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Showing posts from 2013

Competition is Cooperation

There are two ways to compete - the old fashioned way and the realistic way.
In the old order, competition is about pitting one against the other, trying to better each other by challenging, testing, pushing - through feats of excellence, humor, adrenaline induced rush, energy and action. This is usually good for the overall edifice, but involves a lot of careful friction management - the art of toning down the bite while showing off the canines. To compete, we have to agree on rules and tools.
In a world where our competition is limited to those whom we know, and know well, this works very effectively. It is a "zero-sum in the market share, but non-zero-sum for the market size" game. It is also only relevant when we know whom we are competing against.
In a world where your base is the entire set of people who can see your work, this doesn't work well.. in fact, in the next few decades, it may cease to work at the highest levels.
Competition in our world is going to be …

A picture's worth of fiction - 1

It was 2234 - and the scouting party hit pay dirt. There, right in the middle of the weathered remains of a palace courtyard, they found the fossilized remains of an ancient means of communication - a rather primitive micro-technology of fusing metal oxides on cellulose. It was nothing compared to our century's innovations that use advanced quantum entanglement to send entire planet-year histories in short bursts. 

There, frozen in time, was a specimen of extraordinary sadness. Was it the result of a struggle between an emperor and his son, perhaps, as the son's b'uk (as it was called 200 years back) was considered too radical - teaching extremely scary concepts like equality to a dynastic scion born to rule over ignorant masses? Or was it the last remnant of a marauding army destroying every piece of knowledge in the library of their vanquished? The scouts will soon find out. Amber, the restorer of the lost technologies, was alive in every fiber at his lab, seething with t…

Moore, Amdahl, Malthus and the vanishing "middle" of everything

Understanding Moore's law is essential for those who live and work with High Tech and information economy - that includes pretty much all of us who are reading this. Moore's observation was that the cost of the same amount of commodity building blocks of electronics (transistors) halves every 18 months or so. Put it another way, if bread or vegetables were like transistors, the same amount of nutritious food will become 50% cheaper every 18 months.
This has been true for over 50 years. Roughly, that is. It means that, for example, your computer will get about 100 times beefier every 10 years.
That is very nice for those who need the technology. 
Amdahl's law is equally powerful and limits the reach of Moore's law. Amdahl's law says that there is a limit to how fast you can make things work, even if Moore's law makes them infinitely faster in short order.
Although things can get cheaper, the amount of real usefulness is limited by the amount of things you cannot…

The real purpose of creation

Creation, be it the act of an artist, a child, a marketer, a builder, a scientist, a founder, an employee, a customer, a friend, a blogger, a donor - any producer - is a glorious act. At the point of creation, all the infinite options of the past collapse into one manifestation that is shareable.

The act itself is unique, even if it is later replicated, even perfectly, in another place or another time.

Creation is the ability to freeze all available options at any moment in time or extent of space and to select one as the reality, a reality that simply leaves an imprint. This imprint is the memory. Call it name, form or experience, it is a remembrance of an identity that has been created. It is not easy to see in every instance.

Great products and ideas are easily seen as ones that create memories. The iPhone, Mozart #41, The Bhagavad Gita, Euclid's Elements - are ways to create an experience that can be shared. Without someone to share them, they are individual instances. Without…

The flipping point of rules

It seems that beyond a threshold, rules flip their meaning. Instead of limiting everyone's possible paths, they become a limit on who is allowed to break them. This flip depends on the level of hierarchy in a group, the amount of direct communication between people, and the scale of cooperation involved.

In extreme cases, clout is purely a function of rule breaking (think mafia).

Call it 'unfair advantage', 'the inmates are ruling the asylum' or anything else, but it is real. It is not going away. And as idealists, we will fail if we wish it away.

Rule breaking is a necessity in art and individual mastery, and inevitable to excellence. Without the Icarus in us, the Daedalus won't be remembered for long. Karna-the-plodder was greater than Arjuna-the-ordained.

We see the flip when rule-breaking is applied for power or position or individual advantage. It debilitates exceedingly good work when this happens.

We have all seen it. We all know it when we see it. Yet w…

A take on Leadership

Leadership has many forms.

The most important ones are not taught.
Leadership is the knack of eliciting another person's voluntary, discretionary effort -- the kind that money can't buy, the kind that enticements can't move, the kind that weaves everyone's errors and efforts into a well knit cloth called results.

It is not about power, money, or control although those can easily stand for it in the short term.

The key is that we are all learning to do this every day, unconsciously. It seems it would be harder if we try to do it consciously, without training for it. The best leaders do it for the longest time before we know they are one.

So, it seems we cannot recognize a leader when we see one.

She carries no authority except the effort she brings to the table.
True leaders disappear, over time, into the fabric of the institution they helped create. A leader who is unable to sunset out of one role is also incapable of stepping into to the next sunrise.
A leader is one…

The story of a mysterious old man (Physics)

A tribute to those who gave all they have, to find the Higgs Boson ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Two of the same kind,   climbing a steep mountain of high energy, accelerating to blinding speed,   facing off at the edge of the mountain top,
Ram each other as if to die,   In the darkness of a never world that was once abundant,   but forever lost in the great cooling,
Flash! lightning! radiance and shatter!   matter to matter there is a glorious scatter, near the place where two lions and two tigers face off,  the old man appears, invisible to all
The evanescent 125 GeV old man explodes,   and disappears within the trails of the lions and tigers, is he them, or are they him?   no one knew, until certainty met statistics
Does this explain all dark things -   The ones that fill the void with a ghostly presence in our world,   at blinding speeds that reach those of light?
Someone prays in the depths of our hearts and Someone answers with lov…


Her wait is over.

Gandhini packs the carry bag for her son, Karthy. He is going on a long tour of five cities, having recently finished three performances in three Sabhas - it was a glorious madras music season, at least for him. It has been hectic so far. But this is the final leg of this year. She is getting ready to get some life back.

Time passes slowly now.

Karthy is going to become a great singer: that is Gandhini's dream and she knows it. She will do whatever it takes to get him there. Not because of what she wants, but because that is what Karthy wants.

She found his talents early, when he was five. He was a silent boy and never spoke much. But one day, he started singing along with the radio station, in the "hall"/living room, while she was cooking. This would have been a normal day, had it not been for their neighbour, who came in unannounced, listened, cried in happiness and left him a gift of Amul chocolates - a treasure for a five year old!

Since then, Gand…

The force of capital

Humans value scarcity, but are consumed by abundance. This was a good thing when abundance was ephemeral or seasonal. We were careful with scarce resources and quick to take advantage of the occasional gifts and bonanzas.
But when the good things become abundant, we waste away our scarce resources, or worse, effect scarcity in the unlikeliest of places.
This seems to have happened to the producers of quinoa, a vegan alternative to rice and wheat.
In this instance, it seems that the scale of quinoa's rise as an important health food has exported abundance to those who merely consume quinoa, while importing scarcity into the lives of those who do value the grain.
The invisible hand won't just create or honor capital, but force it until it is spent.
Sounds familiar.

Don't forget the process.

There are three ways we forget what really matters: the process.

There is only one way to change it: admit no permanent resting places.

When we have an IDEA for execution, say a new year's resolution, we spend all the time developing it to completion. However, the process to get there is filled with slow starts, bursts of commitment, and egging along by our trust network.

When we DO succeed, we claim victory and explain it with a rationale for our success. We are ready to  make a linear narrative of steady progress that took us to the top.

When we reach a COMFORT level at our success, we end up looking out for those who need to follow us - our children, team or students. We create a linear path for them to succeed, and we plan for their life to be as linear as it sounds in our self stories.

We mistake our stories for reality.

The reason why our idea worked is that we stuck to it long enough, no matter how slow.

The reason why we did succeed is because we were ready for the ride.…

Reprise - race with the machines II

A friend commented that  the race for the machines was only addressing half of the truth.

Here's the "half filled cup", so to speak :-)

The world is rippling with efficient bursts
of digital emotions from folks who offer - to
billions of us - the chance for gratitude
towards the creators' deep springs of contemplation
as they serve it up to us and our digital posterity.

Technology is working round the clock
in supercharging our lives - through the machines
that bedazzle us with their unending service -
with needs that we never dreamed we could satisfy.
Lo! Our minds grapple with their possibilities for re-making us.

Hanging on, surfing their surges and waves,
working the sensory channels that feed
the need for speed and bursts of action,
we simply ice that reality cake - the
art of enlivening the immortal inside us.

But out of the blue moon,
when time itself stands still,
the silent inner space shines out of our eyes,
into our analog world - giving lies to the decep…