Saturday, May 22, 2010

Annoying collective behaviors!!!!!

I used to observe the difference in innocent individual behaviors and bit different kind of behavior when it is a group of these innocent individuals. Long back, at the time when I was doing my bachelors; I read somewhere that these behaviors are used well in many places. One book/article on addressing the gathering and do an effective speech" classifies this as individual v/s mass psychology. This is the same concept used in political/religious speech. I tried using, while preparing my own slides as well. As they say 1+1 != 2, it is 4 or more in case of collective effort. Positively, this psychology is best used in military. This is the power the group brings to individuals basically due to the safety an individual feels when inside a group.

Interesting studies in this direction in recent times include the social network analysis in modern Internet age. For example, in his book Six degrees, Duncan Watts starts the topic with a question how does individual behavior aggregate to collective behavior. As he says, it is the way norms and conventions emerge, exist and all on a sudden perishes, only to create new ones. The revolutions which happened in the world to the cascaded fall of real estate are well known examples of these collective behaviors. What is more interesting for me is not the chaos, but the situation after the chaos. It is the same concept I used as my blog title in search of randomness (but very much before reading Watt's work).

Though not in large scale like the above situations, I used to see these kind of effects and ironies in my own social circle. Often I used to hear comments "damn, the bus is late; what the heck is the driver doing?". Ironically, he/she comes late even more than half an hour and says "sorry... could not make it". And there may be an addition "you know, IST, Indian stretchable time". Some other time, the entire group is late by an hour and say themselves the "IST" thing. Being stupid, I actually try to be on time (in my mobile time). The only case I may enjoy such a half an hour or more waiting situation is that, some beautiful girl standing next to me (who is stupid enough to come in time like me), waiting and we are having a nice chit-chat. Or in a film style way, drizzling where I have an umbrella and she does not have.

Another nice incident which annoyed me a lot is about a temporary place for our group to work, because the lab was "announced to undergo a renovation". We are about 10-12 "individuals" and there are other group of people working under different professor. One friend from the other group asked me, "hei please coordinate and let me know how many people will be there in may-June. We can see the alternative locations". I thought, okay; let us have a discussion and see what we can do. I sent a mail, after which I had to plead to many of them to reply, tabulated it to see that almost all of them will be here at one time or other. 4 of us including me, agreed to use laptop.

I thought of different options, including requesting departmental computing facilities (DCF) which has 3 common labs which are almost empty due to vacation. All I needed to do was to set up a file server as well as a simulation server. Then I left to kerala to attend our lab mate's marriage (of the other group) and on my return journey, I received a mail from one the 4 laptop users; "only we are left out, all others shifted already to lab " (let us call it lab y). I felt sorry for my friend from other group for his sincere efforts to coordinate the entire lab. Interestingly, one of the 4 laptop users has already shifted desktop. 3 left out laptop users and a namesake list. One of my friend from our group asked " when r u shifting". I asked "to where?" and another comment next, "its not tat we never thought about the remaining people. since u use laptops we thought its possible to fit in anywhere". Hmm, "fitting in anywhere". I was wondering to laugh or blast. First of all, if I wanted to "fit in", all I have to do was to find a lab which is not so crowded and to make a request to the professor in charge of that lab.

Then in two days, rest of lab also squeezed in to this lab y and another lab z. May be "provoked" by this, I fitted myself in to the DCF. I still wonder " what people gain by just saving their own asses". But I would like to see the comments as an Individual on your reaction if you were in my place.

PS/Valkashanam (in malayalam) :
  1. Some1 told me that he/she was stupid enough to shift like that and sorry for it. Well I don't take sorries by word, better I see some deed
  2. Some1 said "ah gireesh, your mobile is 30min fast, that saved extra time while u were in ranthambore". Well I should say, 30 was again IST, in my mobile it was 35 minutes.
  3. I am wondering why people are annoyed, when I attended a 2.30 PM IST 5 minutes earlier (that is 3PM in my mobile)

Concluding remarks: Manushya in sanskrit means the one who has ability to visualize, analyze and act. I think, the group psychology overrides this ability knowingly or unknowingly. And it really affects an individual in positive or negative way. The concept of how badly an individual can be affected by such a group behavior was shown well in the movie "kill with me".
It may be childish to say that above incident is something big, but I just wanted to convey what I felt. After all it is my blog. :P

adios for now!!!!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Business, Marketting and Innovation: Things I unlearned

As my friend Nesmel told, I had to write about unlearning things. Unlearning as in what? There are so many things I learned. So I was wondering what did I overlook before coming to IIT and had to completely change my views and opinions about it. One main thing is about Product development and making business out of it. This topic evolved mainly after talking to a guy I met in Bangalore, who liked Physics but working in Biochemistry (or related areas).
He was asking me, what did IIT do to Society? It was a question every IITian would think and answer. I said, well all these telecom revelution I can say is from IIT Madras. Even there was an ATM Machine which costs 1/10 or lesser than normal one and can count even old notes. Then he was asking me, why did it not come to market.

Well that was something similar I overlooked while I was in my teens or in engineering. I thought making a product working, with much efficient way than currently existing one is called innovative business. Now I know, there are million ideas like this ATM. There will be a thousands of them successfully implemented out of which not even a hundred of them will go to market. If you feel this is stupid statement, please rethink. Simplest example. Taking the same ATM machine. Assume that it is functional. And you approach me and I am head, business operations for a multinational bank. The maximum I will do is to give you a job as a technical advisor, but not to take that ATM. It is fairly simple. For me as a head, I need a machine which is not foolproof; but with strong backup from another multinational firm. Will I risk the decision to take this where you fail to prove that you can supply it in bulk to establish throughout the country, give support for faulty machine round the clock and your company will exist for another five years.

Business is not about ideas into reality. It is reality to selling and to customer support. So is that the fate of all research? No. Absolutely not. For example there is another idea. This is a program which made an interface between Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) and a human using an emulator which mimic dialling. All that he had to do is to make the program working in small scale and to sell it. So is the ATM. You sell it to an MNC and do jump to next venture.
Well is that the way to do business? Is there any other way? Well for me, as my understanding is concerned, the best thing to sell is something of the cost of one day's food expense of a middle class person. In India, it could be in range of 100 to 200 INR. If it can be used by common people; your business will grow. That is the place where a beginner in business may try his/her idea.

I left this post here.. some time back... and continuing now. :-). Again Nes inspiring me to write more. He quoted the ""KISS" principle. No !! he did not mean to "kiss" someone to get inspiration. It is "Keep It Simple and Stupid". The idea of KISS is one good way to start.

Before coming to IIT, I did not believe much in "branding". But this is a part of that unlearning process. Here when I write the post, this "business" I am talking is in large scale. In the scale of sales in a populated country like India, where you want to have a "brand name" of your own. The breakthrough research success to have a quality product is merely a beginning. With this you can convince your friends' circle; your city or at the maximum two-three cities. You want to scale to national level, you need
  1. A good bank with strong support with prompt transactions and healthy policies which fits in to your needs
  2. Good finance advisor who understands the fluctuations in the stock better than the financial advisor(s) in competing companies
  3. A clear awareness on competition
  4. A good way to get customer feedbacks
  5. A strong and dedicated core team whom you can trust and who complements each other by understanding the strength and weakness of the team members
  6. God father(s) and media coverage to get grip in the market
  7. ......
List is long as the company grows. As per my current understanding, this is what makes a "brand". Hei am not in to business. This is just my thoughts on this line because I designed simple devices from locally available things, for our labs which I found much better in functionality and it is value for money thing. My friends asked me "are you going to launch it?" If it was the attitude and knowledge which I had, like the friend in bangalore; I might have said "yes, why not". Now what will be my reply, I am leaving it open for you to imagine.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The length of the Emperor of China's nose and a few simulation stories

After getting in to IIT and in two years getting a campus placement; is not uncommon. On one side appreciations from people, asking for treats etc etc. On the other side it is a puzzle if I complete MS in time or not and you will kill your time lost in thoughts.
One funny thing facing me is that one year back I proposed a way to improve the existing wireless system. I could envisage it beautifully. I was so happy at that time that it is something unique. Now it is time for Annual Progress Report submission and I am puzzled again on what to write. I never implemented it. In fact I am not even convinced that there will be any use of such a "theoretically beautiful" protocol to be implemented.
If you are not wondering why such a situation; surely you might have done research. Anyway; let me try to explain my situation. The proposal came after a series of articles and scientific publications on the area I am working on. It is a 10 year old technology and still results are in simulation. People propose millions of ideas; simulate it and says "oh my way; look at it!!! it is awsome... it improves performance by 200%". Then another one says "oh yeah I have changed parameter x to parameter y, reason being a probabilistic modelling using ...blah ..blah . and improved results by 300%". I being stupid or what; believed such things will actually work in real hardware. Thus my proposal was based on previous results of my great predecessors.

I tried to implement my solution in real hardware. Learned a new operating system, learned to work with a system which does not even have a monitor or a display to tell me if an error occurred. I got initial results. Weired!!!! It does not even give me 10% of what it is capable of. If I implement my method; that will give another overhead and will reduce performance. Huh!!!! Now the puzzle comes back to me. Do I need to believe that someone will find it fascinating and will implement. We are researchers; we just create models.

I felt the whole research is like the story of "length of Emperor of China's nose". Nobody was permitted to see the Emperor of China, and the question was, What is the length of the Emperor of China's nose? To find out, you go all over the country asking people what they think the length of the Emperor of China's nose is, and you average it. And that would be very "accurate" because you averaged so many people. But it's no way to find anything out; when you have a very wide range of people who contribute without looking carefully at it, you don't improve your knowledge of the situation by averaging. It is not that I can also tell, mine is more accurate by adding survey with another set of people and says "oh mine is 300% more accurate ".

If you try to build the system; it is more funny. You need to average at least for 100 nodes, because predecessors did it for 10000 or even more. Purchase of 100 nodes will take its own time. Then you realize that off the shelf devices does not give any performance you wanted. Design new one. Another purchase!!! Funniest thing is that it is always a story of re-inventing the wheel to come up with a design. Once the prototype is built; which costs 1/10 or even lesser than that of imported one and perform better; you try to scale it to 200 nodes. One node will have say 4 components to be assembled, manufactured by four companies. You need to get quotes at least 3 for each. You will try to call up persons in India. If not you need to figure out how to ship from country X to India including customs clearance and taxes. Once it is done, after 2 weeks reply will come from purchase that; quote is no longer valid. Then you try for re-quote. It take another month to give Purchase Order. Each component may take their own time from 1 to 3 weeks. If you are lucky; it will stay in customs office for another month because there is additional free cd came with that consignment which was not mentioned.
Meanwhile you try to find people for making custom boards. It take a month to get and you will see that the connection is reversed. It goes for revision. Once it comes out well; you place the devices and try to do measurement; it fails for no reason. You debug the circuit and see that component x and y do not inter-operate. You go for another revision. Then integrate 200 of them and verification will take weeks. Then you need to implement your algorithms which might not have considered the models we integrated. That will take another fortnight. To deploy and test with one setup takes hours in ground. You need at least 5 people with average of 20 nodes per person. To have a common time for them to measure one setup will be once in a week. Assuming you have 3 parameters to change; you need all permutations and combinations of them to measure. Each one needs update of 200 nodes and do the measurement. It can eat up months.

And if it works; your results will be pathetic compared to supermodels in simulation. By this time you will see hardware advancement and your design is no longer valid. Now you can at least think yourself; how to find the length of Emperor china's nose.