Services the Enquiry Railroad and Thought Transit. Northbound trains along the Arts and Sciences Corridor vary in frequency -- consult the information desk in the foyer for the latest schedules. Posts generally service commuter coaches along the Computing, IT, Language, Literature, History and Philosophy lines. Random trains of thought may depart any time. No matter where you're headed, Thought Transit wishes its passengers a very pleasant journey.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Number, nummer, numero?

82 % of folks will read this post simply because the title contains three different languages.

42% are likely to ask me why the title ends with a question mark.

This morning, The Times of India has a feature story on the front page covering an analysis by a popular online travel booking portal of the time taken by the average user to book a ticket online. Quoting: "The average time by male users is 11.05 minutes, 30 to 40 seconds less than female bookers.... The average booking time for Patna (10.56 m), Hyderabad (10.52 m), beat the average for the big cities."

(Wow! And here I was - thinking Hyderabad had a laidback attitude. Looks like people are pouncing on their mice and cursing the wretched payment gateway/ Visa authentication system in a rat race against folks from other towns to be the fastest to book. Go Deccan!!

The report doesn't say which city starts bookings earliest in the mornings. I can offer 3:1 odds it would be Chennai with peak bookings around 6:18 am. Anyone up for this? Disclaimer: Tickets booked before sunrise will not be considered booked in the morning. )

The second page has statistics compiled by the Hyderabad police.Quoting again: "A two-wheeler is stolen every fourth hour in Hyderabad. A car is stolen every second day."

(OMG!! My car hasn't been stolen since I purchased it from this dude, second-hand. Gimme a min here, I gotta go downstairs and check something....

[(background) Drilling, hammer pounding on wood. Random construction noises]

It's OK, It's OK -- it's right where I left it. Whew!!

Unless.....could it be.... stolen.... all this while? Hmmm.....)

Why do people like statistics so much? Especially trivia like this.There exists a special breed of people who literally eat this stuff up for breakfast (Ok, not literally literally) and throw it out in random conversations when you least expect it. I reserve a special facial expression for people who revel in this sort of stuff ( for the interested, it is composed of 43% apathy, 31% bemusement and 36% je ne sais quoi)

(Don't tell me the numbers don't add up. I know that. That is the point. And if you weren't gonna tell me that, then you need to read more carefully. God! *exasperated sigh*)

Is it something that was always deeply ingrained in the human psyche? Or is it a cultural legacy inherited from the European heartland and strewed around the world amidst intense wars of imperialism and conquest? Or is statisticophilia a key component of social organization, hierarchy and civilization?

Do people feel a sense of identification with a random statistic? Is a sense of order imparted, a feeling that it's all not just God throwing dice around? Or is it a feeling of amusement and entertainment that people derive, the engagement of the sardonic senses in discovering that people actually research this crap.

What would result if using statistics goes out plumb out of fashion one day? Would conversations go something like this?

A: I really wonder what is the average percentage of times people cut a red light in proportion to whether  rock music is playing in their cars at the time. Haven't you ever wondered this?

B: (to A)
B: (whispers to C): You do have the number of the nearest asylum, right? It's almost time...

Do people believe that knowing a statistic could enrich their knowledge, impart perspective, diversify their plane of thought, derive more meaningful lives, drive their decisions, fuel the motor of the world, keep business and life ticking, bring relation and insight, help build a smarter planet?

12% of folks reading this might try and provide answers to these questions I pose.

20% of my friends are trying frantically to reach a guy who has the number of the local asylum.

100% of them don't have the number themselves, despite knowing me. Talk about unpreparedness!

Directed Search

or, Some reasons why I like Bing better than Google

See, everyone knew for a very long time ( at least, it took only the first 7.5 million years to find out) , that the answer was 42. The trouble was in trying to figure out the question -- so much so, that even the white mice lost patience with the whole affair.

And this is the real problem. Everyone assumes that the goddamn questions are known and it is the answers that make no sense.

This is how the problem of search has been looked at for a long time. I do remember the good old days of AskJeeves and Altavista, which were designed to give answers to questions. Google isn't any different, you have to know what you're looking for, although I admit you can find it pretty gosh darned efficiently.

(After-thought: Google does have Google trends. But it's hidden somewhere in the dungeons of GoogleBeta, and even Google should know better than that by now...)

Which is why I like the way MSN and Bing work so well together. I'm a big fan of MSN (not the India one, though -- which sucks), and I like the way MSN hooks you and ties in what you're browsing for back into the search engine. Especially the A-List --- each A-List article is such a mine of potential searches for Bing that it makes for a rather interesting experience of serendipity for anyone who lands there. And, thus more $$, if you subscribe to the axiom that the stickiness of your website is proportional to its revenue.

The other thing I like is Bing Reference. The stunning photograph on the landing page almost invariably redirects you to Bing Reference, which, in fact, has no content of its own (all content is sourced from Wikipedia). I don't know how profitable this is, but I really like the interface.

Directed search is a niche well worth exploring, and further differentiation along these may be the way for smaller search engines to sneak into an already over-saturated market, by offering a higher fidelity search option.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

It' s OK OK types...

It's a lazy Saturday (please excuse the tautology) and I was perusing titles on Flipkart (I'm a huge fan, btw) and some random clicking led to me a review which was entitled "It's OK OK types" -- and I think this phrase might have squarely entered the living language that is "Indlish", as one of its more popular idiomatic expressions. I realize though that the Indian branch of Roget's (Witco??) may not quite yet have latched on to this one, and so I decided to render a public service and bridge the gap. So here goes:

OK OK types (phr. Modern Indlish, acc. bland expression or disparaging hand gesture)

1. an axiomatic bland response to a banal question intended to divulge no specific information and frustrate the questioner

Usage: Q: "How's work?" A: "It's OK OK types"

Note: Frequently employed in this connotation by disgruntled employees in the IT sector

2. automatic response in conditions of either complete apathy or seething envy

Usage: Q: "Isn't Robert Pattinson the cutest? The guy is so hot, so handsome ....(blah, blah, blah)....What do you think"?
A: "He was OK OK types"

Note: Often employed in this context by confused boyfriends.

3. mild dismissal

Usage: Q: How was the latest Akshay Kumar movie?" A: It was OK OK types

4. in a display of oneupmanship

Usage:  Q: Did you hear that Mrs. Khanna gifted her new son-in-law a new Honda City?
Q: Yes, but that was OK OK types only when compared to Mrs. Sharma who gifted a Toyota Camry

I'm too lazy to think of any more -- so additions are welcome

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and caldron bubble

or, Ode to the Macbeth Witches!

Foreword: This post is dedicated to Macbeth's witches, who have ensnared imaginations over the ages

For the Holi weekend, I came down to Chennai from Hyderabad on a Kesineni Travels semi-sleeper Volvo. The most annoying thing about taking the bus is usually the movie you must endure before you can drop off to a jerky, cramped repose. However, this time, the movie that was playing really enthralled me:

In medieval Andhra Pradesh (Telengana??), a ruler reigns over a prosperous kingdom, and has a beautiful, young daughter, Arundhati, the heir to his throne, and accomplished danseuse. Arundhati has a wicked stepbrother [don't hold me to this -- my Telugu is limited], Pasupathi, who revels in tyrannical debauchery, and indulges himself in all manners of sin. Matters come to a head when the ruler dies -- Pasupathi unleashes his rapacious appetites, and murders Arundathi's dance teacher in a drunken fit. An outraged Arundhati has him bound and stoned, and dragged for miles behind a horse, and dumped into a ravine for dead.

Pasupathi, however, is not dead -- and drags himself to a cave, where he is found by a tribe of pagan, devil -worshipping savages. These savages revive him, and instruct him in the darkest arts, and he perfects his talents in service of the devil, and attains supernatural powers.

His mind consumed with revenge, Pasupathi returns to confront a grown Arundhati on her wedding day and attempts to outrage her modesty with his supernatural talents. To counter him, Arundhati performs a hypnotic dance, and while Pasupathi is distracted, she brings a 40 - ton chandelier down upon his body, and some of the glass sticks in his mouth, so he can't utter spells any more.

Oh wait, let me back up a bit. He is now immortal as well, and so this chandelier only locks him in place, doesn't kill him.

Arundhati orders his body, trapped under the chandelier, walled off and places protective shields and divine artifacts over the tomb, to counteract the influence of the demon within. But all's not well that ends well. Although Pasupathi is trapped, the very presence of such an evil spirit plagues the countryside, and converts a once prosperous kingdom into a parched, plague-ridden desert.

Arundhati cannot bear her kingdom's decline, and sets off to do penance. After many long years, she stumbles into the same tribe that helped Pasupathi, who say that the only way to kill him would be with a weapon forged from her bones after she gives her life to the end of destroying Pasupathi.

Wait a minute. What? The same tribe. What a bunch of troublemakers!

If you want to know how the story unfolds into the inevitable happy ending, that's not going to happen here. See the movie. Or we can have a chat later. But as the movie ended, I was struck by the similarity to Macbeth's witches. They were also enablers of ambition and revenge, and the people seeking their advice met quite a sorry end. Quite the coincidence.

So what's my point? Why, nothing at all. Can't I write without any point?

That's all!

Friday, February 26, 2010

76 cm of Blogospheric pressure...

or, why IT organizations should flip the way they see and use blogs.

For some time now, organizations doing business in today's social, connected world have  realized how badly they can be hit by customer feedback coming from the blogosphere -- primarily because:
  • Blogs are personal & offer customer perspectives --- not in the form of fancy graphs from a survey or that thick 90-page 12-category customer requirement study -- but in the form of real, human stories that people can relate to.
  • Blogs are intensely viral -- news spreads like wildfire, is picked up by search engines, aggregators like digg or, and even
  • Blogs generate tribes (also read Tribes) -- impacted customers have a quick and easy rallying point to make their voice heard.
IT organizations are also reeling under the impact, despite a more limited customer base. IT system failures causing business impacts tend to happen -- and yet, news now spreads instantly, and can cause immense long-term damage to the online reputation of IT organizations or the parent organization they serve. A recent incident in Microsoft related to a system failure elicited questioning on whether adequate testing had been done for the system under question (which was being upgraded), and why customers were not informed/ constantly kept apprised of remediation steps.

Interestingly, during the same incident, an active Twitter channel which had IT technicians interacting with customers who faced problems. Customers noticed -- and went there to get key information, or to get their problems resolved.

I wonder if there's a way for IT organizations to re-examine their communication channels and open up to the use of Social Media as an integral part of their customer interactions. Two key problem areas here could be (also read Why companies are scared of Social Media) lack of resources, and concerns around brand management and opening up to negative publicity. However, flipping the coin, here is the opportunity:
  • If used right, blogs can be a fantastic way to validate your requirements, and keep your customers informed of progress. Including a customer in the process of building your solution makes him more invested, and builds deeper understanding.
  • In case of fire, a blog might be a good "break glass" action. Customers will tend to rally, but now around your blog. The company now owns the channel of communication, and can adress miscommunication quickly.
  • No time? Automate montoring systems to blog automatically or try microblogging.
The biggest positive is that customers feel connected and not isolated, and this can perhaps solve half the PR problems an incident would be likely to cause.

What do you think?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Welcome to Grand Central Terminal

I don't think I'm alone in finding any train terminal (or terminus) a fascinating place; more august chroniclers have been very eloquent on this subject -- Chesterton calls the train station a cavern of wonder, a palace of poetical pleasures and finds in it much of the quietude and consolation of a cathedral. I like my stations noisy -- indeed, I'm always mesmerized by how the imposing facade of a train station yields to a bustling world of wonder, with people laughing, crying, walking, running, shouting, screaming to make themselves heard over the din; metal trolleys loaded with sacks making a clatter on the small tiles, and a rasping noice upon the asphalt of the platform. But there's a method to the madness -- trains come and go on a regular schedule, marked on large LED displays, ticking off arrivals and departures like a steady, unfeeling metronome - taking you to your destination -- where your life further unfolds.

I also don't think the idiom "trains of thought" is accidental. Many times my mind feels a lot like Grand Central Station --- a noisy, chaotic place were thoughts are born from vague mists and from other thoughts, where similar thoughts group, sometimes very clearly, to head to another logical end, another terminal, another destination --- a place where something new and something exciting is waiting to happen. It's certainly possible to give this station a firm place in cyberspace, and this blog is going to do exactly that.

This blog is also about discovery --- of trying to chart out all those trains to find which one I really want to take --- My name is Krishnan, I'm in my mid - twenties, and I work for Microsoft IT, based in Hyderabad, India. I studied Computer Science from Anna University in Chennai. I'm an Arian, a morning person, kind of a foodie (and look it), and I love reading, writing, Bhel Puri, the book "Atlas Shrugged", the concept behind "Yes Man", travelling and new experiences. I'm really interested in very many different things, and in my terminal I plan to play God -- enquire and inquire, breathe life into trains of thought that ask questions, explore and extend the limits of human knowledge and profitably lead you, gentle reader, and me, fearlessly to the destination: the realms of exalted consciousness.

Or I might just start random trains on whatever I feel like and have some fun. It's my terminal.

So welcome to Grand Central Terminal. This is where all trains of thought begin and this is where all journeys commence.