Jag Venugopal's Blog

June 6, 2012

Never forget the radio station WII FM

Filed under: Project Management — Jag @ 6:33 am
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I get countless calls each week, that all go the same way: “My name is so and so, and I want to talk to you about such and such…”

In precisely 100% of instances, these communications have been summarily deleted. I never take a cold call.

I feel sad for the person that’s trying to make a sale, knowing that they will meet with similar rejection in every call they make. How could they do better? I have three suggestions:

First, clearly answer the question “What’s in it for me?”. If you cannot answer it, don’t bother. If, on the other hand, you’ve somehow come up with an answer I like, then your pitch becomes a lot more persuasive.

Second — do your communications resemble brochures, or do they actually give me some small nuggets of information that are immediately actionable? If you want to talk about BI, first provide some BI related information that I actually care about. Then, segue to your company and your product. You don’t need to serve up a big tome… a few tidbits of useful knowledge conveyed in a newsletter will motivate me enough to read more, and actually understand what you’re trying to say.

Third, don’t offer bribes. Two companies proposed to give me Red Sox tickets in exchange for considering whatever they were selling. Countless others send me all manner of tchotchkes. You’re wasting your time and money. I will never accept a gift from a vendor. Ever. Tchotchkes like pens and pencils with your logo on it get gifted to the first kid I can find. Money wasted for you.

Ultimately, Dale Carnegie said it best: “Bait the hook to suit the fish”.

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December 8, 2011

Truer words were never said

Filed under: Business — Jag @ 7:00 am
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Obviously I’m using hyperbole, but the paragraph below from T. J. Rodgers, the outspoken CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, tell us how we landed in the mortgage mess. The real culprit was not Wall Street. It was government:

“Wall Street did nothing other than facilitate home-financing access to the next tier of less-qualified home buyers, as demanded by every president since Bill Clinton. After that, the bankers did exactly what their shareholders wanted: bundle those risky loans into securities, sell them to lock in the profits, and dump the risk right back onto the federal government—where it belonged.”

This paragraph is part of a larger op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about how government policies are subsidizing Wall Street and Chinese manufacturers of solar panels, in the name of building a competitive solar industry in the United States. An interesting read on how companies act based on the incentives available to them, and how government activity in a free market distorts its proper functioning.

T. J. was required reading in my MBA program. His argument with a nun about corporate political correctness is a classic. Even if you don’t agree with him (which I did), I am sure you will find his views give food for thought.

July 6, 2011

Why the current crop of iPad competitors will all fail

Filed under: Digital Living — Jag @ 6:56 am
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Finally, various competitors to the iPad are out, more than a year after the launch of Apple’s game-changing tablet. From being an initial skeptic, I have now become a full-fledged evangelist. The iPad has become my primary browsing and email device.

 There are a number of competitors to the iPad; unfortunately, all the below efforts are doomed to fail, unless they make drastic changes in their approach.

  • Motorola’s Xoom
  • Samsung Galaxy
  • Acer something-or-other
  • RIM Playbook
  • HP Touchpad
  • A rumored Microsoft competitor based on Windows 8

 A professor of mine once said that to beat an entrenched product in the marketplace, it is not sufficient that the new entrant be incrementally better — it has to be better by an order of magnitude. To that, I would add the following:

  • If the new entrant has the same feature set as the incumbent, then the pricing must be drastically lower, to induce consumers to change their preference
  • If pricing is the same, then the product must be significantly better

 Unfortunately, with all of these tablets, neither of the conditions for success hold. They’re usually just the same cost as the iPad or more expensive, without being as good as the current leader. That’s a sure-fire way to get totally ignored. Android may one day be a great tablet operating system, but in its current version it does not beat Apple’s iOS in anything. Proprietary OS’es such as RIM’s QNX or HP’s WebOS are doomed because most developer momentum is likely to fall behind either Apple or Android, which at least has a strong presence in smartphones.

 I’m no fan of Microsoft, but I’m thinking that if Ballmer gets his company’s act together he might just be a contender. Microsoft already has significant tentacles into the enterprise, and a tablet with Office, Sharepoint, and access to corporate applications might just work. And no, it cannot be a reworking of the late lamented TabletPC. It has to be an entirely new, light product, with content and communication, that plays well within the Microsoft Enterprise ecosystem.

May 20, 2011

LinkedIn worth $10 Billion?

Filed under: Information Technology — Jag @ 6:28 am
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Like many professionals, I too have an account on LinkedIn, and have managed to link up to some 200+ contacts. LinkedIn is an excellent networking resource and its value grows as more people use it. Similar to most people, I have a free account, and little need for the extra features available to paying customers. Every so often, LinkedIn flashes an ad at me, from which they presumably collect a few cents.

Even with all that said, I am hard-pressed to figure out how LinkedIn could have a $10 Billion valuation. Assuming a P/E ratio of 50, which puts it in the momentum investing category, we’d still need to see earnings of $200 million to justify such a valuation. According to various websites, LinkedIn’s earnings are somewhere between $8 and $15 Million. That would put LinkedIn’s P/E ratio at around 1250. Which, give or take, is about 52 times the P/E ratio of companies comprising the S&P 500. Even if LinkedIn had a great product, sold advertising by the truckload, and did a host of stuff such as being a better version of Monster.com, its hard to imagine how the company would justify such valuations.

My money is on LinkedIn rising temporarily, then plateauing and falling, and finally becoming a takeover target for someone like Google, who can then use the LinkedIn network to make a big push into job ads. But then again, I thought Google won’t go too far and how right was I on that?

Update: According to The Atlantic, LinkedIn has the highest P/E ratio of any stock, anywhere (though not sure if it is historically the highest P/E ratio.). Tulip mania all over again!

May 17, 2011

Get (nearly free) tech ebooks

Filed under: Digital Living — Jag @ 8:47 pm
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When you buy a computer-related title on Amazon from either O’Reilly or Microsoft Press, you can register it on O’Reilly and buy an ebook copy for $5 more. Oftentimes the above combo is cheaper than buying just the ebook from oreilly.com. And O’Reilly is fine with selling you an ebook upgrade for their titles even if they were purchased elsewhere.

I like O’Reilly titles because virtually all are free of fluff. The books are usually compact enough that you do not risk injury to your feet if you drop them (unlike, for example, the late lamented “Unleashed” series from SAMS). Besides, I’m inclined to give first preference to a publisher that implicitly trusts its readers not pirate their titles, without having to cloak it in various cockamamie DRM schemes.

April 7, 2011

Skywatching — our latest hobby

Filed under: India — Jag @ 11:18 pm
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With the advent of spring, my daughter and I have taken up skywatching as a hobby. It is fascinating to see stars and constellations, some of which are millions of light years away, right from one’s own backyard. The best part is that skywatching can be easy, inexpensive, and very educational for young and old alike.

Most people assume that skywatching requires a telescope and rush out to buy a bottom-dollar shiny doodad for $100 or so, from either their nearest Wal-Mart, or Amazon. Having assembled their outfit, they are dismayed to find that they can’t find much, what they see is all upside down, and the image is both dim, and shakes very badly. These are all blunders I committed five years ago when I first set out to watch the stars.

A better approach is to buy little to no equipment. My daughter and I learned most of what we know from the book Night Watch, by Terence Dickinson. This book ought to be considered essential reading for any starting skywatcher. The author teaches a system for identifying stars and constellations starting from two very well known celestial landmarks — the Big Dipper and the belt of Orion. The sky maps provided in the book are just the right level of detail for a newbie — covering the major tourist spots in the night sky, without drowning the reader in detail.

Equipment-wise, all one needs is a good pair of binoculars. After researching on Amazon and elsewhere, I bought the Celestron Sky Master 15 x 70. This is inxpensive, yet well regarded. And my experience bears it out. In the month or so since I’ve had it, we’ve seen craters on the moon, Saturn with a hint of rings (to see the rings clearly, you need a small telescope or better), and various double-star systems and nebulae. Note that a stable tripod is essential to mount the binoculars for shake-free viewing. Good-quality photo tripods will do fine. I enjoy the binoculars far more than either my el-cheapo telescope, or even the oft-recommended Galileoscope.

About the only other thing one needs is a red flashlight, to read star charts in the dark. This will do just fine. Regular flashlights cause the pupils to constrict — thereby reducing the amount of light reaching the eyes, and getting in the way of skywatching.

The book, binoculars, and flashlight above can all be had for less than a hundred dollars total, about the cost of a dinner and a movie for the family. If you decide skywatching is not for you, the binoculars can be resold, or retained for other activities (e.g. birdwatching). If, on the other hand you’re hooked, you have plenty of time to save up and buy a really good telescope (our family is not there yet, and probably won’t be this year).

 One last recommendation — when you start identifying stars, look them up on Wikipedia, to learn a little more about them. And for those from India, you can look up “birth stars” for your family in the sky. When I talk to my dad next, I will tell him that his birth star, Rohini, is the easily identifiable Aldebaran, a red giant visible from our backyard, that has run out of hydrogen, and will eventually retire as a white dwarf. Punarvasu, the birth star of the mythological god Ram, correspond to Castor and Pollux, a short trip away from the Big Dipper in the night sky. And my own, Makha, is the star Regulus in the constellation Leo. You don’t have to believe in all the astrology mumbo-jumbo to have a good time correlating all the nakshatras to various shiny spots in the sky, and marvel at the imagination of ancient Indians in spinning their astrological yarn.

February 21, 2011

India’s national language

Filed under: India — Jag @ 6:30 am
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Quick… what’s India’s national language? The one that people from the “untouchable classes” aspire to learn, to move themselves up the social ladder? How about the language that is the medium of instruction for the children of almost every nativist politician, be he in Maharashtra or Uttar Pradesh? In which language is most of Bollywood’s business conducted?

The answer is…. English.

About 5-6 years ago, I had subscribed to Zee TV USA. There used to be an ad for an Indian clairvoyant that ran thus… “Are you phacing diphiculty in your carrier…”, intending to direct such individuals to a certain “Pundit Maharaj”. In today’s India, most Indians’ “carrier diphiculties” are solved by proficiency in English. Faith in the Queen’s language appears to be a better path to success than trusting Indian shamans.

January 18, 2011

2011 Project Management Trends

Filed under: Information Technology,Project Management — Jag @ 11:58 am
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Subtitle: Captain Obvious meets Project Management.

I recently saw a slideshow about the “Top 10 Project Management Trends for 2011”, from ESI International. I have taken training courses from ESI in the past, so I was interested in what they had to say about trends in project management. The text of the slides is reproduced below, along with my comments.

  1. Leadership skills will be critical
  2. I was getting by just ordering people around. Now I have to learn leadership skills? I need Benjamin Linus to take me back to 2010.

  3. No industry will be spared from the war for qualified talent
  4. In the good old days through 2010, qualified, competent people were a dime a dozen in most industries. This war for qualified talent is definitely a 2011 thing, and most probably brought about by global warming. Get serious!

  5. Agile will be seen for what it is, and isnt
  6. That’s a tautology isn’t it? Covers all bases. Probably in 2010 and prior, agile was seen for what it was, and was unseen for what it wasn’t? Or is it the other way around?

  7. Competency models will be core to managing professional development and promotions
  8. You really mean that there will be specific goals for training programs, and criteria for promotions? I wonder how they were managing all these years? Say, with a coin toss or rock/paper/scissors to decide which training program to take or whom to promote?

  9. Experiential learning will be the norm rather than the exception
  10. Are you saying mere book knowledge is now proven to be useless, and people need experience on the job? My goodness, we never figured that one out in the last decade. Glory Hallelujah for 2011.

  11. Informal learning will gain momentum
  12. Aha, I understand that there is this thing called “The Internets” and another thing called “The Google” which has lots of training material. Then there are these new things called “Wikis” and “Blogs” that were discovered between Christmas in 2010 and New Year . And who woulda thunk about coaching and mentoring. I’m so excited with all this new-fangled stuff. Got to make a note on my PalmPilot to read about it tonight.

  13. Project Sponsorship will become an area of focus in South Asia
  14. Why don’t you just say India? And even there, I wonder how they survived all these years having projects without sponsors. That must have been what was responsible for the Commonwealth Games fiasco.

  15. Outsourcing will remain a risky business
  16. Bummer! I was hoping I could hire hundreds of Indians half-way across the world, for 1/5th of American wages, and not have to take on any risk. That’s so 2010!

  17. PMs will team with “change partners” and use structured methods to facilitate adoption
  18. Are you kidding? We’ve now discovered the virtues of training our hapless end-users in whatever product our project produces?  What a novel concept. In my career, I’ve always created the product and thrown it over the fence. I’m so totally excited about these new things called online help and training manuals.

  19. The PMP will continue its world domination, but will no longer be enough
  20. That rings a bell. Back in the old days of 2010, whenever I admired myself in the mirror, I would always see a “PMP Halo”. People would defer to me and sing hosannas to my superior skills. Sadly that stopped happening in 2011, and I was searching for an explanation why. The muggles are figuring out that the PMP is not all that its made out to be. Time for the PMI to crank out another credential that can take the world by storm.

December 28, 2010

What Ails the Indian Space Research Organization?

Filed under: India — Jag @ 10:49 pm
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Christmas was a disappointment for most Indians that are space enthusiasts. India’s heaviest rocket yet, the GSLV, designed to loft 2000 KG payloads into a geostationary orbit failed for the second consecutive time. The last time, it was a new 3rd stage engine that India was trying to indigenize which failed. This time, the rocket failed at the first stage itself. What’s particularly galling is that China crossed this threshold quite a while ago with its Long March rockets.

I don’t know much about spacecraft beyond what a person with a general science background could discern. Thus I am no expert of any sort in commenting on the issues ISRO faces with its rockets, but at least a few problems stand out:

1. Insufficient attention to quality control: If it turns out that this GSLV was lost due to a malfunctioning component, this would be the second such instance. A previous GSLV was lost because a $2000 valve malfunctioned. Previous satellites have been lost prematurely due to failure of key components (e.g. the much heralded Chandrayaan sent to orbit the moon failed within half its designed lifespan; a satellite built for EADS failed within days of launch; various INSATs have experienced failures of some or all of their components).

2. Trying to do too many things all at once: You have to learn to walk before you can run. And you better get your walking under control before you even talk of entering the 100-meter dash. ISRO still does not have a reliable rocket that is capable of lifting 2000 KG, yet each day brings even fancier targets: one day it is for a new rocket to launch 5000 KG payloads. Another day it is for an RLV (a reusable launch vehicle). A third day, it is to launch a couple of (grandly named) Vyomanauts into space (God bless them if they go on the GSLV), yet a fourth day, it is to launch payloads to the moon and Mars. To me it appears that ISRO is trying to do too many things at the same time, without first perfecting the basics.

3. Not enough oversight: ISRO has a relatively large budget for a poor country. The question is — who is supervising it? It is supposed to be under the Department of Space, a portfolio handled by the Prime Minister. Mired as he is in various corruption scandals involving his government, I am not sure he even knows that he’s supposed to oversee ISRO’s affairs. It is not clear whether anyone in the Prime Minister’s office is actually supervising their charge, setting priorities and ensuring that the right managers are hired and poor ones fired.

Ultimately, ISRO can build upon its past achievements, but only if it is realistic about what it can achieve, and the entire organization focuses on a few critical priorities first. A good goal for the next decade is to focus completely on reliably manufacturing and launching geostationary satellites for domestic as well as international consumption, with the stretch goal of building a moon orbiter or two. I am sure that the Vyomanauts can wait.

October 27, 2010

India’s most respected magazine indulging in repeated plagiarism?

Filed under: India — Jag @ 12:05 am
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One of India’s largest media barons, Aroon Purie (editor-in-chief, and proprietor of India Today, and a host of joint ventures, including those with Penguin and Harper Collins) stands accused of plagiarism. His “letter from the editor” in the October 18th issue of India Today lifted quotes regarding a southern film actor, Rajinikanth, straight from Slate.

Mr. Poorie’s excuse was that he did not write his own column, but asked “Delhi” to write up the stuff about Rajinikanth. In the process, “Unfortunately, a couple of sentences lifted from another article were sent to me.” He then tenders a non-apology to his readers: “So, without any reservations, mea culpa. Apologies.” In addition, Mr. Purie actually had the gall to blame jetlag for his journalistic kleptomania.  His non-admission of his own act of omission or commission, and his total disregard for both his readers and journalistic ethics is reflected in his one word apology. No “I am terribly sorry that this has happened, and it is not the culture of India Today to plagiarize”. No “we will investigate and lay the facts before our readers”. No “I will write my own columns henceforth”. Just “Apologies”, was what came down from King Purie to his subjects, those of his countrymen who still pay to read India Today (your correspondent being one such unfortunate soul).

Mr Purie’s arrogance carries over to his non-apology to the original author. Here is his letter to Grady Hendrix in its entirety (formatted by me to work with WordPress). I particularly like the “inadvertent error” part. Wonder what was inadvertent about it? Did the plagiarist (Mr Purie or one of his minions) have a seizure that caused his hand to move the mouse for an exact cut-and-paste? Was Mr. Purie under the influence — perhaps he just meant to steal the idea and not lift the text verbatim?

Dear Mr. Hendrix,

As you are surely aware we have apologized to our readers for the inadvertent error in which part of your article on Rajinikant got published in my letter from the editor.

I would like to apologize to you as well.

I have also written to the Editor of Slate magazine.

Sincerely,
Aroon Purie
Editor-in-Chief
India Today

Now, one could be forgiven for thinking that this was a momentary lapse on the part of India’s analog of Rupert Murdoch, and that some low-level staffer is to blame. However it appears that there is a pattern to such thievery. In 2008, the deputy editor of India Today copied an article about Mills and Boon romances from a blog posting by Niranjana Iyer. Ms Iyer pointed the purloining out to India Today in April, 2009. No apology has been forthcoming in the last year and a half.

It is shameful that one of India’s major publications should be a serial plagiarist, and they have gotten away with it so far. Certainly, the only apoplexy about the latest episode is in the blogosphere. There is nary a mention of it in the Indian press. I guess, there’s honor among thieves — they don’t betray each other.

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