Judge not, a book by its cover!

We rely on our brain for everything – opinions, decisions, perception, vision, trust, love are all coming from your brain. We use our sensory organs to learn our environment and people around us. Learning impacts our character. We form opinions about people from our personal experience with them as well as hearsay. But how often do you confirm the accuracy of the information you have! Your opinions about a person can change when a different information about them reach you. This is what happened in case of Ram, a village boy from South India.

Ram’s village was a close knit society with every one knowing each other by their name and their whole family. The elders of that village hung out at a coffee shop right next to Ram’s home every morning. They shared stories and opinions on current topics. This coffee shop was also known among villagers as “origin of rumors”. People at coffee shop could easily overhear every loud conversation at Ram’s home. They often heard Ram’s mom scolding Ram. News about Ram’s frequent scolding spread in the village in no time. Consequently, an ill opinion formed in that village about Ram. They started questioning every aspect of Ram. Whenever they saw him roaming around with his friends, they thought he was up to something bad. However, that opinion didn’t last long as they came to know about who Ram really was and how he helped his classmate to pass 10th grade exam. This story happens in a different part of the world. For that same reason, I need to tell you first, about India and the small state in India where this story happened.

In India, 10th grade exam is one of the main deciding factors of a kid’s future. This is the first time in their school life where teachers outside their school evaluate answer-sheets. This is to avoid any favoritism. This is also a time for schools to prove their value when they compete with each other to have better results. Schools open early to cover the syllabus and prepare students for the 10th final exam. For a state-sponsored school, the evaluation will be within the state. For other schools that follow the Central Board of Secondary Education syllabus (CBSE) or Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) syllabus, answer sheets are evaluated outside the state. Parents send their kids to CBSE and ICSE schools to give their kids a better future overlooking the high cost. When a state-sponsored school costs less than a couple of bucks for an entire year, these schools cost a fortune every month. Competition is relatively more in CBSE and ICSE schools, and often they stop low performing students from taking the final exam to improve the schools’ pass rate. Kids undergo tremendous pressure from society, school and family during this time.

In a village in Kerala, one of the southernmost states in India, there was a school that followed CBSE syllabus. With more amenities and dedicated teachers, the school attracted many students from that society. Over time, the school moved from a small building to multistory campus. One year after another school strived in having all their students pass the 10th final exam. In 2005, a new batch of students entered their first “test of life” in that school. That bunch of students had a mix of characters – poor and rich, naughty and obedient, quiet and loud, troublemaker and peacemaker. For 10th class students, school reduces the play time with more focus on studies. Teachers covered the syllabus at twice the pace than usual. Time went by so fast there were only a couple of months left for the final exams. During this time, the school disperses the class to let the students revise the lessons themselves. The only thing that stands between the students and the final exam at this point are the mock exams; the school conducts them to give a taste of what’s coming. Remo Mathew and Ram Ridwani were attending their finals from that school that year.

Remo was a single child to his parents and was a bookworm. He liked fictional novels and Harry Potter was his favorite. He carried around his favorite novel in his small, red school bag. Ram lived with his mom who was a homemaker and his father was abroad. He commuted to school on school bus. He managed to score good marks in all subjects except Mathematics. Ram used to say: “It was not my cup of tea” about it and often failed in that subject.

Ram lived near to the school. He was from a middle-class family. Ram’s father worked for the Indian government and often got deputed to different parts of the country. During Ram’s 9th class, his father was working in a neighboring state of Kerala. His father was an entrepreneur and created a small business in home town. Ram’s mom was an undergraduate in Mathematics. She wanted to become a school teacher, but Ram’s father didn’t let her. It was considered shameful for the family to let women work at that time. By the time Ram’s father realized his mistake they had two kids to take care. So he made her manager of his small business. She managed the business when Ram’s father was out of town.  Ram didn’t like to help his mom with the shop. He would rather play games on his computer or watch movies. But when the time calls, Ram had no other choice but to attend to customers. He didn’t get any special allowance for his time. Ram described it as “child labor” while his father’s reply was: “You are having free living space, free food, free education! If I start charging you for that, you will owe me five times of the allowance you are asking for”. Ram couldn’t beat his dad on this argument. So he worked in the shop unwillingly. The shop had a telephone booth in the corner and was the only one for that entire locality. People waited in line to talk to their dear ones and paid in cash.

One day, Ram’s classmate Arjun brought an expensive bicycle to school. It had gears unlike any other bicycle Ram had ever seen. Ram went home and asked for a similar bike. The reply from his mom was no different from the one she usually gives to any of Ram’s similar asks. Ram had no other choice other than convincing his dad. He went to the shop and dialed his father. Dad scolded him for making an expensive call for such an “impossible” ask. Ram cried over the phone, and soon dad played his card. He asked Ram to wait until dad’s next visit. Ram’s dad used to come home once a month at that time. During his next visit, Ram got a gearless bicycle. Ram was happy that he got at least a bike although he wished for one with gear. Ram roamed around on his bike and explored roads he couldn’t go before. He often skipped school to ride to lakes and visit places. During such a ride, Ram bumped into one of his dad’s friends. The news reached Ram’s home in no time and restrictions were put in place for Ram and his bicycle.

Remo and Ram were classmates. The school decided to split the whole class into two divisions – A and B, as Remo and Ram moved to 10th. Remo and Ram went to division B. Anna Mary was another student who ended up in division B. Anna was Remo’s family friend, and their families knew each other. During the division, Shafeeq and Minnu who were more than friends to each other ended up in separate classrooms. That started conflicts in their relationship and soon began to fall off. Anna was Minnu’s close friend, and Anna approached Ram for help. Although they couldn’t save their relation, it soon resulted in something new. Ram and Anna became friends. When they were spending time together Anna told him “I am going for extra Mathematics and Science lessons from tomorrow. I wish you could join me”. Ram couldn’t give her a reply at that time. He went to his mom that evening and convinced her that his 10th final exam is at stake. That poor soul wanted the best for her kid and sent Ram for lessons. Little did she know at that point what Ram was up to! Ram had to bicycle around 3 miles every day after school for his new adventure. Ram was good in Mathematics like his mom and used this time to be with Anna. Anna was “a beautiful cute angel” to Ram.

Remo was taking the same lessons too. Ram saw Remo’s struggle with Mathematics and offered him help. But Ram had to give up one of his tutoring for this. Ram decided to give up his science lessons as the tutor was strict and didn’t allow talking to Anna. Soon Ram started going to Remo’s home instead of Science tutoring. Remo’s mom, Mary, made snacks and juice for Ram every time. Ram didn’t disclose this arrangement to his mom. Days went by without any problem. One day, when Ram reached home, Ram’s mom asked about the lessons he learned from his Science tutor that day. Ram started giving a long list of areas he “learned”. Soon Ram’s uncle came by and burst into laughter overhearing this conversation. Ram got nervous but decided to stick with his story. Ram’s uncle revealed the phone call from the Science tutor. Ram had no choice but to disclose his arrangement with Remo. Ram had been in so many troubles in the past; his mom and uncle didn’t believe his new revelation. “It was too good to be true” for them. Ram’s mom called Remo’s home and confirmed the story. She was still angry for bunking classes that Ram mentioned as a necessity for the final exam. She was also happy for Ram’s good deed, but she successfully hid it from Ram. Ram was allowed to continue helping Remo during weekends from then on the condition that Ram will focus on his lessons too.

After the mock exams, the school decided not to let Remo attend the final exam based on his results. The school was not confident in Remo. Remo’s mom begged to let him take the finals. At last the school gave up. The final exams happen in designated schools, and the students from the rest of the nearby schools attend their exams in the selected school. Ram’s and Remo’s school was the chosen one for the 2005 final exam. On his first day of the exams, Ram’s parents took him to temple and prayed for him. Ram’s dad dropped him at the school after that. For the remaining days, Ram bicycled to school. On the final day of exams, Ram came out of the exam hall with relief that he can play with his friends. He didn’t want to think about the results. Ram didn’t see Remo during the exams or the following days.

Will he pass? It was the day before the results come out. Ram’s mom was worried. She was more concerned about what her relatives would say about her son if he fails. She could eat well and has a migraine. Ram’s father kept calling home every other hour to check on Ram and mother. Results are published on CBSE website. Ram’s father has noted down Ram’s exam ID during one of those calls to check the results from his office. To everyone’s surprise, Ram passed with flying colors. He scored more than many class toppers. Ram’s mom was happy and called every one of her relatives to share this news. Ram’s relatives came by to congratulate him. He became a “brilliant kid” from “naughty one” in a day. Ram could feel a sense of respect from everyone at that point.

Two days later, it was a Sunday morning. Ram was watching TV with his legs on top of coffee table, TV remote in his right hand and a cup of tea in his other hand. Ram’s mother was in the backyard taking care of her kitchen garden. They were not expecting anyone at that time. The house was disorganized – dried clothes on a couch in the living room, chairs not in their proper place, newspaper on the floor. Ram felt like he heard a knock on the front door. He muted the TV and waited for a second knock before he got up. He peeped through the window to see the person. It was Remo’s mother, Mary. Ram rushed to his room to change clothes and ran back to open the door. He welcomed her with a smile. They exchanged pleasantries. Ram shouted to his mom to come see who came to their house. Ram left out the details to surprise his mom. Ram’s mother came to the living room after washing her hands. She was surprised to see Mary. She enquired about Remo. “Remo is out of town and he would have been here otherwise” told Mary. Ram’s mom made tea for everyone and had a long chat with Mary. They sat together on the couch after moving the clothes to bedroom and relived the last one year. They exchanged stories one after another and laughed at all tense moments they went through for their kids. Ram carried on with his program on TV while they lost themselves in each other. As the sun set, Remo’s mom realized how late it was. She wished she could stay longer and talked but she had to take two buses to reach home. As she was about to leave, Ram stood up and said “Bye aunty. Tell Remo that I asked about him”. Mary walked to Ram, held him close and looked at his eyes like she had something to say. But instead of saying anything, she hugged him. Mary told Ram: “I wish you were my son. You have a good heart. God bless you my kid.” while she held him tightly. As she turned around to leave, Ram saw on Mary’s face the same happiness his mom had when his 10th grade results came out. Ram and his mom stood there, in front of the house watching Mary walk away.

 

What if our Universe is just a game controlled by some super-intelligent-creature?

What if our Universe is just a ‘Civilization V’ game for some super intelligent creature?
May be because I spend these days more in front of my laptop ordering my civilians to do research on nano-technology, atomic energy etc and my military to be alert on neighboring kingdoms and attack on my command, I got into this doubt. The characters I control doesn’t know about me. They just experience some force which makes them do things in their world.
Think of a situation where two humans play multi-player game of ‘Civilization V’ or any other strategy game. They build city centers with mud and stones at the initial stage, civilians will depend on agriculture for food, military units uses axes as weapons. A very familiar story, isn’t it? Yes, this game is inspired from our ancestors’ life. Then they gradually do research and develop their methodologies and improve their way of life. Every small inventions lead to new inventions and changed their life drastically. They go through Classical era, medieval era, industrial era, modern era. Their production increases a lot. Yield from every square-feet of land upswing with fertilizers and mechanization. With the invention of electronics, computers and atomic bombs the characters in the game will even with our real world.
Now consider yourself in the place of those characters in the game and think of some creature, with high intelligence, playing the game. Since we like to think as God’s hands behind all unrevealed mysteries, lets call him God. Who knows if this is the reality and what we think happening around us as reality is not?
Many religions mention this world as ‘MAYA’ meaning ‘not real’. For the characters in the game we play, the world we create for them is real but we know that its not. When we see them worrying for some loss, say an enemy flight bombed their city centre, do we worry for the loss? We don’t because we know that didn’t happen in real. It can be re-built. The loss they had is not really a loss. Its all a virtual world. Why can’t we humans have this mentality? Lets not worry for our silly losses. Lets have a strong heart and confidence and all the losses we incur are not really losses and it can be regained in no time, if not at least move on. Lets have a life full of happiness.

Specialize yourself..

We take pride to call ourself modern. We no longer like to be known as hunters and gatherers. We achieved a lot of developments in transportation, construction and communication technologies, electronics, information technologies, etc.

US National Academy of Engineers rank the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century as follows:

1. Automobile

2. Electronics

3. Computers

4. Telephone

5. Air conditioning and refrigerator

6. Spacecraft

7. Internet

8. Health technologies

9. Petroleum and Petrochemical technologies

10. Laser and Fiber Optics

11. Nuclear technologies 

In agriculture sector, with industrial revolution, farming methods took a great leap ahead. Now we no longer need to thresh the grain with sticks, machine does it with a press of button. A single machine replaced thousands of people in this sector without compromising the production. Now the yield is more, time it takes is far less.

Communication has become so advanced that you can connect to people residing in spaceships outside earth. With a small electronic gadget in your hand you are connected to the entire world. Internet opened a new world of information at your finger tip. The world signed up in one single network.

Now all the products we use is the combination of different technologies. Take the case of a very basic mobile phone. It has battery, electronic chips, plastic, storage disks, microphone, speakers, etc. Even though battery, electronic chips, microphone and speakers can be put in one basket, what about the other two. Managing such diverse technologies in one company was tiresome. So we setup different companies each specializing in one technology and they focused on one part of the mobile. In each company, we setup machines to automate the development and produce products in bulk, reducing human intervention to minimum. Humans take the part of ensuring the proper working of the present system and researching better way of doing the same. The product of these companies are then taken to another company for assembling it to form the final product.

We advanced to such a level that no one in this world know to make a phone from end-to-end. How funny, isn’t it! Yes, the company which produces the plastic component doesn’t know to make chips. The one who makes storage chips doesn’t know anything about plastic molding. This is the case with almost every products and equipments we use today.

In such a world, suppose there comes a need to start over, from the very beginning. Suppose a few people of today are taken out and asked to start again from stone-age, will we be able to make any of the things we use today? Will they be able to produce things at the pace we are doing it now? We will find it hard to make even a small hut by ourself, because we never tried it in our life, to do things from end-to-end. For us, we bought bricks, iron, cement, wood, etc from different sources and hired different people to build it. The only part we did is funding and supervising. But I won’t say that is something wrong. It was because we hired people who are used to building houses that we could finish the construction in minimum time possible.

So that is the key behind our faster development. Our advancement has a lot to do with specializing. It’s because we quit doing everything and started concentrating on one thing, dedicating all the time for the advancement of it, trying different things with it, that we are advancing in a faster pace than ever before. We started sharing. We shared our knowledge and our inventions with our fellow beings and they shared theirs with us. In turn we altogether advanced in a faster pace than a single group doing both. With specialization, a person comes to know his technology in depth and its possibilities and thereby he will be able to come up with best solutions possible with that technology.

Today’s world need specialized brains. “Knowing everything but knowing nothing in depth” is a state shared by a lot of us. I would say, that is one reason of today’s unemployment. There is a lot of need for specialized people in the industry but what we have is a set of previously mentioned people. Having a basic knowledge about everything is required but realize the need for specialization in one technology or field that you think really fits your passion. That will give you a boost in your life. That will make you SPECIAL…

Focus on the MARKETING as well

I always preferred system programming without touching the User Interface design till a few days back. I and a few of my team mates, Vivek, Aravind and Uttam started developing a new web application to ease managing and organizing meetings. Vivek is the one who took this initiative and rest of us joined on the way. At the design and task division phase, Aravind was assigned the task of user authentication with Infosys credentials and search functionality, Vivek voluntarily took the User actions part, Uttam was given the management of meetings and guess what I got…; the only remaining part: UI design part. Since this work was something extra to our regular work, we realized that this need to be attractive and useful enough to impress the people to whom we are planning to pitch it. We all put a sincere effort planning and designing it. We created a SVN repository for our project. We fixed the data we will use in our system and there by Vivek and I designed a database and got reviewed by Uttam and Aravind. Next task in the queue was UI. We all unanimously wanted the UI to be super cool. This put me under pressure. I was the only one in the team who never liked that work and now am doing it. I did my homework, learning CSS, basic do’s and don’ts of UI design, etc and came up with a design. Thanks to my other team mates; they gave constructive feedbacks: change in colour, alignment, UI response on user action, etc. I have to accept that the UI entirely changed from the one I came up with. Still I was happy that all those changes made the UI unbelievably awesome (only for four of us..: P). But that cannot be concluded before we get feedback from the outside world. Once the major UI development was over, we moved to next task in the pipeline: middle tier. Uttam and Aravind spend a quality time on that, completing it in no time. Parallel to their work, I tried new things with CSS and html and kept on making small changes in our application to reach our goal of a super cool UI, under strict guidance of Vivek. In between we realized that the gradient feature available in CSS, which we already used in the software doesn’t work well in Safari browser. In no time, we came up with a solution for that: replace the gradient with a similar image. [No browser will face any issue in loading an image to the screen, they are used to it from time unknown! ;)] At the final stage we wanted some dummy data in the database, so that we will know the UI looks as expected with original data. Vivek, Anand (fifth person we took into our team for testing the application, we wanted a unbiased feedback of the application; note: developers never accept their bugs:P) and I populated the database with all the data we could think of. The final moment reached. It was the day, a person having 8 years of experience in my unit, Roshan was leaving the company; of-course not because of our application, he got a better job offer. Roshan had his cubicle near to that of Aravind. Many came to his cubicle to wish him a great future and that’s when we put our application running. We could attract a few from that big crowd to our newly developed system. We gave them an informal presentation of the system detailing how it will be useful to all of us. Roshan too joined in between. That was the time, we developers had an irregular heart beat; what if we get a negative feedback. ALL WENT WELL…! Ya, all were impressed, wow.. Roshan saved his feedback for later by just saying he liked it. A time of rejoice, our hard work paid, although pitching it to our pre-planned clients is still pending, the feedback made us confident. And later when we all had tea, snacks and DIWALI SWEETS (brought by Uttam when he came back from home that day) with Roshan, we could know from Roshan too that he too is impressed with the idea, he commented on the UI too. I was so happy to hear that. Roshan is a very knowledgeable person whom you can approach and he will make sure the problem is solved with the best solution possible. Hearing those words from such a person made me think what if the functionalities were working perfectly but the UI was dull! What if software itself was very good but we were not able to market it, convince the audience about the need of such a system? That got me into a conclusion that whatever we do, let it be our daily work or one time work, should be done in a presentable manner and time should be dedicated for its marketing as well. It remembers me of Steve Jobs, he didn’t create anything new but he presented the already available desktops and laptops in a super cool look and feel and above all he successfully created a hype for his products. Ever seen his keynote in WWDC(World Wide Developers Conference)? Fully organized, simple, eye-catchy and what not! People would just wait for him to say ‘One more thing..’ and the words he gonna say after that. I would say, Apple Inc is not a company which specializes in developing products but they are THE MOST ADVANCED BRAINS IN MARKETING it.

Developing a revolutionary product, but failing to market fails the product itself. Recently, in a Harvard Business Review: “Why Most Product Launches Fail”, they claimed that the biggest problem is the lack of preparation. Companies get so focused on the designing and manufacturing of new products and they postpone the hard work of getting ready to market them until too late in the game.

Everything in this world has a force of inertia with it, which keeps it from changing the present course of action. My question is, isn’t it the same kind of force which keeps us from moving out of our comfort zone? If we find comfort in buying a product, we keep on buying it, no matter how many or how better other alternatives are. So being a company/individual who tries to sell a product, what should you do? Put a little effort which help the target market get out their usual trajectory and buy our product. Let your pitch-in/ advertisement/ Proof-Of-Concept-demo show the entire benefits of your system, why it stands out from other equivalent products, in an impressible manner.

Know your audience. Since I am working in an IT industry, I will quote an example from the industry. If you are presenting a product to a set of managers, don’t bore them with all technical details. Make your keynote impressible includes adding pictorial representation of your products performance. This audience will be more interested to know details like margin, ROI(Return On Investment), breakpoint, etc. Suppose your keynote is to a group of architects, the same pictures and graphs wont work here. They are more interested in version numbers, logics, frameworks, etc. So know the taste of your audience and change your marketing strategy accordingly. Spending more time to have separate keynotes/advertisements for different target audience is worth spending. You can see the classic example of it in Television advertisements. Companies spend more money to translate their advertisements to regional languages. In internet, advertisement takes an entirely different form. I don’t know how many of the “internet surfers” know that their location details, behaviour of browsing, sites they prefer, keywords they search often are all logged and analyzed to predict their behaviour and extract information like what kind of products they will be interested in, whether they are bothered about the quality of a product or its price or some other attribute of it. That’s why you get an advertisement saying 60% off for Nike shoes, when you were thinking of buying one. You may think that it’s just a coincidence, without realizing that you searched for the same for last few days and some software executing somewhere analyzed your pattern. Take the case of online stores, once you logged in, you can clearly understand that they customize their advertisements based on your needs. It makes sense, isn’t it?

So, apart from having a functioning product, the way you present it, letting the target audience know the product, convincing them to accept it is really important. In your personal life, dedicate a little time for your marketing as well, maintaining relationships, helping your colleagues, spending quality time with your family and friends, prove them that you are worth keeping friendship/relationship with. After all, it’s all about humans.

~Sreejith

to all keralites…

Today, 24th january 2010. I had a glimpse on Malayala Manorama news paper. I was shocked to read the news of a 15 year old girl, Aarya, who lost her foot in an accident in Kayamkulam. She is from Muthukulam which is very near to my house. She stepped down from a bus at civil station and was walking to KSRTC bus station to go to KPAC junction. The car then came fast out of control and its tyre went over her right foot. A driving student drived the car. The girl had to cut off her foot. Now think my keralites… where is our KERALA going? what is this girl gonna do without her foot which GOD gave her? Don’t our govt have any resposibility to check on road accidents? We pay tax for living here, for using the roads, and its our tax money the govt use to pay for govt officials. But police officials forget this and come to road to ensure everyone uses helmet and everyone follow traffic rules only when they need some money to party with their colleagues. I would say unless we react this is gonna repeat for ever…