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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Understanding Steve Jobs

Much has been said about Steve Jobs, his artistic vision, his furious temper and his famous narcissistic attitude. While these things are hotly debated by critics, fanboys and media alike, the fact remains that Steve Jobs was undoubtly was one of the most influencing pioneering forces in modern computing of PC and most importantly, the post PC era. Here is my attempt to unravel the myth and hype surrounding Steve Jobs and understand the person who largely remains a source of mystery & wonder to everyone.

The Master Illusionist
Steve was a born "salesman", a master manipulator who captivated his audience by his charismatic "personality" alone. His genius laid in the fact that he was a very good observer as well as an outstanding "persuader". His control over his body language during product launches is well controlled and mesmerizing.

On the launch of MacBook Air, I specifically remember him saying "Some people will say why this notebook doesn't have a CD drive. Well, you know, I don't need it while I'm travelling". To settle the doubts raised about his health, he presented the last slide on iPad launch , with bold letters "110/70", an indicator of normal blood pressure and said "I think it will be enough to settle your nerves, No more questions on that, please." with a smile.

His celebrated quotes like "It's not the customer job to know what his needs are.” reflect a strong confidence as well as powerful marketing pitch. What is interesting to know is that these statements are not rehearsed, but coming out naturally. Let's take a closer look at it.

Steve "explores" the needs of customer by careful observation. iPod was born as said by Jobs "not by market research". What Jobs is not telling us is that he himself did the "market research" after the idea struck him when he saw a man struggling with portable mp3 player "having way too many buttons". After he saw the same reaction from many other users, he came up with the idea of iPod. A portable music player with a "tight simple design" of hollow ring interface with huge capacity. No more controls were added. The design won his entry back as Apple CEO and simultaneously making headlines as "most loved product".

Hence, instead of "asking" the customer, Steve "personally observes" the need of the customer, "personally researches" the same reaction from other customers and then accordingly delivers the product. That is the secret why he had the "WOW!!" factor each time.

iPod also marked the makeover at Apple from PC Company to hot selling consumer Electronics Company. Steve now pulled out his marketing "masterstroke" buoyed by success of iPod. He attached the abbreviation "i" with every successive device rollout, iPhone, iTouch, iPad, iPad2 etc. The abbreviation "i" creates a strong psychological "individual" feeling to the buyer. Customer feels "attached" to his device, not because it is cool, friendly or fun to work with but it is "his/her own” device which he/she has "earned". This is also partially the reason why the "i-series" devices make such successful "gift" products. It works as a psychological "drug" which instantly grabs the customer attention. America being a highly "individualistic" society, appreciates this "i" concept, and readily incorporates into its social fabric. Little wonder why Americans are so fond of Apple devices. Every 2 out of 3 American now owns an apple product. 

Engineer has to be respected
Steve wasn't an engineer. He was an appreciator of art. But at the same time, he respected the importance of engineer in technology. Because, that is the person who can transform your artistic vision into reality. Almost every manager at some point or the other falls for "money" trap loses focus and immediately resolves to profit recovery mechanisms by aggressive hiring/firing. But that was not the case at Apple. Steve carefully chose his executives, people who were passionate enough to rather work on lower pay than to chicken out and quit immediately during hard times.  Conforming to strict deadlines for product launch ensured that everyone was on focus and delivered his/her personal best at all times.

After everyone did their job on time, Steve wore his famous "salesman" cloak and masterfully executed product launch among much fanfare. He choreographed the stage show so efficiently that every time the customer response was overwhelming. Entire technical staff at Apple gets to cloud nine on launch date. In one single stroke, Steve's furious temper, their overnight toil, all starts makes sense. Entire staff is on the cusp of "self-actualization" on launch day. They all feel well deserved and worth pursuing to start working on next upcoming project with new found energy and enthusiasm.

If you have faith in the passion of technology in engineer, don't view him as any other pay check employee. Keep him focused and energized to bring about the best inside him. The return on this "investment" is invaluable and gets a loyal following as a bonus.

We can consider Steve Woznaik as the finest example in this regard. Even after Woz disbanded from Apple, Jobs made it point to honor Woz's contributions to Apple by giving him lifetime salary. Hence, Woz always remained just a call away for any contribution or suggestion to Jobs regarding any Apple product.

Sadly this is the part that current managers have failed to understand miserably, taking every engineer as a paycheck employee and dismissing him as per the profit return on business. I will personally thank Steve to prove that having faith in the capability of a person and acknowledging it is actually more "profitable" and "less costly" in long run.

Behind the infamous "Steve's temper"
Steve kept bureaucracy out Apple and gave his developers full freedom to explore and brainstorm over the product. But to have the final say, he needed freedom to "impose" his decisions, which directly explains his affinity to stick to CEO's position till very last. But why he did that?? Let’s take closer look.

Steve's execution is like a skilled magician. He is very well informed about the anticipations of his end-users. To be successful each time, he knows he has to deliver a bolder product than the last one. Keeping this in mind, he chooses his core team very carefully. The team works in a close tight choreography in background to keep the show running smoothly.

Like magic art, Steve is the only public face to the general public from Apple. Others remain strictly in shadows, working feverishly to perfection to carry out the background help. These include engineers, designers and testers all rolled into one separate identity.

When finally Steve gets into his "act" during product launch, public will only see and believe what Steve will showcase them. They will only perceive what they see and hear from him. For making his message get through audience most effectively, Steve creates "hell" for his staff. He "dictates" his terms very clearly so that there is no ambiguity in execution. Thus, by remaining as CEO only he can have that level of authority to have everyone on the same boat of Apple. Anyone failing to comply is promptly shown the door and fired,

Magic, in its actual form is extremely private art but at the same time, its execution is almost exclusively public. Bigger the show size, bigger the number of "naive" audience, higher the chances of its success. But, in almost all the cases, a single or slight mistake in the execution of a magic "trick" forfeits "everything". Audience loses its "interest" and demands "instant cash back". Everyone feels cheated and "disillusioned"

This's the fundamental reason behind the famous "Steve's temper" over trivial issues and his almost brutal and non-forgiving attitude towards his employees, coworkers and team. He became so infamous for firing people that it became "terrifying" for everyone to dare mess anything with him.  It however, become useful to him in long run, because that deterrent control was conveyed either through a stern-look-at-your face or reverting to absolute silence in between crucial meeting discussions with key people when he disagreed on a point or so.

Tight synchronization with media
Steve maintained a tight synchronization with media and more importantly he made sure that they were given the highest priority. The craze of Apple products is such that media vans queue up well in advance with a margin of 7-8 hours before launch time to garner most exclusive "first time" updates by parking as close as to Apple campus. That also meant that they had to rigor through overnight waking up and braving through the wee hours of the morning.

Steve designed a separate entrance for media persons which open just about 30-40 mins before the product launch time. It is specially designed to cater the needs of "hapless" tired souls. Morning breakfast, coffee, donuts, soda, mineral water was generously served to recharge their energy levels. That too is efficiently wrapped up by friendly customer service.

The acknowledgement is perhaps best quoted by an anonymous fellow journal
"Other corporations should learn a thing or two from Steve Jobs. Rarely, I have entered any other conference or a product launch which has a dedicated smiling staff which greets me on entrance by saying "Welcome to the campus, sir. Would you like a cup of cappuccino??” simultaneously handing me the cup”.

That's the reason why press and media remain so loyal to Apple. Steve acknowledges their contribution with growth of Apple and leaves no stone unturned to keep them happy and satisfied. In return, press is motivated to go an extra mile to promote Apple and its products.

These very same things are mentioned in "best practices" of marketing and sales. But has any other corporation delivered the same promise every time with same "warmth"? Managers are too busy to view these events through the glasses of "marketing budget" and stick accordingly to it.

The Protective ring of "Fanboys"
During his reign at Apple Inc., Jobs developed a novel concept of Apple "fanboys". This is basically a protective army of "Apple product lovers" which go on an extra mile by shielding any criticism thrown at any of the Apple product. Technically known as Apple "evangelists’", these guys went beyond than just spreading the popularity of Apple product. Jobs actively encouraged more and more of the audience level participation to "repel" any questions about any problems arising with the iProducts. This ensured the brand image of Apple remained untarnished by users and more and more new customers were lured into buying iProducts by word of mouth, public relations, and references.

This strategy is the backbone reason why Apple iProducts continue to do so well in sales. This is the reason why Apple retail stores became so popular shopping places. If even one fanboy is lurking around the store, he acts as a pseudo salesman to convince the new user into buying an iProduct.

The classic narcissistic
Jobs was a classic narcissistic having an ego about "the size of Antarctica".  He treated himself as "the king of the world". Doesn't mince words when questioned about his dictatorship rule in the company. He also makes a point to publicly humiliate the question asking person if "poked around too much". This attitude makes him much disliked by both of his peers and co-workers. Interestingly, he delayed his cancer surgery because he felt that his body would be “violated”. This "superiority" feel over himself ultimately cost his life when delayed surgery allowed the cancer to spread over to neighboring tissues.

He fancied himself as the "purest" innovator ever, thrashing Google's Android a "stolen" idea and openly criticizing Microsoft. Well, if that "purity" is so important to him, then why the "idea" of computer mouse remains largely credited to Apple but not to Xerox, the original inventor. Why his management style of is the text book execution of dictatorship? Why his marketing strategy very closely matches the "best practices" of the sales/marketing scout manual? These ideas and principles’ were existing before, only were shy of being executed properly. “Good artists copy, Great artists steal”. An entrepreneur’s job is to take notice of these findings, develop his business model around it and then execute his product/service to demonstrate the strength of the foundation ideas that fuel its success.

Unfortunately, Steve while riding on the crests of success is unable to digest the fact his contemporaries’ like Microsoft, Google also shared the same wave in his time; maybe by other methods. This just reflects his disregard for healthy competition. Steve was praised soundly by his contemporaries’ after he stepped down as CEO and subsequently after his demise but with the release of his biography he has only loathing parting words for them. That indicates a low character and ungratefulness on his part which leaves a bad taste for everyone. This "control-freak" nature has earned him much criticism in the industry.

While it was perfectly okay for Jobs to be at the helm at his control as "super user" at Apple, the flaw in his personality was that he fancied himself in "super user" mode out of Apple too. . Which means his attitude and snobbish nature doesn't change while speaking to media, press or even to important individuals or general public at large. It might work as publicity factor for him, but actually doesn't leave a good taste for everyone, giving out a distinct impression of an "egomaniac".

Jobs and Apple's success
Apple's success is closely tied around Jobs reign as a CEO of the company. Jobs nurtured the "Apple" culture among his tightly knit team and remained the torch-bearer of every product it rolled out. He brought out the very best from each individual with painstaking finesse.

Unlike the other CEOs, Jobs functions at a very different level from the traditional hierarchical authority. He is just as "another dedicated" employee to Apple as his core team but only bestowed with sweeping "root" privileges for every dept. particularly in area of marketing which he takes the torch-bearer’s position on product launch date. This embosses "Steve Jobs" DNA so tightly into each product that the end-user feels he is receiving the product directly from Steve's hands via any Apple store. That's the secret why users remain so loyal to Apple brand and its line of products.

Another major reason for Apple resides in the fact that in spite of rolling out such "pricey" array of seemingly "Richie Rich tech toys", Jobs never declared Apple as a "luxury" company; rather he promoted Apple as a brand which acknowledged an individual person having a "fine taste of living a good life". And, the end-users did just that, acknowledging the sentiment by eagerly buying Apple products.

We can understand this phenomenon as the "multiplex effect". Technically, your next  door cinema talky and multiplex in the center of the town are screening the same film, but given with 300 bucks in your pocket, will you go to the next-door-talkies or vouch in for the grand experience of multiplex? That's what Steve urges you to go for; to experience "the fine taste of life". No matter how crappy the film is, you will never feel your 300 buck investment was a waste. Even the harshest critic will acknowledge the fact as how good the sound system was, how great was the seating arrangement and how prompt and efficient was the service carried out.

That's what makes Steve Jobs a winner at the end of the day. Even his harshest critics have to acknowledge the fact that he was able to captivate the consumer's attention long enough and "persuade" them sufficiently to recover his ROI in sales revenues which he had invested in product development.

Things to learn from Steve
While there are plenty of things to praise or criticize about Steve, it is important to appreciate the array of lessons that Steve has left to tech industry which need to be brought into focus. The saga of Steve Jobs teaches us the importance of giving importance to "design strategy" as the most crucial one. A "design" or "blueprint" is the foundation of the execution of a very idea that supports the whole product or a service. No matter how much you patch up or extend it after development, the product or service is as strong as its weakest point in design. It is the "script" of the film which about to be made.

Jobs has proven that the best practices of any field (esp. marketing & sales) when properly executed in practice; actually do deliver better results than existing practices & norms. Too often they are shelved and huddled out in sidelines at "last minute preparations’" with only common sense and conventional wisdom to come out for the rescue. This means they remain "good" on paper and sketch boards often.

Jobs has shown by example, that your employee trust is your strongest weapon on any crucial day. You have to choose him by careful observation, nurture him and provide him all the support necessary to help him to rescue the company out of the tight waters. The moment you start treating him in eyes of "money", you are in for a serious trouble; later on if not immediately.

And yes, “small courtesies’ in life do matter a lot. It can win your employee worship, can make you a hero in audiences' eye, but neglecting them every now and then can label you as an "egomaniac".

Concluding Remarks
Steve Jobs will remain as the visionary with an extraordinary sense of aesthetics and design, who bought in the new inputs from the Art and meshed it beautifully with the technical prowess of engineering science. He used the divergence lens of Art to express the beauty of the converging nature of engineering science. We still don't know how many engineers will be paying their gratitude to Steve's soul, who took some of the ingredients of their years of research, conceived an idea in his head and executed the final dish with master chef's finesse

My only regret remains that with the passing of every great magician, an era of magic takes bow along with it. We might never experience the "Steve's" magic for a very long time, but I certainly hope Jobs has provided us with enough "inputs" to keep “us” occupied. It will be interesting to see how Apple fares after losing his charismatic leader.

Perhaps, in his upcoming biography, Steve has left enough hints for a “future Steve" to pursue this dream further for the next generation.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Social Engineering (Indian Scenario)

We all trade passwords, PIN codes, Credit cards numbers. Just a "small" sacrifice for the convenience it causes. Why not tell it all that to a "genuine" looking person so that we had the comfort of portability while being outside?? And then we soon wipe that single incident off. Sounds similar?? Let’s have a closer look.

Picture this; A Big Bazaar cashier innocently takes your ATM card to other processing holder (not present on his booth). He offers you to tell him the pin no. to speed things up for you as "obviously" the queue is long. W/o blinking, you tell him the PIN for the time being and voila ! your checklist is cleared !! Both of you are happy & satisfied. Later you forget that incident. Coming out of the mall you search you pocket and get surprised that the ATM containing wallet is not there. By the time you inform bank to freeze the card withdrawal, things are already over. The "installed" pick-pocketer overhearing your conversation has already swiped out your hard earned money.

Welcome to "Social Engineering". The weakest security link which concerns playing with human psychology to get the confidential details out of him by appearing to be "genuine and concerned".
A broad survey showed that even in developed economies like UK,US, 75% of citizens were willing to share their online web passwords in exchange of a free pen. Consider the consequences for India, where "Most profit with least amount of work" mentality happily buys "social engineering".

How to get maximum output from the Reliance-to-Reliance FREE talk plan??. Talk 24 hours non-stop !! Think again!! My personal experience has it otherwise. Along with my clever friends, we devised an ingenious way to fill our stomachs in our graduation days. We use to befriend a canteen serving boy to have him talk for free through our Reliance phone to his village. He happily agreed to bring in extra Samosa’s or cold-drinks when our crowd was huge and bills ran up high. For price of few items, we used to get almost double the food. Need I say anymore??

Obviously, in world of computing, threats like phishing, spoofing, and malicious morphing are too based on the basic fundamental undertones of Social engineering. Somebody may also use this heavily to defame the reputation or to break confidence of an individual or an organization. Consistent victims of social engineering malice are typically growing up teens or small children who are lured into adopting this technique as a easy bypass to shoulder their responsibilities if not timely checked or disciplined by adults. We may consider the classical case of famous hacker Kevin Mitnick who used social engineering as his surviving tool due to his troubled childhood. After his imprisonment, he came out as a much better person. His book on social engineering continue to be the hallmark of the subject matter to this day.

Voting for your favorite star, sport, celebrity icons coming from unidentified numbers also raise the serious question of privacy intrusion and misguidance. Sometime back, people happily voted for KBC serial SMS which were in fact a private company quietly retrieving the customers’ phone numbers for their marketing and sales publicity. In each SMS, the offer was that the more you spread the same SMS to your friends; relatives etc., more stronger will be your chances of getting a call from KBC (which in reality had no connection whatsoever). A link also contained a flashing offer for one of their advertised products.

It has also became an indispensable technique for industrial espionage as well. For getting sensitive information like passwords through planted "troubled" customer calls through a "genuinely" sounding situation works like a "messiah's" gift to the competitors in cut-throat competitive corporate world.

Hence we see that social engineering not only is a serious threat but also the inherent human weakness for misperception of human mind to guess the true motive of the standing individual. Perhaps, there may be no perfect solution to that; but yes, as always experience, awareness and education are the strongest elements that aid strength to this weakest security link to great extent.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The "Cut, Copy Paste" (CCP) phenomenon

"Cut, Copy, Paste”, perhaps the most musical jingle ever invented for CS/IT branch in particular. Add a dash of typical Indian mindset; you will have a most "made for each other" inseparable combo ever known in world. Still in doubt?? Maybe we can take a closer look.........

The original need for it

The basic requirement for CCP was to overcome the various tedious clerical jobs which required a set language pattern particularly in bureaucratic atmosphere and the application forwarding areas. It was done to make the work less tedious on the person sitting on electronic terminal and reduce the human-prone mistakes done due to repetitive task. Increased productivity was the main target that time. Gradually with the growth of computers in education, technical and mass communication areas, the idea spread as an easy bypass of intellectual labour to the human mindset. People started claiming credit for other person's intellectual effort for reaping gains with least effort. Internet also added more fuel to its widespread abuse with its easy accessibility platform.

The Indian Scenario

Indians have quickly absorbed the CCP phenomenon thanks to our education system and the basic mindset "Most profit with least amount of effort". Even back in the days of "manual xerox" we have a track record of taking references from school's library jotting down dutifully all the details about the material given in reports and assignments. Some even didn't bother to pay author's credit in "Bibliography" section. Some even didn't bother to do that!! Just with the plain copying "word by word" with the "trusty" friend's notebook did the fine job.

Maybe our education system has been culprit. People just don't get motivated because of the lack of interest shown by teachers or lecturers themselves. In most of the cases, the report file is thrown carelessly in archive section and after a short viva; marks are allotted based on candidate’s performance. Here also, in majority of cases, street smart "confident" looking but with no project contribution guy usually gets away with good marks. While the shy introvert but academically sound guy is left with moderate or average marks as he couldn't speak much in group viva where the "smart" guy dominated. Little wonder then why CCP effect is so common in India. It's seen as a "messiah's" gift for average student who is smart enough to get the limelight focused on him (for earning short time fame).

The monetary effect

It's a popular phenomenon to see that CS/IT projects (priced according to content and quality) are freely available online or in small firms where the programmer sells his/her software or project just to initiate and earn money while gathering publicity through the "Word of Mouth" as a bonus. It also gives him to expand his parallel business in the process. As the saying goes, if there is a practicing doctor available in town, there is no shortage of patients. This is also one of the multiplier effects of CCP.

Living with the CCP phenomenon

Although there is much said and criticized about CCP, we can't just ignore its obvious advantages. To know more about a technology or an upcoming issue, we need to read the similar articles, newspaper clippings, commentaries by the pioneers of the said field and their expert views. We need to do intellectual labour a lot before arriving at a specific conclusion. Hence, the required research material needs to be present before us to draft our opinion about the matter with few unique observations (if made) during the process. CCP's importance can't be ruled out here. It would be nice to give due credit to the author work references in the article.

Online article forwarding too many addresses, invitation forwarding, orkut jokes forwarding, New Year greetings, festival greetings are few areas where CCP has also become a necessity. Moreover, sharing resources, files over the LAN and copying also constitute a major chunk of this phenomenon. Requesting everyone to update their phonebooks due to your changed number is also innovatively applied CCP over chat lines,

In academic stream also, innovative use of CCP can reap much benefit to the scholars and lecturers alike. Few hard working students who have made their file presentation really nicely can be showcased as a model structured effort in presentation of project to the upcoming batches for reference. At least, that will encourage the majority to learn the style of nice presentation which is so beneficial in long run. Students should be encouraged to give citations, references wherever possible in their reports/projects. This instills the work ethic in them.

A few tips to protect the original intellectual work

Technical Methods:-

  1. Embed a Header / Footer note in your each MS Word document or PPT presentation and secure the document by read - only feature
  2. Password protect classified research work. Moreover installing a watermark will also help to disprove an illegal claim
  3. Run a plagiarism Detection tool to check for any accidentally copied material before paper submission.
  4. If an application is to be protected, embed some hidden features (for verification purposes) which are not mentioned in manuals.

Legal Methods

  1. Get a copyright mark for your software/application or paper to give maximum protection to your intellectual work
  2. Get the document digitally signed by Certifying authority for online theft protection.

With these protection methods, I hope that the hard intellectual work done by a team or person may not go in vain and proper justice can be reclaimed easily. The best prevention would obviously, be educated about your Intellectual Property rights and the vigilance to defend them. CCP is no doubt a very good facilitator to ease our job but in no way must be allowed to abuse the intellectual labour of somebody to reap benefits to nobody.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Our Engrained "Computer Myths"

There are times when you have came across the power crises in big departmental stores and the cashier just refuses to process the items since the whole electronic system is down, Now they know all the basic four mathematical operations like the 5 yr old but will even refuse to process your 20 bucks single toothbrush as the processing PC is not powered. Story just doesn't stop here, if a certain item demands a change in return, we already give them the pre calculated sum to get the whole notes in return. Still they don't even look at the money offered and continue their point blank tip tap on keyboard and let the machine do the math. Tell me, what feeling you get ? Tired, angry, bored, frustrated or all rolled into one? When the waiting queue is long during peak hour selling, the situation aggravates further.

Sound familiar?? Well welcome to the world of Computer Myths... a grey prejudiced area so well set in our minds that we almost take it for granted unconsciously....Lets explore a closer look at it.

If it looks cool, it's definitely a must buy as it is feature rich

There is tendency among us all that a cool looking product/gadget is usually feature rich and handy. Only to later find out that it was not worth its promises. Well, before reaching out to your wallet, have you checked out the features what they mean to you? Take mobile devices for instance. Have you checked that Nokia N-Series mobile phones are optimized for music lovers rather that business class users? If you are more of a business user an E-Series is more suitable than the N series one and vice versa. Put your priorities first, the gadget fulfilling your exact most important needs may be lying around the corner at half or on-third prices. More importantly, does those "cool" features are actually helpful to you meeting your primary needs more effectively?

A Mac-Air notebook may prove a waste if you don’t plan on a portable access to PC or willing to have a go w/o a CD/DVD drives. A Nokia 1110 with strong vibratory alerts may help you to attend urgent calls in a noisy public place or inside chugging, screaming auto rickshaw than your latest out of the shell "trendy" touch screen mobile with squeaky in-built vibrator(it is assumed that the basic thing you do is to do more talking than anything more significant here). Double check the phone/PC to ensure whether it is really helpful to you to stay organized or rather it becomes more of a fashion accessory. Looks plus loads of features alone don't make a great choice but addressing your needs at right prices surely does have a long term impact.

Higher the price, more capable and more worthy the device is

Nothing more can be more fatal than this attitude. A product excelling in one feature may lose out in others which are more important to YOU. Paying that non-essential extra premium is certainly not advisable under the cover of "Hey, everyone else is doing it, why not I, this one is under my budget". Prices almost halve within the first 6-9 months in cases of mobiles. If you do find a device that practically addresses most of your required needs, wait for some time for prices to become more reasonable . Then push GO for it. Save your valuable extra bucks!!

Higher prices may attribute to a specific technology such as "Accelerometer" patented technology of Nokia in its latest N-Series phones which still keeps it away from the reasonably cushioned budgeted user also. Read what are the advantages AND disadvantages of it. LOOK for the most ill reviewer who has written for the praised technology. You might be able to get enlightened by the experiences and troubles faced by some other similar troubled but now wisened person. Some even post useful firmware fixes links etc for that. This will give you more bang for your bucks certainly.

Look for the peer advice & expert view on the after sales service and customer care of the company mobile of the said model too. That is perhaps more important when you land in troubled waters such as battery replacement etc. These sure make your investment worthwhile, not the one which make your taking out more bucks from your pocket tending to paying more than expected,

A Person using the "cool" and "in" gadgets or technology is a more enlightened one

Not Quite. Most of time you'd hear a babble of techno jargon with a dash of macho hand move and false grin from the "DUDE". Next time ask him how effectively the cool technology increases our productivity and how it can further enhance our everyday tasks. Put a real life example before him to prove his point. Believe me; majority (not everyone of course) of them will shy away from the answer.

Using a newer or improved technology doesn't mean it becomes "universal" for everything. Until of course it overshadows the old one so publically that it is the accepted standard. Technologies can coexist in same time frame for very long period. It is our duty to be educated and have working knowledge about those. Proper tools can be used at right time to get maximum of our work. Wishing a loved one on phone on his/her achievement is much more satisfying and intimate than doing it on Orkut publically. Vice-versa saying a casual "Hi, how are u doing" on Orkut is more logical than on phone. So who is more enlightened one? Person using only Orkut or the one using Orkut interchangeably with phone? Judge yourself.

Computers can't make mistakes. They are programmed to do right

Refer the opening example. Sure the laser beam activated bar code readers can't make any mistake in reading the codes. But what if the same item is mistakenly or purposely read multiple times? Imagine the multiplier effect on your net bill. We almost take it for granted that the billing is done correctly and merely end up paying more (quite possibly) or less (in very rare cases). We don’t check the bill by comparing items.

Computers were designed to reduced human induced mistakes of calculating but not checking on inputs supplied to them. So next time do a cursory check on the bill before ordering final packing.

How many times have you witnessed the live C/C++/Java example giving incorrect results when each syntax was correct & flow of control was right, only to discover later that the underlying logic itself was flawed?? A US submarine missile crashes in a civilian area near the Iraq site killing innocent people miles off its intended target in Iraq. Why did it happen? A logic flaw in coordinate system proved a culprit. Imagine the consequences! But technically, the computer guided missile did the job, only this time at wrong place at wrong time. Moral of story, when human mind does or leaves mistakes, computer does the exact replica of that, given its preliminaries are done correctly in technical environment.

The BIG company’s claims’ are "always" right

How many times has your Windows 95/98 2000/XP and Vista showed BSOD (Blue Screen of death)?? But every time weren't they labeled as the safest OS ever?? In case of Windows 98, it showed BSOD on its premiere date. XP’s story everybody knows. Vista is already making headlines with its compatibility issues and various nuisance popups of UAC centre.

We all blindly expect our top CD/DVD discs to be dust, shock, grease proof only to shower them with liberal doses of samosa's oil stricken fingers and potato chip eating handling leaving them besides laptops/ desktops to gather dust and bear heat of exhaust fans. Wow !! even the laboratory testing couldn't have been more rigorous.

How many of us have read the user manual that comes with each product. READ the bottom line FINE PRINT. Did you know that the 100 year archival capacity of DVD/CD's we leave so carelessly around is possible only by storing then in a clean dust free, moisture free room within a bath of argon gas ?? Industry news says that the pre-stamped discs from production houses have better lasting capacity than the burned discs for private use. Phew! And we thought that all discs were the same. Time to get disciplined folks, no shortcuts with this. Get a good maintenance guide for you PC and follow that every weekend if you really want a smooth ride. Avoid as possible, the famous tea snacks on computer while chatting, orkutting, or surfing.

So, finally we do have straightened some things here. The message here I want to convey here is that there is no substitute of proper computer maintenance. Every fortnight or month, make a rule to clean up your hardware peripherals. Google ways to accomplish this. Update every virus definitions you have, apply security patches to your OS and most importantly improve your perspective about computers and technology.. These machines and techniques have a lot of power and potential to tap.. They are the sleeping giants which can do wonders to your productivity. Combine them with human common sense, and you get a lethal advantage over others to stay ahead leaving your time to channelize your constructive energy elseware at higher levels.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The "Virus" & "Format" juggernaut

Almost the every other day, we hear phrases like "Hey dude, my PC is infected by virus" and immediately follow up the ritual of format, reinstall windows. The two words "virus" & “format hard disk “have become popular with the advent of wide acceptance of Windows XP particularly. The previous versions didn't seem to suffer that much as we do it now.

Let’s now go back into past and explore its roots cause. With Windows 98, arguably the most well maintained and satisfactory OS ever to roll out of Microsoft’s mansion, the need was felt for enterprise OS capable of networking & resolve most of the plug & play issues that troubled 98. XP was touted as the most revolutionary product in this regard. Microsoft gave enormous powers and features to XP you could ever imagine. What it overlooked however, was the equal balance and maintenance issues that seemed forever to plague and haunt XP till date.

We have seen the consequences. Immediate launching of Service Packs 1 & 2 with 3 latest in line, and numerous security updates to plug the security lapses or vulnerabilities. Alas, if developers could have seen the obvious truth that “Increased complexity in OS brings in greater need for maintenance”; perhaps we wouldn't have suffered so long for that.

Greater loopholes became natural harvesting spots for hackers all over the world to tinker with Windows XP, paralyzing it every other day. When developers released one patch, ten new vulnerabilities were found and exploits were made known to hacks even before patches were issued. XP becomes too large & too complex to handle. Now, even a good antivirus isn't sufficient alone. We need complete suites comprising of Anti-spyware, Anti-Ad ware, Privacy Protectors, Firewall and Antivirus with "background monitoring on" all rolled into one. Viruses, worms, Trojan horses, rootkit, Phishing sites, Malware, spam became the consumer's worst nightmare.

Consequently, background monitoring tools ate up RAM, & bigger hard drive partitions became necessary with this effect. The casual user, with low budget and less RAM thus is left with the obvious choice --- formatting HDD. It appears to him that instead of seeing regular slowdown and BSOD (Blue screen of death) screen, perhaps formatting is the perfect answer. A costly but nevertheless an effective way to put an end to the constant woes already being faced by him.

One thing that Microsoft misunderstood was it would gather more brownie points and trust with its consumers by making difficult to copy XP to stop piracy. Time has showed that that thinking has largely failed because almost the 2/3 of its consumer base particularly in developing countries like India, China etc. have been accustomed to running pirated copies of Windows for last 20 years. Hence, majority of consumers don't even get the required product support as the online verification process renders their registration keys as invalid. One of the prime reasons that "Format" juggernaut is persisting till date with XP. Of course, losing customer base is the obvious effect in this regard.

Worse still have been the victims of the XP users who had unknowingly burned their CD's with "infected" pirated copies. Every time the format & reinstall XP, the problem obviously resurfaces after 2-3 days. Some users I know have the history of formatting HDD 2-3 times in a single day!!! It also proves bad implications on HDD lifespan as regular & frequent formatting damages the clusters and leads to increase in bad sectors.

So, how to work around this problem?? Well some simple rules and discipline following can save your face of data loss each time the problem arises.

Following are the tips which will help you to minimize the ugly consequences faced -->

1. Backup your critical data. Not only in CD's/DVD's but online storage and removable media such as pen drives/external HDD etc. For online storage smoother experience, it would be worthwhile to invest in Broadband connection.

2. Organize your memorabilia (music, video, movies, and pictures) in DVD’s & ipods. It releases a huge space in HDD for applications. Technically they amount to junk material to the HDD.

3. For a long term benefit, it would be advisable to purchase licensed XP copy for regular updates. If you have pirated copy, manually download & install the security updates. Disable the "Windows Genuine advantage" tool before attempting it though (for the pirated copy).

4. If you are a new user and don't aim to use computer very frequently, it would be better to invest in a laptop. Several good options are available at moderate prices. Laptops apart from their portability advantage also carry licensed copies of Windows OS which automatically solves the regular update problem & authentication issues.

5. Download a complete internet security suite such as Avast or Kaspersky. They are fast and don't eat much RAM. Norton & MacAfee typically require more RAM to operate smoothly. Run a full system scan at least once a week.

6. Insist on using XP for at least 3-4 years. Vista needs much more mending tasks to be completed and furthermore software support for 64-bit computing is very nascent and practically insignificant compared to widespread 32-bit computing platform. For getting Vista look & feel in XP any Vista Transformation pack is sufficient. Beware though as it amounts to eating up the precious RAM.

7. Install 2 operating systems on PC on different partitions. It allows your workflow not to be hampered and also provides a "second line of defense" in case one partition is infected then second OS can take over & run the normal Antivirus scan.

8. If formatting need does arises, format only the partition infected and leave others as they are. No need to format them also. Store critical data in non OS installed partitions in this regard.

With these simple and straightforward tips, I'm sure you can combat this menacing problem of Virus & Format with more confidence.

Wish you all the very best in smooth computing.............

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Types of Project team members

Here is my personal collection of various kind of project people that I've experienced over my school & college life. More personalities will be added later on when time permits. Note that this article covers only my percepective and should not be taken as a general rule of thumb ! Suggestions for improvement & addition of more personalities from readers are most welcome.

Note: Some personalities are mentioned at my friend's Raghav Ranjan's blog at Refer it for more details. Highly recommended.

Certificate Collector:
This person has no connection whatsoever in making of the project. He joins the team "only to gather the participation certificate" or if possible to share the title crown of the winning team. He is the first one to leave the team in case it lands into troubled waters for longer period (to join another seemingly good going team at the same stage of development). Very quick to swap teams (according to situation).

If project is successful, he's the first person to climb up for catching the trophy and declare later "When is the party, guys?". If not successful, he mockingly laughs at teammates, "Hey, I always know that you guys aren't going to make it. It was a worthless effort from the very beginning I know ".

Charismatic Leader:
This person has the capacity to unite the whole team at all times and encourage them providing moral support. He works hard to settle differences among the dominating persons in the team. Works with close cooperation with "Adminstrator" & "Commando" personalities of the project. He is prolific speaker and takes up the responsibility for introduction of the project to audience. Also protects vigillanty his teammates when external forces pressurize the team with cross questions, or against disturbing external forces.

His background task is to convert the high technical sounding ideas of "Administrator" & "Commando" to convey in simple understandable terms to the rest of the team. Nobody generally challanges his opinions owing to his goodwill and superb leadership quality.

He is the "actual" commander-in-charge of the project in technical structural dimension. He is the one who brings up the project idea and has the vision for it. He has sound "above average" development skills for project but not upto that of the "Commando" . He believes in innovation and freely applies it to his work.

He has the ability to examine each member of the team and fully knows their strengths and weaknessess. With this information, he assigns the task for each member after analysing their personality thoroughly. Works in very close association of "Commando" to bring out the project in full form. In case of any conflict b/w himself and other teammate, he relies on "Charismatic Leader" to work out the differences.

Politician :
This person has the inherent nature to wield power and take up control in any form by any means. He/She constantly faces clashes with the "Administrator" which in turn weakens the unity of the team. He/She can be very bossy at times and difficult to handle owing to his/her dominating nature. If not handled properly, it can cause serious differences among the members and ultimately the project work is suffered the most. It's here the role of "Charismatic Leader" is of utmost importance to keep the project on the right track.

However, clever "Administrators" can exploit "Politician's" nature to glean inside the working approach of the competing participating teams (for working out the similiar problems faced in the project) which is otherwise impossible to know by simply asking them.

Creative Artist:
This person has gifted ability to view the things differently from general perception. He is usually not very comfortable with the standard potrayal of the idea based on collected research material. He has his own perception and he prefers to implement that. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

He is best utilized while introducing an upcoming technology in an interactive way to the audience such that it is easily understood to a very large base. Also he proves valuable while illustrating a tried & tested technology generally stamped as "boring" in an interesting format. For projects requiring heavy web front-end design, his skill and experiences are most sought after.

Average "good enough" :
These people represent the majority of all the project teams. They are simple and naive people who don't have very deep understanding of the concepts but are good enough to execute tried & tested concepts. They do what they are told to do and feel uncomfortable when inquired about "Why they are using the said method ?". They work in cooperation and generally don't step in each other shoes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bigger Hard disk is "better" for average user ???

Computing being worked or used today has now become more or less a standard issue. Almost every "entry level" desktop / laptop now ships with 512MB/1GB RAM, 80 GB HDD, 1.7Ghz processor & the like. Gone are the days that we used to pride ourselves on Latest Pentium processors, a few GB HDD and 15" monitor screen. One thing is noticeable that the quantity of storage in HDD and pendrives etc. are in much higher capacity with much lower cost than it was previously.

The question arises "how much storage space" my system or the current requirement needs. For us, the "more the merrier" answer would be the instant one. Let's now look at the closer aspect of this.

We all are humans and the very basic attitude we are pampering it with each storage capacity breakthrough is allowing us to get spoiled a little longer. We all love movies, mp3's, vacations with family/friends etc and like to have a permanent record of that. Now we all have our CD/DVD writers, Ipods and tape drives but since we got that tempting 250 GB lunch box HDD we like to put all this "memorabilia" stuff in it instead of even distribution. Who care to fiddle around several CD/DVD disks when you need that photo in a snap....hassle... etc.

That lazy bone of ours has some unfortunate disadvantages. For instance, a fully stacked up 100GB HDD partition has typically around 60 GB "memorabilia" stuff for the average user with 40 GB remaining space for Office files, XP Operating System and the remaining for the gaming enthuiasts, image editing softwares and other application software. But technically speaking, for the computer, 60% of the HDD consists of "Junk material" which unfortunately, is your "memorabilia". Now imagine, wouldn't be it nice to distribute evenly all your "stuff" somewhere else to release 60GB of mammoth space for making space for heavy duty apps like Oracle, .NET or Developer suites etc with still plenty of room for future expansion if required.

Distributing your collection is also sensible in certain ways also. If one CD/DVD breaks or damages down, you don't have to lose more than 1 CD/DVD data. However, in this case it would be advisable for you to make at least 2 copies for your critical data. For music lovers, there is even more attractive offer. Why not use Ipods to hold (and listen simultaneously) your huge music collection (up to 40 GB)? Play your favourite songs on the go also , giving you the added bonus of portability too. Perhaps the most complete music experience ever. Movie buffs can use tape drives or DVDs (dual layer to hold 6-7 movies) for their collection. Online storage services however offer the best deal. The data is guaranteed to stay there as long as you want it. You need broadband connection for a smoother experience for this.

On a serious note too, managing a bigger HDD carries it own set of problems. There are increased chances of bad sectors occurrences, frequent fragmentations even after minor use, also it takes your antivirus and scandisk utilities forever to scan as they have to encounter huge amount of data stored. For instance, if 100GB primary partition has NTFS file system with only 14 GB of free space, then defragmentation in windows cannot continue as it demands at least 15% of free space for defragmenting to take place. Hence it is always beneficial to keep at least 15% free space in working primary partition using NTFS file system.

Bigger HDD also face greater and much feared risked of file duplication. Concept is simple; With mammoth file space available of data, often the owner forgets that the said material is already present in some other location of his drive, creating duplicate copies of same data on many areas of drive. It is an added responsibility for the owner to maintain a directory list to examine and compare the content of such data. The decision then depends on the owner whether to keep the copy or discard it (if not very important). Here the directory listing and synchronizing softwares provide the much needed assistance. When I ran a check for duplicate entries on my 80GB HDD, I was appalled to find 10GB of duplicate data of which only 2 GB was necessary to maintain. A nice utility called My briefcase also does the much needed job of synchronizing and updating task for frequently used files also.

The bottom-line is, it is not advisable to keep all your eggs in a single basket. Several baskets with different egg categories eliminates search/sort trouble and data loss chances. Not necessarily "the more, the merrier" principle overrides all the other factors. Skillful and logical thinking can offer us the best of both the worlds in data storage area.