusion of lights on pretty faces. Irregular conversation & flashes of skin. And the Orion, perhaps having mixed drinks, a wee bit tilted and amorous on the horizon.

And though this nothingness was beautiful, it was the next day - having walked about over a kilometer with luggage in the hot afternoon sun, hungry & breathless, the shoulders a bit painful, the throat considerably dry - that produced a warmer memory. As self & A settled down to a well earned beer at "Chances", I recalled how I had dined at that very restaurant almost exactly five years ago - having come to Goa with my circle of friends from post graduation days.

Even that night was windy. And starry. Even then, everybody was drunk.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


As a first, one's sense of self, or ego, is a mental projection of one's interpretation of one's past or history, primarily. To simplify, we aren't bothered with factors like prejudices & the like. As any other human faculty, the ego has its good and bad. Refining again - evaluating ego as bad on the whole - , it is easy enough to deduce that minus the memory of the past & its glorified interpretations, there is no ego. And hence spontaneity, or no accrued sense of self over time, is essentially egoless.

Second, is the matter of extrapolation. Or time series analysis, if you're that kind of a person. Invariably, they are a projection of the outputs, or mostly just one output, of a process. It is unfair, & perhaps wrong, to expect one time investments to yield constant output over the years. The right thing to do is, of course, to take a step back & look also at the environment in general & the inputs directly governing the process. And if you find that these have changed or dwindled, then you bring in reinforcements.

In summary, all I am saying is, irrespective of how matters stand as of now, start saying it with flowers again, the past notwithstanding.

Simplifying further, renew!

Disclaimer*: I did not think of all of this. So I am not to be blamed, fully. Understand?

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The insular

Its about 1730. SA, having tried his luck at mastering fiscal policy earlier in the day, has been sleeping in a grotesque posture for the last forty five minutes. VH is in Madras. MG is doing his weekend supervision of the house he is building. And SC...well, he is, lets say, just away. And I was sitting in the balcony upon a very accomodating bean bag with my cup of Darjeeling second flush looking at times at the falling leaves, listening to a stupid cow making uncivilized noises & generally attending to such matters of national importance when suddenly it occurred to me that I must be such a pucca screwball for wasting such a pretty evening.

Subsequently, it occurred to me that arms are, in a way, a measure of distance & that the itch in my eye is a memory.

Monday, January 24, 2005

People: SC

Portrait of SC
Photographed by souvik.
This, then, is the immutable SC. Lanky and caring enough to arouse suspicion, SC wields wizardry in the kitchen usually with a halka saa this or that. A sometime poet of might have beens, SC also paints in shades of grey, puts happiness to shame around his many children friends and reads fat books with gusto. In the four years that I have known him, he has failed only twice to recognize a movie within the first minute of viewership. He conducts quizzes and asks bloody impossible questions.

Now if you want to know what is wrong with him, you will have to mail me. It will be juicy, I promise.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Are you game?

About nine -ish each evening the bean bags are strategically positioned to save the telly and the sound boxes in the hall. The doors are pulled. A stool is summoned. Light at one end switched off. A plastic bat is harnessed and a tennis ball dug up, & a group of gentlemen in their late twenties, not to mention shorts, gear up for a quick game of cricket.

I am sure that each one of us has some unique experience to tell, but for me & SA its about out thinking your opposition. For SC, ostensibly, it is extinguishing any chance I have of furthering my lineage, which is probably a good idea in the whole scheme of things anyway. Each one of his deliveries, projected from his super height & hurled with a great deal of sidespin, is targeted to pitch, gather ample turn and bounce, and end up with a soft thud a few inches below my waistline. You should see him beam with endless joy, but since we are friends & all that he stops short of doing cartwheels & happily lends me a cigarette afterwards.

SA, like I said, sets you up. He showers you with bouncers so that your feet grow roots & then suddenly there is ball turning away from you at which you play like Ganguly - play the most inelegant stand n deliver cover drive & get a solid nick. Embarrassment & sheepish smiles follow. General happiness all around. Chu**** Saala & the like, you know.

Then there those searing yorkers that he unleashes. Just when you are happily checking out if your head is still attached to your neck & wondering if the next bouncer will end it all, comes this yellow trace of a tennis ball , your weight still on the backfoot, & violently shakes the stool behind you. Sometimes, if your reflexes are fast enough & you think you are beginning to read this trick, you can bring your bat down fast enough & crush your own toes. That is adding injury to insult.

MG is probably the most complete cricketer amongst us. SA has the most guile, besides being a very safe pair of hands. SC, like you might have figured, is absolutely fatal when bowling & suicidal, like you might not have figured, while batting. He continues, though, to be a champion of perseverance. And, VH has not been around lately.

And me, well, I am still hanging in there. "Shaken, not stirred!", as James Bond puts it.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Deductive thinking

Everybody knows that we are the absolute tops. I mean we invented pizza, not to mention shoving the MIR space station right out there. We decomposed the DNA into selective & sequential base pairs, and fought apartheid with gusto. In principle, we are nice things enjoying our tea & prising institutions of virtue - things also of our own invention. We make movies that revolve around the resilience of the human spirit - we may be down, but not quite out - to get an Oscar. Everybody stands up and claps, as some super thespian expresses her gratitude to mothers and the like. Nice & proper.

Glorious, if you ask me.

Tsunamis, therefore, are not for us. They are for lower forms of carbon.