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

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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  • 1. Dedication To my father, Late Sreedhara Menon 62
  • 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. “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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. • 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. 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. “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. “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. 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. – 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. “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. “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
  • 31. the light of day. This has to do with the timing. Deep within us is a vast reservoir of ideas that eagerly awaits expression. These thoughts have the potential to transform this world into a better place – a place of hope, a place of joy. “We are born as a database and realize the networks around us. With the passage of time, the network gains prominence. We become externally-driven, perceiving the world through a looking glass that is tainted by our prejudices. Sometimes this shrouds the very purpose of the database that lies within us. We slowly tend to disconnect with our own database, which is the gateway to the cosmic super-bus. “As we get caught up in the hustle-bustle of life, we start shutting off the doors to endless possibilities that can make a difference. The first step towards attaining realization is to let go of the ego. Be humble, learn to forgive, don’t carry false pride. Look at the universe with the awe and wonder of a child. Remove that excess baggage of rot that you are carrying in your brain. Think positive, be optimistic. The best way to change the world is to change your self. Go with the flow of life, enjoy the dance. The destination maybe far away, but learn to have fun as you sing along. Move carefully and decisively. Act in a manner that every action of yours is a step towards the final goal. Remember, what matters is not how fast we go, but where we are headed. Once you have mastered your self and stopped all those chattering of your mind, you can consciously guide your life. Believe in miracles, because they happen every day. Collect healthy thoughts around you. Picture yourself with creative imagination and take full action to achieve the vision. You will find that the quality of life (QOL) increases. Now, whether you have achieved nirvana or not is a secondary question. The fact of the matter is that you have taken steps forward in the right direction. And with his blessings, you may be able to realize him. “The other thing that you should keep in mind is to learn from everyone. This not only includes human beings but animals, too. Deb, here are some management lessons from our primate cousins.” Management lessons from ants: • They are always on the lookout for the same thing – food. Driven by goals. • They stash away their winnings in a safe place. Risk management. • They hunt together and drag those dead insects together. Team Work Management lessons from roaches: • They look for food when lights are off. Situational advantage. • They fly sometimes. Surprise the enemy. Sun Tzu, The Art of War. • They are resilient. Strong character. Management lessons from lizards: • They have great power of concentration. Focus. • Their movements are swift and gracious. Fast and accurate. • They look for food where it can be easily found. Street smart. “Be aware that 97 per cent of our DNA is the same as our primates. The only difference is, they don’t know what a mission statement is. And I’m sure if they did, all hell would break loose. 62
  • 32. “Never compromise on your moral compass. Be true to yourself first; this is called the DNA advantage. Try to extend your help to ill-fated brothers and sisters through a simple act of kindness – a prayer. Science has already established the power of prayer. Technology has also come to the help of many. For example, you have GPS devices that always show the position of Mecca relative to yourself. Soon, you will also find sites having a dial-a-prayer where you could schedule prayers for someone at the times that you want. Results are not out, yet. A prayer for everyone can act as a tonic to improve the world. When you start believing, you will start seeing results around you.” “So, what is it that draws us away from this lofty goal?” enquired Ravi. “Greed is the main culprit that makes us insensitive towards life. Because, with greed you hoard things and it blocks your growth. It’s like a tree that keeps its fruits to itself. A pond full of water will stagnate, but a river never does because it flows on and on. I’m reminded of a small poem of a brook: I flow and flow and flow and flow And join the brimming river For men may come and men may go But I go on forever… “Assets are good, but not the attachments. In banking, we have a term called NPA or non- performing assets. These are considered bad, because they are just lying there unutilized. Life is about exchange. Life is about movement. When you sit in the car waiting for the light to turn green, you feel uncomfortable. But when you are driving on a clear road, you feel good. The fun is in rolling. To get something, you got to give. And the harder you give, the stronger you get back. It’s like playing squash. But there are crests and troughs to any wave. Think about it, they are both the same sides of a coin. Like Kahlil Gibran says, ‘that which makes you happy is the same that makes you unhappy’. The true meaning of love is to give, without expectations. “The second factor that takes us backward is lust. Here’s what Krishna has to say about it: ‘as fire is covered by smoke, as a mirror is covered by dust, or as the embryo is covered by the womb, similarly, the living entity is covered by different degrees of lust.’ “The third and the last factor is anger. Anger is actually a sign of weakness. Those who cannot control it always play second fiddle in the river of life. Then there are some petty emotions like jealousy and hatred that also have a negative impact on the individual. Rise above these emotions. Aspire for the light. Through constant practice of dispassion, you’ll surely achieve your target.” Ray started humming a tune, Life I love you. Always groovy… He stopped and explained further. “So goes a Paul Simon song. Life indeed is wonderful with all its twists and turns at unexpected moments, and as long as we savor these time slices, we are having a ball. Ready, aim, fire. If this describes our day-to-day activities, then we are living in an action quadrant. The only thing we need to do is to evaluate now and then the quality of these actions. If they are important (value-adding), then we lead a life of fulfillment. Sharpen the saw, like Stephen Covey says. We need to think through our actions. End of the day or Sunday is the perfect time to do this. 62
  • 33. “Our actions are dictated by our thoughts. The more positive thoughts we let in, the more refreshed we feel. Negative thoughts drain us. If we had 5,000 thoughts in a day of which 3,000 were negative, then we carry forward 1,000 negative thoughts to the next day. Let’s learn to fill our mind with inspiring, optimistic ideas and views that leaves us charged for days. Sooner or later, we will find that everything around us has changed. We all have an aura that surrounds us. A healthy individual emits strong positive vibrations. Others also feel comfortable around such individuals. “Sometimes, beliefs can hinder our progress. We pick up these nuggets right from our birth. Questioning our values from time to time and making necessary adjustments is the mark of an evolved person. As we grow older, our ability to accept new ideas wane. Rigidity sets in. A person who cannot accept changes is the person who has grown old. For that matter, he/she maybe 30 years of age. Gray hair is not the indicator of ageing, we grow old the moment we stop learning. “Another factor that can make or break us is our emotions. Being too sensitive can have a negative impact. In palmistry, if the line of life and line of head are joined together in the beginning, the individual is prone to making emotional decisions. In matters of the heart or relationships, these can prove vital. But in business, the effect can be fatal. Such people need to be aware of their weak points and work on them consciously. Remember, fate is not something carved on a tablet. God has given us free will to override our dispositions and environmental factors. Follow what you love and you will never be dissatisfied. There are doctors who become lawyers or architects who become mathematicians. Every day of this daily grind becomes a pain for such disoriented souls. Even if financial or social benefits are low, one should always follow his heart. Have a burning passion. It is said that we should live our life in such a way that we are willing o give up our life for some cause. Be it anything. But that force must always prevail. Whether it is influencing the dark side or not is another matter. When the cause for which we live fulfills a deep need of our societal fabric, we create value. And all values have two aspects – qualitative and quantitative. It can be something as simple as creating, say, 500 new jobs by setting up an SEZ (special economic zone). The actual benefit may not be accrued by an individual alone because we are all networked. A family gets affected. A caste, a creed, religion or a society also does. These variables cannot be captured in any spreadsheet. But they are the very reason that makes this journey worthwhile. Finally, the most important factor is to share. Love, friendship, relations and all intangibles grow when we share. Be it a comment on a news-post, a movie review or simply the niceties. Our heart also goes lighter, and the more we share the more we care. Not just about us or our immediate family. But the whole world or better yet, the entire 62
  • 34. universe dances to our tune of the six strings, which sends out the following three words – I dare. I care. I love.” Ray had connected his desktop to the internet. He excused himself for a moment and fired his browser to get the top technology stories. Ravi, who was standing beside Ray, asked him, “Which browser do you use, Ray? And what is the reason for having chosen it?” “I use Firefox mostly over IE. There are three reasons why I chose it: 1.Firefox browsing experience is richer than that of IE (I thought so). 2 Firefox is less prone to viruses (although it has been compromised). 3 Tabbed browsing was not available in IE, till late. “So, here’s my interpretation. Firefox is a better browser than IE, from points 2 and 3 above. Yeah, there are other things like skins, plug-ins and add-ins. But those are just fringe benefits. One thing really cool about my Firefox is that it is integrated with my public mail, which means I can check any news from our Yahoo Group account with just once click. And some of the extensions like Cooliris and Bumblebee make my life easier. Of about 5,000 different extensions, I have probably seen about 100 and actually installed maybe 10 or 12. Sill I get a feeling that I know quite a bit about Firefox. How outlandish of me! “Lately, I picked on IE and found that it offers more features than my browser. And although it gets the beating for being a Microsoft program, it stays on No. 1 position in browsers. In fact, I suspect that IE is slightly faster than Firefox on a Windows XP SP2 machine. Despite all these reasons, I still recommend Firefox, because I spent some considerable time on this browser and know 25 per cent of it by now. Just look at how easily I formed an opinion with minimal knowledge. “Some people form opinions easily. Others do their homework and then get into the act. Please check out the flexibility of your thumb. The more it bends, the easier you form an opinion. Are opinions good or bad? Well, if we have based it on concrete facts and respect others’ viewpoints, too, we won’t get into trouble. A lot of our opinions arise from the latent part of our mind. Weed out the limiting ones. How? The best way to pluck the inhibitions is by facing them. Like they say, ‘light a lamp when there is darkness’. Knowledge – factual and value-added – drives away ignorance. Coming back to where we left, half-baked opinions (interpretations) are most damaging. It’s like smoking if you don’t keep it to yourself fully. The moment you send it out, others also get a whiff of it. So be careful. “One cab driver told me that fat people get heart strokes because the heart loses its shape in obese people. That was a false conclusion. I corrected it by explaining to him the load on the heart for heavy people. I wonder where he got his information from. In the same way, there seems to be a myth that Lord Shiva walks away from fights. It is true, but do we know the reason? Well, he does so because he does not want to fight with an egoistic person. Not because the opponent is stronger, but because the other person really has not understood what ‘war’ is about. His message is ‘grow up’. There is no conflict with the 62
  • 35. sacred Bhagvad Gita which encourages one to fight for what is right and not for what we think is right. “Remember, it is the data that is important, not the top layers. Because they all sit on data and representations are only as good as clean data. XML (extensible markup language) promulgates this concept by separating out the data and presentation layers. No wonder it is an astounding success.” 62
  • 36. Day 5 “What other things should we keep in mind when we work on the internet?” asked Ravi. “Today, the ubiquitous browser occupies a major chunk of activity on the internet. But mind you, the internet is much bigger than this. A browser is a thin client, server-centric solution. The intelligence sits on the server end. A browser is just a rendering engine. But when you start scripting on the client side, say using Javascript, a portion of the intelligence shifts to the client side. If you use Java applets or ActiveX controls, the client grows fatter. New platforms like AJAX (asynchronous Javascript and XML) make the browser more intelligent, in the sense that the pages are only loaded for changes that a user has requested and that, too, it can be done in the background. So you see, browsers (client-end) are becoming thicker as intelligence shifts to their end. The only requirement for a browser is that it has to run atop an OS. But now browsers are coming out with their own light OS. “Besides Firefox and IE, I also like Opera and Flock. A browser like Opera is fast and user-friendly. It has features like speed dial, mouse gestures, auto fill and more. Flock is good for social networking. Every browser has its pros and cons. You have to ask yourself what you are going to do with the browser and choose the best that is out there. Besides browsers, I also use a RSS (really simplified syndication) reader to gather news on various topics. This is very helpful for information addicts. There are many readers available, paid as well as free. I use both FeedReader and GoogleReader. You can also use a plug-in in your favourite browser to read news. This way, you will not have to leave your browser. But all extensions and plug-ins load your browser and you may hit a performance bottleneck if you keep stuffing more and more. Hence be prudent. Also use only extensions from certified sources. “Besides web mail, you need to get an account on a domain. It’s best if you have your own domain where you can host your website. Getting a domain is very simple and does not cost you much. You will have a choice between Microsoft and Linux Platforms. Depending on what you plan to use, select one. Create mail ids on the domain and use it in a mail reader like Outlook or Thundermail. Opt for automatic notification of mails. Get a spam killer that can integrate with your mail. Spam killers use Bayesian techniques to filter out spam. There are many like McAfee Spam killer or Spamihilator that can do the task. Flag all spam mails so they don’t land up in your inbox the next time. “On the internet you are a dog. If you browse a lot and do not wish to reveal your IP address or other parts of your identity, use an anonymizer. This is typically a proxy address that is made available as a substitute. Also, you can spoof your mails by tampering the sender address. But I really do not recommend these methods. Be on the vigil when you visit websites. Some of them contain harmful Javascripts that can attach to your webpages or do some other malicious activity. Use an advisory software that maintains a catalog of information about various websites. “Be wary of scams and phishing activities on the internet. Scams like you have won a lottery or an appointment letter without an interview are prevalent. Plus, you may get falsified mails from somebody who pretends to be Paypal or your bank. Be careful of the information that you reveal outside. Do not solicit information if you find something 62
  • 37. fishy. Only pass on your confidential information in an encrypted manner, to the very few who require it. “Use a firewall, an antivirus, an adware and spyware detection and removal software. There are many that are available in the market. Keep the signatures updated on a daily basis. Some vendors even provide you an update on an hourly basis. Ensure that your software (applications, OS, browser etc.) are updated with the latest patches. Zero-day exploits can damage you before the patch for it has arrived. Hence, look out for sites that publish the weaknesses that have been detected. Beware of hoaxes. Be alert when you do anything on the internet.” “What is the best way to build a website? How do you make it a success story?” asked Stan. “Well, Stan, there are many factors that you have to consider when you build your website,” Ray replied. “The first is to know what you plan to accomplish through your website. Once you have decided on that, it is time to identify a theme that includes a consistent set of pages, consistent color schemes, templates, graphics and so on, which will have to go into the maiden launch. You also need to project the average web traffic that you expect to see, say till the next one year. As far as hosting is concerned, you have three options: • Host your site on your server. • Host your site on a vendor’s server. • Use a virtual directory. “If you plan to host your site yourself, you need a static IP address. Then you need to configure the DNS (domain naming service) to get a valid name. The names are available when you register for the same. When you host your website at a vendor’s premise, they will do the needful. You just have to choose a plan that suits your requirement. For example, if you plan to have 1,000 visitors in a day and if your average page size is 50K, then you need a download of at least 50,000 KB per day. When you opt for a plan from the vendor, keep this in mind. Normally, the vendor will provide tools to analyze your traffic and the statistics details. Web-hosting can be a yearly or monthly recurring fee. Choose a plan that matches your needs. The other thing that you will need to choose is the environment; Linux and Windows are popular bets. But mind you, you are locked into the base once your website is up. Which means you cannot use Linux tools if you have opted for Microsoft. The third method of having a website is to host it on a particular vendor’s URL (uniform resource locator). This means that you will get an address appended to an existing URL. Some vendors like Angelfire and Geocities offer this. Again, this is a free service not applicable if you are setting up a company website. “When you build the pages, make sure that you follow design standards and programming principles. Hire professionals who can do the job. Make sure that your site doesn’t work on just one browser. Test it out thoroughly. “Once you are through with the website, you will have to garner the traffic. Advertise yourself on various search engines, or better yet, choose an agency that can help drive traffic towards your site. Monitor this process closely. Don’t keep your site static. Keep it updated regularly, on a daily basis, if I may suggest. People get turned off when they visit for the second or third time to see the same site. And remember they are your prospects. 62
  • 38. As traffic increases, you can even spin off some advertisements for revenue generation. Try Google Adsense, Amazon Affiliation etc. But don’t bloat the site. Keep it simple. Keep adding new features. For instance, if you had an e-mail feedback from customers, introduce a group forum or a blog. Listen to the voice of your customers, interact with them. See what works and what doesn’t. Tune in to the collective voice of the customers. Keep them happy, in new and innovative ways. And I’m sure that your site will be a great success. “Just like your personality, the site also has a trait that reflects your thoughts. Always keep the visitor’s interest in mind and try to fulfill the same through your site. Once a person visits a site, by the time he leaves he should get enriched and feel what is called the ‘A-ha’ factor. As long as your site can deliver this promise, you have nothing to worry about. ‘If you build it, they will come’ does not apply because you have to actively market your product in the initial phase. But once you break the ice, then it is solely the content and the presentation of the site that will deliver the bottom line. Keep in mind that people are willing to invest their time for returns and your site should ensure that they get the best bang for the buck. In the end, remember that it is the way you have touched hearts or the way you have made a difference in the life of someone that counts. To quote: If I have helped a fainting Robin Walk unto its nest again I haven’t lived in vain. “Bear in mind that quality is more important than quantity. Economies of scale do not affect premium things.” “But how do you deliver quality products in such short span of time? Internet projects are measured in days and hours instead of the traditional months,” said Deb. “The answer lies in a multitude of things. To start with, it is very important to choose the right environment and people for the project. It’s a double-edged sword. The platforms can vary depending on the problem under consideration. Your choices are .NET, Java or newer technologies like AJAX and Ruby on Rails. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, let’s say you are creating a website like e-bay where buyers and sellers meet to exchange goods. This can be done very well in ASP.NET, choosing VC# or VB.NET as the target language. The backend can be SQLServer or Oracle. Developing in .NET is a faster proposition than other platforms because of the powerful IDE (integrated development environment) that is offered along with it. While .NET is suitable for web projects, for bigger projects where the complexity is advanced, it’s best to opt for a JAVA platform. JAVA has different levels of usability and complexity ranging from JSP’s (Java server pages) to Enterprise Java Beans. There are application servers like Websphere or Weblogic readily available to deploy complex applications. These App Servers, as they are called, provide readymade ‘glue’ code, which is the code that sits between your front end and the back end. They work hand-in-hand with your WebServer and Database Server. The learning curve is higher as compared to .NET but the time spent is well worth it. Normally, for Java projects the platform is Open Source like Linux, the development IDE like Eclipse, WebServer is mostly Apache and the DB is typically MySQL or PostGreSQL. Scalability of applications depends pretty much on both hardware and software. For example, if you are using a dual CPU system but your Fedora Core does not take advantage of it, then you are underutilizing your hardware. In 62
  • 39. the same way, in software if you are not optimizing the number of threads that your OS can support, you are again underutilizing the software. Availability, similarly, is a function of both hardware and software. What is most important to keep in mind is the reusability – components that need not be reinvented because they are already there. One should strive to use Design Patterns that lead to reusable code. “While JAVA and .NET seem to suffice many a requirement for internet programming as a whole, if you were to create websites (which is one aspect of internet programming), it’s better to opt for a meta-programming language like Ruby on the Rails framework. Ruby provides features like Active Records (or interface with the database) and scaffolds (temporary stubs of code) besides offering all three development, test and production environments. Programming in Ruby is very easy and you can churn out code in minutes. If you want to make the interaction more user-friendly, without the bother of, say, loading pages every time there is a small change on the screen, you can use AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML). Ruby combined with AJAX is a very powerful combination to build scalable websites in very short duration. There are many tools available for Ruby, which works on Open Source platform. For AJAX also there are many IDEs (integrated development environments) that help one to extend their existing or new code, be it any platform. The front end is normally created on a software like Dreamweaver and Photoshop (for images), but there are many freeware software which also do the job well. Microsoft has recently launched a product called Silverlight, which is a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of media experiences and RIAs (rich interactive applications) for the Web. Integrating them with the backend software, which includes Appserver, WebServer and DB server, is not very difficult. WebServices, which are nothing but remote calls to methods existing outside the system, are in vogue. This technology will become popular in the future. XML (extensible markup language) has also become the default lingua-franca of the web community. “As far as people are concerned, make sure that you take in the right people with the correct skill sets. The other thing required in a person is to be a team player. Set goals for all the people. Lay out the expectations clearly. Give them a sense of purpose. Get their ‘buy-in’ on the project. Make them feel like they are doing the greatest thing in the world. Keep the excitement on, always. “Look at the higher side of things. A .NET project is not interesting because of the APIs available, but simply because it extends a part of us. The various concepts like, say, marshalling or serializing are found in nature, too. Identify the patterns, learn from nature. For example, if you are running out of memory, you need to shed some baggage or get add-on memory. This is like a pond that overflows. The alternative is to suck the water away manually and introduce fresh water. You can also extend a pond to accommodate more water. Take for instance the concept of model-view-controllers (MVC). In a building, a model is the layout of the, say, pipelines with the water tanks, the view is probably the taps that you see with flowing water and the controller is the valves (even taps act as controllers). Look at how the wind blows. It is asynchronous in nature. When it blows, it just blows. Most of the activities that happen inside a computer are synchronous in nature. Things happen at the tick of the clock. Although a disk-seek is on-demand, what happens after that follows a strict mathematical model. Clouds obscure sunlight. They also give rains. What is this if not polymorphism? Learn to look outside and relate it with what you learn, and soon you will find that nothing is being invented. We are just mimicking nature. 62
  • 40. “If we do see the parallel in nature, still the question remains will that make us happy? What is our role in this unending universe? How do we sense that subtle power which seems to be orchestrating the great dance of this universe? “In this world, we all have a role to play. Although we may aspire to reach the peak of our professions, we should not be disappointed if it does not happen. Remember, attachment to desire is what causes maladies like depression, schizophrenia etc. In computing terms, it is a buffer overflow. Remember, that to reach the enviable position of our icons, it’s not just enough that we work hard. Lady luck or god’s favor is also very much required, although luck favors those who work hard. Here is another line of solace. There are people who make $2 and also there are people who make $20,000 in a day. Who knows, the latter person may still be yearning for more and be dissatisfied as a whole? Your happiness quotient is not derived from your earning potential. Everything in life is gradual. Even to get Zen-like insights, you need to have matured to that extent. A good spiritual quotient always helps. “You may be a seeker of truth. But do you know that the truth is also seeking you? Providence is sending you help every now and then, but you are just not there. There is this joke, forgive my syntax. A person sees that his village is getting submerged in a flood. Everyone is gathering whatever they can and rushing away. This guy being an ardent devotee, decides to stay back, saying ‘god will save me’. People come in boats and call him, but he doesn’t budge. The water level rises up to his waist. Then, a jeep full of people comes to save him. Again he denies, saying god will save him. The water level is till his neck now. A helicopter comes to save him, but he denies help. Finally, he drowns and goes to heaven. He sees god and asks him, ‘I prayed to you, why did you not help me, down there?’ And god says, ‘Who do you think sent those boats, jeep and the chopper?’ He is guiding us, every moment. You just have to realize it, fully. And there you are. Know him to be the bountiful, the merciful, and the life giver. Know him to be the cause of all that is, of all that will be. Having known him so, submit to him. He will guide you. In short, if you see him in everything and everywhere, you have reached there. “Our senses are limited. The max you can hear is 20 – 20,000 Hz. The max you can see is 25-30 frames per second to feel objects in motion. Senses and extensions, for example, Hubble’s telescope can only measure what is there in the Maxwell’s rainbow, which is the energy spectrum as we know it. Right from the background noises called Johnson’s noise (of the Big Bang) up to cosmic waves. There is a whole range of frequencies that our senses or their extensions are not able to pick up. If you know about SETI (search for extra-terrestrial intelligence), we are trying to find him out there, when he is so close to us, closer than we are to ourselves. “What is created gets destroyed. For what is born, death is certain. Even Lord Brahma dies at the end of a yuga. And for the dead, rebirth is definite. It’s not about religion, it’s not about outside, it’s about ‘is’ and ‘is’ denotes ‘present’, this very moment. Let me elaborate. Imagine that you did not have memory, both short and long-term. Then whatever you view, hear, taste, smell or touch would never get analyzed. The memory stores our experience, beliefs, preferences etc. Now if memory was not there, you would not be perceiving the world with your colored vision. Which means the signal could be acted upon without any delay. So what would come out is also the correct answer, as what has been intended by Him. No packet loss, no repeaters, pure signal. Living like the mouse in ‘who moved my cheese, which ‘is’. 62
  • 41. “As you know, the world is a bunch of opposites. For night you got day, for pleasure you got pain. For somebody who is near Him, these dualities do not matter. His mind does not waver. This is not very easy to achieve. But then, if you do, you are a yogi. And this is the first step towards realization. There are three ways of realizing the subtle, says The Bhagvad Gita. They are through karma, knowledge and devotion. In the first way, you realize god as you keep working. The idea is to forget yourself while working and be so engrossed in it that you don’t have time to worry about the results. The second way is through acquiring knowledge. It is said that right knowledge can burn away the negative effects of karma. Here you gather knowledge about god by reading, interacting and reflecting on the same. The third and the final way is through devotion or bhakti. Here you simply go in pursuit of Him with all you have got. Have an undying spiritual seeking to achieve him. And if your quest is honest and forceful, you will realize him. At any point of time, we have a combination of all these three in our account books. For most of us, karma seems to be the way to go. But it cannot be just that. As we go along, we acquire knowledge and some amount of bhakti also comes into the picture when we pray. What needs to be noted is that any way which takes us towards god is the right way. For example, in Buddhism there is the eightfold path – right views, right thinking, right speech, right action, right way of life, right endeavor, right mindfulness and right meditation. If we balance the aforesaid characteristics, we take a step towards god. Of this, the last, namely meditation, is very effective. Take some time off your busy schedule to sit by yourself in a corner and watch the thoughts running in your mind. As you feel the urge to control them less, the thoughts begin to subside. Be a watchman and let the thoughts die by themselves. Very soon you will achieve peace. And being in peace with yourself is very essential before you embark on this spiritual journey. You will soon start seeing the miracle of life as it unfolds before your eyes. In every flower, in every seed and in every river that flows, you’ll see the grand plan revealing to you the beauty and exactness in a step-by-step way. Get back that fascination and you will see miracles all around you. The more you ponder, the more you get confused. Hence, don’t think, just enjoy His opulence, His magnificence in the world that has been gifted to you. See Him everywhere, in everything that you come across, be it a person or other souvenirs of nature. And soon you will realize that you are also his endowment, just like all other things. Persist on this way and soon you will come across transcendental experiences. These are felt and cannot be fully described. As you go along, every moment of yours will be covered with such incidents and you will start experiencing bliss. The urge to dissect – logical classification – will subsist, but the intensity of the same will start weaning as you start perceiving the whole world through your right brain, the holistic or the organic way. You will see the dance of Shiva in a leaf that sways or the song of Meera in a river that flows silently. Once you have come to this stage, you will start living, in the right sense of the word.” “What you are saying is that all progress that we make will not give us true happiness. We need to turn towards god to achieve the same. Is this the permanent solution to all our problems, Ray?” asked Stan. “We are on the brink of a spiritual transition, Stan. This switch is bound to happen as the world grapples with uncertainty brought forth by factors like increasing medical 62
  • 42. problems, new information patterns and globalization. Despite the dangers, we march on. At times thoughtfully, but many a time recklessly. “The Mayan calendar comes to an end on December 23, 2012. They have predicted great climatic changes due to reversal of the earth’s magnetic field and a high degree of sunspot occurrences, which will disrupt life. Think of all those warnings that we are getting nowadays about global warming. The Hopi Indians have predicted: Before the great Purification, they will make metal roads for iron horses (trains and train tracks) and hang metal ropes (power lines) in the air. The last danger sign is that first they will bring back pieces of the moon. Purification will begin shortly after humans build a great house in the sky (space station?). “These are trying times. Progress is always welcome, but what is really progress? Certainly we have made progress, materialistically speaking. But is this true progress? Sometimes progress is not visible. Here’s an excerpt from the Tao te Ching: We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel; But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends. We turn clay to make a vessel; But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends. We pierce doors and windows to make a house; And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends. Therefore just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not Although the meaning is right in front of us, we do not read it clearly. And it’s in the hustle-bustle of daily events that we forget to read between the lines. Every one of us is receiving messages from providence every second. But we tune ourselves to a different frequency. Why? Cause we are not in control of our thoughts. Hopping between different wavelengths, and marauding through the stack of the deeds of the day, we have become robots, maybe better or maybe worse. The only solution is to get back in touch with the inner ‘us’ and that can only happen with an intense desire to achieve this goal. Burning within each one of us should be the spiritual quest for finding the true meaning of happiness, rather than yielding to fleeting sensations that we mistake for contentment. “In terms of technology, we are making fast progress. As the availability becomes abundant, the cost comes crumbling down. At present, a 1 GB pen-drive is available for $15. And this indeed is commendable, looking back at a time when a personal computer could only be afforded by the elite. The gap between what a computer does and, say, a mobile device is blurring. The latter is getting equipped with all the facilities that you will find in a blue-chip machine. As broadband and satellite links become available for the masses, the access to markets or the places from where a living is earned becomes imminent. Still, the question of providing food, water and basic necessities for people across the world remains unanswered. Technology can surely accelerate education, but what about providing healthcare to everyone? Surely, this and other questions like war and famine hangs over us like the sword of Damocles. But all hope is not lost yet. One thing that technology clearly does is to accelerate communication between various people. Very soon people across the world will be able to speak up their thoughts and concerns and be heard. Take blogging for instance. It has provided a platform for people to voice 62
  • 43. their feelings and issues that are of paramount importance to them. As we enter a world of dialogue and interactivity, the meaning of information is getting shifted from a static to a dynamic context. Today, we are able to take part in happenings across the world and choices seem to increase. Interactive TV, for example, would mean that we are no longer listening one way to a deluge of information that seems to surround us most of the time. As we learn to make choices and connect with millions of people who share similar views, we are seeing a more friendly world than one where we were just audiences. Today, the performer is being watched and people can participate in mimicking or better yet, improve the performance and thus becoming actors themselves. Virtual worlds like Second Life give a chance to create your own world and project it to the planet, for others to participate and derive the best. One can make money, too. In the healthcare area also, we are making good progress. As medical contraptions equipped with the latest technology become more affordable, we will see healthcare getting its due. The model that the government dictates, which is the help or funding for various activities, is slowly crumbling away. Financial aid from the government will soon boil down to websites that accept donations in kind from people the world over. Very soon, they will overtake the aid that a government provides. The voice of people will reign topmost and the world will become a better place, as technology makes it more so. But above all this is the inbuilt need for a spiritual solution. As we know, technology fills the void of gaining knowledge and the way of karma, too, by creating more jobs. As far as devotion is concerned, that is left solely to an individual. Although we will be able to automate prayers through technology, this area will still remain a subjective phenomena. As technology eases our time pressures, we will have more time with us, which we can spend for spiritual conquests. Here’s what Richard Lovelace has to say: If I have freedom in my love And in my soul I’m free Angels alone that soar above Enjoy such liberty. “But this very freedom that we get is in excess. Don’t you agree, Ray?” asked Stan. “Freedom unregulated is like a child asking for candy. Too much of it, and you get cavities. Anything in excess is bad. For example, desire and greed. Mind you, there is a thin line of separation between the two. Desire is essential, else we won’t be able to inch forward. But it is the attachment to desire that causes greed. Although Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas) in Wall Street mentions that greed is good, I disagree. Too many desires also make us de-focussed. Hence, we should limit the desires and then converge on them like a convex mirror that burns the paper on which it concentrates the sunlight. Freedom should always be in the context of a framework. Limited freedom! Sounds like a paradox, doesn’t it?” “So in life, the freedom that I have will help me get what I want, right?” “Wrong. Freedom gives you the opportunity to choose between what you want and what you ought to give. By now you should have figured out why god gave us two ears and only one mouth. Leaders are not talkers, they are listeners. By listening you give, because you are nearer to the exact problem. Can we make a radio listen? No. Whereas a computer 62
  • 44. is mostly in a listening mode. Thus, it’s in giving that we receive. In software development, there is a concept of prototype (evolutionary/throwaway) that most of the projects need before they go pilot. For example, in web design you do a wire frame first and then you build on top of it. Requirements modeling typically follow the 80/20 rule. The first 80 per cent allows you to start off, but you have to show something to the client in order to receive the next set of supplies. Waterfall model, where the customer waited for a magic pot to come out after a specified tenure just to discover that it was a Pandora’s Box that he got, is obsolete. In today’s iterative models, the customer touch-points are shorter and chaotic. You need to show a proof of concept every now and then to the customer. Hence, giving more and receiving less has become a frequent practice. What’s the end result? We have more user-friendly, or I should say user-likely, software being churned out. “Similarly in life, the more we give, the more we receive. Desire for giving should be more than receiving. And for the latter also, there is no need to fret if you don’t get what you crave for. Like a lotus leaf in water that remains untouched or like an executable file (sans hackers) that rarely gets read, we need to practice dispassion of what we get in our kitty. Be thankful of whatever he has given us and soon you will find that all your desires are well established within yourself. The treasure hunt ends right here – within your soul.” “You seem to be a proponent of the altruistic model, Ray. But business cannot be run without knowing what to expect. The closer we are to knowing what we are going to get, the better the business model. Of course, there are other aspects like how to get there, the assumptions and the risks that we undertake and most importantly, the cost implications. How do we strike a balance here, Ray?” “The most fundamental aspect of any business is not what or how it does something but why. Agreed that your motive may be financial in nature but the burning question is whether the business addresses a need that is existent in the marketplace. If it does, then you have a valid business model. But then again, you are running against the arrow of time. Will this need be there by the time you are out with your solution? The other thing to consider may be the competitors who are already working on the problem and those who plan to. There are many factors that get into a service that a business provides but the most important aspect of it is the impact it will have on others. If you are running an NGO, you will still have to consider the aspects, but it is free of contamination which comes from the financial implications of the result. Business may be run by numbers but the question is which numbers are you focusing on? Is it always the assets that you consider in your balance sheets? Or for that matter, how strong is your cash flow? My suggestion to you is to look at the intangibles also. Money by itself is not worth anything. What is important is where you put the money to use. Value creation, if I may use the term, is the very reason that we are entrusted with money. The more we plough back the results into actions that create ‘value’, the more the money is put into good use. By ‘value’ I mean real value, not artificial that you may be chasing out of a hunch. What is valuable is again a debatable question. But in terms of money, most of us more or less know what it means. It is not as simple as we have made so much profit hence we have succeeded. Well, that is a myopic view of success. If the value that we have created has positively impacted people and has endured the test of time, then we can say that we have succeeded. More importantly, it is the intention and the doing that matters, more than 62
  • 45. results. Of course, your shareholders will shout if you don’t give them a bonus share as announced, but appeal to their higher selves. Narrow down to the aspects that make a difference. Inculcate the very moral principle into the fabric of your company’s soul. And you are destined to succeed. Maybe not for the first time but surely in the times to come. As you know, retaining customers is not done by a phony smile, but that which comes from the bottom of the heart – a desire to serve and a full-hearted attempt to do the same. But again we come across the final dilemma – we are not in control of the results. One should not get dissuaded if it doesn’t happen. Learn where you went wrong, correct it and move on. Whether you do or not, life moves on. Decide if you want to be a part of the game or an outsider. In whichever way, the music keeps playing. “Learn to see the qualitative aspect of a business, Stan. A number that just indicates one way or the other is not a full number. Find out the metaphor for a literal. Go beyond duality. Enhance your perspective, like they do using business intelligence – the same numbers, but different contexts. Add a spiritual tinge to the goal-seek and see how it makes a difference. Imbibe the past and future into numbers and let them speak for themselves. Study them from the perspective of the heart rather than the brain. You will see endless possibilities arising out of such a search. And every solution will be complete in itself. So you don’t have to go further. Like a tree with many branches, but the branches in turn don’t have more branches. A first-level effective search, if you ask me. Remember, it’s not the questions that you ask that makes a compelling answer, but the answer that is waiting there to be questioned by you. Both the question and the answer lie within you. The moment you realize this, the quest ends. From then onwards you are on your own, like a free bird, which can fly anywhere without any worries. Because you see, worries by themselves are nothing but the questions that you have.” “Ray, I spend most of my time in meetings – staff, customer or the board of directors. As I interact with people, I observe that most of them want answers or directions. Many a times, I’m not prepared with answers or to give directions. There’s so much I have to wade through in a day. Although I have a dashboard that provides me summary information, be it news or views, I find myself in the midst of an information deluge. A lot of my time goes into projects that are not doing well. Fire-fighting and answering mails take up a lot of my time. By the way, I get about 500 mails in a day. I reply to 50 on an average. I start my day at 8am and it lasts till 9 in the evening. Most of the days, I don’t get time to eat my lunch. In the midst of all this are strategic exercises that I have to undertake on a regular basis. Attrition in my company is about 15 per cent. At least two to three days in a week, I spend time interviewing for top-line staff. Always on the lookout for new ideas, I watch inflection points in the market on a day-to-day basis. After having done all of this, I still feel a surge of emptiness at the end of the day. Like something I have missed out from the news. I try to work on quadrant 2 – important activities – but end up working on the urgent chores that drain me of my normal cool disposition. Tell me, Ray, where am I going wrong? What am I missing? And what should I do about it?” “Stan, I can empathize with you since I have been on the same seat before. My days also used to be hectic and I got bored. Wish I had found out the answer before. So here it is. Start your day with prayer and meditation. Take up some physical exercise. Listen to music or some podcast that you have been wanting to hear. Besides the newspaper, read a holy book or some source of inspiration for at least 15 minutes. Eat a sumptuous 62
  • 46. breakfast. Avoid all calls before you reach office. If you drive to work, listen to some light music of any genre. It is better if you have a chauffeur, as you can read your news while in the car. Once you are in office, plan out the day. Allocate time for various activities. Make some room for unplanned activities. Watch your plan as the clock ticks by. Be in a positive frame of mind always. Do not get angry. Remember, the response to any situation is for you to choose. Be eager in understanding people’s problems. Listen more and don’t jump to conclusions. Praise whenever applicable and criticize actions, not the person. See to it that all meetings come to a logical conclusion. Take out time after every meeting to make notes and reflect on what just transpired. Zoom in and out of situations with a sharp focus. Insist on facts more than opinions. Seek to delegate, trust people with their abilities, and follow up. Use the whiteboard and the projector sparingly, except when you are, say, giving a presentation to the board of directors. Talk straight. Get to the issues without hovering on the niceties. Think before you act. Or better yet, feel it. And once you have made a decision, stick by it. You may become a laughing stock for the risk that you took in acquiring a company but be firm. Don’t go against your instinct. If you made a mistake, admit it. It takes courage to do so. Tune in to your customers and get a feel of the market. Listen to the undercurrents within your organization. Do not avoid any issue, except if it’s too petty. Before an issue blows out of proportion, nip it in the bud. If you feel nervous, take two deep breaths and go right after the fear. Face it. Hear it. Act on it. Conquer it. Be decisive, but not in haste. Mean what you say. Take a break for five minutes every one or two hours and simply relax. Experiment by going to a website that you have just read about or browse your favorite website. Do a little bit of programming if you are up to it. Learn some jargons. Connect with the bigger picture always. Try to portray the same to your subordinates and colleagues. Weave in humor into conversations. See the lighter side of things without letting your top line slip by. Always maintain a contagious amount of optimism in the air. Finally, don’t be complacent. Self-esteem is good, but not ego. If you let your ego run the company, you will create more enemies than friends. Remember what Sun-Tzu in the Art of War said – ‘a war is won before it is fought’. Apply this precept. After the day is over, indulge in something that you love to do. Try to spend some time with your family on weekdays, too. If that is not possible, make sure that you spend Sundays exclusively with your family. Take them out or go watch a movie. Sundays are the days when even god rests. So stop thinking about work and pursue a hobby, or better yet, spend quality time with your family. You are not going wrong anywhere Stan, but you need to re-assess your priorities. Find meaning in what you do. A deep, well-connected implication of things happening with and around you. Wield the power of the astra (weapon) that you possess. Learn to make good and proper use of it. And you will grow towards your dreams. Every day should be a step towards that. If your actions don’t take you towards god, step by step, reanalyze them. Act in a conscious and responsible manner. You may plant a fern or a bamboo seed, both are guaranteed to grow in their own time span. Persevere. Know that fruits of actions are a bonus that we receive from god. Be thankful always. See the marvel of life as it unfolds in front of you. Share it with everyone. Grow every day. A little or a leap, but grow you must.” 62
  • 47. Day 6 “Any project management tips for me, Ray?” asked Deb, silent till now. “Traditional project management focuses on three aspects – cost, duration and quality. These variables are all interdependent. Here’s what I have gathered during my past years as a project manager: • Never start without a good understanding of the functional requirements. Technical requirements can follow but not the functional. Squeeze out every ounce of information from the client on the functional aspect of the system. • Know what the client wants, to as much detail as possible. I don’t mean that you have to go till the level of screen design, but apply the 80-20 rule here. Get to know the 20 per cent of the system that is 80 per cent significant to the client. • Gone are the days when we used to have loads of paperwork like a project initiation note (PIN), engagement strategy etc. Some of us are working on projects which have a deadline in two weeks. All you get to do is work extra-time. But we come across nature’s bottleneck. – only 24 hours in a day. • Waterfall is out, iterative is in. Keep requirements open-ended, as I’m pretty sure that most of the time the client himself is unsure in some areas. Plan out the iterations. At least, a tentative one. • Spend more time on requirements and design. The cost of messing up during these early stages can prove to be fatal. • Follow simplicity for estimation. For instance, don’t go for a FPA (function point analysis) when you are doing short projects or KLOC (Kilo Lines of Code) if you are using object-oriented languages. Add to this the complexity that a RAD (rapid application development) tool also brings in, like the IDE (integrated development environment). For internet projects, I go by what I call the ‘Divide by 2’ estimate. Depending on the timeline, set up an atomic unit beyond which you will abstain from simplifying. • Mirror the requirements and freeze them as early as possible. Remember, the clock is ticking away. You want to get a sign off? Up to you. • Allocate resources sparingly. Use extra buffers of at least 25 per cent average over a task. Do not compromise on this. This is your best guard against a duration risk. • Create or hold only documents which are essential. Like, say, a copy of the contract, which should cover Scope, SLAs (service level agreements) and deliverable dates clearly. And, of course, the payment plan and the project plan. Typically, a Word document containing the original MPP (Microsoft project plan), requirements document and FS (functional specification) or SRS (software requirement specification) or simply MOMs (minutes of meetings), design 62
  • 48. document (both application and DB), standards and practices document, quality documents (like record of peer reviews, code walkthrough, test plan), hardware and software and deployment approach. • Skip configuration/change/risk management for short projects. This doesn’t mean that you don’t follow these. It simply means that do not make any documents for these. In fact, you can also pass over some of the quality documents mentioned above. For projects less than 45 days, be my guest. • Planning is important but too much of it will be a time-guzzler. Focus more on execution, especially for internet projects. • The choice of languages, environment etc. is all pretty much in the open. For example, for small to medium-scale projects, you can use .NET, while bigger projects can go for JAVA. For complexity on a scale of 1-6, opt for the former. From 4-10, choose the latter. Complexity is measured in terms of number of pages, meta-pages, the contents, active links and features required. For example, integrating a payment gateway is pretty straightforward, but if you want to interface with a German ITEK mainframe, that is going to be more complex. • Update and track project plan on a daily basis. Microsoft Project is a great analysis tool. See, for example, that resources are not overloaded, task assignments are always interconnected logically and so on. • The quality of deliverables is a suspect wherever there is no process existing to take care of the undesired. Follow a process: mandatory, call it IPO (Input– Process–Output), PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) or whatever other models are out there. Let me repeat – even if it is a small project, there clearly has to be a methodology (procedure) that all follow. • Last but not the least, be aware of the team dynamics. Make corrections wherever necessary. Learn to anticipate a problem before it occurs. Nowadays, web-based projects use Agile Development Methodology where short iterations of one to four weeks, emphasizing on interactions primarily, are in vogue. Documentation is kept to a minimum. Some people confuse Agile methodologies with Cowboy coding, where the team does whatever it wills. But Agile programming delivers results in the shortest possible timeframe. Some Agile methods, like DSDM (dynamic situations development method) and FDD (feature development method) are aimed to be suitable for any Agile software development project, regardless of situational characteristics. Then there is Scrum and Extreme Programming, where you have multiple people working on the same program. Scrum is a popular Agile methodology where people work on backlogs (tasks) in what are called sprints, which typically last from one to six weeks. “For longer projects, you have methodologies like RUP (Rational Unified Process), an offshoot of IBM, wherein you iterate repetitively. Then you have Prince 2 primarily for projects whose timelines are static in nature. There are many other methodologies out 62
  • 49. there, which most of the companies have adapted for internal use. Then there are frameworks like CMM (Capability Maturity Model) and ISO (International Standards Organization), which regulate the activities or resources and measure their impact. For example, in CMM there are different process maturity levels ranging from one to five, from initial to optimized. Every level clearly has a process map and documents that support the level. Typically, you see the compliance in large projects, of duration greater than three months. “It is very essential to choose the right methodology for the project, depending on your time and budget constraints. But once you do, don’t look back. Create a first-level macro WBS (work breakdown structure) to start off the project. There are three channels of communication that you need to open: • The customer • The team • The management Interaction with customers may be done by a product manager, if one is available. But for smaller projects, the project manager doubles up, for all practical purposes. Handling the client is an art. One needs to be a good communicator. Listen more, do not commit on deadlines. Involve the customer in the project from the very beginning. Hide the dynamics but give him a window view, so he can see the product manifesting in front of his eyes. Ask for feedback always, and try to incorporate the same in the next releases if your schedule doesn’t overrun. Make minutes of the meeting if you are dealing with a fickle customer. Anyway, it’s a good habit to keep the minutes as an interaction record. There are four definitions associated with a product that is shown to the customer. They are: • Proof of concept • Prototype • Pilot • Final release The proof of concept is generally prepared to showcase a demonstration of the product that a customer is likely to see as the end-product. This is typically used by pre-sales people. A proof of concept can also be products that you have implemented for a different customer. A prototype is created in the middle of a project. It has more features than a proof of concept. It may span across a snapshot of one or more modules that the customer is expecting. A pilot is a trial run of the product. It’s also called a Beta, and it is close to what the final product will look like. Software companies launch Betas of their products so that everyone can get a feel of the product and start testing and developing their applications for it. A final release is the mature project, ready for use by the customer. As a project manager, you are the guardian and mentor of the team. Always set goals and interact with everyone, if it’s a small project, on a regular basis. Look for ideas from 62
  • 50. within the team and implement the best of the lot. Beware of friction between team members. Always ensure that the environment is a positively charged one, where people would love to work. Listen to the problems of the team members and mitigate them tactfully. Treat them as you would treat your friends. “The management has to receive regular project reports on what is happening. A PSR (project status report) consists of a progress chart along with issues and concerns that a project manager has. Also, the risk mitigation strategy has to be attached. Voice your concerns as well as those of your team’s to the senior management. Get traction and be in the grip of the finances for the project. Alert the management of any untoward deviations that can steer the project off course. Call them up frequently and meet them personally whenever you can. Listen to what they have in store for you and the team. Voice their views in team meetings. “For a development project, your focus would be on features that you need to churn out on a regular basis. For a maintenance or customization project, the focus will be on CRs (change requests) and bugs. An implementation project works on work items (implementable features) on a day-by-day basis. For all projects, what is required of a project manager is to track the project and take corrective actions wherever necessary. “You may come across projects where an existing system is being upgraded to your new product. In that case, study the old system thoroughly, both for features and the operations. For example, if it’s a retail bank, maybe the old ALPM (Automated Ledger Posting Machines) are being dismantled to move onto your integrated banking solution. In this case, plan out a phase-off period where you will run both the system in parallel, till such time that you find that the older system is not required. Hold hands of the customer during this stage. It’s very crucial. The support that you give will get their ‘buy-in’ into your solution. “The most important thing to keep in mind is not to judge people. You have to lead, and by this I mean you have to set an example for others to follow. Like a bird that flies but does not leave any imprint in the sky, your actions should be smooth without leaving behind any trace of a negative feeling. Even when you take to task a laggard, your intention should benefit him. He should feel that you are honestly worried about his future. There are times you have to be informal. But when you are discussing your project, it’s best to have a professional atmosphere around you, where work means business. Set your priorities clearly in front of the team members. Get them to acknowledge it and work towards the goal without ever looking back. Learn to smell the issues before they become unwieldy and always have an open-door policy. Never avoid any problem. Face it then and there and get a resolution before the problem starts haunting you. If you have too many pending tasks before you, start addressing them before they become unmanageable. Never keep pending an activity that you are unsure about. Either you do it or you don’t. Regularly monitor if your project is following the plan. Be ready for an audit at any time, rather than last-minute makeovers. Prepare a migration plan for your people, so you can track their progress. If you are managing multiple projects, carefully devote your time to each of them, keeping in mind the nature and importance of the project. If you see any red flags, take appropriate action. Before you start any activity, be it a meeting or a mail, see in your mind the time allocated for it. 62
  • 51. Get used to this way of working, because you will be able to predict the appropriate time- slot for each activity. If it takes you more time to complete a task, your estimation method needs to improve. And if you finish the task before time, give yourself a pat in the back and use the spare time for either taking a short break or keeping yourself up to date. Read latest magazines on technology, project management and business, especially the ones related to your project. At the end of the day, go through the highlights of the day in your mind. Spend time wisely, because as you will realize, the only thing that we run short of in life is ample time. “Whether you use Excel to maintain your change-list or you use another tool, the uppermost thing on your mind should be to have a firm grip on the project. Be in control of every nook and corner. The feature or change-list, along with the bugs, is what people work on mostly. Use a version-control tool along with regular backups. Also, don’t forget to restore backups that you have taken, because I have seen many projects that do take regular backups but never restore them to see if they were successful. For managing the project schedule, you can use a tool like Microsoft Project or Mingle. Remember to update the plan as the project progresses and analyze the plan every day for resource overloading and new tasks in hand. When you estimate, remember to keep a safe buffer of, say, 25 per cent for contingencies. Include the time for testing, review and documentation, along with the coding time. Be careful of design changes. For example, if there is a new requirement, the most straightforward thing to do seems to be adding new tables. But this is an invitation for disaster. Check if the new requirement fits into the existing design, keeping in mind the normalization approaches that you have adopted and then sling it in to fit into your scheme of things, rather than the other way round. Follow proper naming conventions in code as well as the DB. Look for components that are readily available. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. To give you an example, I have in the past worked on an auction functionality that took five man-days to complete, only to realize that such a component was already available, with much better features. But do not mistake a rope for a snake. Be careful when you use an external component. If your management is fussy about paying for Microsoft licenses, go for OpenOffice or better yet, use Google Docs and spreadsheets. Google has the whole ‘office’ works available on the web. The only hitch is that you need an internet connection. Ask your team to hang out in forums or blogs that are of interest to the project. Many a times, you can get expert help if you pose the problem you are facing to such groups. Get all latest documentation for the platform that you are working on. For example, if you are working on Visual Studio, subscribe to MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network). Stop being an average user. Become a power-user of the internet.” “In today’s world, the future has arrived before we even say the word ‘blink’. So, isn’t the past becoming more and more obsolete when the future seems to arrive so fast?” asked Ravi. “In the past 25 years, technology, especially software, has been growing at an exponential pace. When I say technology, I mean the electronics that go inside any device like, say, a FM radio or a more complex chip like Pentium. The price of electronic goods is crashing every day. Moore’s law states that ‘the number of transistors on a chip doubles every 18 months’. And it’s been true till now. Now, I guess we are reaching physical limitations. While new frontiers of science are being interrogated, we are also creating pandemonium. 62
  • 52. There is so much to choose from. The other effect is what I call MC GOLD or simply ‘my computer got old’ phenomenon. The moment you buy the latest, another piece more latest than your set has made its way to the shop where you bought it from yesterday. The point I’m trying to make is ‘the Joneses also have to be on their feet playing catch-up to themselves’. “Let’s take software – every day there is something new somebody has invented or discovered. The programming language in vogue today is a derelict of morrow. So you have no other choice but to learn the new language. If you ask me, knowledge that is transient is not true knowledge. Instead of hankering for these, we should imbibe the knowledge that does not change – the permanent or the ‘eternal’ Veda. Veda means knowledge. True knowledge is knowledge about god. “Life is what it’s all about. And human life is sacred. It’s written in the books that god made us in his image and breathed life into us. This life is sacrosanct. This life is a journey towards the absolute truth. Yes! Although it takes effort and perseverance to realize god, the way is there, guiding us every second. “I graduated in computer science in the Eighties. Since then, I have been witnessing the relics of operating systems (OS) like CP/M, DOS etc. Forget the OS, even the processors work differently. That means, assembly language – a language close to the machine –is also specific to a processor. With so many variants around, most of the precepts have changed or simply withered away. The new languages are very simple, time-saving and cost-effective. But they hide you from the truth that is out there. In this sense, they are fleeting. To really understand computing, you need to be not just logical but also spiritual, scientific and strategic. “An engineer by accident, I have managed to understand a part of this higher reality by myself. When I look back at what I have learnt from my school and college, a lot of world-savvy text has gone into me. Now, this includes the sciences as well. Though it has enriched me, I still seem to be hankering for something more real. Though it has managed to get me a job, I felt the need for true knowledge, which will emancipate me and quench my unending thirst forever. “And what I found was that there is no point in chasing the rainbow, which means the latest development, because sooner or later it is going to be ahead of you, as it is today. The essence of all knowledge lies in that which does not change. And for me, I found it in the scriptures. You know, people write about other people everywhere. Well, my answer to this is simple. You read The Bible and you will come across all possible kinds of people on the planet. If you are lost about the truth, read the Upanishads. All scriptures lead us towards god. Be it the Koran or the Zend Avesta. I found treasure troves of information in the scriptures, which is a forgotten art for people today. We look for happiness in the wrong places and then get depressed. And then follows a battery of anti- depressants and sleeping pills to help us combat stress. Well, why are we looking for the truth in the wrong places? As long as knowledge liberates us and takes us towards the final destination, be sure that it is true knowledge. In fact, you really don’t have to read religious books or sacred texts in order to be one with god. In our pursuit of finding the impeccable lights, we may get attuned to various dogmas and belief systems. In this chase, we may get biased. So much so that it can interfere with the way we look at things. This can also affect our relationships and work, too. Beliefs and dogmas can be harmful if we become fanatical about them. In the new world, you should be willing to change at all strategic inflection points (from Andy Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive). 62
  • 53. “Strategic inflection points are events that can result in major changes in your perception of the world. These can come from within, like a team that has gone awry, a relationship that has gone sour or external forces like a competitor who is pushing you over the edge or a faithful client who wants to shift his loyalty. Now, how do you tackle this? One way is to take a good look at your processes and re-engineer them. Then follow the usual PDCA (plan-do-check-act) cycle. Identify the cause of the turbulence. Eliminate it. If the cause is you, improve on it, like a servo motor. If it’s external, do your homework. Classify and quantify. And then create an action plan. Strike when the rod is hot. Remember, a chain is as strong as its weakest link. A decision which is morally correct, for the lack of a better word, endures the test of time. It’s a question of how much is fair. I guess everybody knows what is, because we all have an innate sense of what is right and what is wrong. But then, why is there so much moral corruption? The answer is time. You see, we are all beings in a constant flux. A good idea is an idea whose time has come. Consider the bio-rhythms. Most of us are very active in the morning, the productivity sags during noontime. In the same way, our thought processes are undergoing phenomenal shifts. A criminal who commits a homicide may not repent at that point of time, but eventually will. All thoughts and all actions are recorded in the ether. One thought can result in a cascade of related thoughts that can affect the whole. The results cannot be envisaged, as there are too many parameters under consideration. But one thing is for sure. A good thought or a good action leads to a good result. One reason for all the commotion in the world is that we stick strongly to our beliefs. Well, there is good news. Using NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) or meditation, we can change our limiting beliefs and expand our sense of being. Resistance to change can be overcome if we change the negative beliefs. For example, I was taught that cutting nails after sunset is bad. I never questioned it but blindly followed it for many years. Is there a scientific reason or an ethical foundation for such dogmas? Another one – you have a haircut during the waxing period of the moon and it grows slower than usual. In many places of the world, this may be an immutable law, etched deep into the consciousness. But then, I guess the law becomes true. Because this very world that we breathe in functions on beliefs. You see and experience what you believe. A placebo works.” “You seem to be saying that reading the scriptures is useful, at the same time you say that you don’t have to. Why this conflicting stand, Ray?” asked Deb. “Reading the scriptures is definitely useful, if you decode the information correctly. Facts are facts, but how you interpret them is up to you. If you ask me, if you read the scriptures with the correct bent of mind, there is a lot to gain. But if you become dogged by it, then there is a problem. Don’t let anything come into the way of your growth. However influential it may seem, there is no stopping at a final word. There is no such commandment ordained anywhere in any book. Even the Ten Commandments are actually guidelines. All teachings are meant to spur you towards growth, and there is no limit to growing. Even if you have absorbed all good things in life and attained nirvana, there is more to come. The journey doesn’t end here. You have to keep on moving. And you will soon come across the truth that life is moving always, the only logical stop is death. Kiss goodbye to your material life and move on. As a spiritual being, you still exist and so does your consciousness. There is an immutable law of physics that states matter is neither created nor destroyed. It is transformed from one state to another. This is exactly 62
  • 54. what happens when you die. Your consciousness gets ready to take up another journey in another person’s body. A rebirth of a unique kind. It’s time for you to learn new things, newer possibilities, and conquer new worlds. And the cycle goes on, till we attain the nature of the way, which guides us everywhere and we finally become god-like.” “Can you describe death, Ray? So many live in so much fear of it that some become paranoid about it. What are your views?” “This not-so-distant reality means different things to different people. To me, death is nothing but the end of a chapter in a novel. And Insha Allah, I pray that to be the last chapter, a direct ticket to moksha – liberation. I guess that’s what we all should aim for – visiting Goloka Vrindavana (Krishna’s spiritual planet), like a trip to the Disney World. It is said that if we are able to make it there, we don’t have to return back to samsara – this life full of miseries. In the Gita, Krishna has clearly said that whatever we think of while dying, we are sure to attain. To get a better grip on death, read the Katha Upanishad, where Nachiketa talks to Yama, the god of death, to reveal his secrets. In the vedic scriptures, it is mentioned that after we die our soul goes to the moon (mother) and if she gives us a clean chit, we go to the sun (father), and succeeding there, we don’t return back. A birth somewhere else but definitely not on this planet. “John Donne in his poem Death Be Not Proud mentions this: Death be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so, For, those whom thou thinkst, thou dost overthrow, Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me. One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die. “It’s true. Death is just shedding this body and moving ahead. We all move towards one thing, knowingly or unknowingly, towards god. And finally, we all get what we seek. In astrology, if Ketu is in the 12th house of your birth chart, you have a good chance of achieving liberation. Similarly, in numerology, people with birth number 7 are known to be preferred shareholders of this commodity. We worry about our families and loved ones and take life insurance or arrange our investments in a way that they don’t get affected financially. Well, that’s just one aspect. The other part is to put up with the fact that somebody so close to you is not going to be there every time you need him/her. Death permanently disables a part of your loved ones, but here’s when we should read the Gita. The wise don’t mourn over death, says Krishna. Because the atman (soul) is never slain. It was never born nor can it die. “As far as fear of death is concerned, there is no need for it. Isaiha has said, ‘fear not for I’m with you’. Fear arises out of ignorance. It is illusory and based on the false identification of the self or the ‘I’. This is what the Buddha had to say. God is closer to us than the vein that runs through our neck, as elicited by the prophet Mohammed. Nothing happens without his permission. Not even a blade of grass sways till he wills it. So why fear a temporary glitch in your lifeline, when everything has been taken care of. You live in his presence, you die in his presence. This may be your next step towards nirvana.” 62
  • 55. Day 7 “Ray, is there such a thing as technology nirvana? If so, what are the characteristics of such a phenomenon?” asked Stan. “Technology nirvana is an over-abused phrase. To understand it, we need to clearly contemplate the meaning of nirvana. Nirvana is that stage of a person’s life when he is in complete bliss. Such a person radiates peace and harmony. He has transcended this mortal life, and though his vital signs are intact, he has left behind him all the baggage that he had garnered during his lifetime. For him, life’s unity is prevalent in every object that he comes in contact with. There is no duality. A stone or an expensive jewel means the same to him. In short, he has left the worldly equations behind. He sees god everywhere, in everything. This is a souped-down version of what nirvana means. In actuality, people who achieve nirvana are in a state of unconsciousness. It’s actually called samadhi. Such a person is deeply engrossed in meditative activities and keeps on being in such a state for a very long period of time. “Technology nirvana is a distant dream. In fact, it’s a relative term. A person accessing the internet on a T1 line (speed 1.54 mbps) may be able to download things faster than someone using a broadband connection of 256 kbps. The latter’s speed may not match that of the former, but in his environment that may be the best deal doing the rounds. In this case, both of them are experiencing bandwidth bliss. The question is not just of speed but quality. If you use a high-speed line just to download bittorrent files over a P2P network, you are not utilizing the power of your internet connection. But if you are a teenager who has to swap files with your buddies daily, this may seem the most appropriate use of the Net. Whereas, for a person like me who spends most of the time browsing information on the Net, a high-speed connection with probably a software bandwidth booster may seem apt. I may not need a high-speed line, as I download very little but browse more. Am I in technology nirvana? No. As long as I’m getting dropped lines and downtimes, as long as I don’t get access to the information that I need, as long as my need for a link is addictive, I’m far away from nirvana. Suppose I work in the stock market and I’m getting a regular update from the feeds, I can do a transaction (buy/sell) within a jiffy (straight-through-processing) and make a killing, I’m on my way to technology nirvana. But like all things in life, there is a scope for improvement here, too. I may need a voice or a thought interface. The moment such a technology is available that improves my productivity, I’m moving a step closer to nirvana. If I’m an early adopter of technology, I get to reap the benefits. But if the thing doesn’t work, I have invested my time on a bad bet. As technology moves into the various realms of life, we are going to see an overall improvement in the quality of service (QoS). It’s not just about automation anymore. It’s about things that we as human beings need – friendship, love, collaboration and peace. Technology is enabling all these and as days go by, the affordability and accessibility of such devices are becoming easy. When technology plugs the gaping holes in our system, when technology helps the world progress, when technology helps us move towards god, we are on our way to nirvana. There is still a lot of time. But we are getting closer. Some people on the globe are the forerunners of such a revolution, and their effects are cascading into every corner of the world slowly. We will achieve technology 62
  • 56. nirvana when computing addresses all the basic needs like food, water, education and healthcare for everyone the world over. A happy world is one where a person doesn’t have to worry about his next meal, his kids not being able to attend school or a medicine that he is not being able to afford. As computing cuts across the various frontiers of tread- safely zones, we are on our way. And every one of us has a duty, to contribute. It doesn’t matter how much, but give we must. Because it’s in giving that we receive.” “So, where is the end, Ray? We seem to be making progress in technology every second, but still the world grapples with issues like war in the Middle East, poverty in Africa and so on.” “Well, the solution to these is not technology. Agreed that technology can speed up the process, but still we need a complete makeover. By this, I mean an internal change. Every one of us needs to change. To be more accommodative, to be more flexible and to be more forgiving in matters that pertain to beliefs and values. We need to respect traditions that have shaped our thinking and life in general. Here comes the phrase ‘go global, think local’. If you were to survive in today’s world, you need to be aware of the forces that are affecting you and your work. If you are a manufacturer, then you need to worry about competition from China. If you are a software service provider, India is a primary force to reckon with. At the same time, if you are setting up shop in one of these countries, be aware of the local surroundings. Learn their culture and understand what makes them tick. As you will see, it’s a combination of traditional values and education that puts them in the forefront of innovation. It’s a good idea to learn Mandarin if you wish to set up shop in China, and in India converse with them over a cup of chai (tea). There is a tremendous amount of conventions that you need to adhere to as a matter of practice in these countries. Folklore and rituals make up the essence of what seems to be the technology contenders of the new world. And let me tell you this, rooted within these institutions you will find the true meaning of progress. It’s not technology, it’s spiritual. You will find this towering meaning imbibed into the fabric of living of every individual there. So, you get the best of both worlds – the openness of Western culture and wisdom of the East. What the world needs today is a healthy exchange of these two. If you are making a banking product, learn Islamic banking that is prevalent in many countries. If you are making a matrimony site, make a provision for horoscopes for places like India. Adapt to various specifications. Don’t seal yourself away into one way of thinking, because to achieve truth, there are many roads. You need to provide more roads into your product in order to get the benefit of scale. Also, you will be doing a real service to the world if you accomplish this. ‘Love thy neighbor’ is not a commandment but a distant echo of the truth. And the day you learn this by heart, you would’ve gone one step further in the race to the end – the discovery of the self.” “What is your message to the young generation, Ray?” “Aspire for the light. Do not get caught up in the transitory tendencies. Prepare yourself for a career first and then focus on the extra curriculum. Work hard and play also. But get your priorities right. To survive in this world, you need to earn a living. And to do so, you need skills. If you are a budding programmer, make your foundations strong. Learn about software engineering. It’s not just a discipline but a way of life. When you are in college, 62
  • 57. the software that you write is for demo purposes mainly. Out there in the world, you write industrial-strength software. It calls for a certain amount of obedience in the midst of creativity. Don’t be a maverick. All code that you write must achieve a fruitful purpose. Arouse your curiosity, ask questions. Even if you were to begin your career writing HTML (hyper text markup language) code, don’t fret. There is a lot that you have to learn there, too. But the hard way may not be the best way always. If there is a tool that does the job, go ahead and use it. But be prepared for the worst. There is a great difference between a code that a tool generates and one that you write yourself. The latter is more self-sufficing and often more time consuming. Do not evaluate a product by its form factor. By this I mean the front end. The ease of use may be embedded in the screen that you see but the reliability and accuracy is a factor of what goes on behind the scenes, in the backend. Make software that works, and not one that just has a pretty face. Look for products that have stood the test of time. There is a great difference between a development environment and the implementation ecosystem. The latter is the test of your endless hours and hope. No software is complete without having achieved the objective of customer satisfaction. Keep this in mind, always. Be ready to make changes, even if they go against the very design that you were holding as sacrosanct. In the end, you are working for others – your customers. You are an actor in this film. The director is your project manager or the management in general, and the producer is your customer. But in your life, you are all three. Learn to balance these aspects. And move ahead with optimism and courage. You will realize that it is not as hard as it first seemed to be. Experience is the mother of all skills. You may have read a lot of books, but it’s your experience that is your first-hand teacher. Everyone makes mistakes, but don’t stop there or get discouraged. Learn from them and make necessary corrections. Trod further and go deeper. Persist. Once you find that your target has been achieved, don’t rest in the accolades. Move on. There is so much left to do. Let every single day be your teacher. When you look back at the end of the day, you should have learnt something. You should have grown towards being a better person; towards a fuller you. Fill yourself with so much goodness that negativity stays miles away from you. Remember, it’s easy to curse the darkness. Light a lamp and dispel the illusions away. Follow first, and then lead. Know in your heart that what you are doing is right and then just do it. No looking back. A life full of purpose is a life well lived. So arise and aspire for your dreams. They are waiting out there, for you to manifest them into reality. Go right ahead. Make them come true.” “What is the best way to run a company, Ray?” asked an inquisitive Stan. “Well, it all depends on the nature of your business and your aspirations. If you are in the software business, the answer is quite simple. Define clearly your core competence. What are the markets that you intend to pursue and what is the scope of your vision? For example, if you are into the mobile technologies space, you may restrict yourself to developing applications for various operating systems. Then the next question is, do you call yourself a Symbian OS value-added applications provider or do you also delve into Palm OS and Windows mobile operating systems? Now, that is strategy. This is often dictated by market conditions. Maybe you want to venture into the new Linux mobile- phone application space. We narrow down further to what kind of applications you wish to develop for these operating systems. Maybe it’s a security suite. If so, who is the 62
  • 58. existing competition? What kind of market share do they hold and how much of the market share are you vying for? Are you a trendsetter with a niche product? If so, what are the prospective numbers for such a market? Where is your existing effort and when are you planning to roll out your product? These are tactical and operational aspects. The more foolproof your plan, the better it is. Once you have churned out the plan, monitor the execution. Watch the market closely. Look out for red flags. Keep track of your funds flow. Operating expenses should not have a big variance. Ready your PR for the impending release. Make it coincide with the release of a product. For instance, you launch your applications for the iphone on the same day that it is released, or better yet, prepackage your software into the device itself. That way, you will sell more copies than if you would’ve sold it post release. “Don’t be paranoid about your core competence. Remember, it is the market that dictates the need. You may have a great product, but unless it addresses a need hole in the market, you are going to have tough luck. Seek public opinion on your product. Try out paid surveys, blogs and simple advertising. Listen eagerly to vibes. If you have bugs in your first release, be quick to turn around and offer a fix immediately. Remember, these kind of things give you bad publicity, in turn affecting your credibility. Watch out for those zero-day exploits and for new malware, come out with a fast solution. If your solution uses a signature detection algorithm, maybe it’s time for you to move to heuristics. Use the latest technology if you want to stay ahead in the game. “Let the customers clearly know the capabilities of your product. Don’t overdo it. Tell them clearly what kind of threat it detects and what it doesn’t. Your company website should have a detailed description, a FAQ, a complaint section, maybe an option of instant chat, and answers to all the queries that a customer might have. It’s a good idea to start a newsletter that a person can subscribe to. Keep them informed. Use RSS if need be. Rev up your marketing campaigns and try to get some targeted traffic. Keep your comparison charts ready and deploy them when the rod is hot. State them clearly as long as your product has an edge over others. “Keep the employees happy. Have them excited about the happenings, both internal as well as external. Have a bash for the product launch. Invite everyone, the introverts included. Dole out presents. Congratulate everyone on the work that they have done. Send certificates of appreciation. Ask the HR to take stock of the situation and reflect the deeds of a work well done in the appraisals. Announce an incentive if possible. At the same time, make sure that if there are delays or other hurdles, the problems should get resolved in the shortest possible time. Nudge them on, especially when you are close to the release date. Under-promise and over-deliver – that should be the motto. “Now, for the most important aspect of all – finance. If your funding is sufficient to take care of the expenses incurred, well and good. Watch out for the top line. Monitor the cash flow sharply. Build reserves. If you are planning for an IPO, keep it just after the product launch or after the maturity curve gets over. You will need a lot of projections for subsequent versions of the software – a roadmap, a feasibility analysis, returns and a myriad of things. If your revenues have not started to come in yet, keep your expenses curtailed. Forget about that big party. Allocated heads should not overshoot your cash buffer. Keep a tab on expenses incurred in salaries for new hires and operational overheads. Make sure that your balance-sheet and P&L look promising before you go for the second round of fund-raising.” 62
  • 59. “Create value, Stan. There is so much waiting out there to be explored and found out. Don’t be a cynic. Somebody who knows that the price of onions is $5 a quintal but fails to know where it’s put to use, has not discovered the real meaning. Enhance the experience. Try to use the onion in a way that has not been envisioned before. Everyone knows that a tree gives shade and oxygen. But someone devised a way of making paper out of a tree and gave a whole new meaning to the usefulness of a tree. Common knowledge is for ordinary people. See beyond regular definition. Eulogize a tree through a poem or find out a medicinal use that has not been discovered yet. And you are on your way to creating meanings. Rituals and procedures are for people who do not know where they are going. It’s a walking stick for the blind man. Don’t be blind. See new patterns and perspectives in everything that you come across. Visualize endless possibilities, because this universe is infinite. Matter above temperature of absolute zero radiates energy. Look around you. Most of the objects are emitting waves that are yet to be discovered in their entirety. Our senses are limited. You have technology that can extend your limitations. Look for the elusive Higgs-Boson particle in all that you come across. Around you a symphony is playing. It has its own rhythm and inflections. Get in touch with this eternal music and align your life to it. Everything in nature is positive. There are no negative numbers. For example, you can say that you see two apples. But have you heard of a phrase ‘minus two apples’? It doesn’t exist in nature. We have created negative numbers because we are trapped in the illusion of duality. Extract the best from what you are exposed to, but in tune with the celestial music. Attempting to stray from the way of nature is futile. Align yourself with it, enjoy its opulence, and more importantly, contemplate its nature. Then there is just one thing to do – keep working, established in this knowledge.” “More on the future, Ray,” requested Ravi. “If we take the average life of a man as 70 years, which translates to roughly 2 Giga Seconds, and if we are able to narrow down on what a person feels per second to let’s say 1MB of information, assuming a sampling of only the most essential information, this would translate to a size of 2.5 Peta Bytes of experience. How much is this? Well, it’s 2.5 multiplied by 10 to the power of 15. A huge number. Storage networks in the future would hold our entire story in some citadel run by a federation. Such classified information would be available for data-mining applications used primarily by scientists, doctors and law enforcement agencies. Beyond digital signatures and credit card numbers, our entire identity would be salvaged to create clones and hyper-clones. Sounds like Star Trek, doesn’t it? Progress in technology is moving at a vivacious pace. Soon, we will come across physical limitations of Moore’s Law with the existing fabrication process. The entire process will reach near-perfection. But there will always be that little bit that we are unaware of, floating around and messing up the works. Let me call this Satan. Satan, as the folklore goes, has definitely been created by the same principle that has created you and me. In this universe, where there are constants like PI and ‘c’, which give us a basis or a yardstick to measure and keep building stronger mathematical constructs, there is one elusive particle who stalks us like a shadow of doubt. This particle or entity, for the lack of a better word, is the random number. But what is the purpose? Well, if all the laws where absolute, the universe would be so predictable. And boring, I presume. All the upright principles we have are tainted by this guy. The moon has craters, the sun has sunspots and the mind has fear. For instance, you are speaking on the phone and for no 62
  • 60. apparent reason the phone stops working. We encounter the phenomenon in software. We compile for the first time, the program runs. For the second time, without having made any changes, the program gives an error. Well, it is these unexplainable moments that are going to give us company in the future, however advanced we would become. Carbon nanotubes, space odysseys, decoding DNA information or no matter whatever we discover, we still will be haunted by that sliver of uncertainty at significant moments. But I guess that’s what will make the process challenging. You know there is still some work left because your theory does not solve the problem cent per cent. And it will be a difficult task getting control over this phenomenon precisely.” “So, how do we minimize the unsure nature of things?” asked Deb. “The answer lies in the quanta of work that we are involved in at any point of time. I don’t know whether you listen to music, but these are my observations. There are seven notes which form the foundation of any composition. Combinations of these give rise to chords or more complex vibrations from an instrument. An instrument by itself is like a religion or faith. There are various instruments played in different ways, but all lead to the same ultimate goal – bliss. Maybe the moments do not last long enough, because you have to get back to the real world. But somewhere deep inside, the feeling is recorded, whether it is pleasure or pain. And what is pain, if not a lesson. Like they say in the gym, ‘no pain, no gain’. Or like Dryden said, ‘rich the treasure, sweet the pleasure; sweet is pleasure, after pain’. Don’t think that I’m a masochist or a sadist. I love the notes coming out of a violin, or for that matter, I love the symphony, too. The message is simple – it’s the intensity of the experience. The deeper, the better, and the lesser the likelihood of uncertainty creeping into the equation. But the way we are all wired, we have preferences for the form, instrument or the musician. Deep inside, we are all propelling towards the same goal – salvation, reunion with our self. Did you ever wonder why there are seven notes in music? I know that light also consists of seven colors. And in numerology, people whose birth number adds up to seven are an elite class, they have better chances of attaining nirvana. Stephen Covey in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Deepak Chopra in Seven Spiritual Laws of Success have hit at the right spot, knowingly or unknowingly. These are not just coincidences but pointers to patterns of nature. And the more we become aware of these intricacies and twists of fate, the greater will be our ability to deal with vagueness. Because we would’ve grown by accepting the three words that people seem to abhor – ‘I don’t know’. You know, there used to be a lake near my house. There were different kinds of boats available. And people from various places used to come over just to have a good time. It was splendid to see them row with different instruments. Some used the paddles and those in a hurry used the motor boat. Some came with family, some with friends, a Romeo with his Juliet or a loner. It was just great to see them all together in this river of life. Everyone with his own tools – that he is born with – and perceptions – that he has acquired. The final destination is approaching fast. And now we have to get off the boat and get back into the grind. Welcome it. Embrace it. Learn from it. “But as we move along, we are unsure of what software will do. Besides the sales talk, how do I make sure that the software I bought meets my requirement? How do I know if a 62
  • 61. command given by me is fully accepted and executed without the software interfering with its own built-in intelligence?” asked Deb. “Isn’t the computer like a faithful servant, always doing whatever we tell it to do? Can we say that it reveres us? Pardon me for this hyperbole, but tell you what, wait for another five years and you will definitely have a factor called ‘R’, which will indicate the amount of submission that a computer complies to. I mean software, to be more precise. Let’s see how this will work. “This unit, the hypothetical, soon-to-be-real factor will work on the instructions that we feed into the software. Say, we are building a relational database engine. This engine will consist of a parser/optimizer, which will read the SQL (structured programming language) statements and break it up into smaller units of an execution plan. Now, the user a.k.a. programmer writes an SQL statement that creates execution plan 1. Is there a one-to-one correspondence between the program and the execution plan? Sometimes, it may be. But if the optimizer finds that another execution is the preferred plan that we have set earlier, like say we are looking at fast code, it will generate plan 2. This seems OK because we had set our fast preference. “Now imagine that we did not give any preference, we used default like cost, and the execution plan is not matching with the source. To give you an example, say the user wrote a sub-query. As per our engine, we translate sub-queries into joins. (One good thing about these features is that even ‘rookie’ code gets translated to a workable solution). The execution plan automatically changes. We can tell the engine to use another preference forcibly, but sometimes it’s better to leave it as it is. “As a software becomes more and more layered, we distance ourselves from the core. Now, every software that comes out will have to indicate how much ‘reverence’ we can expect from it. A higher figure would indicate more loyalty and a lower figure would indicate that the machine is calling the shots. This ‘R’ factor would be printed on the shrink-wrapped or downloadable version of the software, so you know what you can expect out of that well-thought buy of yesterday. “You may be thinking that the ‘R’ factor would be less prevalent in ‘AI’ kind of software. In fact, it may just be the opposite. An ‘AI’ engine will automatically adjust to the reverence that you are seeking, so much so that you will feel the comfort, a placebo at least. But mind you, the intervention of ‘AI’ algorithm is strictly a Meta ‘R’ factor, because it is simulated. This Meta ‘R’ factor would indicate the extent to which an AI engine would go to achieve compliance with our needs. “Like we have TPC benchmarks, the above said factors would be rated along with, if I may add one more factor, say safety or the ‘S’ factor. This would be a measure of how vulnerable it is to external sabotage. A question in your mind may be, ‘this is a part of OS’, to which I answer, the OS is just another piece of software which will have its own ratings. Applications, databases, utilities or whatever you have are also vulnerable. For example, take Windows XP. Its ‘R’ factor may be 92 per cent, the Meta ‘R’ factor would be two per cent and ‘S’ factor would be 14 per cent. Remember, these are just assumed figures. But these numbers would give us a good idea about what we are stepping into unknowingly. The concept of HAL, the mission computer in 2001 A Space Odyssey, would be better understood if we had these factors before launching it and the crew into a no-man’s territory (space, at least for now). We don’t trust computers that pop up a list of those who developed the software on the press of a combinatory key (Easter Eggs) or 62
  • 62. come packaged with certain instructions that make the unknown user’s experience a trip to remember. “I as a user would like to have 100 per cent of the software that I bought. Maybe I don’t need the source code if I’m a non-technical end user. But then, I guess the prices also have to come down because I’ve not opted for this. Yes, you are right, SOA is my bet. The afore-mentioned factors also give me a double assurance that this software is the best bang for the buck. Remember, customer is king, and as I have read in the history lessons in school, we bow down before a king, in reverence.” “Ray, what is your opinion about today’s music?” asked a curious Ravi. “Well, Ravi, the yesteryears were more meaningful. Music is divine. There are two components in any music title – the lyrics and the music itself. Today’s music is more inclined towards the tune, and by that I mean the music itself. The melody part is fading away. And so is the harmony. A song, I mean the lyrics, is easier to comprehend than its tune. Take, for instance, the Beatles or the Beegies. The lyrics were predominant over the tune. Lyrics have a very powerful effect on us, as we understand it better than music. We relate to words better than some abstract concept like a tune. In the older genres, the stress was on capturing the fan’s heart using powerful words. The music used was primarily some notes strung together to form a melody. Chords were not very prevalent. Old Pop and romantic songs gave birth to Rock, primarily identified by the guitar component. With passing time, musicians started using extensions of the acoustic guitar like the bass guitar. Rock superseded other genres because it combined the best of both worlds. But if you ask me, the lyrics were losing their power. Heavy metal was a powerful expression of rock. Bands like Metallica have combined the power of music with some meaningful lyrical numbers to give a halo effect to the listeners. Led Zepellin, Pink Floyd and many others have contributed a lot. The music scene has exploded. Today, there are so many different varieties like Hip-Hop, Reggae, Blues and Trance. Jazz (Louis Armstrong), which used to touch our souls, is slowly fading away. Country music has not lost its identity, although it is getting diluted. The new mantra is fusion. In the East, the emphasis is still more on the song than the music. But music has a much wider bandwidth than simple lyrics. As a result, the music revolution is now hovering over the East also. The only difference is that the music there is softer than their Western counterparts. Use of the guitar is not as much as the violin or the sitar. But the western influence is soon catching up. Indian or Arabic music has rap versions, which is in line with the Western themes. The new generation identifies more with the instruments than the words of the song. It’s both good and bad. The good part is that music is god-given and lyrics are created by humans. To identify oneself with the music is one step further than decoding a song. The bad part is that most of us do not have a finer understanding of music, and hence get aroused or angry when listening to some numbers without delving into the depth. A formal training is required to appreciate music better. One other bad aspect is the de- emphasis on lyrics. Both have a place. And a combination wisely used can titillate the audience better. All said and done, we are standing in an ocean of bliss. And it is no lesser a person than Shakespeare who said, ‘if music be the food of love, play on’. Send in the troops.” “What about all those lawsuits flying around?” 62
  • 63. “Well, the answer lies in the basics. You agree that music is a god-given gift? If you believe in this, I don’t see any reason why the music-lover has to pay the record company, the agents and other middlemen. He has to pay the singer and the band, either a fixed advance and/or royalties. The good news is that the ground is getting leveled by technology. When Napster was launched, the world for the first time saw a powerful trend of digital music up for the grabs. They got sued by record companies and artists, but nevertheless the fad lasted for some time. Paid music is definitely healthier than swapping a file from your Gnutella Network using Limewire or BearShare. All the CDs and cassettes are on their way to doomsday, just as analogue TV is. Music in the future would be completely digital – more crisp, flexible and without moving parts. An iPod or a Zune is a common accessory that many people have. The world will see the emergence of multifunctional devices (MFD) where a phone, a radio and a personal information manager (PIM) would be combined into one single device. The computer is no longer your desktop or laptop, it is in every device that you use. As far as the lawsuits are concerned, the number of infringements will grow further, till music also one day becomes like future software – free, only pay for the hardware.” “Ray, what kind of companies are good to work for in the software industry and what do they look for in a candidate?” asked Ravi. “Well, Ravi, the yardsticks for measuring a company’s worth keeps changing. It depends a lot on your personality and taste, to start with. For an ace programmer like you, a company that unleashes your creative skills and puts it to good use would be more suitable than a company that is still figuring out how effectively to harness the people skills. Normally, most of the companies evaluate you on three criteria – attitude, communication skills and technical prowess. You may be a technical sharp-shooter but if you are a whiner or keep to yourself, some companies may give you negative marks. Just having deep computer skills does not appeal anymore, especially if you work as a consultant. Remember what Ramakrishna told Swami Vivekananda – just looking for your emancipation is easy, but you have to share that knowledge with the world in order for others to benefit from it. In the same way, you may know the latest in computing but unless you share it with others, the world is not going to notice you. I know a lot of people who have had to pack their bags just because their attitude was not right or their communication skills were not up to the mark. Big companies typically lay stress on the personality aspect and then move on to the modus operandi. The skills for which you are being hired are simply a measure of your knowledge. They do not speak about the applicability. For example, you may be a programmer who churns out 100 lines of code in a day, but it is of no use if you are writing code infested with bugs. Your knowledge may be top class, but your productivity takes a hit. I guess most of the companies cannot find this out on the interview day. So, they go by your knowledge. A written test, a group discussion or an interview cannot unearth all aspects of your personality. But your disposition shows. Education is one aspect, but the greater aspect is your experience. Bill Gates is a drop-out, but look where he has reached. You may say that he is an exception to the rule. True, but nowadays there are many exceptions like these. I have seen commerce graduates who program the computer like they were PhDs. Do you know what separates them out from the average Joe? In one word, it’s passion. This is a part of your 62
  • 64. attitude. You won’t get far without it. There are two kinds of people in this world – those who get up in the morning and say ‘one more day at work’, and others who say ‘what a great day ahead’. If you are in a profession that you are not interested in, nobody in this world will be able to help you. Choose something that you like and then go right after it. Enjoy the ride. Because, as you will see, there is no end to this sojourn called life. After you choose your company, stick with it for some time at least. You may not be put on the best project on Day One. Hence, you have to persevere. Remember the saying, ‘if life gives you a lemon, make a lemonade out of it’. Make the best out of what you are handed on your plate, and enjoy doing it. That’s the key. It doesn’t matter what company you work for as long as you enjoy your work.” “But what if I join a company and find that it does not appeal to me as much as it did when I joined it six months ago?” “The best thing to do in such a case would be to re-evaluate your position. Why has the illusion worn off? You need to ask yourself this question. If you feel that you would be better off in another project, ask for a change. If you are asked to wait, then do so. If still things don’t work out, talk to your boss and then to the HR department. Let them know the way you feel. If things are still the same, then start looking out. But if you ask me, you should stay with an organization for at least a year. Else you lose credibility. Agreed that attrition in the software industry is quite high, but still people prefer a stable horse. Here’s my simple and straightforward advice to you – be like water or the number 1. Water when mixed with any other solvent takes up the color of the solvent and in the same way, anything multiplied with 1 is the number itself. You have to be like this. Any place you join, you have to embrace the whole culture and make modifications to yourself without complaining. You may not like a thing or two, but embrace it still. Don’t try to be like the number zero. Anything multiplied by zero is zero. You cannot ask the company to change to your liking, you have to mould yourself to the company’s culture. Still if you feel you can’t, it’s time to move on.” Deb was sitting silently and came forward to ask a question that had been roaming the upper echelons of her mind. She asked diffidently, “Ray, so what is the ultimate secret of happiness?” Ray replied, “Deb, happiness is a state of mind. When you feel good about yourself, you feel happy. According to me, whatever actions we undertake throughout our waking hours dictates the kind of people we become. Basically, a happy person is one who keeps his promises. There are three kinds of promises you make – to yourself, to others and to god. If you live up to your words, then it certainly makes you feel good. You may be a top- notch project manager but if you live a scattered life without any principles, you are bound to be unhappy. By principles, I mean things on which you are willing to bet your life. If you haven’t found some things for which you are ready to sacrifice your life, it’s high time you did. Once your belief is in the right place, you need to start living up to the promises that you make every day. Every day in the morning, you need to make some promises to yourself, to start with. It may be as simple as ‘wake up by 5am tomorrow’, ‘call mother today before noon’, ‘smoke only two cigarettes today’ and so on. At the end of the day, you have to take stock. How many of the promises did you accomplish? 62
  • 65. Initially, you may not score 100 on 100 but then give it some time, till your score is 100 per cent. The second kind of promise, which you make to others, is especially important to build your image. When you say to someone that the report will be ready by 2pm, it has to be on the person’s table at least by 1.55pm. That speaks about you. People like to bind with people who honor their words. The third type of promise is strictly confidential, the one between you and god. It’s left entirely up to you. As you find yourself making promises and keeping them, you feel more confident and in turn you become happy. The other thing about happiness is always being positive. Remember, there is nothing negative in nature that god has made. Stay away from depressive thoughts, arguments and anger. Have a positive outlook towards life. And soon you’ll find that you have become a happy individual.” Ravi asked, “Ray, do you really think people here are happier than people back home?” “Happiness is location-independent. Here in the East, the culture factor is very strong. But the influence of the West is evident in their lifestyle. People in the urban metropolis seem to lean more towards Western culture, but the villages are yet to come out of their shells. In the West, you find more of knowledge; in the East it is wisdom. And wisdom is definitely above knowledge. Knowledge is action on information that you have. Strictly speaking, the flow is: data – information – knowledge – intelligence – wisdom – false ego – soul. “Data is raw; information is connections within the data; knowledge enables you to act on the information; intelligence is detecting patterns in knowledge; wisdom is discriminating between good and bad; false ego is control over the situation and soul is the master of all. Despite having wisdom, people go wrong, because they are ruled by false ego. But one who has a healthy ego (self-esteem), who is situated in wisdom, the world will make a way for him. Wisdom is not something that you learn in a school. It comes from your experience. The wisdom of the East is found in its scriptures, a long tradition that has been handed down from generation to generation since times immemorial. But if you think that all people here are wise, then you are wrong. Some are there, obscured by circumstances but still living a full life devoid of fame and riches. You need to seek them out. Submit to them and they will show you the way. And the best part is that most of them will do it free for you. Wisdom is the highest goal, next to soul realization. If you have not cultivated this factor, you’ll be leading a meaningless life. Remember the two Ps – principles and promises. Once you are in charge of these two, wisdom will automatically dawn upon you. And trust me, you will be the richest person in the world, because if there is one thing in life worth achieving, it is this wisdom. And that is my opinion.” 62
  • 66. Day 8 The final day had arrived. Everyone woke up early in the morning and started packing their bags. They had a flight to catch at 2pm. After meditating for a while, Ray came to the main room where all three were present. “Care for a cup of tea or coffee?” asked Ray. Everyone nodded. Ray brewed a bowl of coffee in five minutes. He handed it to them and said, “I have not added sugar, please help yourselves.” Deb was the first to speak. “Ray, I have been meaning to ask you this since the first day. What is the meaning of these three horizontal sticks and one vertical stick lying here?” A beguiled Ray replied, “The three sticks denote the three of you and the vertical stick denotes me. In your case, the sticks have been placed horizontally because you are still bound to worldly ways; mine is vertical because my existence is more spiritual in nature. The cross of Jesus also denotes the same.” Ravi was exasperated. “That means you knew that we were coming and you also knew that there were three of us?” “Yes!” exclaimed Ray. “How could you?” protested Ravi. “Premonition, my dear friend, premonition! Once you set yourself up on the spiritual path, you will be surprised at the kind of revelations you come across. Day by day, your power increases as you discover new things. We are all growing every day but we forget the lessons fast. Here in this peaceful setup, I have unearthed quite a bit of the sleeping power that lies within us, untapped, ready to be unleashed. As days go by, I have become stronger. I’m both surprised and shocked by discovering what lies beyond the senses – 67the power to be your best, in its fullest sense.” “Still, when I look at the great ocean or the skies, it humbles me. There is so much to do in so little time. Then I learnt the lesson. Life is a journey, not a destination. Even if you achieve nirvana or samadhi, there’s a lot left to do. You need to divulge this secret to the world, so that other people may also reap the fruits of your effort. Loving god and loving others, although both are the same, is the magic formula. How do you go about doing it? Well, you have to start small. Love is when you consider the other person more important than yourself. This is the simplest definition of love if you ask me. Once you start cultivating this, you’ll realize that the world around you changes. You are no longer a selfish person.” Stan interrupted, “So Ray, why don’t you come back and share your experience with the world?” Ray humbly said, “Stan, I’m still far away from being a complete man. The day I become one, you’ll hear from me. In these eight years of solace, I’ve managed to discover some of the aspects of His divine splendor and come to a realization that everything in this world has been created for us and He still keeps on creating. His maya or illusion is just the inferior energy that we are all bewildered by. Beyond this lies the golden gate or the spiritual realm. Very easy to say so, but I have had transcendental experiences. This just cannot be described in words. You have to experience it yourself. And let me tell you this 62
  • 67. once again. True knowledge is knowledge about god. And above knowledge is prayer, when you are in communion with Him. Please pray, dance, sing, cry, everything in His name. Dedicate everything to Him and your life will be guided by the spirit of love. And once you start realizing that worshipping Him is same as worshipping others, you would’ve found the true meaning of love. Forget yourself, drop your ego and then celebrate life. “All knowledge can be shared. But your experience is subjective. Hence all the wisdom, if I may use that word, won’t help you much if you have not experienced Him in His divine stature. If you yourself are full of doubts, how will you answer the queries of your children? Hence get that clarity and pass it on. You will discover that clarity comes when you are at peace with yourself. So don’t push it. It will come to you. Be open to receive it when it comes. Learn that every moment, precious as it is, is to be enjoyed. To be lived fully. Don’t look back and don’t look ahead. Just enjoy this very moment. Too much of analysis takes the gist of life away from you. Hence, let the computers analyze and provide you with the intelligence that you are looking for. Wisdom, some years from now, will also be forthcoming from technology. But the spirit is yours, the experience is yours, the thrill is yours to keep. Look out for emancipation. That should be topmost on your agenda. A life realized is a life well lived. An experience shared is a good experience. A smile planted on somebody else’s face is a real smile. The day you start seeing yourself in others or vice versa, you are on your way to becoming more mature. And what is maturity, if not wading further on the path towards god.” Ray brought out some vessels containing some round porridge-like things. He announced, “Breakfast time, friends!” “What are these round things?” asked a curious Ravi. “These are Idlis. You’ve got to taste it. They are a staple food of people who live here.” Deb and Stan liked it, but Ravi thought something was missing. They all drank their last fill of pure mountain water. All of them thanked Ray for having spent so much time with them. They hugged Ray and asked, “Is there anything you would like us to carry back with us?” Ray said, “Yes, only one thing, my blessings for all.” Ray walked with them through the woods till they came to the Silent Hill. They hugged him again and said, “Thanks so much. Thanks for everything.” Ray nodded and took seven steps towards the mountain and disappeared into the cloud of trees and the open blue sky. They realized that Ray was on his way, and for them, the Quest had just begun. About the Author 62
  • 68. Rajesh Menon is a Consultant, Trainer and Writer. He has worked in Consulting for 18 years with companies like Netscape, TCS and many others. He started his career as a software programmer and rose up to becoming Head of Technology before he quit, after having found that his love lies in something else. He started corporate training and for the last two years has trained many companies (mainly Computer companies) on subjects ranging from architecture, design, coding and testing. He is also an expert on Databases and Internet Technologies. He delves deeply into spirituality, poetry, music, science and management. Having written a lot of articles in this tenure, he keeps writing today whenever he gets time. His first love is technology and he has been the co-author of a book on ‘C’ language. Today he mainly writes on fusion, as he believes that we are all living in an intricate web of associative meanings yet to be discovered. Website : www.guru-30.com E-mail : rajesh30menon@gmail.com 62