Q U E S T The Book Final


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Story of a retired CEO left the world behind him. Instructing 3 people. A programmer , a project manager and a CEO

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Q U E S T The Book Final

  1. 1. Dedication To my father, Late Sreedhara Menon 62
  2. 2. PREFACE Never in my life could I imagine myself writing a fiction book. In the past, I have co- authored a book on ‘C’ language. But that was purely technical. After working for various companies over the past 18 years, I left my job to start a new venture – corporate training. Having trained some bigwigs of the industry, I was on full roll. Taking one class after the other, I was all exhilarated. My methodology of training is highly interactive. I have trained rookies as well as the experienced crowd. One common thread that runs through them all is what I call fundamental amnesia. Either they have forgotten the basics or simply haven’t learnt them. Mostly, progress is organic. To go to Class 5 from Class 1, you have to clear levels 2, 3 and 4. A lot of people I came across want to know the latest and the greatest in the market, bypassing the learning curve. This is just not possible. Unless you learn to build from your linear experience of the past, whatever you understand may not be fully appreciated. This I term half-baked knowledge. Nothing happens overnight. You have to spend the time and effort to reach the acceptable level. Being a programmer is a very creative exercise, except when you get attached to the code. You defend it and swear by it. Programming is one of those highly intensive karmic activities where you forget yourself so easily. A strong dose of software engineering basics is required for all programmers. Programming is both art and science. By art I mean there are no limits to what you code and by science I mean there is a definite framework or method of doing things. The discipline needs to be there to avoid maverick code. The days of programming are numbered. As newer pick-and-use tools become available, the design and testing aspects are gaining ground. Programming in the future will be restricted to very specialized kind of activities. For instance, personalization to a deep level, power user functionalities and some tweaks here and there. We are moving from Business Intelligence software to Business Wisdom software, although at present the former is not fully compliant with the actual sense that it implies. Silicon intelligence is becoming a tenet for the near future. And as machines start overtaking us in all spheres of knowledge, the future seems uncertain. If there is one thing that separates us from these contraptions, it’s our lineage. We are a part of the universal soul, while machines have been created by us. They may beat us in logic but not intuition. They may be way ahead of us as far as knowledge is concerned, but they will not be able to marvel at the design of a butterfly wing. Even if they do, it won’t be authentic. But they are catching up fast. Computing is both a boon as well as bane. As far as project management is concerned, it’s a mixture of many things. A majority of projects get delayed because they lack proper planning, monitoring and control. Using tools, some of the guesswork can be eliminated, but still there is a human aspect to it. By that I mean empathy, appreciation, teamwork etc. All other parameters like budgets, schedules and allocations can be outsourced to a tool, but still somebody has to provide the inputs to the tool and manage it now and then. But tools are getting more and more 62
  3. 3. sophisticated. Even the human element is being factored in as probabilities and in the future we may be able to pick up a brownie point here and there provided the machine agrees to. Project management is about execution and it is the most crucial factor that determines your company’s success. The top management is more worried than anybody else about the numbers. Strategies, ratios, policies, procedures and other factors that determine that the company is healthy are their concerns. They have their growth charts and dashboards that keep them informed of the course that they are on. They have to interact with customers, stake holders and their tactical heads. Normally, they would not be bothered about day-to-day operations. A weekly window through the status reports tell them about dangers or accolades in the waiting. If there is one thing that they hate, it is not complying with commitments. Technology makes us more productive and accurate. But remember, a computer is as good as the input it gets. Bad inputs will give you incorrect information. Hence the data is more important than the programs or applications that work on it. In the past 15 years, we have seen a sporadic growth in technology. As machines become more important than anything else, we are at crossroads with questions like ‘Where are we headed?’, ‘Is technology the ultimate leveler?’, ‘What is our future?’ and other profound queries. In this book, I attempt to answer some of these questions that lurk in the innards of our consciousness. You will find matters related to technology, spirituality, management and science weaved together to form a fable. The story is not just about a programmer, a project manager and a CEO seeking deliverance, it’s a day-to-day quest of every human being on this beautiful earth. Read along… 62
  4. 4. Day 1 This is the story of a man who gave up everything that he had gained from the material world – his name, his achievements, his family and his bank balance – to lead a life of a spiritual seeker. This man at the top of his career was a CEO of a Fortune 500 software company, earning millions just in his bonus. What made him give up the fame and fortune is not known clearly, although the rumor is that he went nuts. Today, he lives somewhere in the jungles of India, seeking spiritual solace and more than anything else his own identity, which he had lost to the world. There is only one thing that he took with him from all his possessions – his books. An avid reader who had come to the brink of depression with the superficiality of day-to-day life and by not being able to read his books, he had left the world behind him in a journey of self discovery. Eight years had passed since he left and nobody exactly knew where he was. Then a team of three people decided to track him down. A programmer, a project manager and a CEO. They had a lot of difficulty finding him but finally homed in as to where he was and decided to meet him face to face. For these people, writing software, managing projects or running a company was becoming monotonous. Somewhere deep inside they felt that the recluse who had given up everything may have the answer to the burning questions stirring deep in their minds. And so they went on a sabbatical to meet this lost man. And the story from here captures the adventure and its spirit. The flight from New York landed in Cochin, Kerala, in India at 3am local time. The threesome hired a taxi to the Silent Hill, after which it was a trek of 15 miles to this man’s place of stay. They reached the foot of the hill at 5am and decided to rest a while before beginning the journey. They camped for a while, slept for eight hours, had some sandwiches and drank some water. Now they were ready for the long walk. The Sun hovering on the horizon seemed unforgiving. It was summer time and the heat was driving them crazy. And so they began the trek to find a lost icon in the jungles of India, a no-man’s land, hoping to get some answers to their mundane existence. The road was meandering uphill towards the only thing they could clearly see – the blue sky. They were carrying some food, water, medicines and a gun, in case they came across a canine, although they had heard that this area was mainly filled with deers, some stags and wild pigs. After covering five miles, they came across a spring. Just to taste the water, they drank some and it felt like water they have never tasted before – so cool and so quenching. They filled up their jugs with this godsend gift and kept going. It was nearing dusk and there was no trace of this forgotten man. Up ahead they saw what seemed to be a house near a pond. They thought that this was it. They had come close to the penultimate moment. On reaching the house, they saw that it was empty. There were three sticks lying inside in an upright horizontal manner and a stick lying vertically across. There were some strange scribble on the walls and the smell of incense 62
  5. 5. everywhere. But there was no sign of him. They left their backpacks in the house and went looking for him, but he was not to be seen. And then he appeared from nowhere, like a thunderstorm without warning. His face was like that of a baby who had just gotten his favorite toy. He was 68 but looked 25. His hair was all black and he was sporting a beard. He was wearing a Bermuda shirt over a Levi’s shorts. No footwear. In his hands were some plants that seemed to be his food for the day. He waved a big hello to the three and invited them inside his house. “Long hard climb, eh,” he remarked. “Did you have trouble finding this place?” “Not at all,” said the programmer. “We kind of knew you are holed up here, after a bit of research. Google Earth, if you know what I mean.” “Sure,” he chuckled. The sun was setting and the chirping of the sparrows had stopped almost completely. There was pin-drop silence outside and the night ready to devour the light was creeping in. Suddenly, he flicked a hidden switch. And a mercury lamp right above where they sat lit up the whole place. They were surprised to see electricity in the middle of nowhere. He got up, walked seven steps and then unfurled the curtains of the open window facing southeast. Up ahead, they saw an array of solar panels and a satellite dish reaching for the tree crests that surrounded this no-man’s land. “Wow!” they exclaimed. “You could be on Oprah’s show for all you know,” cried out the project manager. “Ray, this is unbelievable. You set this up all by yourself?” asked the CEO. “Yes, although it took me more than a month to configure it.” “And all the time I thought that you would be leading a monk’s life away from civilization,” exclaimed the CEO. “Even if I’m not in touch with people, I like to keep myself updated.” He looked inquiringly at the CEO and asked, “So what brings you up here, Stan?” “To tell you the truth, I don’t know. My colleagues and I have had it with the real world. We know that there is something beyond the day-to-day buzz. We all work hard and try to have fun while earning a daily living. But it seems to be so droning. It’s like we have become robots, diligently exercising the same set of rules again and again. The thrill was in the kill. But what after it is over? How many times can you sift through the same procedure? Every time we complete a project, up comes the second one ready to be tweaked for the particulars. An amendment in the contract, another SLA (Service Level Agreement) and some alterations on the excel sheet. A typical day seems to be filled with meetings, follow-ups and reading hundreds of mails and proposals. The same old wine in a different bottle. Reuse they say. But what’s the point? Then, I remember that the bottom-line is profit. Mark up the sales and curtail the expenses. Comply with standards and turn your curiosity antennae on, always. Interact with people over never-ending discussions and align your strategy to culture. Or maybe the other way round. Time flies fast, but at the end of the day, questions surround my mind. Where am I headed? What’s the meaning of all this? Wish I could call it quits and head north like you did. But then, 62
  6. 6. I’m not very sure. It’s with a sense of hope that we have come here, to discover your wisdom and essence. And by the look of your fresh face, it seems that we have come to the right place,” implored Stan. Ray bowed his head and said, “Cool it, Stan! We are all caught up in the twister of life and want answers that quench our quest for inner meaning. You are not alone. Even I used to feel the same about life, till I decided to do my part of the homework. Remember, there is no meaning that is to be discovered. We have to create the meaning ourselves. Where you are headed is something that you have to figure out. Ask yourself, probing the innards of your subconscious mind, ‘where do I want to be five, 10 or 25 years down the line? Or better yet, do I love what I’m doing?’ If you have an affirmative answer to these questions, then half the work is done. The remaining half is to seek the true purpose of life, which according to me is god realization. If your quest is genuine, you will find him. Remember in The Bible it is said, ‘Ask and it will be given; seek and ye will find’. It is not a one-sided affair. Providence is also seeking you. Every moment he guides us towards him. The only problem is we don’t realize it. We keep marching away, on the go, without listening to the subtle whispers of his voice, getting lost in the humdrum of everyday activity that surrounds us. When we become consciously guided, we see the world with a different lens. It’s like everything around us changes. We see him in people, places and nature. Learn to see him in your work also. Just keep in mind that you have to enjoy the work, no matter what the outcome is. Give it the best that you got. Stay away from negative thoughts like anger or greed that steer us away from the very purpose of work – insight, the door to his palace. Throw away your fears and be action-oriented and then result-oriented, although the effect of the latter is not in our hands. Commit this concept to your memory and see how life is to be lived simply. There are no complexities or contradictions. These just exist in our mind and not outside. In the Hindu scripture, the Bhagvad Gita, Lord Krishna tells his disciple to do his duty. And remember, this is the key – build if you are a builder, run if you are an athlete. Do it to the best of your ability and leave the rest to god.” The other two were listening earnestly to their conversation, when Stan interrupted, “Ray, by the way, this is Deborah and Ravi. Deb is a project manager in our financial services vertical and Ravi is a senior programmer in our internet technology group.” A salubrious hello from Ray made them smile back at him. “So, what’s your side of the story?” asked Ray supportively. Ravi was the first to speak. “I love technology. I have been involved with computers since I was a teenager. Today, I’m 27. During these years, I have picked up some skills related to programming and design of systems. Software has exploded exponentially during these times. I remember starting with a programming language called BASIC and moved onto ‘C’. The former was quite simple and English-like. We call it programmer-friendly. ‘C’ was scary as it gave phenomenal control of the machine that you are working with. A very succinct language but you could shoot yourself in the foot misusing it. Nevertheless it was addictive. Then came the object-oriented revolution along with the Graphical User Interface (GUI). The computer became a useful tool as the clickable frontiers started evolving. Also, the rise of different frameworks like NET led to standardization, flexibility, ease of use and power in the hands of the programmer. My contention was not 62
  7. 7. that there were missing features in a language but the opposite. There were so many of them that it was impossible to know the entire skeleton, leave apart other languages or frameworks. There are so many ways of solving a single problem. But reusability of components had a readymade answer. My problem is information overload. There are so many options available out there that to keep up pace with the development itself is proving to be a 16-hour-day job. On top of that, there are standards pertaining to the company, which can include coding style, documentation and testing procedures. Then there are methodologies that become our way of working. There are so many things to remember and so little time to deliver. Thank god, I’m on a development project, where the creative juices flow more smoothly. Yet, at the end of the day I feel that something is missing from the big picture. Adapting me to the quirks of a software program (like a compiler or an OS) seems to be slavery. And by the time you have figured out the nuances of the program, this platform has become obsolete. Now it is time to move on to the next great thing. The technology shelf life is so short that it forces me to be on my toes always and the story seems to get worse as every day passes. I would really want to get away from data structures and algorithms and see them in the light of important aspects of life, as they make a meaningful impact on what really matters to me – happiness.” Ray poured water into a glass till it started overflowing. He asked Ravi if he could make sense of what was happening. “You see, technology is made up of two parts – the hardware that is represented by the glass and the software that is equivalent to the water. The software can only be as good as the hardware that it sits on. If you try to exceed the capacity of the hardware, the machine may stop working. The glass is not malleable, it cannot change shape, neither is it flexible. You can pour different things into the glass like milk, fruit juice or coffee, but all of them have water in them. Water is the operating system (OS) of the glass. You can choose boiled water, purified water or pipe water. The fact of the matter is that without water it is virtually impossible to get taste. Choose your OS carefully. Build on top of it. In today’s market, there are so many layers of software sitting atop the OS, you should be aware of what combination works and what doesn’t. Using pipe water to make tea without boiling it is to invite trouble. Hence, sticking with one type of water does not make sense. Some programmers are fanatical about the software that they use. They swear by it. But remember that all programs eventually have to fulfill a need and the critical path may not be the combination that you have been holding dear. Hence, be ready to learn new combinations. Do not get attached. As far as information overload is concerned, it is going to worsen further. It’s a question of how much depth you are willing to go on a single product. Watch the breadth first. And if you feel that some technology is worth delving into more because it is futuristic, it is market- oriented or its fundamentals are strong, then go ahead. Invest more time into it. But watch what the pundits are saying. If the going is good, improve the depth, else exit out; it’s time to learn a new technology. Agreed that the pace at which this happens is quite exhilarating and tiring at times. But then such is life. Enjoy the pace and have a detached mind. Go with the winners. Be on the roll. Benefit from it as long as it lasts.” As eager as she was, Deb started telling Ray about her problem. “You see Ray, as a project manager I juggle with multiple problems. Most often the requirements change (scope creep) or sometimes the team dynamics negates productivity. At other times, it is deadline pressure from upper management and the customer. I have been in projects that 62
  8. 8. start on Day1 and those where I have been pulled in between. The former are easier to manage as you are in control from the inception. The projects where you enter in the middle are more dangerous. You really don’t know how messy the state of the project is and, actually speaking, you are cleaning up somebody else’s underwear. I try to avoid such projects, but if wishes were horses all project managers would have been happy. Then there is the type of project – development, maintenance, customization or simply implementation. While hotshot teams like to work on development, the other three projects are what we find more in real life and to keep the team happy on these is like feeding a horse some artificial hay. One of the well-known problems in project management is estimating the size of work. Despite having followed proper techniques and methodologies, most projects overshoot the schedule, because of some factor that the project manager undervalued as a not-so-important risk surfaced as a show-stopper. I have pressure from all sides. In the middle of this, I have to also provide leadership guidance to my team, regular reporting to my bosses and customers, and also need the quality of my deliverables to be top, besides sticking to timelines and budgetary constraints. At the end of the day, I feel like an operations officer who has put her head into one too many things and achieved one or maybe two worthwhile things. As a result, I feel empty and promise myself that the next day would be more fruitful. But then again, I’m caught up in the fire fighting. Is there a way out of this?” “Of course there is,” replied Ray nonchalantly. “As a project manager, you owe it to yourself to accomplish important goals on a day-to-day or better yet, an hour-to-hour basis. What is missing from your diary is adequate planning and follow-ups to closure. I’m not talking of a to-do list because they obscure the qualitative aspect of planning. Every plan has tasks that need to be completed in a particular duration. Once finished, the activity has to be analyzed on the time allotted to it, learning and future corrections. As far as change is concerned (scope creep), I’m afraid, Deb, there is not much of a choice. You see, change is fundamental to nature. We change as the clock ticks by. The number of atoms that we are made up of is not the same as say an hour earlier. There are so many things happening within and outside our physical sheaths that we can perceive only a miniscule part of it. Trying to control change is like bringing to bay a mad elephant. But it is not impossible. Every change has to be thought through for possible impact on duration, quality and budget of the project. In design, the foundation always starts with the pillars or concepts that do not change first. Take, for instance, a financial accounting (FA) package. The heart and soul here is the General Ledger (GL), hence you would build a solid GL first and then move onto say an Accounts Receivable (AR). Second, devote your time in a 80/20 fashion (Pareto’s Law). Twenty per cent of the activities in a day require 80 per cent of your attention. Identify these activities and mark them as important and urgent. The important ones are the tasks that you should be doing more. As far as leadership guidance to the team is concerned, practice goal-setting on a weekly and daily (short projects) basis. Use tools for project plans, mails or other paraphernalia. As you spend more and more time on things that matter, you will feel more satisfied. You have to stay focused and remind yourself not to micromanage. Insist on random code- walkthroughs or test reviews or inspection of quality artifacts. But stick to the basics. Spend time in an organized way for important activities and the more you do so, the more satisfaction you will get, as I’ll tell you later that deep down it’s not about a goal accomplished or a praise that makes you happy, it’s about the quality of life (QOL).” 62
  9. 9. It was 8.30pm local time. Ray gestured everyone towards the patio where he had kept the food ready. All vegetarian. There were cabbage leaves, bamboo shoots, lettuce and spring onions. Some kind of a dressing that looked like the Thousand Islands was also there. Ray apologetically said, “Friends, I’m a vegetarian now and hope that you will like the food. I don’t boil the vegetables because it takes away the vitamins and minerals within them. Raw food, vegetarian, is healthy and fulfilling. And remember, the food we eat pretty much makes us the individual we are. For instance, if one takes hot food like peppers, his disposition would include an angry side. In the Gita, mention is made of three kinds of people – Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic. Sattvic people eat healthy foods without much sweetness, sourness or bitterness. Not even hot. A little of all these just for the taste is fine. Sattvic people offer the food to the gods before eating them. The food is called prasadam once the gods have eaten it (imaginary). Sattvic people are well-balanced, optimistic and philanthropists. You will find them getting angry rarely. On the other hand, the Rajasic people eat pungent foods. They relish the sensation that is produced by such foods. They are most likely to bicker over petty issues and usually are very loud. Most of the people in the world fall in this category. The Tamasic people eat leftovers of other foods. The food is generally not cooked properly or is old enough to be thrown away. Tamas means darkness and Tamasic people lead a life of hobos. You can find them in nooks and crannies of all major cities as well as in villages. If not anything, I can assure you that the food I eat here is devoid of any of the tendencies that are mentioned above. It takes some time to get used to it, but once you do, you will enjoy the shoots and leaves. So don’t expect steak or ham here. The best I can provide you is a choice among the plants and vegetables.” They all picked up their plates and poured the dressing over the vegetables and started eating them. The CEO said, “This sure beats our daily dinner full of calories. But tell me Ray, don’t you get bored with the same kind of food every day?” “This is what I do. Sometimes I skip all the meals in a day. Fasting, you see. It’s a good way to get control over our stomach’s plea for food. Besides, on the day after fasting, the food tastes better. This is a known fact,” explained Ray. “Deb and Ravi, how do you find the food?” Deb replied that the food was lacking essential tastemakers but was fine for a change. Ravi really liked the food. He was willing to eat it for the rest of his life, only if somebody would help him with his salvation program. “Time to get some sleep. Let’s go to the patio,” insisted Ray. The patio was covered with hay and mats. “This is as good as it gets,” explained Ray. “Sweet dreams. Till tomorrow.” 62
  10. 10. Day 2 Just before dawn, a moment of gold, Ray woke up and started his rituals. To start with, he would meditate for about an hour, followed by yogic postures. When he was about to go for his morning walk, Ravi woke up. He asked Ray if it was OK to join him on the stroll. Ray nodded. There was a trail that went all the way up the nearest mountain to a spring and back again. They began their amble uphill and melted in the orange rays of dawn. Ravi noticed that Ray was murmuring something all the way. He asked Ray what it was. “It’s a mantra,” replied Ray. “Specifically, Gayatri Mantra. Everyone should have a mantra. Like Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. Choose your mantra and recite it as many times as you can in a day. It brings inner peace.” They were brisk-walking for more than 30 minutes now. Ravi was feeling fatigued. Ray mentioned that he needed some regular exercise. Sitting in front of a computer, eating junk food and so on are activities that lead to an unfit body. From the spring gushing forth, Ray took a handful of water, raised it towards the sun and chanted something in the air. “Protects you from harmful radiations like ultraviolet rays,” he said lightly. “Wish I could share this with my friends. You know, most of them are online,” said a proud Ravi. “You may have a lot of friends online but the irony is that you still don’t know your neighbor. Familiarity comes but once a year, whereas you are online everyday on MySpace or Facebook or Orkut, seeking virtual friends. This is the techno culture – a simulation of real relationships. Remember, no pain is the best medicine. And that’s what the online activities take us towards. When you deal with real people, you exchange a sort of meaning that is not found while social networking online. But there is a chance that you might get hurt in a real relationship. Agreed that there is no substitute for a gentle touch or a string of laughter exchanged between two or more people. But what if you are an introvert who prefers to be at home rather than socializing? For such people, technology is a boon. An online identity is much better than getting involved in the real sense. Such an identity gives us the freedom to choose. But discipline and knowing the limits are very important. Addiction to anything is bad. Till you discover moderation as the key to your success, you are bound to be lost. A yogi is somebody who lives life in restraint. As the maxim goes, there is a time and place for everything.” “If people matter so much, then how come you are living your life away from community?” asked Ravi defiantly. “Well, you see Ravi, there are different stages of life, prescribed for people at different ages. I have had my share of good and bad with people. Now I’m a sanyasi or a recluse. But that does not mean that I throw a fit when people approach me, just like you and your friends have. My life is tuned to nature. I have explored vast realms of peace and harmony 62
  11. 11. through meditation. The answer is not out there. It’s inside us. You know, a single human cell does three trillion operations in a second. We are made up of a trillion of these cells. Our immune system is one level of intelligence. We are an aggregate of all that happens inside our bodies. There are different planes of realization. We switch between these planes either consciously or subconsciously. At any point of time, it is very difficult to predict our behavior, although research has begun to unearth some common patterns. These are again applicable to majority of people. Hence it’s probabilistic. A deterministic model is very difficult to evolve. Maybe it would, as silicon intelligence, but very unlikely for carbon-based models like ourselves. The key to happiness, which we all chase, is a mirage. As long as we are bound by our beliefs, values and emotions, we will not be able to escape to a higher plane. To do this, we have to unlearn the baggage that we are carrying, and begin the journey as a child – innocent, curious and ever trusting. As far as you are concerned, Ravi, you have a lot of time before you embark on this voyage. Get a feel of the real world. Raise a family. Do your duty towards yourself, your family and the world, in that order. When you have crossed the chasm of worldliness, you can opt for a life like mine. This is my opinion.” “You see that squirrel over there. Do you think he is happy? For animals there is no concept of a higher self. They are already situated in the moment. They live in the present. Our problem is we spend a lot of time in our past and future, forgetting that the present is the moment and there is nothing else. The past has already happened, hence there is no way we can change it. The future is bound to happen. But the present is the time right now. Live wisely in this moment and it’s a life well lived. For the squirrel, he just ‘is’. There is no question of unhappiness. Learn to extract the juice out of every single moment that you get. Hear that sparrow chirp. Enjoy it. Drink water from that spring. Savor it. Listen to a song, sing along. That’s the secret, Ravi. Live for the moment. Be engaged always. Don’t waste a single moment. And above all, don’t think too much. Act from your heart. The heart knows better than your brain. Go holistic, if you know what I mean.” “You mean to say that we should take decisions that stem from the recesses of our heart rather than the brain?” “Correct. Our heart works bottom-up, whereas our brain works top-down, breaking everything into bits and pieces till some kind of logical link is arrived at. Look at business intelligence. We categorize and further split things into finer patterns till we arrive at maybe a question like ‘how many red shoes were sold from Sears during springtime’. Maybe, digging further, we may get the information that this customer also bought a blue shoe two years ago. Predictive intelligence can provide a lot of answers to networked data. But what about difficult trends like linking his drug addiction to red shoes? Like I have said before, the patterns are all probabilistic. Even if we are able to download his brain anatomy on a computer, the spiritual aspect still eludes us. We have already begun to identify the spiritual part of our brains, but it does not reveal information that he is a catholic by birth but follows Zen in day-to-day life. But very soon, this information would be available online. And so will be the subjective experience wrapped up in an objective mould.” 62
  12. 12. “However, there are ethical issues surrounding these happenings. As you are aware, the human genome has been sequenced. Very soon, we will have libraries of people with their genetic data. What if a gene indicating a tendency towards heart attack of an individual falls into the hands of a health insurance company? Will they refuse him/her coverage of cardiac-related problems? Here comes the issue of privacy. Information pertaining to an individual can only be shared with his/her permission. Even if sequencing of the genome for an individual is carried out, it must reside in vaults that cannot be hacked by miscreants. If there is a medical network where this information can reside, it must guarantee that such data will only be used by doctors every time he turns up for a consultation or treatment. The moment the diagnosis is arrived at, this data will no longer be visible to anyone. The only person who could unlock the personal information would be the patient himself/herself. Having two-level passwords and biometric identification can be one way of stopping an authentication assault. Encryption of such data would be mandatory. But here’s the big question: are these techniques safe?” “Brute force password cracking programs are available. Biometric data can be phished and used where required. Also encryption (128 bit) does not seem to be a panacea. In the near future, we can expect it to be broken. But then again, some other forms of protecting data would be made available, which will be wrecked by some intelligent cracker. The cat-and-mouse game never ends. But the good will prevail over bad. The reason being, good things in life are long-lasting. Take happiness for example. Bad things are usually fleeting. Don’t mix up happiness with pleasure. You may take a shot of cocaine and feel happy. But that is just temporary. It’s a pleasure sensation. Real happiness is something that comes from within. Techniques like meditation, exercise and laughter can catapult a person towards the pursuit of true happiness. And once a person achieves this level, he/she will be situated in it, unlike cigarettes or drugs that give transitory pleasure.” While they were sauntering downhill, Ravi spotted a deer on the banks of a small river. He had forgotten to take his camera and started swearing. Up ahead, he saw a flower valley with many butterflies. The orange rays of the sun were spread over the entire place and for a moment he felt like a small child, experiencing bliss. Ray nudged him to move on. They reached home where Deb was trying to prepare what seemed like coffee and Stan was fast asleep. “How was the walk, Ravi?” asked Deb. “Oh, it was awesome. I got a chance to get close to mother nature and what a panorama it was…” he said. “Should have called me, too,” beseeched Deb. “Next time,” Ravi assured. The television was showing CNN news – the Iraq story. “So, what do you think of this, Ray?” asked Deb. “You know, recently I saw the news of the Senate having approved 18 billion dollars for war preparations against Iraq. This is a huge amount, more than the GDP of some smaller countries, and could have been used for, say, building more schools, parks, welfare of senior citizens, healthcare and, most importantly, to tackle crime within our countries. Technology used in the military is most advanced because we spend more. You must have seen the movie Terminator where the computer gets control and becomes aware. We 62
  13. 13. cannot dismiss this idea as mere fiction. When Jules Verne wrote his Trip To The Moon in the 19th century, people thought he was crazy. We have already sent manned spacecraft to moon. And machine intelligence is not something that we can dismiss as an imaginary tale. An IBM computer called the Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov, the world chess champion. Soon, we will have parallel computers that outthink us in areas pertaining to machine intelligence, pattern recognition and cognitive psychology. Although our brain runs at a very slow speed, we have a collective response, evoked by various parts of the brain. Today, most of the computers think serially at a very high speed. Once they start thinking like us, we are going to be outsmarted. One of Isaac Asimov’s Robotics law states that a robot can never harm a human being. But with self-modifying programs, what is the guarantee that such a law won’t be altered? To err is human, they say. Are we chewing more than we can bite? Technology for defense is cutting-edge but is it really worth it? Only time will tell.” Silently, from the corner, Stan was listening to what Ray was saying. He interceded, “Ray, what you are saying makes sense but investing in superior technology helps us consolidate our seniority at various global positions and ensure that we have a dominant voice in this matter.” “Stan, my concern is when there are so many unsolved problems within our country itself, why are we chasing the other end of the rainbow? Why can’t we divert the army to help the police? It will help us combat crime. Let the air force people work closely with NASA on expeditions. A mutual exchange of knowledge will make them strong and they will bring out better solutions for the benefit of not just our country but the whole world. ‘Seek first to understand and then to be understood’, says Stephen Covey. It’s true. Most of us wail that we are not being appreciated. Let me tell you this, you are not alone. Everyone has his own story and desire to share it with others. But we are all so busy listening to the sounds of our wheels that we forget the first principle of success – listening. Metallica in one of their songs say, If you can understand the me, then I can understand the you. Well, just twist it around and you have a success formula. The point I’m trying to make is that global tensions can only be eased by understanding, empathy and a genuine desire to help.” “Sure, but what is to be done is worth when it gives you benefits. The bottom-line is profit, Ray,” Stan insisted. “So what exactly is Profit Stan? It’s not just income. You make a profit when you garner goodwill of the customers. You also make a profit when all the employees who worked on a project are satisfied. The real profit is not in numbers but beyond that. Real profit is when you realize your contribution to the project, be it as a customer, a shareholder or an employee. It stems from an inside need, which I would term spiritual. A feeling of wellness that arises out of having made this world a better place; having changed a person’s life; having accomplished a feat that was thought to be impossible. A sense of selflessness accompanies all profit-making projects. Why do you think social networking is such a rage? It helps us connect, make new friends, be heard in a crowded world, and most of all, create an identity for ourselves. And technology helps us do all of this. It’s helping the very mission that we are all here for – god realization. How’s that, you may 62
  14. 14. ask. Well, the answer is quite simple. Technology helps us discover ourselves. The innards where god resides is within ourselves, the outside experiences being a reflection of what we see, feel and hear about the very person that we are. All experiences are taking us a step closer to our real nature – godliness, I say. And technology is acting as a catalyst here.” “What you are trying to say is that profit has an intangible aspect to it. It does not directly equate with happiness and I guess most of us are looking for this in the wrong places,” remarked Stan. “The door to happiness is entrenched within every one of us. All we need to do is get up and claim it. Be indifferent to the dualities of the world. Let it not affect you. If you can treat a lump of clay and a lump of gold in the same fashion, you are on your way. Remove the distinction from your mind. You may not feel it certainly in the first go, but understand the very purpose of all creation. Each has a purpose. The meaning is something that we have given to the goods. In the same way, realize that each one of us has an equal position, or better yet to play a role in the dance of creation. A president of a company and a receptionist are both doing their part of the job. You cannot say that one is superior to the other. Although the designations change, we remain the same – a divine soul. And we are all connected in one way or the other. When you treat a person well, understand that you are treating yourself better. Identify yourself not just with people but everything in nature, be it a tree, a river, a stone or anything else. We all have the same origin. We come from the same womb. What seems to be lifeless like a stone also has a purpose to serve. Whom? This whole world has been created for you. Now, you know that when I say you, I mean everyone. Enjoy the song of a lark, a dance of the leaf swaying in the wind or a piece of news on TV with the same attitude. Be aware of your existence. Live fully. And it’s party time always.” “You might have heard that the universe is expanding. And as it does, it leaves behind entropy, that is, a measure of disorder. If you look around you, it’s true. Imagine, if you had to choose between two things and 20, which one would you prefer? You might say that 20 seems to be better as it gives you more options. But the fact of the matter is that the more choices you have the more you have to be aware of, and the complexity of making a choice increases. With just two options, you can make your decision faster. But then again, this is the law. As we traverse time, the number of options we have in front of us increases. To overcome this dilemma is to limit the number. Technology helps you to do just that. It’s a filter between you and your world. Take for instance flight tickets. Today you can compare and shop. Within a short while, I’m sure that some website may be automatically booking our tickets according to our preferences. You chose your preference and technology does the rest. You don’t have to wade through an unlimited number of airlines with what they have to offer. This is one aspect of what has been coined as Web 3.0. Agents (software) roaming the web getting us what we want. Someone has coined the term The Semantic Web aptly because this seems to be meaningful. In the same way, other information like, say, searching for a good hotel will also be arrived at based on your preferences. In fact, this is what technology is all about – automation. Software programs are nothing but automation mechanisms to get a thing 62
  15. 15. done in the shortest and sweetest possible way, if I may put it so. Coming back to profit, this is where a person gains – a time advantage and a cost advantage.” “But hasn’t technology itself brought in more complexity?” Deb inquired. “I agree with you partly, Deb. Even if technology wasn’t there, the number of grocer shops or malls would have increased. People travelling by buses and trains would have got other alternatives like airlines. So this was bound to happen. Yes, there are complexities if you want to delve into the realm of technology. But for an everyday user, technology can become his best friend once he crosses the getting-used-to obstacle. And getting used to technology is not difficult in today’s world. Gone are the days when you had a text-based interface or paper tapes to feed data into a computer. A visual metaphor is already in place and one can easily get used to this interface. The only eligibility is to know how to click a mouse and type on a keyboard, which again will be replaced by voice interfaces that will hear what you are saying and do it accordingly. Voice recognition will become a way of life in the years to come. Also on the cards are brain interfaces that will read our thoughts and trigger actions correspondingly. The days of people working for the computer will be replaced by the computer working more for the people. The only time that a user would be required to know the basics is when he purchases a computer. Should he go for a Windows-based machine, a Linux machine or a Mac? If he cannot make a qualified decision, there are many people who can guide him to do so. And for the enterprising, the information can be had from the many books, magazines, or better yet, the internet itself.” “What about fakes who masquerade as experts and run with your money?” Deb prodded further. “Well, remember the saying ‘once bitten twice shy’? You should be wary of such people. But that does not mean that you do not trust. Placing trust in people is a very important part of any association. You can make out the phonies by the way they behave. If people are really genuine, they would want to have a share in your success. There are many people and organizations who work on the basis of you having gained something out of them. For instance, there are share-brokers who charge you brokerage only if you have made any profit out of the deal. At the same time, if you look up your options on the internet, there are many wannabe-your-survivor kind of schemes. Read about these sites, people and organizations as much as you can. Get referrals. By this I mean from people who you know. Don’t be gullible, but at the same time keep your doors open for the right kind of opportunities. Keep in mind that by nature all people are good but their manifestation at that particular point of time may be tainted due to several factors. Your aim should be to tap the goodness because that is the long-term strategy. Short outbursts of success last for a shorter period of time. Consider the Warren Buffet strategy of looking at company fundamentals. Look at the long-term option. That is where you will find happiness. And by this I mean true happiness or joy, which is a spiritual phenomenon.” “The lure of short-term triumph is alluring. We overlook many things in this pursuit. A long-term outlook is not only beneficial but in sync with the grand plan. Any successful 62
  16. 16. venture has its roots in two things – hard work and timing. While the first is entirely left to us, the second is the place where we need insight. Many a product has failed because the market for them was not ripe enough, or still worse, the market did not exist. An idea is a good idea when its time has come. Someone may do all kinds of research and yet fail. This factor is usually labeled as bad luck. Well, there is no such thing. A person at this juncture has to learn from the mistakes and move on. History has witnessed many a failures that have turned around fates because of one word – persistence. Coupled with hard work, you have got a winning proposition. But this alone won’t make you a winner. You need to have the grace of god. Bear in mind, we have a right to work but not to its fruits. The results are not in our hands. Learn from every step that you take. Analyze, correct it, take action, test it again. Now repeat the cycle. An example I would like to mention is of a Servo motor. In this kind of a motor, the output is fed back into the input and the resultant output is a better product. If your output is a signal and noise accompanies it, if you feed back the same as the input to this kind of a motor, what you get the next time is a clearer signal. Look at different process maturity levels. Take CMM (Capability Maturity Model) for instance. The highest level is optimized where you learn from your mistakes, correct it and get a better output the next time. I think this model is apt for life, too. You grow old not when you have grey hair, but when you have stopped learning. Be open to new ideas and happenings in the world. Just because you have come to believe certain things does not mean that you are right. Question your basic beliefs, your values and your emotions. Be willing to make adjustments or sometimes a complete turnaround. Unlearn the precepts that stop you from moving forward, because progress is the law of nature. It is true that we are making progress every second, willingly or unwillingly. But a conscious person uses this progress for his advantage. And all growth that takes us towards god is real. Rest is conversation.” “Can you elaborate on growth that takes us towards god, Ray?” implored Stan. “Sure. Anything that is positive or that which expands takes us towards god. Let me give you an example. Say you were having a meeting with your customer. He asks about a clause in the SLA (Service Level Agreement) that you had violated recently. Do not react, hear him out. If you know about such a breach, admit that it has happened. Explain to him why it happened and assure him that such a thing would never happen in the future. If you are unaware of such a breach, tell him that you will get back with the facts on a certain date and time. Mark this task on your diary, right there and then. Reassure him that you would stand by your customer all the way. Once you get back to the office, dig more deeply into the untoward incident. Summon the people who were involved and get to know the facts. Draft a mail or better yet, call up your customer and explain to him what happened. If need be, fix up a meeting to discuss the same. If you are busy, delegate this to somebody who can salvage the situation. This should be your top priority. Remember, a happy customer is a repeat customer. It takes 10 times more effort to get a new customer. Now, this would be a mature approach to the situation. On the other hand, imagine that the problem has happened before also and you pay lip-service to the client and give him assurance that only seems rosy. The customer would be turned off. Get his trust and you have won half the battle. Live up to your words. Treat him like you would your loved ones. To live rightly is to act in a consistent manner that pleases the people 62
  17. 17. within your circle of influence. Once they are satisfied, you can move further. Just knowing that the client has a dog and two children and knowing their names won’t help. You have to focus on his exact problem. If you can solve the same, do it with full sincerity and if you can’t, either refer him to somebody who can or excuse yourself with a thank you. Mean what you say and act on it. Keep a log of things that have been committed and follow up regularly on this. Track them to closure. And call them up once in a while to know how they are doing. This is a positive approach to life as compared to a person who constantly procrastinates or lies about things. An optimistic act moves us towards god. “To give you another example, imagine that your accountant quoted a wrong figure on one of the heads. Once you find that out, summon him and get to know the facts. If he admits he made a mistake, tell him that you don’t expect such blunders from a person whom you trust. Make him aware of the gravity of the situation if this was presented in front of the board of directors. Forgive but don’t forget. Watch out for his performance. If he repeats the mistake, it’s an HR issue. Else encourage him and don’t remind him of the folly. This is a grown-up way of dealing with the problem. On the other hand, you could’ve emptied all your bullets into him the moment he walked into your room. Remember, anger is for the weak minded. Strong people rarely get angry. Even if they do, it is on ethical issues. Think, but act from your heart. Don’t go against it. Let your actions dictate your inner values. Be people-driven. Be principle-centered. Forget about yourself, reach out for others. Take one step in the right direction and you would be walking on the perfect path – a path that takes you towards god. “Get into the inner psyche of people. See what drives them, what appeals to them. If you can fulfill a need here, you have carved a niche for yourself. Don’t play psychological games. Sooner or later, it will land you in trouble. Be concise. Be direct. And most of all, own up your responsibilities. Don’t pass the buck. In fact, if you can, help other people grow. Everyone makes mistakes, but the key to success is to learn from them and not repeat them. Be genuine. Create value that lasts for a long time. Be ready to take risks. I’m reminded of these lines by Robert Frost Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. The road that is less travelled beckons you. It’s your differentiator. Traverse the road and face the challenge. It may be difficult to trod, but don’t give up. Persist as much as you can, you will soon see the light at the end of the tunnel. Be forceful, not dogmatic. Lead, so that others may follow the footprints that you leave on the sands of time.” 62
  18. 18. Day 3 Deb was enjoying the conversation when it suddenly struck her. “How do you manage people in a team, Ray? I find that the most challenging aspect of project management.” “A chain is as strong as its weakest link. An axiom that rings true even before it was conceived. This is very appropriate for project management. There are many ways of managing a project. It is very important for a manager to identify the weak links at a pre- nuptial stage as it can hamper daily activities later. I would like to share some of the people experiences that improved my perception during the bygone years, to be in control of those missing links. Here’s how: • Sit with every member individually, for team size less than 30, and understand where they come from. Their education, experience, interests and aspirations. This is very essential before you form an opinion. If you ask me, never form an opinion. I have been surprised at what people are capable of obscuring unknowingly. For larger teams, ask the project leads to do this exercise. • In the beginning, you may be a little gullible but it’s OK if you have misread a team member. There are going to be many more occasions when you will be able to know him/her more and make up for the shortfall. • Watch his/her progress carefully. Analyze the activities that he/she is doing and provide feedback on the same. Make it iron-clad, as to what you are expecting from the team member. The initial time is crucial. He/she is giving you proof of the pudding. • Be professional. Conversations should narrow down to work first, always. And then the fringe news that runs through the grapevine, as and where applicable. • Discourage negativity. Have a contagious amount of optimism in the air. Ever heard of a negative person having accomplished much? • Work more, criticize less. If you need to be critical, always have a solution beforehand. Let me tell you this, criticism needs to be exercised carefully, not in the presence of peers. • Run it by numbers. Always measure. Be it performance or estimation or whatever. Let the team know of the yardsticks that you use. • Review, review and review. You should be on the top of all activities. This does not mean that you micromanage. • Strive for perfection and accuracy. Look at Apple. They go to the minutest areas pertaining to user interface and experience. 62
  19. 19. • Let your team meet the end users, unless you are working in an embedded or third-party workspace. Like I always say, your work does not get over until you see a satisfactory smile on your user’s face. • Always set directions, at least once a week. Try to make it as non-malleable as it can be. You don’t have to be Bill Gates or Steve Jobs for this. • Although the bottom-line is work, also discuss areas related to work like technology, work culture and improvements, as and when free time is available. • Lead first and then manage. You may be great at knowing that a transfer pricing project for France works out better than South Africa, but unless you have the information that some projects from France are due, you are probably sniffing in the wrong places. • Appeal to the greater self of the individual. This means being able to give a concrete meaning to those endless hours that everyone puts in. Always occupy the team with intellectual challenges. Or better yet, spiritual, but this needs a lot of maturity. • Lastly, be genuine. Care for them and their futures as you would for yours.” “How do you handle conflicts and insubordination, Ray?” Deb prodded further. “Conflicts arise because of righteousness of people. Everyone has an outlook and attitude towards life. When people contradict those values, they get hurt. Imagine that one person in your team works late nights and another leaves sharp at 6pm every day. The first person’s value system makes him work late hours because he believes work is worship. The other candidate, on the other hand, believes in the motto ‘get a life’. Hence, he leaves every day in the evening to complete the missing part of his life, which may be socializing. How do you make them work together in a team? The term here is acceptance. Everyone has to respect the other individual’s value system. People have to get used to the fact that we are all different individuals and it is this diversity that makes us unique. People may be poles apart but the fact is, antagonizing each other can affect the health of projects. If you find that their actions are hampering the progress of the project, call them up and have a heart-to-heart chat. Tell them that the project is suffering due to their behavior. Appeal to their sense of accomplishment. Like I have said before, be action-oriented first and then be result-oriented. What matters is not the time that a person puts into his project, but the quality and speed with which the tasks get completed. If an assigned work was supposed to get completed in two days and it has taken three days because somebody worked just eight hours, then take that person to task. If the overall environment of the project is being affected by such problems, call a meeting. Tell them that this is clearly not acceptable and they have to work together as a team. Always set goals and maintain a healthy optimistic atmosphere. Productivity of a healthy team is higher than those which work in a negative environment. Share things, learn to have fun, praise good work, monitor by numbers, and most of all, don’t let deadlines slip. Get this straight – work comes first and then all the variances. If things still don’t improve, put them on disjoint modules so they interact less. And if you get a chance to transfer one 62
  20. 20. person to another project, that can also be tried out. Always monitor the pulse of the team and act accordingly. “As far as insubordination is concerned, it arises primarily due to lack of respect for your superior. Somebody thinks that you are just a management dodo and can’t get the work done. For instance, if a team member loses respect for you due to your inability to guide them during the coding process, you are likely to get offended. Maybe you don’t know the code but still you can help him out with pointers. Get him sources from where technical help can be got. For instance, give him the tech support number of, say, Microsoft if your software is that. Or point out places on the internet like user forums or blogs where he can get help. If this does not work out, sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and get your hand dirty. Maybe you are out of touch with programming but that does not mean that you cannot spot the difference between a good and bad code. Learn the technicalities. It helps your positioning. Although you may have tech leads working in your team, the team members still may expect some programming nirvana from you. If still you find that a person is not co-operating, talk to him directly. Find out the root cause of the problem. But keep in mind that the work is most important. No fudging of delivery dates, even if he thinks you are a kangaroo. Command respect, don’t demand it.” It was noontime. The sun on the zenith was showering its heat in a vindictive way. Ray got some plates and spoons and kept them on the table. Next, he brought some soft green vegetables and fruits that looked like banana and kiwi. “Chow time,” said Ray softly. Everyone walked towards the table and had their fill. They drank water that was so cold and clear that they felt refreshed. “It’s so quiet and peaceful out here, away from the maddening crowd. Is it true that your life-span increases if you live in such places?” asked Deb demurely. “When you are in touch with nature, your natural ‘you’ rejoices. Artificial things take us backward but nature has a hypnotic effect on us. Life in a city is stressful. Living in the midst of a concrete jungle, trying to catch a running clock and travelling in crowded trains, pollution, dust and noise, and working untoward hours on machines can take a toll. How long has it been since you heard a lark sing? When did you last hear the rustling of leaves when the mighty wind caressed a tree? A one-month sabbatical in a year can rejuvenate you, but still you have to return to your dwelling. God made all those organic things for us. We have somehow exploited those natural resources and built artificial compounds using technology as the scalpel. All synthetic medicines, I mean allopathic, have side effects but ayurvedic and alternative medicines are made from natural extracts. Hence there are no contra-indications. People the world over are switching to organic solutions as they have their roots in history. The forgotten science of our ancestors has suddenly started coming into the limelight.” “What about occult sciences? They also have a place in the annals of history. Do you believe in them?” inquired Ravi. 62
  21. 21. “Occult sciences have definitely made a huge contribution to the sphere of education. Take for instance astrology. People think that astrology is for the weak-hearted or for those who believe in fatality. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Astrologers maybe wrong in their predictions, but astrology as a science still reigns. The premise of this science is to be forewarned or notified in advance of the events that are most likely to happen in the future. A metaphor would help – if it’s raining you can’t make the rain stop but you can definitely carry an umbrella if you were to know that it would rain. It’s like Microsoft publishing a security bulletin to let us know that there are vulnerabilities that a hacker can spot and compromise the system. Watch out for those patches! Although a window to the past and present is also available through analysis, the fact remains that people are more concerned about the future. The obvious question that comes to mind is how come the planets which are nothing but solids or gas balls affect us on our planet? Once again, the answer lies in mythology. According to Greek and Hindu mythology, all the planets have rulers. These planet rulers are demi-gods. They cannot be perceived on a physical level. They are mind born. It’s like a program that uses library calls or APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). You know they are there, although they are not fully visible in your program. The days of charlatans predicting incorrect diagnosis will come to an end, as we cut across newer forms of inter-disciplinary research. But mind you, astrology is not just about numbers. There is a qualitative aspect to it, too. It’s not just about that planets are in this position so the outcome will be this. The subtler aspect has to do with the astrologer. His knowledge, experience and intuition add to the quandary. Hence, for the uninitiated who is more concerned about the predictions rather than their intricacies, the challenge is to choose the right person for this job. The mark of an astrologer is his humbleness and his ability to connect with you at a deeper level. It’s not like making general predictions. He will touch you in places that you have always treasured to be yours, by revealing your past and present. Most probably, he would need your birth date, time and place where you were born. Some may ask you directly for your nakshatra (constellation) and others may simply be content with your rashi (moon sign). “So, how does technology fit into the equation?” queried Stan. “We all know that birth charts can be cranked up if you feed the right parameters into the software. But the formats vary. There are various websites that do it free for you. But my advice to you is to stay away from automated predictions. We still haven’t reached that stage when a machine can make predictions. If this were true, ask the software vendor to peek into your past. Time is not so simple to contemplate. The ruler is Saturn (Lord Shiva), and although he is direct, his ways are profound, which needs something beyond simple introspection. “To uncover the truth, we have to realize that we are simply observers of the events happening around us. What is observed, as long as it is separate from us, remains elusive. Remember Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: the position and momentum of a particle cannot be 100 per cent accurately determined. The more we know of one parameter, the lesser about the second. Hence, there is just one way to reach the truth. Like master Osho says, ‘be a witness and nothing more’. Enjoy his lila because that’s what he does. And mysterious are his ways. 62
  22. 22. “As we map the heavens to as microscopic detail as possible, possibly one day we would run our stock markets based on heavenly clocks. Automated deals, although there is no such thing as a ‘sure’ thing, accumulating funds in Cayman Islands or some other financial get-away without interfering in the operations.” “You mean to say that astrology does lead us to the way of fate, if there is such a thing, and if predictions are accurate, it can make a world of difference to one’s life? How about other related branches like numerology and palmistry?” inquired Stan further. “Numbers are divine. They have been the greatest discovery since mankind found fire. The reason is simple: numbers don’t just allow us to manage. They have profound implications, they depict our genetic dispositions or the karmic debt. The original number ‘zero’ is the fundamental principle or ‘silence’ akin to ‘A’ of the English alphabet. This is bliss. Isaiha: ‘be still and know that I’m god’. The act of creation as stated in The Book of Genesis is ‘and god said let there be light and there was light’. This was the first number ‘1’. In Hindu mythology, this represents the birth of Brahma or the sun principle (proverbially speaking). We regard Brahma or the sun as the father of all creations. A unary number by itself can get very lonely. Hence, there was a need for a companion. This is akin to the biblical creation of woman from the man. Or the number ‘2’. This is the moon principle. Note that we always refer to the moon as mother. The number ‘3’ was born out of wedlock. This is ruled by Jupiter. It denotes idealism and self-sacrifice at its best. And thus got created all the numbers till ‘9’. After this, all numbers add up to a number between ‘1’ and ‘9’. Now, excluding zero we have nine numbers. There are nine planets in the solar system. There are nine orifices in the body of a man. This last number ‘9’, ruled by Mars, stands for unlimited energy of the ego that leads to destruction. It is said that the spate of wars that the earth has witnessed has always been when Mars was in proximity to the earth (in conjunction). The numbers all have a ruler assigned to them. For instance, the number ‘6’ is ruled by Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. She has the power to contain the debilitating effects of Mars. Special mention needs to be made of number ‘7’ ruled by Neptune, the lord of the seas. This also denotes the positive side of Lord Indra. People whose birth number adds up to seven are privileged. They have a higher chance of spiritual realization than others. Why this preferential category? Well, the reason is the same as why people with blood group ‘O’ are called universal donors. The cosmic cycle of births and rebirths are dictated by Newton’s First Law (every action has an equal and opposite reaction). In stock market parlance, it’s like issuing preference shares. The odds are, it only happens to one out of nine people. Did you ever wonder why there are seven notes in music? Or the fact that light consists of seven colors? This is too much of a co-incidence. John Gray in his book Men Are From Mars And Women Are From Venus forgot to see the implications of this, numerologically speaking. If this were true, then men ruled by ‘9’ and women ruled by ‘6’ in any situation would lead to the victory of the woman. 9 + 6 = 15 = 1 + 5 = 6 – this indeed is true. Because love (‘6’) will always prevail over ego (‘9’). We refer to earth or Gaia as mother, the most beautiful creation that the world has seen. And her beauty lies in the fact that she loves our principled father just for the reason that he is truth personified, the light that shines in every eye and is the source of abundant strength. “Mathematics, which unites all the languages, is god given. Why do I say that? Well, for the same reason that we believe in gravity. The decimal and binary systems are seen in 62
  23. 23. nature. We have 10 fingers on each of our hands and legs. Also, a tree can have either good apples or rotten apples. A basic sense of mathematics is hardwired into our brains like ROM (read only memory) chips storing binary information. Mathematics lies at the core of all sciences and a field like astrology is heavily dependent on the planetary positions at any point of time. Think about this: you know that the more the mass of an object, the more it attracts. In the same way, planets in conjunction (on one side our planet) pull together more than if they were, say, 90 degrees apart. Supplementary positions are called oppositions where they pull against each other. I think we can envisage this clearly. Numerology is again math-driven. Ranging from the Kabalah (Jewish branch) to the modernist versions, all depend on an ample supply of number combinations. You may be wondering how does palmistry fit into these state of affairs. Well, for one thing, the lengths of lines and the distance between them are all numbers. Everything on top of mathematics like physics, chemistry and biology are abstractions. These are manmade sciences. The upper subjects are dependent on the lower ones. For example, to know chemistry you have to know the underlying physics and mathematics subjects. Imagine a pyramid whose base is mathematics and the remaining subjects sit atop it.” “What is the innermost relation between mathematics and computing, Ray?” asked Deb, curiously. “Computers work on binary mathematics. They are switching devices. A switch is either turned on or off, there is no other state for it. Binary numbers are also represented as 0 and 1. Deep down inside the computer, the electronic circuits are made up of transistors that enumerate these two states. A collection of transistors make up what is called a logical gate. Thus we have NOT, AND, and OR gates. The underlying math which outlines operations of all these circuits is called Boolean Algebra. The basic operations of mathematics like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and some more complex operations like jumps, are collectively burnt into a specific portion of the chip. This is called the instruction set of the CPU. The number of instructions in the repertoire makes the chip either a CISC (complex instruction set chip) or a RISC (reduced instruction set chip). CISC chips have many instructions. An example is the Pentium chip. Where as, a RISC chip has a limited number of instructions in its core. Your IBM RS/6,000 chips or SGI chips belong to this class. They are specifically used for areas like graphics and animations where repetitive instructions make up a big part of the program. Basically, a MUL instruction is nothing but a repeated ADD, or a DIV instruction is repetitive Subtract. Computers are nothing but number-crunching devices. They can churn out millions of instructions per second (MIPS). Super computers, on the other hand, can do trillions of operations in a second. Many factors come into picture when you discuss speed, for example, the clock rate, the architecture and more. It is said that the important thing is not how fast a person goes but knowing where he/she is headed. Till some time back, computers were just dumb machines zapping numbers at high speeds. But today’s CPUs like the Pentium use predictive logic. With this, the computer can predict the future instructions that will need to be fetched to complete an operation. Accordingly, the CPU makes changes inside its execution logic. Predictive logic is also used in software, especially artificial intelligence (AI). In fact, the speed of the computer is now a vector since it has a direction, too, and hence we should be calling it velocity not speed. Caching 62
  24. 24. – storing in memory instructions that would otherwise have been fetched from slower devices like the hard disk – also improves speed. This is implemented both within the hardware (L1/L2 cache) and within software (Windows swap files). The big question in caching is how much to cache and what to cache. The former is dependant on the configuration of the machine (more the capacity of the RAM, the better) and the latter is based on the logic that frequently used instructions or software programs are the ideal candidates that need to be cached. This is an ongoing operation. Just remember, the more cache you have, the better. The mathematics behind selecting the size of the cache within a chip is a design or operational issue. Today, the choice of a computer is solely based on the applications that you intend to use and other operations you want to perform like accessing the internet or playing computer games.” “Tell us more, Ray,” nudged Deb. “The most important instruction inside a computer is the ‘if’ construct. This helps the computer make a logical choice. The purity of an instruction is suspect the moment an ‘if’ condition is imposed. Let me elaborate. We like to classify things. This categorization is a strict left hemisphere function that is supposed to make our life easier. In fact, it is the opposite. The more we classify, the more patterns we store in our brain and the more prejudices we have. Now, we always tend to compare, dividing the information further and further, till it is atomic. This simply is the function of Ego, which lives in fear of being found out, afraid for it may be wrong. The Ego is actually a stop-gap measure for variety in our skill repertoire. But sooner or later, it begins to delude itself of being in control. It thrives on three things: fear, anger and lust. And the deeper the groove, the more one yearns for it. All skewed personalities have an imbalance of these attributes. The classification of the ego uses multiple ‘if’ statements. This comparison or an ‘if’ that we come across calls for extra CPU cycles, since a comparator circuit is also involved. Look at the two different kinds of jumps: Jump based on a decision (there are many) Jump unconditional (there is only one) The latter executes faster and is an indication of a natural principle. An unconditional jump is the greatest form of love, if I may say, like unconditional love. You jump not without thinking, but following nature’s way. The more we have these locations where we can jump unconditionally, the more the surety of the code. Take, for instance, the POST (power on self test) routine. All machines jump to this reserved location without any doubt. After the basic vital signs are found OK, the OS boots up. The ‘if’ when jumping conditionally is a selfish ‘if’. And this instruction categorizes what we want to do. It is true that all these selfish ‘ifs’ are what contributes to the meat of the program and makes the computer usable, but this is where our ego creeps in. This is the difference between a demo software and the real ones. A demo may be a flash presentation that runs without any specific conditions. No action scripts. Whereas, the real software makes millions of comparisons that follow the settings or parameters that you have tweaked to achieve your specific goal. BASIC was the first language which banned the concept of unconditional ‘go-to’ because they lead to what is called spaghetti code. Also, the conditional ‘go-to’ was seen as a misappropriation. Jumps were seen as unhealthy. But still when you click the mouse, the software jumps to an appropriate place in the memory where the interrupt will get serviced. Although programmatically we can 62
  25. 25. avoid ‘go-to’, deep down internally this instruction makes things work. ‘Ifs’, both the selfish and the unselfish ones, and ‘go-to’ form the heart of any software program, be it microcode or application software.” “That was useful information, Ray. Tell me, how do we cope up with the avalanche of names, especially abbreviations in the world of technology, which seems to be increasing exponentially?” asked Ravi. “A rose is a rose by any other name, Ravi. But still we consider a rose different from a lotus. We know that both belong to the phyla flowers, but the properties of both vary to an extent. And it is in these that we sense a distinction, an aberration. A classification which helps us remember that a rose was meant to be a rose. If, for a moment, we remove the curtain and see this phenomenon as a flower, or better yet a plant, or still better life, we have contemplated the real meaning. “In programming parlance, variables have a name, functions have a name. There is a name for the place where you store names. It’s called memory. Names are also available for data structures like stack. This is still farther from the truth. And then come the individual components of the program strung together in a formation called a program. And we name this program, say, Portfolio Tracker. And what does it consist of – an avalanche of still further names. We have names and namespaces with still more names. So many that we could run right into the definition by using some simple semantic constructs. “In fact, our liking for names is so much that we cannot live without referring to a name. A name evokes certain emotions or feelings in our subconscious. Although, there is one thing about names – they can mean different things to different people. A rose may win you a date, or it may be a heart-breaker. But one thing is for sure, we react to names. Names sound a little tricky, considering global references, but then I guess we have substitutes. Take for instance marijuana. Do we know that its chemical name is metamphetamine, the scientific name is cannabis sativa (the plant’s extract), street names include grass, ganja, Thai sticks, smoke and more? Even the great mantras that are so promulgated in the Vedas are nothing but chants of names. Imagine, if we had no name how would we ever refer to god? Probably by a pictogram, or maybe a movement like a circle, a simple one I presume, or something else which would appeal in the same way to all people on this beautiful planet. Then it would not matter whether you call your god Allah or Krishna or Wakan-Tanka (Red Indian name for god). “Any name has to be interpreted from the holistic perspective. All definitions end finally in god, because he is the creator of everything that we perceive. No matter what name and language we use, remember that a particular object is a gift to us. Be thankful for that. “Acronyms get churned out in the thousands every day. All you have to remember is the generic class that it belongs to. For example, ERD (entity relationship diagram) belongs to database design. Always associate new names with the parent class. If a product falls in more than one class, that is it has multiple parents, associate them in the order of importance. When you have idle time, like when you are travelling, reminisce the names and their connections. “Just like a computer has a short-term memory (RAM) and a long-term memory – secondary storage like hard disks, CD, DVD, pen drives etc – our brain also has two parts. What we study gets consciously recorded in short-term memory. The intensity with which we absorb the link dictates whether a name will be filed away in long-term memory or 62
  26. 26. not. Our short-term memory has to be fast and should be able to recall things from long- term memory without noticeable delay. Memory enhancers like Brahmi, Vachha and Shankpushpi (ayurvedic preparations) all help us to stay sharp. But the most important thing we need to retain anything is a fresh and receptive mind. When you wake up, your sleep quota should have got fulfilled. Then you have to do physical exercise every day. This releases endorphins in our blood stream and we feel fresh. Prepare yourself for the name bombardments of the day, and if you are really passionate about what you do, the definitions won’t be a problem for you.” “I very often run into technical terms that hardly make sense to me. But nevertheless I have to deal with them because my company is getting affected. Is there a way in which we can make the techies talk more of business to the clients? Because I get complaints about my people going to the customer’s place with a house full of jargons and ending up confusing them,” asked Stan. “This is a very common problem that people face in projects. Techies by their nature are living in their own worlds. They understand computers better than business. Hence it is very essential to separate the two functions. Thus we have people who work on programs (the techies) and those who face the customer (the analysts). In small projects, the distinction is not that clear. But my recommendation is to keep at least one product manager, typically an MBA, who can take down the requirements of a customer, translate them into a feature list and pass it on to the project manager. The communication between the project manager and the product manager is of paramount significance. Making techies learn business is like chanting Vedas in front of a buffalo. Stay away from it. Product managers with some experience can capture the requirements in a modeling language like UML (unified modeling language), easing the task of the project manager. It would be a good idea to give 101 business courses to techies pertaining to the specifics of the project that they are working on. This makes them appreciate what they are doing better. Finally, they have to be made aware of the fact that technology is just a means to an end, the end itself being the business problem that they are working on. It’s very important to fill them in on the business goals of the project and to reiterate them in regular meetings. The project manager should take responsibility for this action. The CEO should take regular feedback from the customer as well as the delivery head on the progress of the project. A summary of the same at regular intervals is a good thing to do. A good CEO spends more than 50 per cent of his time with customers, listening for responses and criticism, so that mid-term corrections can be made to the project.” “Ray, this is fine as far as product-based projects are concerned, but what if I, say, have a project where we are implementing SAP in a short deadline?” asked Stan. “The key to this would be a well-defined WBS (work breakdown structure) for the project till its end, the necessary awareness and clarity of what is to be done and the technical capability of the team that will be working on it. Keep monitoring the project on a regular basis and give feedback to the customer. Work with their schedule, instead of imposing yours on them. Before starting the project, make the customer aware of the assumptions and the style of working. Also make sure that what you expect of them and vice-versa is captured in a document clearly. Deviations from the plan have to be mutually discussed 62
  27. 27. and alternate paths must be sought. The most fundamental requirement for a project to succeed is good communication.” “What about pain projects? Those which are deadbeat but you just have to carry them out, because of, say, legal complications.” “Well, such projects are to be handled very carefully. If it’s a loss-making project, try to salvage it to a position where at least you break even. The effort that you spend on such projects should be monitored closely. Getting into anti-trust suits or patent violations can prove to be very unhealthy. Keep some time aside for this project. Take a good look at it from both the project perspective and the customer perspective. Also, be aware of the plight of those who are working on such projects. If you find a silver lining worth the salt, continue, else, dump it. “There are many factors that you have to consider in a project. A project is like a house. What do you see in a house? The various attributes, external and internal, the Feng Shui or Vaastu of it and the financials. Or is it a combination of all? Viewing through a philanthropic glass, a house represents the toil of a set of people who have turned a dream into reality. They have left a gift behind for all of us to cherish and extend. Yes, extend a dream, improve upon it, thus adding a personal touch. But how many of us get a chance to peek at the perspective of the creator? The very person who laid down the bricks. What was his original intent and what were the rules that were followed? What were the stumbling blocks? For every creation, there is a story, that which we know and that which is untold. The latter part leads to the development of myths. We carry these beliefs when we buy a house or live in it. Same goes to our opinion of a customer. For instance, you may think that a person from the south is likely to be frugal, but it may be a misconception. Thus, in different parts of the world, people cling to different convictions – some mundane and some arcane. Beliefs that are aligned to nature lead us to the true north. Those which are skewed cause a lot of harm. Strong inclination due to genetic or environmental pre-disposition leads to habits, which when reinforced become beliefs. Life is about strengthening the positive beliefs and stemming out the negative ones. Life is discovery. And for every project, we have to throw away our myopic lenses and see from a fresh, child’s perspective.” 62
  28. 28. Day 4 “So, what are the tech trends that one should be aware of, Ray?” asked Stan. “You know, when Gmail came out with 2 GB of storage, everyone flocked to get a piece of the action. Today, there are many webmail providers who offer unlimited storage capacity. When I started out with a small pocket computer, it had 544 steps (translates to about 544 bytes), that is, ½ a KB. Can you imagine that? Today’s contraptions are fitted with 256 MB RAM minimum. And OS’s like Windows Vista demand a minimum of 1 GB RAM. And that, too, DDR (dynamic data refresh). Similarly, when Netscape came out with its first browser, it had very limited features – no tabbed browsing, no extensions or plug-ins. Look at any browser today, it is power packed. “The job of a product manager seems to be going uphill with the pile of new and unstoppable features that need to be built into these gadgets of today. The question is, whether we need all these textures. Look at a word processor like our MS Word. A writer, or for that matter anybody who needs to write a letter, at the best needs an editor that works with probably a thesaurus and the ability to print. Maybe e-mail, too. You think he would give a hoot about VBA or Frames or Clippy’s built into your software? Well, that’s MS model. Give them the basic stuff and extras and charge them for that, too. Get them hooked first, so any other similar product would look dull. I call it doping. No wonder people stay away from OpenOffice or other free software once they have tasted the master model. “Well, here’s the good news. This model is dying and will evaporate very soon. Software as a service will be in vogue in the near future. If electricity and water are charged only for as much as we consume, then why is it not applicable to software? The same is true of internet browsing. The plans mention the download limits and bill us for the said usage. While the earlier model was static, the transactional model is what the public seems to prefer. Auctions happen every day, and I’m sure that like commodities, we will be able to give away extras that we don’t need. To indicate, look at the sale of used books at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. In the future, we will be able to block services like power and water and probably trade them as derivatives. “Products are being enveloped by services. Our gains in the modern world are short-term. Look at why pleasure is a fad as opposed to the traditional long-term happiness. But in this rat race, one thing we forget or are likely to forget is that an orange is not known for its peel but for what’s inside. A solid foundation – that’s what we need from the existing products or the new ones in the pipeline. As newer revisions get churned out, I’m sure more and more lacunas will emerge. But let’s stick with the basics. A good new product will encapsulate and solidify its offerings by fusing into it the original ideas that have in the first place created it. Ideas that were born selfless and addressing a ‘need’ hole, which will somehow alter the destiny of many or few individuals on the globe. Services would be built on top of it. This segment will cater to individual requirements, in all its variations. And the day is not very far when I see pharma companies making medicines for individuals, based on their DNA. Or for that matter, software that will suffice the need for the moment – instant nirvana for the new generation. 62
  29. 29. “When Claude Shannon put forward the theory of information, he could hardly gauge that it would one day revolutionize the world. His theory is known to affect areas like cryptography and cybernetics, just to name a few. The semantic equivalent of noise in the classical theory would be the useless information (noise) flowing between various entities. Take blogging for instance, 95 per cent of it can be treated as information overload or noise. But as there are takers for the noise, there are breeding grounds for its cousin, too. Yes, I’m talking about warez, the underground market where information gets swapped by the millions in minutes. Be it Windows or some other software or MP3s, this place abounds in excess information, if I may use that word, for all those who are equipped with the right tools. Not to forget that this place is also a farm for different kinds of malware. “Half of all software in the world is pirated. World over, software companies are losing billions, which in turn affects employment statistics. The days of paying a hefty price for a software are getting numbered. Recently, Michael Cusumano (The Business of Software) announced that software in the future would be free and people will pay only for the boxes atop which they sit. Scary, but maybe true. As people embrace open source, they are waking up to a new revolution. The age of faith and the age of reason are over. The age of information is likely to be superseded by the age of customer, a world where he gets the best of all the worlds at prices that he can afford. “I personally feel that basic products will be free, but customization and maintenance will be charged. But the product maker should get the bread from the government or royalties on the aforesaid models. Otherwise, how will he survive? The competition would be in the service part. I guess that’s good for the customer – ample choice and lots of players. Why is the customer so important to us? Well, our products would be useless without him. A product should address a market need. If it’s languishing in the past or is too futuristic, the time has not come for it to manifest. Many people have learned their lessons the hard way. But needs vary from culture to countries to religions and other demography. The only solution is to seek the customer on a one-to-one basis and satisfy his urges by personalizing the product for his particular need. Computers are complex, unlike, say, cigarettes that serve only one purpose. Hence the premium lies in reaching out to the far corners of the world, contemplating the need there and catering to individual requirements. And there is no harm in charging him for the service. It’s worth the effort. “This model would ensure more employment, travel, resources, knowledge sharing and in effect will uplift the economy. As the world gets richer by this kind of exchange, we will find more meaning to the technology that we make and deploy in various corners of the globe. But this is not simple to achieve. We will have to move in a top-down approach, starting maybe from countries, or in other areas from beliefs, and work downwards to the finer subtleties. But I think this will happen. Look at Unicode. Today we have blogs in many regional languages because they use Unicode. We have to delve further and create standards catered to individual languages. In the future, anybody who reads an article, say, in English, will get a translation in his own native language with a good deal of perfection. To stretch it a little more, if I’m speaking in Swahili to an Arab, on the other end of the line he should hear Arabic translated by some middle-layer software. Lots of progress are being made in these areas. But we are not yet there. It keeps me excited not just to know that such inventions are possible but also to know that technology is touching so many people in countless ways that create more and more intricate patterns of communication among the generations to come. One world, you see… 62
  30. 30. “The world is turning into a cauldron of wonderful inventions, waiting to be explored by people at different strata. The more curious a person is, the more discoveries await him. Remember, more questions mean more awakening, less questions mean less awakening and no questions mean no awakening. The karmic implications are increasing, as computers transform a single idea into a cycle of karma for the creators. All actions create karma, except sacrifice. NGOs or individuals who create non-profit sites are the ones who are escaping the flurry of activities that are taking place. If somebody writes a software, for instance an e-tailing site, the very code that handles the payment processing that the person has written, generates karma every time a payment is made. This maybe an individual karma or a group karma. In the latter case, a part of the transaction is apportioned among the people who wrote that piece of the code. Actions that arise out of the gunas create karma. There are three types of gunas – Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic. Basically, anything done with an attachment generates karma. To give you an example, if you plant a tree and it grows big enough providing shade to 500 people, then it has a good effect on you. A brochure-ware site that just displays some information to the user does not generate much karma as compared to a transactional site. Remember, karma is action not necessarily by an individual. An automated action also generates karma for the person who created that action in the first place. Not only is the global GDP on the rise, but our life P&L account of every individual is on the rise. Progress will soon overcome the exponential barrier. Technology is not just a solution, it has started touching the spiritual aspect of our lives, too.” “So, what you mean is that the effect of our actions generates karma, right?” asked Deb meekly. “Correct. If you have built a piece of software for the purpose of amassing wealth, it is sure to generate karma for every copy it sells. If people get benefitted by it, the result is good karma, and if the software turns out to be non-productive, then it will generate bad karma. Freeware also generates karma but its effect is less, as it was in the beginning designed for a non-profitable goal. Sites that offer trialware or betas also stand to gain more as compared to a pay-and-buy solution. Remember, a good idea generates good karma and a bad one produces bad karma. The sum total of all our karmas dictate what happens in our afterlife. And for all of us, the final target is god realization. Burn all karma to ashes and proclaim to cancel your subscription to the resurrection (Jim Morrison). Seek to achieve unity with god in this very life itself. And if you do, it’s mission accomplished. Else starts the process of recycling all over again.” “That’s a good thought, Ray. Attain realization in this life itself. It seems so simple, but how do we get there?” “Inside each of us is the key to a world of ideas awaiting their fructification, a myriad of thoughts that can make this earth a better place to live in, and dreams that fervently anticipate manifestation. An idea is akin to a fruit on a tree. The purpose of this fruit is consumption, to be of use to someone, somewhere. Here’s the premise: all of us have an inherent need to contribute. “If you look around, there is no dearth of ideas. From tables and chairs to nuts and bolts, everything was conceived as an idea in a mind. But it’s sad that many of these do not see 62