Friday, December 19
Sunday, November 16
Five of our books are being launched today in Bangalore Book Festival. I am very excited and a little nervous too :-). Please come to the launch and show your support. We promise it will be interesting. Here is a Press Release with some more information - Print-on-Demand titles come to Bangalore Book Festival . You can see the titles being launched on Pothi.com .
Venue: Gayatri Vihar, Palace Grounds,
Near Mekhri Circle, Bangalore
Monday, November 10
The Bangalore Book Festival is back. It is happening at Palace Gorunds from 14th - 23rd November. There are going to be over 275 stalls by various publishers and booksellers. I am excited about it both as a book lover and also as somebody who now has business interest in publishing and printing. Check out the details about the festival here : Bangalore Book Festical 2008
I visited the 2004 festival and was mightly pleased with the tons and tons of books all around. That was also the start of my professional life and for the first time I had lots of disposable money on my hands. As a result, I returned back home with around 15 books in my hands, some of them still unread 4 years later :-). But the excitment of buying books is always worth it.
Do leave a comment if you plan to go to the festival. What are your expectations? Looking for some rare books? Hoping to discover some new and exciting publishers?
Monday, November 3
You know what I think about whenever I hear the name Guy Kawasaki? Motorcycles. It's true. It's the first thing I think about when I hear his name, even though I???ve been told again and again that Guy actually has nothing to do with motorcycles. So then I try not to think about motorcycles, but come on, the dude's name is Kawasaki. What else are you going to think about? And don't say Vietnam because that is not cool, people. Not cool at all. Guy was just a friggin kid when all that shit was going down. Anyway, since Guy is not a motorcycle designer, and also no longer a member of the Viet Cong, I try to think about something else, and usually what I think about is the fact that he worked for me at Apple back in the Eighties. To be honest he didn't make much of an impression on me back in those days, and I didn't really remember anything about him, but I asked HR to pull his records and apparently the only notes we have on him are that he had a habit of cutting the line in the cafeteria and that a lot of people did not like him.
Anyway, Guy worked here for about fifteen minutes but he's been dining out on that for the past twenty years, and whatever, more power to him. His big claim to fame was that he created this notion of technology evangelism and he created this huge community of weirdo Apple fanboys who would camp out overnight to get our products and who would attack anyone who dared to criticize Apple. To this day these freako Apple kooks still worship me like a god and never let me have a moment of peace or privacy. They steal license plates from my car. Some even show up outside my house hoping to catch a glimpse of me as I drive through the gate. Basically, they???ve made my life a living hell.
So, um, thanks, Guy Kawasaki. Thanks a friggin million for that. Great job. I mean it. You dick.
So what is Guy's new book about? To be honest, I have no idea. I didn't read it. I didn't even pretend to read it. I told Guy, ???Dude, look, I don't read books, okay? Books are a technology of the last century. If you want to make your book into a movie, or a podcast, and if you want to download that video or audio content onto a totally sweet iPod or iPhone, then maybe you will have created some modern content that I will consume, although, to be honest, probably not even then because I don't need to hear your frigtarded ideas about startups or marketing or raising money or whatever because I am already the greatest businessperson in the entire history of the planet and I???ve forgotten more about marketing than you???ll ever know. Besides that I???m super, super busy and important, and I???ve got so much money that I could wipe my ass with hundred dollar bills every day for the rest of my life and I???d still have more money than almost everyone on the planet, including you, since the last time I checked you haven't exactly been setting the world on fire as a venture capitalist.???
But I digress.
Anyway, Guy is craven enough that he doesn't really care whether I read his book or not. As he put it to me, all he wants is a famous name to put on the cover, and pretty much everyone else turned him down and so he had to resort to calling me, and so fine, I let him beg a little bit and then I made him do some humiliating things like stand on one leg for half an hour and jump up and down and make strange noises, and then I said, Okay, okay, enough already, you total freak, I???ll write you something.
So this is it--my official endorsement. Reality Bites is by far the best book ever written about the Valley. It's an important and necessary work, one that should be required reading in every business school in the country. I wish this book had been around when I was starting Apple in my garage back in 1976. I???m sure I wouldn't have read it, but still it would have been nice if it had been around back then to help out all those other people who wanted to start companies but couldn't figure out some of the more subtle aspects of business, like the fact that you need to charge more money for your products than it costs you to make them. That's a really super important lesson, yet one that so many people overlook, especially here in the Valley. Anyway, if these incredibly super-obvious things aren't already super-obvious to you, then you probably need to read a book like this and have someone like Guy Kawasaki teach you how to start a business, in terms that a child could understand.
And now I???m thinking about motorcycles again. Dammit! Namaste, poorly informed wannabe business people. I honor the place where your imbecilic gaze and my incredibly wise words become one. Much love. Peace out.
Fake Steve Jobs
Taken from Guy's blog post.
Saturday, October 4
Over the years I saw and wondered at the recruitment patterns at I-banks and other top notch financial institution. They took BTechs, MBAs and PhDs, in Mathematics, Computer Science and even Physics. These were some of the best brains around, armed with the best education our society offered. And we hoped we were in secure hands.
Only that the mess we see now tells us we were not. It is one thing to be able to crunch numbers, to be able to understand and beat complex dynamics of markets, to churn profits years after years for your employers. Putting it all in perspective and seeing the big picture is another. When profit is the only marker one gets judged by, soon or later it will stop mattering where it came from. It has happened again and again but alas ! our greed gets better of us every time.
I think, at one level, it all comes back to the familiar question of responsibility of science. Just because something can be done, should it be done? Packaging bad intentions into a intellectually stimulating exercise and putting your best boys on executing it, the fault has to lie with those at the helm. For those who just played along, without worrying about where all this might lead to, here is a exchange between two famous mathematicians/scientists (I fail to recall the names right now) that seems to describe their mental state:
"If I can prove that you would die 10 minutes from now, though that thought will sadden me a little, the joy of being able to prove something like that will outweigh it easily."
And then again, if I am being paid millions to prove that, even better.
Saturday, September 20
Recently, while talking to couple of my friends about the bomb blasts and the subsequent police investigations, they took the following two positions without any sense of irony:
- Police can easily crack these cases, the only thing missing is political will to let them do it. Example was Gujrat police was able to crack the case in few weeks while so many other cases have not been cracked yet in other states.
- In the cases of terrorism, you have to accept circumstantial proof and cannot hope to get good solid evidence.
The question that remains is if the speedy cracking of cases related to acceptance of weak evidence? I totally agree that the political will to crack such cases is missing in general but I see no ground for accepting anything less than rock solid evidence. If we are not able to gather that, we are not cracking the case, we are probably finding scapegoats left behind by the actual master minds.
Tuesday, September 2
I return to blog after so many days and unfortunately it is a bad news. Millions of people in states of Bihar and Assam are reeling under massive floods in Kosi and Brahmaputra rivers. The Kosi floods are much more damaging than previous years because due to the breach in Nepal, the river has taken the course it had left 200 years ago and the areas under flood were actually considered flood safe! While the blame game is on, it is quite clear that the embankment was not repaired and was already beyond its expected life.
But none of that matters right now to around 3 million people in Bihar and 1 million in Assam who have lost their everything in the floods. Many of them are still struck in water logged areas and those who have been evacuated are trying to survive in relief camps setup all over the state. The situation is going to be serious for months to come since breach can only be filled after 2 months when the water level of kosi goes down. Right now the hope lies in the only thing that never fails : human compassion, grit and determination , a will to fight against all odds and help the fellow human beings who are in distress.
So please come out of your comfortable shells and ask how can we contribute. Everyone can in this moment of need, through cash, in kind, in person. And don't stop after you have made your contribution but spread the word, mobilize others, go out and talk about it to all your friends and acquaintances. This will be one forwarded mail, nobody would scoff at.
Information is here : http://biharflood.wordpress.com or send a mail to me, to Jaya, to biharflood At yahoo dot com or to any of the guys listed on the above blog. If none of that works, do a google search and you will find tens more avenues and ways. Not knowing how to help is not an option. Please don't choose it.
That thing I talked about that never fails, that is because everyone of us makes sure that it doesn't !Technorati : Kosi flood, bihar flood relief
Monday, July 21
Organized retail is the industry of moment in India. For past few years, it has been the big thing. Every business group/company in India worth his/her salt has put some eggs in this basket. Now with dwindling growth rates and high inflation rates, the picture is not as rosy as it was a year ago but still most people would bet you money that organized retail is here to stay in India. Presented here are some of my experiences in past few weeks with Indian retail.1. One day in big bazaar, we decide to have a look at sandwich makers. There are few brands on offer with most stock of a brand called Koryo which Future Group is promoting. For comparison, there is one from Usha. The piece is clearly old, its cord already disintegrating. Its only purpose seems to be to give some sense of choice and make Koryo look like a good deal.
2. We walk into Vivek's, an old and prominent electronics retail chain. They seem to have a more balanced collection with Bajaj, Murphy Richards, Philips.. Philips ! wow ! Looks interesting. Sales person senses our inclination and encourages us to buy. There is a small timer like thing on the appliance that looks interesting. On inquiry, we are told that it is the timer but it does not work. The piece is broken and it is the only piece !
3. Again in Vivek's, this time we have decided to buy a Microwave. We are ready to pay but it is getting very delayed. On inquiry, the salesperson sheepishly asks us if we would be alright with the display model since there are no more in stock ! This after hard selling it to us for 10-15 minutes. We leave without it.
5. Couldn't find a FM radio (radio only) in any of the electronics retail chains. Finally small shops and Sony showroom (with only 1 model which looked very retro, salesperson explained that only old people ask for stand alone radios and they like it big :)) ) came to rescue.
My over all experience of going to all these stores in past few days has been of going to a seconds sales ! The stock on shelfs seems old, salesperson not up to the mark and at other times, choice is just an illusion. If this is already the situation, product companies should be very worried about organized retail. I would feel much more comfortable dealing with a company person who actually knows about the product directly rather than go to a retail chain and hear half baked commentary of a sales person. Both of them have an agenda on mind but with the former, I know that before hand !
Friday, June 27
After the marathon journey of 14 hours and a missed flight scare, I am sitting here on Mumbai airport waiting for the final connecting flight to Bangalore but it has still not completely sunk in. That I am finally back ! This single journey has changed so many things ! So many thoughts claiming my attention ! Nostalgia about the lovely friends I have left behind, many of whom I will never see again ! Leaving PhD and returning back with a MS from CMU, something which was a dream come true 2 years ago ! Being back home after 2 years ! For the first time in my life, no security cover in the form of a job or studies! The new personal life that awaits me in months ahead ! New developments, new life or a promise made 2 years ago is getting fulfilled? My tired and jet-lagged brain is not letting me think about any of these right now and the only thing I am able to worry about right now is my luggage, I hope I get to see it and take it through customs today only.
The luggage was found. Custom checks were cleared. And after 1 week in Bangalore, I am now in Lucknow, enjoying mangoes, home made food and tons of talking with my family. From 3rd, the new life starts in earnest. And all the good old things come back, starting with Girish Karnad on 10-11th July in Rangashankara ! :-)
Welcome back abhaga !
Tuesday, May 27
Beyond a CS degree there are some obvious skills you need such as the ability to present to customers and at industry conferences. But more than a specific skill set, you need to develop a base of knowledge. You need to spend time with the sales organization learning how a deal progresses from an email address of a prospect to a closed deal 9 months later. You need to spend time with marketers to understand how hard and expensive it is to generate a quality lead. You need to spend time with quality assurance and support teams to understand the ramifications of ill defined features. You need to spend time with software executives to learn how a software business operates, how contracts are negotiated for example or how a partnership is put together. You need to learn the domain that your product is in and become something very close to a domain expert in it. You need to know your customers, their business, their challenges and their opportunities. You need to know your competitors as well.
More than anything though, you need to develop a comfort level with all of this so that you can say "no" to everyone when need be. You need to be able to tell a sales guy, "no", he can't have that feature to close that deal because you know it will never close anyway. You need to be able to tell an executive, "no" we can't ship it this quarter because it won't sell without a "widget segmenter" feature. You need to be able to tell an engineering manager "no", he can't have an extra 3 weeks to refactor the "widget segmenter" because it's just not going to matter to the customers. You need to be able to tell a marketer, "no" you can't build a product for that market segment, it has to be narrower. You need to be able to tell a customer, "no" he can't have that feature because it's not going to make his business problem go away. Products don't succeed because of "yes". Yes is easy, but not very useful in building an excellent product. It takes a lot of experience to get to "no".
Sunday, May 25
It is said that the publishing industry has remained more or less the same since Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable type printing in 15th century. Of course the printing presses have become increasingly sophisticated with the advance of technology, but the basic model has remained the same. This model can print many copies of a book quickly and cheaply once a certain amount of time has been invested in setting up the type. With the advent of mass market retailing in 20th century, this technology proved to be just the right match : print in bulk, distribute, return the unused, destroy. Books are printed in runs of few thousands and distributed to offline stores which can return back the unused copies later. The minimum number of copies required to make this process work ( to generate a profit for everybody along the chain) primarily determines which books get published and which are not. Self publishing, which would have been a norm before the publishing companies came along is quite unsustainable in this setting since that usually means one man (author) replacing the whole chain of publishing industry (printing, distributing, sales).
Enter the digital printing and suddenly, very short print runs are feasible, down to hundreds from thousands required in offset printing. In fact, there are companies who will happily print 20-25 copies for you. This allows publishers to become a lot more inclusive and a lot more adventurous. However, given that they are still part of the old supply chain and given that profit still needs to be generated for everybody in the chain, very small print runs are still not viable. So although the technology is now in place, business practices of traditional publishing still need to evolve.
But does the self publishing become a viable option with these very small print runs? After all the financial risk is almost negligible now, most authors can afford to pay for 100 copies easily, so a print run offering of 25 should suffice. I would argue that although that would seem to be the case, it is not so. Let me draw an analogy with music industry.
Let us say, you are a independent band who wants to release your songs yourself through the net. Suppose you decide to charge only 1 cent for every song you sell online. This is a very reasonable price tag. Almost free. But would it work like free? No. Because the moment any money is involved, you need an online payment system in place, you need to maintain accounts, your customers have to have a way to pay you (credit card, net banking), you have to build the whole security system in place so that people can not share, steel songs from you for free of cost and n number of other things. The point is : Making something free is a totally different business model that charging 1 cent for it although in terms of money they look almost the same.
Now coming back to publishing, a similar contrast can be seen between true Print on Demand vs a short digital run (20-25 copies). With short digital runs, somebody ( which is the author in most cases) has to maintain inventory, do the distribution, ensure delivery, bear losses on any unsold books, maintain accounts and promote his books. With POD, he only has to promote his books since there do not exist any unsold, pre-manufactured copies of the book. With short digital runs, books can go out of print, for short durations while you get a reprint, for long durations, when you no longer have energy left to fulfill the one off demand that comes once a month. With POD, it always stays in print. Even if it sells no copies for 1 year, it remains as much in stock.
The self-publishing in which author pays the publishing house to print their books, also known as vanity publishing has been around always. It can be offered with as many bells and whistles as one wants, it will remain what it is : a financial burden and hassle for the author. The game changer in this picture is Print on Demand. So if you are considering self-publishing your book, ask for true POD, because even 5 copies a bunch won't cut it.
Disclaimer : I am one of the founders of pothi.com which provides true Print on Demand supported services to self-publishing authors in India.
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Monday, May 12
दो कवितायें। दोनो ही कुछ अधूरी सी पर जिन अहसासों से वो निकलीं थीं वो अब अपनी ताज़गी खो चुके हैं और इसलिये इनके पूरा हो पाने की ज्यादा उम्मीद शेष नही है। अतः जो कुछ भी है, हाज़िर है।
पूरब रवि तत्पर आने को, पश्चिम मे विधु ढल जाने को,
धूमिल पडते जाते तारे, जग से अंधियारा भाग रहा ।
कल रात नयन से निद्रा का एक पल को मिलना हुआ नही,
पलकों मे बन्द रहीं आंखें, मन का दरवाज़ा खुला रहा।
कोई बुला रहा !२)
हर एक दिल मे हमें दर्द बेहिसाब मिला ,
जब भी आंख खुली, चूर चूर ख्वाब मिला ।
सवाल जब भी उठे इश्क़ के, मोहब्बत के,
हर इक निगाह से एक टका सा जवाब मिला ।
गगन मिला, ज़मीं मिली, तुम्हारा साथ मिला ।
Sunday, May 11
I must agree that it is a nice speech. He takes sometime to warm up, to get into the groove but then he is very fluent and impressive. Race is a very tochy issue and I am not familiar with the noraml political commentry on the subject in US. He delicately builds up his argument and sounds pretty convincing.
At one point of time during the speech he said that an easier thing to do would have been to simply denounce Rev. Wright but he is not doing that. I don't quite agree. I don't think that was a path available to him considering his strong black constituency. His strong point is not that he made a choice to walk the right path, he was pretty much forced to do so. The thing I liked was when pushed on the path, he walks it courageously, with confidence and comes out on top, turning what could have been a devastating moment for his campaign into an opportunity. I would like to believe that to be a characteristic of a strong leader although a leader is much better judged on his/her deeds than his/her words.
But despite the fact that I liked what he said, it gives me little hope. The reason is that I really doubt any candidate going to White House would dare to make bold changes to the foriegn policy or to the way the things work here. I love the American dream in its basic form, a dream that allows every individual an opportunity to realize his/her potential and american society has made a lot of progress towards that. However somewhere along the way, a SUV has gotten added to that dream, a culture of abundance, of unchecked consumption. Unfortunately I don't see any leader trying to change those things.
But anyway, good luck Barak Obama ! Your speech had many things that are very relevent to the situation in our own country today ! Hope our politicians can take a leaf out of your book for once.
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Sunday, April 27
The only thing I might want to add is that all this is so much fun and it would be even more so if making all these mistakes wouldn't mean losing money, something which is always in short supply in a startup (yes, even when you have landed VC funding ( which we have not )). But it is okay I guess.
However this makes me ponder about the issue at a more general level, about what kind of policies and attitude from government can really help out those who are entering this new and strange world of CAs, Company Secretaries, Lawyers. I am sure the things have changed a lot in past few years and more and more processes have been streamlined. Incorporating a company can be as fast as 20 days for somebody reasonably familiar with the system and with small support. But still there remain so many small things that can pinch you at the wrong time and so make the whole experience rather intimidating. You always find yourself worrying about some tax or some form that might have skipped you during the process. After incorporating also, there are a whole slew of things that need to be done periodically like filing various kinds of taxes, having board meetings at regular intervals etc. and if you slip on one of them, there would be some penalty for that.
Now consider that for incorporating the company, you pay govt a lot of money (it depends on how much is your authorized capital but for large authorized capital ( the range of VC investments), it easily runs in lakhs). And you pay it as if you are paying a ransom to the govt so that it will allow you to start the business. This is where I think a little change in the attitude from the authorities can make a lot of difference. For a second imagine that instead of acting like the owner of the country, the govt treats you like a customer who has come to purchase the rights for doing business in the country. Wouldn't it be nice if:
1. Somewhere you can find a nice package with a simple English description of the process, a check list of the things you need to do, all the forms or their web-address and all the other information just like a university sends to its potential students.
2. Fantasizing some more, what if when you register a company, you get
a complementary personalized calender which marks all the deadlines you
have to follow? Or may be you can get a reminder of some sort before the deadline?
3. There are rules and then there are penalties for breaking them. But given that there are so many rules and given that somebody is new in the field, wouldn't it be a nice gesture if you can get a first time waiver for missing some tax deadline or forgetting to file some paper on time especially in the absence of 1 and 2?
There can be thousand other things that can be done to improve the overall experience, only thing needed is a attitude change.
However, looking from the other side, I would say this is an excellent opportunity for a startup. And in-fact there are consulting firms that will take care of these things for you for a price (reasonable or not is for you to decide) but our experience till now has been that there is no very serious effort in any of them to improve the user experience. Our consulting company did send us a pack of chocolates but no check list, no calender, no reminders of deadlines. Perhaps making the process too transparent is not in their interests but I will give them the benefit of doubt and say that this all goes back to the way our govt works and that affects how those who deal with govt on your behalf behave.
But the situation and availability of information is increasing. We will do our part in that by putting up the detailed information and pointers online once we are done. So with the hopes of a better tomorrow... :-)
(Disclaimer: None of this is not based on personal experiences i.e. we did not have to pay any fines or such. The experience with consulting firm ,however, is true.)
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Monday, March 31
The workshop had a rather competitive tinge to it with Google, Microsoft, BBN, IBM and other companies being there apart from many universities and everybody trying to win the bragging rights for next one year at least. What was funny however that most of the people doing MT at these places are relatively young and so most of them have worked together and published joint papers in last 4-5 years. I can count at least one joint paper between most pairs of companies. There were many advisor student pairs that are now in different competing companies. It is a nice little well knit community.
One depressing thing from my point of view was that most MT developers didn't seem too enthusiastic about newer methods of MT Evaluation something on which I have been working for part two years. To give a little background, MT Evaluation tries to build automatic metrics that can tell you how good a MT system is by comparing the output of the system with a gold standard translation done by humans. The field was pioneered by IBM and their paper of 2002 remains a de facto standard till date. There have been tons of papers on the topic and many short comings of IBM metric have been shown but nothing has been able to replace it. Primary reason seems to be that there are known techniques to tune the MT systems towards that metric that are easy, stable and fast and no MT developer seems willing to let go of that luxury. NIST is starting a evaluation campaign for MT Evaluation Metrics this year (I know it is getting ridiculous) and hope is to systematically compare existing metrics and develop better ones. The workshop for this year is in Hawaii but by that time I would be back in India. Too bad :(
Let me end by saying that for languages like Arabic, MT systems are actually getting very good and usable. You should definitely give them a try if you have not yet ! Google's online systems should give you a taste of state of the art pretty much.
Sunday, March 23
Thursday, March 20
Saturday, March 15
Ok, so may be that was a little too harsh :-) but doing human evaluations of MT output can do that to you !
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Monday, February 4
पिछले शुक्रवार को तकरीबन १ माह से चल रहे NIST Machine Translation Evaluation का अंत हो गया और बहुत दिनों बाद चैन की सांस मिली। वैसे जो काम चल रहा था वह भी कुछ कम मज़ेदार नही था, काम था एक उर्दू से English मे अनुवाद करने का सिस्टम बनाना। इसी बहाने मैने उर्दू लिपी को थोडा बहुत पडना सीख लिया। इस पर आगे काम होगा कि नही यह तो नही पता पर अभी के नतीजों का बेसब्री से इंतज़ार है।
इतने दिन बाद मिले अवकाश का फ़ायदा उठाते हुये मैने जमा हो गये ई-मेल और ब्लाग पड डाले। उसी मे से एक ब्लाग से पी. साईनाथ का मैगासेसे अवार्ड मिलने के अवसर पर दिया गया व्क्तव्य पडने को मिला जिसने पूरे दिल-ओ-दिमाग को हिला दिया। किसानों की आत्महत्याओं के बारे मे पहले भी पडा था और तब भी बुरा लगा था पर उस वक्तव्य को पडने के बाद एक ऐसी बेचैनी का अनुभव होता है कि फ़ौरन ही इसके बारे मे कुछ किया जाये। मुझे पता नही मैं कब और क्या कर पाऊंगा पर अब मन मे ये बात अटक तो गयी है एक लम्बे समय के लिये । आप लोगों के लिये भी ये रही वो लिंक -
साल की शुरुआत अच्छी हुई है। आगे देखते हैं कि क्या होता है ।
Sunday, January 13
I just got in the line for their limited preview of next version, I am hoping for something good enough and soon enough. Btw, any recommendations for online bookmark managment services?
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Wednesday, January 2
And now that all the love is done with, here is contempt. I had the misfortune of having to run IE7 because I was trying to test some website. I am amazed by the kind of effort they have put in to make it absolutely unusable. A lot of thinking must have gone into it. They have decided that script generated drop down boxes are bad for everybody. Doesn't matter even if you are a fucking I-write-browsers-over-weekend-who-knows-his-pop-ups kind. If IE has decided something is bad for you, you cannot have it. I have tried every recipe I could find on Google to turn off the annoying pop-up blocker and I am still waiting to see that drop-down menu.
Utterly butterly frustrating !