Build, not bury, your career; All about `X’ in the markup language; Get the better of tough times; This is “One Microsoft Way”

Books2Byte – May 2003


Build, not bury, your career

D. Murali

Remember degrees aren’t abilities. One needs them and more for building up a sound career. Here are some tips.


THESE are times when a career goes yo-yo, cautions the foreword in D.N.B. Singh’s book titled “Do not dig a grave… and bury your career!” And Infosys chief mentor Narayana Murthy views the book as “a practical guide to handle the behavioural and attitudinal issues during the initial years of one’s career”. So, the IT folks need to listen. A few excerpts:

  • A professional degree is an indicator of knowledge and may be, strength of memory. Possessing a good college degree, however, gives a new entrant confidence that he is competent, capable and, therefore, talented enough to meet and overcome all the challenges of organisational life. A feeling that is quite normal but not quite justified when applied to reality. Remember that degrees aren’t abilities.
  • Communication and presentation skills form a very important part of a successful career profile. Knowledge, expertise, and opinions are only a part of the game. Keep your presentation simple, but keep it straight. Avoid jargon and legalese. While speaking, avoid `should’, `might’ and so forth, because they do not show resolve and intent; they generate vagueness. Instead use `can’, `must’ and `will’. They mirror your confidence and resolve to attain what you suggest.
  • Whenever you take up an issue, remember to differentiate between context and content. The content may be perfect but the context may be off the mark. It is essential to keep both in mind. Display ownership towards the solution of the problem that you see, but do not assume parenthood. This is called `unattached involvement’.
  • Remember you too are a product. You have to try positioning yourself in such a way that you conjure up in the minds of the management those attributes that are related to excellence in performance of this. This will prove to the organisation that you are a great product.
  • The top five among the common sources of workplace stress: Lack of planning; poor time management; inability to establish priorities; unpreparedness; and fears such as `what will happen today?’

The book, even if buried, is worthwhile exhuming.

Gene journey


We are the end result of over a billion years of evolutionary tinkering, and our genes carry the seams and spot-welds that reveal the story. Thus writes Spencer Wells in his book “The Journey of Man”, a genetic odyssey. The back-cover promises that the book would show how the truth about our ancestors is hidden in our genetic code, and reveal how developments in the cutting-edge science of population genetics have made that possible. A sampler:

  • We lose some of the signal in each generation. I have a 50 per cent match with my father, but only 2.5 per cent match with my grandfather, and only a 6 per cent match with his grandfather. This is because we acquire new ancestors in each generation as we go back in time, and they start to pile up pretty quickly.
  • The beauty of the genetic data is that it gives us a clear, stepwise progression out of Africa into Eurasia and the Americas. The diversity we find around the world is divided into discrete, although related, units, defined by markers – the descendants of ancient mutation events. The first piece of evidence comes from one man in particular, who had a rather important, random mutation on his Y-chromosome between 31,000 and 79,000 years ago. He has been named, rather prosaically, M168.
  • To understand the meaning of a complex sentence, you must remember the beginning when you reach the end in order to integrate them. Not difficult, perhaps, for `man bites dog’, but a little tougher for a complex past tense construction in German, where the active verb in the sentence only shows up at the end! Limited short-term memory may be the root-cause of chimpanzees’ minimal language skills.
  • Today, the descendants of the first modern humans to wander into Eurasia zigzag around the planet at a pace that would leave our Upper Palaeolithic ancestors breathless. The final Big Bang in human evolutionary history – which could be called the Mobility Revolution – has given rise to the era of globalisation.
  • In every case of language death, we lose a part of our cultural history. Particularly when the language in question has not been studied and recorded – which is the case for most of the world’s languages – we have lost an irretrievable snapshot of our past.

A gripping gene story.

Find a new job


Ever thought it is time to stop changing jobs and start having a career? Kate Wendleton offers the how-to in “Kick off Your Career”, which is about how to write a winning resume, ace your interview, and negotiate a great salary. As the back-cover says, the book is based on “the highly successful methods used at The Five O’Clock Club, where the average participant finds a new job in less than 10 weeks”. A few picks:

  • A growth area is the `new media’ – something hard to define. It can include cable stations, a number of which are devoted to home shopping; `imaging’ of medical records and credit card receipts; supermarket scanners and other devices that promote items or record what you buy; multimedia use of the computer; virtual reality; interactive TV; telephone companies, CD-ROM, the increasingly important Internet, and gadgets such as personal data assistants and DVD players.
  • The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the fastest rate of growth for these occupations that require a bachelor’s degree: Computer support specialists, computer software engineers, computer systems analysts, network and computer system administrators, computer and information systems managers, database administrators, and desktop publishers.
  • For starters, get whatever job you can. When you are very young, employers just want to see that you’ve worked somewhere. They don’t want to be the first one to teach you how to dress for work, come in on time, not squabble with your co-workers as if they were siblings, and not give your boss a hard time as if she were your mother. Sometimes it takes a little experience to remember that you’re at work.
  • Information is not good or bad, it is simply information. Things are changing so fast that we each need all the relevant information we can get. We may tend to block out information we see as threatening — but that is precisely the information we need to get.
  • Before responding to the online posting, verify whether the format that you’re using to send your cover letter and resume is correct. Some companies want your resume included in the body of the e-mail with no attachments. Other firms want two attachments, the cover letter and your resume. Some companies request responses in text format only.

Find a career that is best for you, which implies you first figure out what is it that you want.

Books courtesy: Fountainhead

Wednesday, May 07, 2003


All about `X’ in the markup language

D. Murali

XML becomes the glue that binds what a piece of data actually is to what it is supposed to accomplish. It is used to describe all aspects of the data. Just explore the extensible language.

LIKE the legendary doubles of Saddam, XML looks very similar to HTML, the traditional markup language of Web pages. Though both consist of hierarchically-nested fields, are just as easy to read and are portable, there are differences.


While “HTML contains titles, headings and italics, XML can contain customers, order numbers, prices or any data element you need”. XML is fully extensible so you can add new tags and new elements to support your application. A core reference book by R. Allen Wyke is “XML Programming” from Microsoft. A few snatches:

  • HTML comes bound with a set of semantics and does not provide arbitrary structure. SGML (Standard Generalised Markup Language) provides arbitrary structure, but implementing SGML is too difficult for a Web browser to do on its own.

XML specifies neither semantics nor a tag set. It is a metalanguage for describing markup languages and provides a facility for defining tags and the structural relationship between them.

  • XML becomes the glue that binds what a piece of data actually is to what it is supposed to accomplish. It is used to describe all aspects of the data, ranging from near-physical properties to usage instructions, and its relationship to other data.

This information can be used for human and machine-readable purposes, one of the true advantages of XML.

  • XML is made of entities and parsed or unparsed data. Entities are a single character construct or a collection of named constructs that are referenced in the document.

Parsed data is made up of character data or markup and is processed by an XML processor. Unparsed data, on the other hand, is raw text not processed as XML.

  • Web Services are fantastic, but when do you not want to use them? Unfortunately, Web Services do have a few limitations. All Web Service objects are passed by value through SOAP. Pass-by-reference is not supported.

A certain amount of overhead is associated with calls to Web Services. Objects need to be marshalled into (potentially large) XML SOAP documents and return results need to be unmarshalled.

  • To retrieve and store data-centric XML documents, most RDBMSs provide a mapping mechanism to allow the transformation of relational data to and from XML data.

Broadly speaking, the different mapping mechanisms provided can be categorised as two types: result-based mapping and schema-based mapping. These two allow one to dynamically discover and represent the database structures from and into XML documents.

Explore the extensible language.

From VB to VB


WHAT are the differences between VB 6 and Visual Basic .NET? How to upgrade and what are the common upgrade problems? These and other questions are answered by Ed Robinson in the book “Upgrading Microsoft Visual Basic 6.0 to Microsoft Visual Basic .NET”. A few picks:

  • Visual Basic .NET, the latest version of Visual Basic, is not merely Visual Basic 6 with a few new features added on. Instead, VB has been thoroughly redesigned and restructured.

The language has been modernised, with new, richer object models for data, forms, transactions, and almost everything else. The file formats have also changed.

  • In Visual Basic 6, the memory associated with a variable or object is freed as soon as you set the variable to Nothing or the variable falls out of scope.

This is not true in the .NET. The .NET runtime marks the variable or object as needing deletion and relegates the object to the Garbage Collector (GC). The GC then deletes the object at some arbitrary time in the future.

  • A complete upgrade is a purebred. It entails not only upgrading code to Visual Basic .NET but also upgrading all of the technologies to their .NET equivalents.

An application that qualifies as a complete (or fully managed) upgrade does not use any COM objects; it uses only the .NET framework. However, interoperability is a good middle-of-the-road option. It usually means that your application has been upgraded to Visual Basic .NET, while core technologies remain in COM components.

  • Debugging in Visual Basic .NET is not exactly what traditional VB developers are used to. Probably the most surprising missing feature is Edit And Continue.

However, Visual Basic .NET offers a host of new features that greatly enhance the debugging experience, including service debugging, cross language debugging, XCopy deployment, structured exception handling, and a more sophisticated debugging API.

  • One characteristic that the Visual Basic .NET Object type lacks compared to the VB 6 Variant type is a value that means missing. Other than being set to an actual value, the only other state a Visual Basic .NET Object type can be set to is Nothing.

Cling on to the .NET.

I, me and `My’


You already know My Computer, My Documents and so on. Now comes My Services from Microsoft .NET for a set of XML Message Interfaces (XMI) delivered as part of the .NET initiative. The book titled “Microsoft .NET My Services Specification” is about the details of the messaging interface model, data manipulation language, security authorisation and so on. Read on:

  • .NET My Services gives the end user a “digital safe-deposit box” for placing their personal information. By default, only end users have access to their information, which they can access via mobile devices while online and via mobile-device synchronisation for access while offline. The end users can choose to grant access to pieces of their personal data to various entities, such as friends, family, groups they are affiliated with, and businesses.
  • Content queries are relatively simple. The content query message selects a node-set and those nodes are returned in the query response message. Change queries are a little more complex.
  • Because nothing is shared unless .NET My Services is told to share, .NET My Services must be informed that sharing is desired. .NET My Services must be told the following items: Who to share information with? What information to share? How to share that information?

An overly complex set of inputs will result in users mis-configuring the system and in effect sharing more information with the wrong people, sharing the intended information with the wrong applications, sharing the correct information in the wrong way.

  • The .NET categories service manages a list of category definitions. Examples of category definitions include child, anniversary, employee and so on. Each category definition has a human readable name and a description, which contains hints about the meaning of that category.
  • The .NET lists service breaks down a list into two major components. The list is defined by the list element, and an item defined by the item attributes. One interesting aspect of an item is that an item can be part of multiple lists. This allows applications to build and manage real-world lists. Suppose for instance you have a list of things to buy at the mall, and a list of things to do for an upcoming trip. It is very reasonable to have an item like “buy new shoes” appear on both of these lists.

Make My Services your services.

Books courtesy: WP Publishers & Distributors P Ltd

Wednesday, May 14, 2003


Get the better of tough times

D. Murali

These are tough times, especially if you’re in IT consulting. But don’t lose heart, here are 12 keys to a thriving practice.

THERE are no two opinions that these are tough times. And if you are in IT consulting. Sanjiv Purba and Bob Delaney have just the right book for you and the title says it all: “IT Consulting in Tough Times: 12 keys to a thriving practice”. First, know that you need the “three-pillar support” for your organisation – viz. clients, employee fitness and profitability. Then, you can proceed to benchmark yourself with the `12 key metrics’ and these are: Client satisfaction, utilisation, resources, average billing rate, accounts receivable, costs, discounts, pipeline, backlog, sales hit ratio, leverage and risk/ exposure. There’s more:


  • IT consulting firms should consider supporting a dedicated sales organisation that works with the practitioners to maintain a regular flow of new business. The bulk of the cost of this organisation can be supported through commission incentives and relatively modest fixed costs.
  • A client can buy the outcome of a consulting engagement on the basis of two variables: inputs and outputs. You can charge a client based on the outcome of a project (i.e., a `flat’ project fee) or on the basis of what you put into a project (i.e., billable hours plus expenses). In many cases, you will use a blend of both.
  • Being lean and mean is always a sound business objective. However, it is too easy to carry this goal too far. In an engagement crunch time, having few resources puts you in a lose-lose position overall. The consulting resources end up working around the clock and may quit, the client is not seeing enough progress, and you’re throwing money everywhere to keep the client happy.
  • The testing process continues to be one of the most cost-effective ways to satisfy a client, maintain morale on your team, make margin on an engagement, win repeat business, and win more business through outstanding client referrals. Yet, despite all these positive benefits, testing is still under-resourced or misunderstood in the IT industry.
  • If people knew how to design and run their IT systems, write code for their business applications, keep their networks and hardware platforms stable and running, they wouldn’t need consultants. Not only do they not know; in many cases, they don’t want to know the fine details of their IT systems. They need you. You need them.

Read this when the going gets tough.

A Garg of words


Pertheus, having bought the Internet stock at low cost, was dreaming of quitting the job and estivating. Ah, if only things always went up. Word is already reddening Pertheus, sounding so Latin-ish, but if you thought – as Microsoft suggests – that `estimating’ has been misspelt, Anu Garg explains in “A word a Day”, in the chapter titled `lesser-known counterparts of everyday words’, that to estivate is to pass the summer in a dormant state. Anu is the founder of, and the book is a collection of “unusual, obscure, and exotic English words”. A sampler:

  • You already know googol is a number equal to 1 followed by 100 zeros. What is googolplex? It is equal to the number 1 followed by googol zeros. If you have a feeling of nervousness, jitters, creeps and so forth, you could be having heebie-jeebies. That is a term coined by Billy De Beck, who also coined `hotsy-totsy’ to mean just right.
  • For those who are busy dusting their resume, here is a tip: Don’t simply write, “I took the trash out on the graveyard shift at my neighbouring Bumpy’s” as your work experience. Instead, you embellish: “As nocturnal sanitation superintendent of the local branch of a multi-billion-dollar food business, I implemented refuse collection policies and increased customer satisfaction by 27.9 per cent.”
  • There is an important presentation going on and someone performs a sternutation. What’s that? The act of sneezing. And if your staff comes up and says, “I’d like to see a physician for my symptoms of tussis and get a prescription for an antitussive agent,” he is looking for relief for his coughing.
  • There are metrics for everything, from ROI to KBPS, from DPI to MTBF. So, what’s dol? It is a unit for measuring the pain intensity. And mora? The unit of time equivalent to the ordinary or normal short sound or syllable.
  • A pack of cards, a bunch of keys, a flock of sheep and so forth are what your English teacher should have tested you about. How about collective nouns inspired by the world of computers? Such as – an array of programmers, a clique of computer mice, a 404 of former Web sites, a cylinder of CDs, a wildcard of hackers and a hindrance of tech-support people.

Grab all of Garg in a day!

Cram time, Kramer time


There are CAs, CWAs, CSs, CPAs, CIAs, CFEs, MBAs, and so forth in enough number. But when it comes to getting somebody to certify your information systems as secure and safe, you need a CISA – the Certified Information Systems Auditor. The premier accounting body in India (the ICAI) has a replica of the certificate and calls it ISA, something causing heartburn in CISA circles. And the `first commercially available book to offer CISA study material’ is John B.Kramer’s “The CISA Prep Guide”. A few snatches:

  • There are three levels of documentation that you will need to evaluate in order to determine how well the overall pervasive control of the documented guidance and direction is being managed in the IS organisation. The top level is policy. Next is the standard. And the third level comprises procedures.
  • Security isolation is another excellent reason for proxying a user’s access to a back-end process. Anytime a secure portion of a network is accessed from a lesser secure portion of the network, the security of the more secure space is lowered to that of the lesser because it cannot be anymore secure than the weakest security directly allowed to affect the data it holds.
  • Non-repudiation seems to be a concept that is unique to the digital world because no physical world, legal agreement equivalency really exists. This concept refers to proving the double negative that you cannot say that you did not do it.
  • Which of the following is not a password control? (a) Requiring that a password have a minimum length and complexity; (b) Encrypting passwords when in transit and at rest; (c) Limiting the reuse of passwords through the use of a history file; or (d) Limiting the number of unique sessions an account can handle.
  • Detective controls are used in situations where it is more important to understand that something has happened that it was to prevent from happening. In some cases, a detective control will ensure that a desirable event did indeed occur, providing feedback that the process is working as intended.

Get ready for the exam.

Books courtesy: Wiley Dreamtech India P

Wednesday, May 21, 2003


This is “One Microsoft Way”

D. Murali

Keen to try some sample questions from a typical Microsoft interview, replete with riddles and logic puzzles?

HOW would you weigh a jet plane without using scales? Why do mirrors reverse right and left instead of up and down? How many times a day do a clock’s hands overlap? Count in base `negative 2′. These are some of the sample questions from a typical Microsoft interview, where they pose riddles and logic puzzles to gauge the candidate’s intelligence, imagination, and problem-solving ability – “qualities needed to survive in today’s hypercompetitive global marketplace”. William Poundstone discusses Microsoft’s `cult of the puzzle’ in a book titled puzzle-ish, “How would you Move Mount Fuji?” A few snatches:


  • Gates does not like to lose in social games any more than he does in the game of business. A game of charades once ended with Gates accusing another player of cheating (Gates was losing). A friendly Internet bridge game with Warren Buffett ended abruptly – “The miserable little cheat unplugged his computer to avoid losing!” is Buffett’s story.
  • An interview question for humans: There are four dogs, each at a corner of a large square. Each of the dogs begins chasing the dog clockwise from it. All of the dogs run at the same speed. All continuously adjust their direction so that they are always heading straight toward their clockwise neighbour. How long does it take for the dogs to catch each other? Where does this happen?
  • A golden question: One of your employees insists on being paid daily in gold. You have a gold bar whose value is that of seven days salary for this employee. The bar is already segmented into seven equal pieces. If you are allowed to make just two cuts in the bar, and must settle with the employee at the end of each day, how do you do it?
  • The assets that matter are the human ones. Hiring is no longer a matter of finding a few executives to manage a team of interchangeable worker-drones. A start-up mentality prevails at Fortune 500 companies. Businesses feel that their survival depends on filling every position with the most talented and mentally nimble people.
  • To deal effectively with puzzles (and with the bigger problems for which they may be a model), you must operate on two or more levels simultaneously. One thread of consciousness tackles the problem while another, higher-level thread, monitors the progress. This self-awareness is characteristic of good problem-solvers.

Just one more question: How can you make Gates give away all his money?

Will we survive the gene-byte?

MAN, and that includes woman, has been changing over the years. And he, as well as she, is bound to change more. In “Our Posthuman Future”, Francis Fukuyama, argues that the ability to manipulate the DNA will have “profound, and potentially terrible, consequences for our political order, even if undertaken with the best of intentions”. This is a book that is classified by Picador as `current affairs/ science’ because Fukuyama treads the dangerous area of policy as a `social philosopher’ to describe “the potential effects of genetic exploration on the foundation of liberal democracy – the belief that human beings are equal by nature”. Here’s more:


  • Biology can in theory supply information about the molecular pathways linking genes and behaviour. Genes control the expression – that is, the turning on and off – of other genes, and they contain the code for the proteins that control chemical reactions within the body and are the building blocks of the body’s cells.
  • Modern neuroscience has, in effect, lifted the hood and permitted us to peer, however tentatively, at the engine. The dozen or so neuro-transmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, control the firing of nerve synapses and the transmission of signals across the neurons in the brain.
  • People want smarter kids so that they will get into Harvard, for example, but competition for places at Harvard is zero-sum: if my kid becomes smarter because of gene therapy and gets in, he or she simply displaces your kid.

My decision to have a designer baby imposes a cost on you (or rather, your child), and in the aggregate it is not clear that anyone is better off.

  • Data, after all, are data, and better data can often be obtained by bending the rules or ignoring them altogether. A number of the Nazi doctors who injected concentration camp victims with infectious agents or tortured prisoners by freezing or burning them to death were in fact legitimate scientists who gathered real data that could potentially be put to good use.
  • The posthuman world could be one that is far more hierarchical and competitive than the one that currently exists. “Shared humanity” may be lost because we have mixed genes with those of so many other species that we no longer have a clear idea of what a human being is.

It could be one in which the median person is living well into his or her second century, sitting in a nursing home hoping for an unattainable death.

Frighteningly realistic. Pray for a good gene, and pray for a good computer that would be crunching all the `data’ to make it.

The survival game

A BLACK book with a seemingly pessimistic message. Yes, that is what Martin Rees’s “Our Final Century” is. The question he poses is simple: “Will the human race survive the 21st century?”

Rees is no doomsayer when he says that our civilisation has but a 50/50 chance of surviving, because he “brings scientific authority to his theme”. A sampler:


  • Robotics and miniaturisation are weakening the short-term practical case for manned space flight. In the coming decades, swarms of miniaturised satellites will orbit Earth.

And robotic fabricators will assemble large structures, perhaps extracting raw materials from the Moon or from asteroids.

  • Designers of nuclear reactors aimed to reduce the probability of the worst accidents to less than one per million “reactor years”. To do such calculations, all possible combinations of mishaps and subsystem failures have to be included. Among these is the possibility that a large aircraft might crash onto the containment vessel.
  • The obverse of technology’s immense prospects is an escalating variety of potential disasters, not just from malevolent intent but from innocent inadvertence as well.

We can conceive of events that could cause worldwide epidemics of fatal diseases to which there is no antidote, or change society irreversibly.

And robotics and nanotechnology could, in the long term, be even more threatening.

  • The phrase “theory of everything”, often used in popular books, has connotations that are not only hubristic, but also very misleading.

A so-called theory of everything would actually offer absolutely zero help to ninety-nine per cent of scientists.

  • Some “brains” (out there in the outer space) may package reality in a fashion that we can’t conceive and have a quite different perception of reality. Others could be uncommunicative: living contemplative lives, perhaps deep under some planetary ocean, doing nothing to reveal their presence.

Still other “brains” could actually be assemblages of superintelligent “social insects”. Absence of evidence wouldn’t be evidence of absence.

There is a choice to postpone the `final’ century, if only humans act responsibly.

Books courtesy: Landmark,

Wednesday, May 28, 2003



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