Tuesday, June 30, 2009

One Word Philosophy

In the Beginning is the Word!

If a concept is succinctly expressible, then its power is increased manifold. Once you are able to freely think in terms of a concept, you can harness its meaning in what you do more easily. As the song from The Sound Of Music goes: when you know the words to sing, you can sing most anything. Similarly, for thought: only if you know the word for it, can you use it any way! ( Sing it! :)

I once read somewhere that in Japanese, they have a single word to describe a person who promises to be a great looker when seen from behind, but turns out to be quite the opposite when they turn around. How many times has that happened to you? And thinking of the effort involved, not chosen to share it. For want of a word, bonding and shared chuckles were lost! :) See, what power of expression means! :) (Sorry, cannot quite recall the Japanese word, dementia excuse: it was a few years ago in The Hindu, I think)

The Holy Books state that the name of God is equivalent to God itself. Christians and Jews even have a Commandment based on this: Thou shalt not take My Name in vain! Words enable us to recall the associated concept efficiently - to create an image in our minds. Indeed, this is what mantras and mnemonics are all about.

Here are some words which by themselves, I believe, are powerful enough to considered philosophies. These are often expressed as interjections and ejaculations by the speaker unknowingly, so deeply are they embedded in the mind. They embody a way of life and sometimes, in my humble ignorant opinion, typify the users themselves!

(Have desisted from citing examples of profane word philosophies. Everybody knows! )

Maqtub (Arabic, It's written)
We have tried our best, the rest is in God's hands. Or, Life is all about following the rules which have been written?

Ashte (Kannada, That's all)
It's no big deal (for me/us implied). Or, actually not much work involved?

Chumma (Malayalam, Just for kicks)
Not everything we do is for a reason, you know? We just do things for the heck of it.

Please add to the list if you know any more.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Office Heat Engine

The dictionary has it that an office is a "place of business where professional or clerical duties are performed". Do you work in an office or is it just a place you appear busy (place of business)? Scott Adams, Dilbert and probably you as well might disagree, but work actually gets done in an office environment...sometimes! :)

Even though it might seem like you have done nothing, you are exhausted by the end of a day in office, aren't you? The law of conservation of energy has it that your exhaustion means there is an expenditure of energy, and spent energy is equivalent to work done!!!

An office, if considered as an entity, can be viewed as a place where energy is expended and work is done. Thus we can draw a direct parallel to a heat engine. Terms like burnout, efficiency, exhaust etc do not seem to be merely coincidental! :)

From Wikipedia: A heat engine is a physical or theoretical device that converts thermal energy (called heat) to mechanical output (called work) .

The energy input for the office comes from the employees; they provide the heat-source for the office heat engine. The mechanical output (work) of the office may not often be directly measurable or tangible but it is sure to be there (where could it go? :)! The administrative machinery could be viewed as the valves, the rewards (monetary and other kinds) could be considered as lubricants, leave is maintenance and so on!

Now, the process of energy-release from an employee is fraught with inefficiency, as any HR functionary would readily attest. The expenditure of energy or employee-combustion :) does not guarantee that work will be done - lack of concentration, time-wastage, necessary social interactions are all degrading factors as far as the efficiency of the office is concerned. There is a definite factor of probability involved.

Hence, an office is a probabilistic heat engine!

- Thomas Jay Cubb

*Factories and production-houses are different from offices; here, the work done is more accurately and easily measurable
*Do the other laws of thermodynamics apply?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

DearDeer Negotiation

In situations where you want to buy something
1) that is useful to you - you absolutely need it
2) from a person known to you - you will continue to interact with her
3) which is dear to that person - she would want it to be maintained properly.
4) which that person knows is useful to you - she knows you will gain from it.

There are many risks associated with just the exploration of the possibility of a fair deal in these scenarios. You would not want to haggle and bargain too much; you don't want to damage the relationship by exposing each other's cheapness or greed. At the same time, you would not want to pay too high a price either; you will feel that you have been exploited. Or it may be that you might think that you are doing the other a favour and that favour could weigh heavy in the future...

I'm calling this the DearDeer Negotiation technique (rather lame, I know :), imagine it is a pet deer being sold! :)). If both parties can agree to not resort to exploitation or greed, then a fair deal (to the deer as well) could be arrived at like this.

1. Take a piece of paper and write down
Your minimum:
Your maximum:
Your optimum:

2. Take another piece of paper and ask them to write down
Their optimum:
Their minimum:
Their maximum:

3. Average all three items for both
This should be done by a third party if secrecy needs to be maintained.

4. Apply the decision criteria.
If the averages are not within say 20% of each other, a fair deal does not exist (one of the reasons explained earlier will apply ) and both parties may walk away, with no damage done.

Or, you may choose to take it up as a matter to be reconsidered and discussed. There might have been factors that neither of you considered. It can be the starting point for a more direct negotiation.

Friday, June 26, 2009

No Such Thing As A Simple Poll

I conducted a poll in my office yesterday to select a name/codename for a project. We had 5 options and 13 people on the electoral roll. The idea was to come up with the best name which was agreeable to the most number of people. Given the small numbers involved and the intelligence and absence of malevolence in the population, I thought it would be a simple enough decision to be made democratically. Boy, was I wrong!

The choice was to be made from a set of acronyms:
* These names were thought up by a smaller group from different perspectives on the planned project.
* All of them were acronyms with cheesy expansions - explanatory notes were provided along with the options.

We had to guard against the situation where less people thought that the chosen one was inappropriate (there is a name for this, forgot, couldn't find it on wiki), so I defined some rules aimed to prevent this scenario.

The rules were as follows:
1. It would be an open vote (no anonymity) and had to be sent in by email to a designated pollster(me) before a cut-off time.
The vote was an open one because people could possibly behave irresponsibly when given anonymity.

2. People could vote for the 2 options that they liked the best and rank those 2.
Two choices were allowed to factor in groupthink - people voting for something other than what they truly want because they think the group would want another one.

3. Formula for Calculation of the NAI (Name Appropriateness Index) for was as:
NAI = N(FirstChoice) + 0.5 * N(SecondChoice)
Weightage for the second choice was to respect the decision-making process. In retrospect, maybe that factor should have been a little higher.

4. The option with the highest NAI would be chosen.

5. Ties on NAI would be resolved by an Honorary Adjudicator.
Repolling would be invalid because of the high influence of groupthink. Plus, the title Honorary would incline the Adjudicator to make a responsible choice!

However, it turned out to be a typically microcosmic model of more complex democratic polls
1) A clear winner - There was no tie
2) One abstainer - Hated all the names
3) One absentee - Was not reachable
4) One postal vote - Over the phone
5) One invalid vote - Voted only for 1 option

The winner turned out to be a sub-optimal one and we had to have an intervention from our boss! It left me wondering how sub-optimal the results for a naiver scheme for a larger and less informed population, had to be!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Anti Patterns

Had a blast with this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-pattern
Presenting an abridged, non-technical version here, because links also die sometimes.
Check out the definitions for mushroom management!

Organizational anti-patterns

* Analysis paralysis: Devoting disproportionate effort to the analysis phase of a project
* Cash cow: A profitable legacy product that often leads to complacency about new products
* Design by committee: The result of having many contributors to a design, but no unifying vision
* Escalation of commitment: Failing to revoke a decision when it proves wrong
* Management by perkele: Authoritarian style of management with no tolerance for dissent
* Moral hazard: Insulating a decision-maker from the consequences of his or her decision.
* Mushroom management: Keeping employees uninformed and misinformed (kept in the dark and fed manure)
* Stovepipe: A structure that supports mostly up-down flow of data but inhibits cross organizational communication
* Vendor lock-in: Making a system excessively dependent on an externally supplied component

Project management antipatterns

* Death march: Everyone knows that the project is going to be a disaster – except the CEO. However, the truth remains hidden and the project is artificially kept alive until the Day Zero finally comes ("Big Bang"). Alternative definition: Employees are pressured to work late nights and weekends on a project with an unreasonable deadline.
* Groupthink: During groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking.
* Smoke and mirrors: Demonstrating how unimplemented functions will appear
* Software bloat: Allowing successive versions of a system to demand ever more resources

Analysis anti-patterns

* Bystander apathy: When a requirement or design decision is wrong, but the people who notice this do nothing because it affects a larger number of people.

Software design anti-patterns

* Gold plating: Continuing to work on a task or project well past the point at which extra effort is adding value
Programming anti-patterns

* Accidental complexity: Introducing unnecessary complexity into a solution
* Boat anchor: Retaining a part of a system that no longer has any use
* Cargo cult programming: Using patterns and methods without understanding why
* Coding by exception: Adding new code to handle each special case as it is recognized
* Error hiding: Catching an error message before it can be shown to the user and either showing nothing or showing a meaningless message
* Lava flow: Retaining undesirable (redundant or low-quality) code because removing it is too expensive or has unpredictable consequences

Methodological anti-patterns

* Golden hammer: Assuming that a favorite solution is universally applicable
* Improbability factor: Assuming that it is improbable that a known error will occur
* Premature optimization: Coding early-on for perceived efficiency, sacrificing good design, maintainability, and sometimes even real-world efficiency
* Programming by permutation (or "programming by accident"): Trying to approach a solution by successively modifying the code to see if it works
* Reinventing the wheel: Failing to adopt an existing, adequate solution
* Silver bullet: Assuming that a favorite technical solution can solve a larger process or problem

Friday, June 19, 2009

Profoundness For Dummies

How To Be Taken More Seriously Than You Should Be

Who does not want to be able to say: When I talk, people listen! Sadly though, True Wisdom is a scarce commodity and is hard-earned. But here's how us lesser mortals can do it too, nice and easy!

profound: Showing intellectual penetration or emotional depth
nonsense: A message that seems to convey no meaning

The techniques expounded and formalized here will, hopefully, enable everybody to become oysters of insight and come up with 'pearls of wisdom' . Yup, this is your TravelCard to free-tripping on the Profound Non-Sense network!

Use these tips, at your own risk of course, to create your own quotable gems! Or, alternatively, you may use these to identify formulaic crap and also assholic people...

1) Mystic Capitalization
2) Adage Extension
3) Kennedy Inversion
4) Reference Quotation
5) Random Punctuation
6) Typical Enumeration


1) Mystic Capitalization
This technique is extensively used by spiritual Gurus and also by management-gurus. Words like you, the, he etc are prime candidates. Adjectives are Great as well! If the split words have more than one obvious meaning, then that'd be Great as well!

(a) Take a statement.
(b) Scan it for words which are splittable and capitalizable.
(c) Split splittable words, and capitalize!

"Ask yourself this." ==> "Ask your Self this."
"Do you get time?" ==> "Do you get Time?"
"All that glitters is not gold" ==> "All that glitters Is not Gold"

2) Adage Extension
Stand on the shoulders of giants! Add to what they have said.

(a) Take a proverb.
(b) Take a suitable question tag-word or exclamation.
(c) Insert tag-word after proverb.

"Slow and steady wins the race. Let's slow down steadily."
"All that glitters is not gold. Why not?"

3) Kennedy Inversion
John F. Kennedy (or his speech-writer) was a great exponent of this technique, hence it is named eponymously. Two of the examples come from his speeches!

(a) Take a statement.
(b) Logically invert it.
(c) Grammatically connect both.

"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country!"
"All that glitters is not gold, and all that is gold does not glitter!"
"Let us not negotiate out of fear, but let us not fear to negotiate"

4) Reference Quotation
The more reliable the source of your quote is considered to be and the more uncommon the words in that are, the more seriously people will take you!

(a) Take a quote from an authentic source.
(b) Say whatever you want.
(c) Pepper what you say with words from the quote, repeatedly for added effect.

The introductory section of this post uses the dictionary variation of this.

"All that glitters is not gold" - Gold, Encyclopedia Britannica pg 172
Glittering is a phenomenon..blah blah...Gold is a macroeconomic quantum...blah blah...Hence, gold does not glitter. Blah Blah.

5) Random Punctuation
Commonly used in poems to create sentimental trash. If you are talking, you can just pause all of a sudden in the middle of a sentence and then resume.

(a) Take a sentence.
(b) Insert punctuation marks at random, unobvious points

"The train came on time" ==> "The train came, on time"
"All that glitters is not gold" ==> "All that glitters, is: not gold"

6) Typical Enumeration
Last, but perhaps the most important and the easiest technique, is the bulletization and numbering technique.

This was it, dummy! :)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tyranny Of Time

Today my watch died on me; I am choosing not to replace the batteries. As a token rebellion.

The watch was my sign of bondage, a badge of my slavery - the time on my watch controlled me, decided what I did. My watch was my Little Lamb - I used to wear it everywhere and all the time...yeah, when I slept, even when I took a bath! Yeah, you could say that it possessed me more than I possessed it.

Only a few hours into my rebellion now, I am realizing that time as shown by my watch was not, and need not have been, my religion. What you read off your watch is just a token of time; WatchTime is just a convention.

Time is the ultimate luxury. Some months ago, I had read about the world's most expensive watch. Made by Swiss watchmaker Romain Jerome, this watch actually doesn't tell you the time of day; it only tells you whether it is day or not! Fashion-statement or not, it is definitely one helluva statement to make!

Before I sign off, small cryptic confession to make: I'm on Mobile-Time now. :) Well, that is, I peek at my cellphone to get my dose of the reality low.

- Thomas Jay Cubb

ThoughtJots: Time and money are the dimensions of the social universe. You spend time, you spend money (Time-Money equivalence). Some time ago, some time back (Dimension). Money gives you power, power gives you the ability to control other people's time.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Calvinball is a fictional game played by the protagonists in the comic-strip Calvin & Hobbes. What is peculiar about this game is that the rules keep changing constantly. All the players don't even have to agree on the rules... :)

Even though people don't realize it, everybody is playing Calvinball, all the time. In fact, it could be the most popular sport on the planet; Calvinball is Life itself. Change is constant, and we adjust. Especially nowadays, I'm sure there are many particularly evil games of Calvinball being played the world over, with a refrain of "That was then, this is now. I'm sorry, but...."

Times might be tough and you might be desperate for a win. But you must never change the rules such that Calvinball ceases to be a game. Players, even pros, play a game not just for the money but also as a part of their quest for, variously: joy, fun or greatness. "I will continue to play as long as I enjoy the game," is what we hear from players contemplating retirement.

Imagine that you were playing a round of Catch and somebody suddenly puts up a new rule that specified a whipping for every catch you drop. Would you continue? What if the ball was then changed to be a red-hot one and you were not allowed to use gloves? Would you continue? And what if somebody filled the ground with nails...

But in the games of Calvinball we play in real-life, even when the game changes horribly, we choose to or are forced to keep playing. The burdens of reality pin you down, and you hope that somebody who is un-evil (nobody is purely good, everybody wants to win) will come along and the rules will change for the better...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Lightning Strikes Thrice

Believe it or not, there are witnesses, but on March 15, 2009, within the space of 2 hours I was -
1) Sneezed on by an elephant
2) Peed on by a monkey
3) Pooped on by a bird (sorry, don't know which kind :))

I was out in Coorg for a nature-trip...guess Nature didn't exactly reciprocate my love that day!
Only now do I realize the sheer impossibility of those events happening all together!

Hell, I didn't even know that elephants sneezed! (They do it with their trunk, in case you didn't know either)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Exploitation Classified

To feel needed and important is a very basic human need, Man being a social animal. This lays the foundation for most social relationships, many of which are parasitic, the rest (well, almost!) symbiotic. Unpleasant realization this, but like it or not, everybody is being used, everybody is being exploited. All the time.

Exploitation is in fact so natural a state of affairs that we generally ignore this or unknowingly substitute it with less disturbing, more comforting notions like love, duty etc. This may be true even in cases where you might think you are the exploiter!

People are used like -

1) Candles
You burn to give them light in their darkness. You show the way. Without you, they could never have been sure whether they were on the right track. But when it is light again, and you are burnt out, they scrape away what's left of you.

2) Bandages
You help heal their wounds. Without you, they would (possibly, if they have clotting problems) bleed to death. You soak up their bad blood. But when the wound has healed, and you are all dirty, they throw you in the trash can.

3) Tea-bags
You refresh them when their energy is sapped. Without you, they could not have had that thought which made all the difference. They savour your flavour. But when they've had their drink, and you have no more strength left in you, they throw you in the sink.

4) Bubble-gum
You give them something to do. They chew you up, relishing your juice, moulding you as they feel fit. When they feel like it, for your pleasure (you fulfill your purpose in life) and their pleasure, they blow you up as a bubble. But the bubble is burst, and they spit you out!

1. This is actually a blueprint for a poem I'm writing; I started off with the tea-bag idea around 3 years ago. Don't know when or whether I will complete it. So sharing the idea as-is, in prose form. This is a recurring theme for me, check out a previous exploration Use And Throw, if you must have a poem! :-)

2. This *MUST NOT* affect a relationship that you and I may share!!! Hate the message, but don't kill the messenger!

3. This classification excludes those relationships based on pure evil.Or, does it?

4. Nobody even cares about doormats and tissues! Even the poet ignores them! :)