In this blog, I intend to write my thoughts on things happening around me, the news I see in the TV, something I read or anything that captures my attention. I will try to avoid the effect of everyday ups and downs of my personal life on the contents of the blog.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Online Data Privacy

 … for those who understand it, yes, 'Online Data Privacy' sounds like a joke in just three words now.

Recently, WhatsApp - a leading mobile/web chat application owned by Facebook sent a notification to all its users with a revision to its usage policy that almost sounded of WhatsApp reserving the entire rights to share information to Facebook. This created a buzz in social media and press. There was outrage, fear and threat of moving out of the application to ones that seem better with data privacy and security. Some unpopular companies and applications even shot to fame overnight in this commotion. 

Over the years, from the days when the internet started initially as a fantastic tool to freely share information to now, the current state where it is a quite commonly used phrase - Data is the new oil 

Oil wells are owned by big corporations and royals, tapped and enriched to be sold at a premium. It is the basic fuel essential for the industrial world that depends on IC Engines.

The internet has evolved explosively to become a medium that generates possibly the highest number of earnings opportunities globally. From cottage industries, small scale to mega sized conglomerates cannot scale without being online today. Through the evolution process of the net, it is realized that owning the data and controlling the patterns gives the power to move the markets. 

The platform business model by itself, though may have existed as a concept earlier is now in the center of many of the tech startups' revenue model. In fact, a good percentage of the 'tech giants' make their money applying this model. xyz aggregator businesses: Stripped to its bones means building a platform to bridge supply and demand of a product/commodity/service and earn a small share on the transactions. Added with the launch of personal assistant robots, conversational devices that can listen to its environment, it opened up the opportunity to virtually have watch-towers built throughout the world to record the browsing patterns, preferences, interests, purchases and even interaction information of every user straight from within the private confines of their home at their cost. Now, this information when gathered over time becomes a gold mine of data for analysts to run through their predictive and analytical models. These models are like beautifully forged hammers waiting for nails to be tried, trained on before being tweaked and re-designed to solve a multitude of complex problems like genetic engineering, quantum physics or NLP. The solutions cannot see the light of day unless they are tried on various combinations of real life data related to the problem statement. Thus, data ends up becoming the center of the modern money world.

As how the Oil cartels operate, the internet has slowly slipped into the hands of a cartel of handful of Tech superpowers who have almost mastered the art of acquiring user and usage data for almost free, if not paid by the user themselves and turn the data into useful information that could be monetized in multiple ways. Given the speed of innovation and computation capabilities, the sky is the limit for this business, as long as the flow of 'crude' data is available to be tapped into.

Given improved realization of this and ever growing uneasiness of people about privacy and security, inconspicuous efforts towards gaining back the control of consumer data are picking up attention. 

While there are quite a few concepts and experiments going on how to decentralize user data. One of them that I picked interest on is of the concept of PODS (Personal Online Data Store) by  Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Name rings a bell, sad if it did not. He is none other than the one who invented the world wide web. He thinks where the internet is now, is not where he wanted it to be. Through the project Solid at MIT, he is looking at getting back the control of people's data into their hands. Everyone having the decision power of sharing their data to anyone. A drastically opposite direction of data ownership compared to today. Something very hard to be seen as NOT being a better thing than where we are.

It is hard for me to stop drawing a parallel to the oil business even here. What Tim is attempting is like the battery revolution of Elon Musk and the electric cars. An outright threat to the super rich oil cartels. Something that majority of the consumers will see as a better place to be.

While electric vehicles seem to be ahead in the curve with adoption at scale already at a good pace. Will have to wait to see if decentralized and producer ownership of data can become a reality, beating OR forcing the tech cartel who thrive on it to change their ways.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

COVID-19. +ve

As I write this post, 206 countries around the world with 1.2 Million confirmed cases and 65,000 deaths, is grappling with one common problem. From the mighty USA, topping the table of confirmed cases to the populous India is mostly shutdown invoking their Emergency Laws and asking citizens to stay indoors... Fearing a tiny virus which we named Corona or Covid-19

Social Media and the internet is already filled with more than enough conspiracy theories of it's origin, even more to come for a long time. A theme that is likely to dominate most of the movies that will be made, once life comes back to normalcy.

A gloomy situation, made even more gloomier with people being forced to stay home for prolonged periods, sitting in front of televisions which keeps administering fatal doses of negativity, 24/7.

Read on, if you are someone who rather looks at the green shoots in the horizon from the present confines of your balconies. If you are longing to get out and step into a better future. If you, like me, want to be someone who sees the positive outcome of any difficult situation we go through...

This little virus has made us realize much more than what large universities, great philosophers and global organizations couldn't.

Breathing planet, is what we see in such a short time of reduced human activity. Most of the countries would've not come together on normal days to even experiment for a couple of days to shut down and find the results. Most of the results of simulated models would have been constantly contested for it's assumptions and error factors. Now, this is real. A forced experiment with promising results proving the scale of damage our speed of 'growth' is causing to the planet. Hope, we emerge with a totally different way of looking at 'growth' where the bottom-line and market value is not the only factor but happiness and eco-friendliness plays a big role.

  • Nature's reclaim, of it's lost ground to one of it's own creation (human) is very evident. Satisfying to see that it can be a lot quicker than what we thought it would take. There are a good amount of reported cases where wild animals are venturing into some of the busiest cities and towns locked out just for a few weeks to contain the spread of the virus. 
We shall emerge with better models of town planning that accommodates cohabitation of other species and minimizes human-animals conflict. 
  • A reminder of 'humility'. This should be a humbling realization for us to know that we are wrong if we assume that with nuclear power, rocket science and ever growing computing capabilities, we as a species are in full control of the planet. It just took a micro-organism to line us up. Nature is capable of more gory havoc. 
We shall emerge with great respect and consciousness for balance of nature, that everything on the planet is NOT for human consumption. 

Work from home (WFH), a perk of flexibility offered by IT Organizations is now almost the only way to work, unless you are part of essential services.
  • Domestic help: The absence of which in the current circumstances helps you understand the hardship that was going into a service that we afforded with a fraction of our income or in many cases for free, taken for granted. 
We shall emerge with more empathy for the people who have been doing the dirty jobs for us all the while.
  • Family time: We were fast heading towards an almost zero quality family time world, constantly running away from each other for work, school, vocational learning and social obligations. WFH, has forced us to care for each other. The people who call us when they have time on hand, the people we call when we now have time makes us realize the most important people in life we should be running around more, once we get out of this. 
We shall emerge with more time, love and care for our loved ones
  • Colleagues as extended families: From a formal, in some cases little informal work place environment which gives opportunity maybe once or twice a year for family get together. We are moving to a virtual world where family and pets in the background is something we get used to. An occasional peep in from a toddler, a cup of coffee delivered to desk by partner or a doggo hopping on to the couch nearby is a common sight that we are getting used to at work. 
We shall emerge as a bigger family knowing and understanding our colleagues' personal backdrop and situations deeper while not intruding too much in their personal space.
  • Education (r)evolution: For a while now, I have been believing that formal traditional educational systems will soon start losing value. This pandemic firms up my belief even more as many of the schools are finding ways to continue lessons online. 
We shall emerge with a more cost effective and efficient education system with learning at the center, not institutions.

Limited resources, is what we need to plan for when the supply chains are broken with restriction on movement of people, goods and services. 
  • Essential (vs) non-essential: After the mad rush and shopping frenzy for our perceived essentials (#toiletpaper wars). As we sit through the lock down days in isolation with loaded reserves, we realize our consumption pattern in more detail. That we have been throwing money and time buying things which we hardly used. 
We shall emerge with more prudence in our spending patterns which will indirectly help in reducing waste.
  • Planning: As supporting systems and supplies start tapering down, we are forced to plan our days carefully. Think through our needs, limit our wants and plan for worst case scenarios. This is teaching a lot about management than what the comfortable campuses of  B-schools can achieve. 
We shall emerge with greater thoughtfulness in planning short term and long term of anything we will take up to do and being more responsible with it.
  • Innovation: Scarcity is the mother of invention, also innovation. From something as simple as finding new recipes based on what is available in our shelves to a complex task of fixing a generator that was lying in the garage for ages, we suddenly have become more creative. 
We shall emerge to carry this new found intelligence and apply in our daily lives as a habit to make the future world more live-able place.
Fitness, should be the biggest realization out of this pandemic. This virus is not an armored tank but found to be a flimsy carbon bike, a cousin of the common flu. It just takes soap water to get rid of it before they enter our system. Once it gets in, comes your internal ability to fight the havoc it creates with weaker organs, especially pulmonary system. 
  • Long term investment: A few months into it now, the world has neither found a cure nor a vaccine to fight this so far. That leaves us with just couple of option, one's cardio-pulmonary fitness, immunity levels and better common sense cleanliness habits. Sustained fitness is a long term investment. You need to invest time and efforts regularly over a long period of time to reap the benefits at a later point, when you need it more. 
  • Money cannot buy health: Money definitely can get you better medical care but not health. It is not worth to be lying in the most expensive hospital bed than running an ultra marathon, not bothering about health insurance premium. When you have good health, you don't need the money for medical care. 
We shall emerge invested more into preventive health than accumulating money which, if at all, can only help in repairing damages. 
Let us learn our lessons from this pandemic and mend our ways to live a balanced life. Let us re balancing our portfolio of priorities that we have messed up over the decades.

Be positive, for we shall emerge more responsible and disciplined out of this. Look at Corona a.k.a COVID-19 as the 'comma', the pause we all required but never realized the need of, to look back and learn.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Will today's education system work for tomorrow ?

In the past two decades, if I can call it the Age of Electronics, nature of jobs have changed at exponential pace. Not just what is termed 'IT' jobs, this is applicable to any job. Thanks to electronics which includes delivering what IT has got to offer. It is a chicken and egg debate if IT enables electronics or electronics enables IT, which is not the topic. Together, IT and electronics is making life more convenient, scalable, efficient on the positive side and stressful, complex, lazy on the negative side.

The job of yester years in this new age expects different and enhanced skills. A worker in an auto spare manufacturing firm needs to know basics of operating CNC machines, not just muscle strength and manage mechanical machines. A teacher in middle school is expected to at least know how to draft assignments, email study documents, manage email distribution lists, not just their subject of specialization like European history or plays of William Shakespeare. A doctor must know to use highly sophisticated machinery for diagnosis and treatment, just not hold scissors and tongs. A supervisor in a departmental store needs to know how to use a bar code scanner, hand held devices for inventory management and wireless communication devices, not just remembering items and numbers and managing unorganized workforce.

This begs for a few very important question:
  1.  Is the traditional educational system which has been in existence for centuries good enough ? 
  2. Is it imparting the adequate amount of skills required for someone to be successful in their chosen stream ?
  3. Will it survive unchanged because it is time tested this long ?
My answer is a vehement NO to all.

Barring a minority, schools and colleges have been factories producing graduates every year, not employable confident engineers, doctors, nurses, plumber or analysts who can get the job done right from day one. It almost takes a couple of years for them to get productive and act independently at their jobs. I am quite confident this to be the case across the globe. Talking specifically of the Eastern world from where I come from, this is the sad truth. The added challenge we face from here is that we largely cater to the Western world's services demand having been educated and lived through the Eastern culture. These are still wide apart even though there is a good sense of awareness emerging on both sides, thanks again to IT and electronics. The reaction of a Joe from Texas is quite understandable when his call lands at the desk of a Suresh in Chennai, India who speaks with a fake name of John and an artificial American accent trained by his employer. The bottom line is, Suresh's educational system never put an effort to enable him to understand the world he will eventually walk into.

Education, once seen as a service is purely now just a business. In fact, a very competitive, high cost battle ground. Gone are the days of mentor-protege or what we call the guru-sishya system in traditional Indian form of education. Institutions are constantly evaluated by the numerics of success they achieve, their ability to charge their students is based on it. It makes them more cautious in admitting students who are not very promising, ultimately bringing a huge divide between 'good' and 'not so good' schools.

I am not sure how many of these institutions caught in this race to the top watching each others positions even realize that change is round the corner. I reckon, this is here to disrupt the current system in a big way. Satellite communication, cheaper mobile data and free access to almost any knowledge on the internet is no more a fiction. There is a huge industry named EdTech of online learning platforms which has emerged in recent years and is fast evolving into maturity.

One basic model is access to coaches at their convenience and location alone where they come online and teach live. This just needs a good internet connection for a live session, rest can be done using traditional email, telephone, etc. It is very popular in cases like seeking training for art forms like playing musical instruments, singing, sewing and other vocational forms. Though this could disrupt some of the traditional 1:1 training, I see this as an extension of convenience only.

Other is professional platforms which are rapidly gaining popularity, both in terms of convenience and quality is the massive online education industry. There is already a good competition among a number of good ones. MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is one of the popular format which a Suresh from a southern corner of India can access and directly learn from a classroom that an ivy league professor records from the comfort of his University classroom in New York. which will be curated and packaged with other supporting subjects as a course curriculum and offered as a package.  Again, this is a reality not a dream. There are other variants like custom courses run remote through satellite communication between any corners of the globe and students attending from any other parts LIVE.

I would like to credit Coursera as I understand who pioneered in this space and demonstrated large scale success as a pure online learning platform. More followed suit with success offering their own uniqueness like Udemy  and KhanAcademy . These are just to name a few. They offer self-paced courses without certificates which are largely free and one will have to pay a fee if you opt to receive a certificate, electronic and printable forms from them recognizing your participation.

This, to me is like a massive meteor hitting the land of dinosaurs. Will have to wait and watch if it is huge enough to extinct them but I am very confident that it will trigger a climate change which will make the traditional business of education very uncomfortable. We can already see the tremors felt. Many of top universities are skeltering around to enter this space too and gain some market share, having recognized the potential. Their legacy of delivering quality education and a long history of specialization in many faculties could give them a great edge which new age platforms could face as a challenge. To name a few in this space: Open Yale offering their own, MIT Sloan and Harvard who tie up with platforms like edx and Emeritus to reach out to the market.

I may sound like howling Armageddon but think of it, if it is not such a serious disruption, why would the ivy leagues venture away from their prestigious campuses where people until just a decade ago were competing till death to enter in ?

The paradigm shift will be realized when recognized corporations and mass recruiting corporations stop looking for formal degrees from traditional universities. When they rely on their selection process and trusting the specialization courses done by the candidate in one of the disrupting medium. In some way, it makes sense to seek detailed knowledge of software design, architecture or coding than looking at a CGPA that is influenced by grades in unrelated subjects like psychology, analog circuits or fluid mechanics. If I am not wrong, this trend has already started. Many big companies have started thinking in this direction though it remains a exception. It may not take long for this to turn into the norm. When that happens, it will accelerate the trend for more demand driven learning that open online formats are suited than traditional campus curriculum.

Sitting at this juncture and imagining a world where the majority gets educated online at their leisure and just a minority going to traditional schools is like imagining a world driving cars during the age of horse drawn carts. If and when that happens, how much would the students lose. All the sense of camaraderie, friendship, romance, college campus fun and frolic, nostalgic moments as they grow older, respect for teachers, ... The list can be never ending.

When it comes to the sprawling real estate of current college campuses. Will they reduce to space sharing and co-working businesses where competing schools of today work together tomorrow to stay afloat in business ?

Interesting times ahead... and only time can answer these questions.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Grandmas…the family glue

I happened to lose my paternal and maternal grandpas when I was quite young but was fortunate to have my grandmas for a long time enough to realize their value in the family system, here I am just trying to put it in words.

Its a huge extended family we have on both sides. My paternal grandma though not physically in the best of conditions with her mobility chose to live most part of her life all by herself in a big family home at our native village amongst the company of other close relatives in adjacent houses. She was assisted by a trusted godsend for anything and everything that needed to be transacted with the world external to our home. When needed, she had the skills to arrange more personnel to assist. A natural effective administrator, she was the Sun of a solar system around her.

Our Hindu way of living loads our calendar with a lot of opportunities for family get togethers in the form of celebrating birthdays of Gods or as commomoration of the fall of demons of our mythologies and even in the form of anniversaries of dear ones we lose from our life over time. So nice of our parents (my dad and his siblings) that they tried their best to get back to our hometown for most of these events. For us cousins, the kido-army of the family it was pure fun to be together at the cost of parents' peace. Can't think of any better way to enjoy school holidays and experience tradition, goes without saying the never-ending array of authentic stuff to feed on. It used to be riot on the street with us being there with nothing to fear as almost all the houses were of our own relatives.

My grandma remembered to ensure every little detail is taken care of before we arrived including favorite snacks to be prepared. Arranging supplies of banana leaves to served food on, who said the west came up with the concept of disposables. Arranging for enough supply of milk during the days of our visit though we used to own cows but not as much to feed THE army, inviting people for occasions though snail mail, arranging for enough helpers with domestic chores. Remember, I am not talking of the days where everyone had a motorized vehicle to rush to the nearest departmental store to pick stuff or order online/ phone. We neither had the vehicle at home nor a departmental store in the village, nor a phone and online what?…it was all about planning and optimizing your trips to the nearby town. She did it best, on top of it being a consultant to the entire extended family on rituals, important dates of Hindu calendar, connect the dots when anyone tries trace through family history to recognize relatives. Many a times this exercise ends up converting friends and acquantances into relatives…

Moving on to my maternal side. Again, our typical summer vacations were spent 50-50 between pattern and maternal grandparents…never missed the hill stations or beaches. We just never knew about that kind of vacations. We used to call our maternal grandma as manni which means elder brother's wife. It's because she was the wife of the eldest brother in a huge family. Being called manni by the majority at home made her manni to all including her own children and grandchildren. She was no less than Leonardo da vinci to me. An encyclopedia of knowledge who could tell even the remotest of little story from our epics, who had gone through the pains of India Pakistan partition first hand and moved to India in those conditions with a few weeks old baby on hand (my mom) in 1947 to start life afresh. One who was oozing ideas and who could also implement those ideas be it sewing, cooking, sketching, making innovative effective tools, so much so well that even at an age of 96 she found a way to neatly remove a hard p-o-p cast on her broken hand.  A person who I've never seen complaining even once in her life time about ANYTHING, something I wish to follow, the rest of her talent admittedly is beyond my abilities.

Too many words, still failing to express all my thoughts about my grandmas. If you try, I am sure it'll be  no different.

As long as the grandmas were around, they were the hub of activities. Either directing others on some next-steps or in their later days, indisposed, drew friends and relatives from far seas visiting constantly or ringing in to check on them. And suddenly it stops. It stops so abruptly that it is impossible to miss. Every time I go to my village home  house now, yes, without her it looks a house. The silence is deafening. It's long since all the cousins got together, maybe the last was when she left us…

Grandma! undoubtedly, are the glue of families. Anyone having a grandma now don't fail to appreciate, thank and take care of them. Ones who don't have their grandmas, don't forget them and their contributions to your life.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Just 30+, still my days are counted

I must be proud that members of my family pretty much rule the world. We are now an unavoidable part of everything that runs the planet, from taking financial decisions to conducting life saving medical surgeries and from guiding mass murderous missiles to enabling terrorists in executing their vicious plans, we are involved. However, I am not so happy of the fact that it's just about 30 years since my generation started in my family and I already see that we are fast being neglected.

I am the Laptop and I belong to the family of computers.

Though the exact year of my birth is still not traceable and along with it the person who created me. It is widely accepted that it was Adam Osborne who created the first of my kind in 1981 that reached a commercially viable scale. It was called Osborne-1 a cute fat looking model. Xerox PARC made an handsome NoteTaker a few years before Osborne but was too expensive to be produced at a larger scale.
Since then, my generation popularly know as the Laptops was the craze. Our presence made our older generation Desktops to feel lesser. Not priced for the common man, we were the pride of the white collared humans. In the 90s and first decade of the millennium, the CEOs and CFOs of organizations flaunted our company. All my cousins occupied the plush board rooms and got to visit the greatest hotels acroos the globe while it was actually our older relatives called the servers sitting in a highly guarded prison like atmosphere called data centers who slogged through the night to provide the actual information needed for those meetings.

Little did I know that our limelight years are coming to an end when we were mass produced and started to replace some of our immediate previous generation, desktops. I was able to see the development of my next generation sitting in the same plush rooms where plans were hatched to replace my generation with my juniors in a very short time. Though they still are not reachable for a common man, my juniors known around as tabs are taking over our territory quickly. Sorry to see that unlike my generation which though went around the town still upheld our tradition and identity of having exclusive keyboards and not marrying anyone outside the family the new generations are unpredictable. I cannot easily now differentiate a member from the  family of telephones from one of my own kind. They marry and blend so much that a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) considered one of our kind is capable of calling anyone in the contact list thus behave like a phone. I even see them shedding the primary organ we had, keyboard. It is all built-in and blended as part of  the touch screen display. They are testing limits of interactions even using handwriting and voice recognition.

Hard to believe that the top offices already see us as embarrassment to hang around with. They prefer the younger, sleek and slimmer tabs to be their companions while we are left at a point where we are not capable of crunching heavy numbers like the servers who are still housed in the much respected data centers nor comfortable co-workers to stay at someone's desk for 8 hours job like the desktops. We now serve as a back-up of our desktop relatives at work places and as their substitutes when people choose to work from home a few hours in a day.

With a heavy heart I must accept the truth behind Moore's Law, a rule of thumb in the history of computing hardware whereby the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. Such speed of growth in technology leads to such a speedy replacement of generations, we like it or not.