Some of the Best Minds in the Tech Industry

In our little database tools company, we did not do much PR. I used to go out and meet a few columnists, make some passionate presentations and hope that they believe in what we were doing and spread the word. We were not just looking for writeups. As a young company we were also looking for validation of our ideas.
One of them was Jon Udell, who used to work for Byte Magazine. I still remember our first meeting at the Byte office. Since then I met Jon several times and always enjoyed the conversations. He recently moved to Microsoft recently.

The other was Peter Coffee. I always enjoyed his columns in PC Week and later in eWeek. I met Peter in San Francisco airport (in some lounge) for an hour in mid 90s. I still remember how pleasantly surprised I was about the depth of his technical knowledge. When you deal with people like Jon and Peter, you develop a lot of respect for tech journalists. Today I read in Larry’s blog (I just rediscovered Larry after a long gap) that Peter moved to Salesforce.com as Director of Platform research.

What makes these people move to vendors? I hope I can meet them some day and ask them in person.

Good luck to both – some of the best minds in the tech industry.

Communication Is the Transfer of Emotion

From Seth’s Blog: Really Bad Powerpoint – Communication Is the Transfer of Emotion. Such a beautiful way of communicating the concept.

I thought about it a bit. We use power point for lots of things other than sales. As an aid to teaching, as a mode of brainstorming (though a concept map is a better tool for doing that). But Seth has a point. When you communicate, don’t kill your audience with bullets.

I have seen some other tools of communication like this one Hans Rosling uses. We need innovation in communications. Ideas from people like Seth can help us a lot.

Digital Generation

We watched a TV program two days ago titled The Next Generation on CNN. It was a fascinating study of the values, interests and the optimism of the next generation. Next Generation is also known as Generation Y, Digital Generation, Net Generation or Digital Natives. Here are some traits described by Intuit Future of Small Business Report – a joint effort by The Institute of Future and Intuit.

Belmont University entrepreneurship professor Jeff Cornwall calls the currently rising Generation Y (ages 5 to 25) “the most entrepreneurial generation ever.” Generation Y is also often called the Digital Generation, the Net Generation, or Digital Natives, since they are the first generation to grow up with digital technologies rather than having to adapt to them. Because of this, they have a unique approach to information, society, and the workplace.

The world of the Digital Generation is Web-based and information rich, more so than any generation in the past. Multi-tasking—listening to an iPod, surfing the net, and text-messaging at the same time—is the norm. Having grown up on both scenario-based video games and the interactive world of the Web, this group believes that all outcomes are possible.

They are not afraid to take risks and try new things and are willing to make mistakes and learn from them. These traits are important seeds for entrepreneurship: Gen Yers are strong conceptually, build on ideas, and adapt or re-invent as needed.

I just came back from a 40 day trip to India and notice very similar trends there too. The Next generation is confident, more affluent than their parents (the ones who managed to get an education) and are much more ambitious.

Watching the CNN program and reading the report, I notice that the following trends will rapidly change the face of business all over the world.

  • The rise of learning without teaching (I call this Limitless Learning)
  • The rise of one person businesses (I run one)
  • Increasing entrepreneurial spirit
  • Leveraging technology (the younger generation is not afraid and very comfortable with technology. Why even a 3 year old knows how to play a video tape or a DVD on TV)
  • Increased use of cell phones for instant communication and text messaging
  • Continuous partial attention (they multi-task much more than the capability I consider human)
  • Limitless exposure through Internet (my 13 year old nephew is an expert in locating information on the net and showing his mom) and the ability to explore and share knowledge.

I am happy for them. I just wish I had all this stuff when I was growing up.

A Tech Editor’s Impression of his India Trip

I just came back to Mountain View, CA yesterday (after a 40 day trip). I met Jon at the Chennai conference and hope to meet him again here.

In his SD Best Practices India 2007: It’s a Wrap, Jon shares his impression of the first set of conferences they held in India. I have been to one of those and blogged my impressions here. It is a nice read if you are from the tech industry from one of the most prolific writers of technology magazine.

Jon, if you are reading this, when are you planning to come back? Spiced buttermilk is my favorite too.

An Interesting Preface

I liked the reading the preface in this book which makes some good assumptions. I like the idea of project based learning, chunking and progressive disclosure.

This book was written with a few simple assumptions in mind: that even if you’re a beginner, you are relatively intelligent and motivated, you have a general familiarity with typical graphics programs and web browsers, and you have some basic HTML experience.

You will never find yourself overwhelmed by unnecessarily complex exercises or dry, labored discussions. At the same time, however, you will be inspired to create in new and different ways.

Information in this book is grouped together in small digestible parts. This process is known as chunking. To see how this works, try to remember the following nine-letter sequence: pnggifjpg. Not too easy. Now try to remember the chunks PNG, GIF, and JPG. Simple, eh? The difference is in the presentation. Chunking makes it easier for you to understand broader ideas, instead of just repeating things by rote.

As previously mentioned, this book doesn’t try to teach you everything about a given topic before you’re ready. Instead, it features “progressive disclosure,” in which a topic is revisited in more depth as your knowledge and needs grow. For example, don’t be concerned if a specific chapter doesn’t describe all of the settings in a particular dialog. You may learn about portions of the dialog in one discussion and revisit the options in the remainder of that dialog later. This reduces the chance that you’ll feel overwhelmed.

Jobs In Information

From FreePint Newsletter:

Jinfo :: Jobs in Information

  • Junior Marketing Business Analyst
  • Market Data Analyst
  • Assistant Records Manager
  • Assistant Archivist (Under Review)
  • Corporate Finance Researchers
  • Assistant Information Officer
  • Health Information Scientist
  • Assistant Records Manager

I was a bit curious about some of these jobs, so I looked up one of them – The Assistant Information Officer. One of the descriptions from here. The responsibilities are:

Performs the less difficult professional and technical activities

I wonder what that really means. When I Google it, I find mostly government and DOD (department of defence) jobs.

Working on Open Ended Tasks

I am pretty bad at working on open ended tasks. The net result is that I keep putting them off. Some of them disappear altogether and others get done when I can’t delay them any further. I never heard about Time Boxing before. So when I saw a reference, I decided to find out what it is about. Here is some good advice on how you can use Time Boxing to get things done. Here is Dave Cheong on why Time Boxing is special.

I believe time boxing is special for four reasons. Firstly, by consciously being aware of time, it allows us to focus on doing the things that matter most. Secondly, it serves as a reality check on how much time we spend working on open ended tasks. Thirdly, because of the fixed time constraints, it can be an effective tool against procrastination. Finally, it allows us to work on things during the free gaps we have between our commitments and appointments.

The post is a must read for procrastinators like me or perfectionists, who keep tweaking things till they are just right.

Robot Companions

This article, got me thinking about how we can use robots. First a couple of stories.

My dad had a stroke a few years ago and his short term memory is shot. In a half an hour conversation, sometimes he asks the same question about 5-6 times. I visit him occasionally and talk to him, but do not spend as much time with him, as my mom does. I have to really praise my mom’s patience in dealing with this condition of his. But even she gets tired some times. My dad probably realizes this at some level. So he does not talk much. A companion robot would really help my dad and others like him. He can converse with it and since it will never be tired of answering the same question again, he can probably spend more time chatting. It may even help his condition.

I have seen inquisitive kids asking lots of questions. They ask everyone – parents, grandparents, teachers, uncles, and any one, they can get an answer from. After some time, the kids stop asking questions. They realize that asking questions is not really enjoyable, since they may not even get the right answers. A pet robot that can talk and answer questions would be a great asset to the family. Children won’t be limited by the lack of time or inability of parents to answer questions. I wonder whether a pet robot would increase children’s knowledge since the answer to every question may lead to lot more questions. But more important, children may grow up with the feeling that it is OK to ask questions.

There are lots of poor villages in India, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Africa,  and several other places in the world. Many kids in these villages don’t go to school. They have to work in the fields or do other jobs to make a living or support the family. A cab driver, I recently talked to, told me that he stopped studying after 3rd grade, because he had to earn a living. There are probably millions of people like this in the world. What happens if each village had a few companion robots. Kids and elders can walk up to them and ask questions, and get answers.

I was having a conversation with my 13 year old nephew. He is not very happy with the way his classes are conducted. And asking questions is not encouraged, since the teachers have to stay on schedule, to cover lessons. He is a bright chap and does well in his studies. So I believe him, when he says that he is very disappointed with his level of learning at school.

I think a robot can help in all these situations. It can be a great companion, if it can listen and ask a few questions and carry on a semi intelligent conversation. I am quite sure it can be programmed to never tire of answering questions. My dad, the inquisitive kid, the cab driver, the village boy and my nephew can all use this robot. The robot need not even be sophisticated. If it can understand speech, and answer questions, that will be more than sufficient. The programming of these robots is not easy. But I am sure if we start now, over the next 5-10 years, it will get a lot better. It can also use something like the Wikipedia to field questions and give answers. Of course we may need a WikiSchool which is oriented more towards teaching content, but there are already several efforts to provide learning content in wikis.

What are the essential characteristics of this robot?

  • Can look like a human or ET or some non threatening species (may even have pet versions for kids)
  • Should listen, ask questions and give answers
  • Remember people (by voice or look) so that it can remember their learning style and the learning history
  • Should be able to look up some kind of structured knowledge using Wikipedia or other similar resources
  • May optionally have a screen that can show some animations or movie clips to make a point
  • May be based on something like AIML (artificial intelligence markup language)

These robots should not cost much and the cost can go down as the volumes go up. Can the world use these robots? You bet. Will they threaten any one? Not likely.

Update:

I just found this posting on Digg about the Top Ten Robots You Can Buy. Some of them definitely have the potential to be companion robots even though the price points are quite high (like Nuvo).

How Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

How do you find out little bits of information, knowledge and memes that you ought to know but don’t really do. If you have the magic formula or even a few tips, please share them with us here, in comments or put it in your own blog and just ping us.

I was reflecting on this as I just discovered The “D Programming Language”. It looks cool. Everything Java and C# have but the advantage of compiled code (no run-time). Thanks to Slashdot and doggdot.us I found this link. It does look cool. Check it out. Will try it out and report back later.

Changing Economics Of Knowledge

From McKinsey Trends to Watch in 2006. Yes -2006 and not 2007 yet. They all still apply for 2007 as well.

New models of knowledge production, access, distribution, and ownership are emerging. We are seeing the rise of open-source approaches to knowledge development as communities, not individuals, become responsible for innovations. Knowledge production itself is growing: worldwide patent applications, for example, rose from 1990 to 2004 at a rate of 20 percent annually. Companies will need to learn how to leverage this new knowledge universe—or risk drowning in a flood of too much information.