From reams of rubbish to gigabytes of garbage; It’s enough to be perfect enough; From three meals a day to day-long grazing; Talking in the .NET realm

Books2Byte – June 2003

From reams of rubbish to gigabytes of garbage

D. Murali

The years BC (Before desktop Computers) were the golden age of MIS. At least you could see the rubbish. The years AD (After Desktops) tell a different story of evolution.


SO, they taught you everything at the b-school. Now, you unlearn the whole thing, because Jo Owen is eager to tell you “what they don’t teach at business school” in Management Stripped Bare. Irreverent and incisive, screams the back-cover; and Philip Kotler warns, “Be prepared to lose your business innocence”. A sampler:

  • Calculators: Throw them away. Use of a calculator is normally a way of ensuring that the maths is right to eight decimal places, even when the logic is 100 per cent wrong. Using a calculator simply obscures the need to think about data. It does not help test for reasonableness, or for assumptions or for definitions. It also helps people become innumerate.
  • Information inflation: Information overload has serious consequences. The value of information deflates as rapidly as the volume inflates. Finding good information is harder. Attention spans are reducing; we listen to a message only briefly before moving onto the next message. Information is trusted to the extent that we trust the information provider. Visual literacy is taking over from verbal literacy. Now we want fewer words.
  • Management Information Systems: The years BC (Before desktop Computers) was the golden age of MIS. At least you could see the rubbish. At one insurance company, the weekly MIS was printed out onto a mainframe, put onto a low loader and carted up to the executive floor. The MIS weighed in at 20 kg. No one read it or understood it. In the years AD (After Desktops), MIS has got worse. We have evolved from reams of rubbish to gigabytes of garbage. This is worse because the technology allows the amount of data to explode. Because no one can see how much garbage there is, there is no incentive to clean it up.
  • New economy blues: Future perfect is a world where we can get anything, any time, any way we want. This is consumer heaven. It is also management hell. For managers, creating the future perfect means doing everything, all the time, in every way. The freedom to consume is mirrored by the prison of work. Wanting all the information, all the time, leads to the tyranny of technology. Learning to focus on what is important is effective management.
  • Profs: Good business school professors are great for a one-night stand. They are very smart, entertaining and they normally have one great insight and one great speech in them. The temptation is to then ask them back again for some more of the magic. Don’t ask them back. You will simply see the same trick again. Remember that their magic is essentially a solution looking for a problem. It is the same solution, the same insight that they bring to every company. If you have their problem, great. If not, they are still worthwhile for the entertainment value and the different perspective. Just don’t expect to get your problem solved.

Cow slaughter, if you thought management is a `holy cow’.

Doctor with a mouse


WHAT happens when you cross medicine and IT? Medical informatics. It is both an art and a science, explains the back cover of Mohan Bansal’s book “Medical Informatics, A Primer”. Medical informatics is an art of managing medical and healthcare, and a science of information technology and communication. The book covers hospital management and information system, knowledge-based and expert system, computer-assisted medical education, three-dimensional imaging, surgical simulation, tele-medicine and so on. A few picks:

  • Medication errors are common and they lead to substantial extra work in hospitals. Some errors have the potential to cause injury, and others cause preventable adverse drug events. Computerised physician order entry (POE) with decision support has been successful in reducing medication errors such as dose errors, frequency errors, route errors, substitution errors and allergies.
  • An interactive online collection of patient data (using computer-based patient record – CPR) and real time processing are interesting and enjoyable for both the doctor as well as the patient. Computer-based diagnostic and management suggestions can be made on the basis of patients’ responses.
  • provides interactive multimedia software for medical students, teachers and practitioners. Such programmes are extremely effective in learning medical concepts, disease processes and therapeutic modalities. A series of topics relevant to different specialities is also available.
  • Many patients try to collect information regarding their rare diseases when consultants are not able to provide them satisfactory details of that rare ailment. Before and after visiting a physician, a patient tries to make sense of what his/her doctor said. Patients also make efforts to contact other persons suffering from the same disease and how they and their family members have coped with it. But they must know that information on the Net may not be reliable or authentic.
  • Tele-medicine, coupled with digital photography, could potentially improve the quality of outpatient wound care and decrease medical costs by allowing home care nurses to electronically transmit images of patients’ wounds to treating surgeons. Digital imaging for remote wound management is feasible and holds significant promise for improving outpatient vascular wound care.

And don’t forget to pay your doc on the Net.

Go mobile


FOR a `complete range of current mobile and wireless network technologies’, from a software developer’s perspective, read Martyn Mallick’s “Mobile and Wireless Design Essentials”. It examines SML, MMS, WAP Push, HDML, PIM and so forth. Read on:

  • In most regards, wireless Internet applications have the same architecture as wired Internet applications. The components of the system are essentially the same; the only difference is the way the information is transmitted to the end user. All the business logic and enterprise data is stored on servers within the corporate firewall. On the client side is a mobile device that has an Internet browser. These browsers are often called microbrowsers.
  • The Enhanced Message Service (EMS) adds powerful new functionality to SMS. In addition to being able to send text, EMS allows users to send richer content, including pictures, animations, sounds and formatted text. EMS can be added to existing SMS infrastructures, saving operators from having to make large investments to add these new features.
  • Enterprise integration is a term used to describe any communication to systems not on the device. It encapsulates integration with enterprise databases, business applications, XML data, Web content, and legacy data, among other things.
  • The WAP programming model is very similar to the Internet programming model. It typically uses the pull approach for requesting content, meaning the client makes the request for content from the server. However, WAP also supports the ability to push content from the server to the client using Wireless Telephone Application (WTA) specification.
  • Adding location information to mobile applications adds an important dimension to many solutions. Location-aware applications increase user efficiency by providing customised access to data based not only on user preferences, but also on the user’s current position. This takes content personalisation to a new level.

Such a location-based application may even reveal to your boss that you are at home instead of attending to a sales call.

Books courtesy: Viva, Tata McGraw-Hill and Wiley Dreamtech.

Wednesday, Jun 04, 2003


It’s enough to be perfect enough

D. Murali

Make perfect products, for sure, but don’t miss the market in the process. Hewlett-Packard’s lesson is for all.


PERFECTION is not an easy goal to achieve. Often elusive, the quest is enough to ruin a company, which is what HP realised. At Hewlett-Packard – `the revered computer and printer company that helped create Silicon Valley’ – they never wanted to ship a product until it was perfect, even if it meant they missed the market opportunity. Then came the realisation that what was needed was something perfect enough. And that is the title of George Anders’s book on Carly Florina and the reinvention of HP. “A definitive account of the most dangerous year in Florina’s life, chronicling her daredevil bid to remake HP with a record-shattering $20-billion acquisition of Compaq”, states the blurb. More:

  • There was no time for nostalgia. As soon as one device came to market, a new team of engineers began devising a better model that would make the first one obsolete. Shortly before Christmas one year, employees gave Hewlett and Packard a mischievous gift for their ranch: a fertiliser spreader packed full of product manuals for old or discontinued HP products. Other companies could start museums lauding past efforts. At HP in those days, the future was too exciting to allow any sentimental looks backward.
  • The company didn’t need a myriad of unconnected divisions. That approach was driving customers crazy. Major customers such as Ford Motor and Boeing were grumbling that HP pestered them with dozens of separate sales teams, each pushing a narrow line of products, rather than addressing their total needs in one unified conversation.

Florina decided to reorganise HP into quadrants, instead of letting each division handle its own research, manufacturing, sales and marketing.

  • HP was strong in Unix-based servers, weak in the Windows NT market, weak in storage, strong in consumer PCs, and feeble in Dell-style direct selling. Compaq was just the opposite. Put the two companies together, and the combined line-up looked a lot stronger than what either company could do alone.

Furthermore, the McKinsey consultants identified at least $2.5 billion a year in costs that could be pruned out by fiscal 2004 – largely by eliminating duplicate spending in key business areas. The companies fit together like a zipper.

  • “Technology is more than an engineer’s game,” she said. “That’s where Microsoft has been brilliant. If you think about technology companies that have really led, they didn’t fall too much in love with the technology.”

If you are looking around for companies to take over, read this.

Enough is enough


ICE age, stone age and now it is the engineered age, where lab workers can reprogram human embryos to make children smarter or happier. “Enough” by Bill McKibben is about staying human in an engineered age. The book confronts the most basic question – “Will we ever decide that we’ve grown powerful enough?” Read on.

  • A sixth of the American population lacks health insurance of any kind – they can’t afford to go to the doctor for a check-up. And much of the rest of the world is far worse off. If we can’t afford the fifty cents a person it would take to buy bed nets to protect most of Africa from malaria, it is unlikely we will extend to anyone but to the top tax bracket the latest forms of genetic technology.
  • On the same day in November 2001 that Advanced Cell Technology announced it had cloned the first human embryo, a group of Israeli scientists made an almost equally stunning declaration. They had used biological molecules to create a tiny, programmable computer – so tiny that a trillion of them could `coexist and compute in parallel, in a drop the size of 1/10 of a millilitre of watery solution held at room temperature. The computer hardware consisted of naturally occurring enzymes that manipulate DNA; it could be programmed to perform simple tasks by choosing particular software molecules to be mixed in solution.”
  • The holy grail of the nanotechnologists, the thing that makes the futurists’ eyes light up and twirl around, the mechanical equivalent of germline engineering, is the so-called assembler. An assembler would be a machine roughly the size of a strand of DNA, able to move individual atoms around and put them precisely where you wanted them. With a programmable assembler, you really would be able to build anything. Probably, the first thing you’d build would be more assemblers.
  • According to a recent report by the research director for SmithKline Beecham, enough sequencing data are already available to keep his researchers busy for the next 20 years, developing early-detection screening techniques, rationally designed vaccines, and so on.
  • If you’re designed for piety, the temptations of the world may barely arise. Because, of course, those tensions are inefficient, like feathers on a chicken. They keep us from being all one way, one thing. From specialising emotionally. But that inefficiency, that tension, that tug in different directions is what we call consciousness. Machines don’t have tension. Consciousness doesn’t make us better than robots and rhinoceri. It just makes us different. It just makes us human.


(Books courtesy: Landmark

May I help you?


IS the telephone an important part of your job? Do you work in a telemarketing, teleservice, reservation or catalogue centre, an e-tailing, fund-raising or collection centre, or a help desk? Kris Cole has tips on how to make each and every call a first-rate experience in the small book “Call Centre Communication”. The handy publication provides inputs on how you can quickly find out what people at the other end of the line want, as also on how to deal with angry, argumentative or annoying callers. A few excerpts:

  • Your contacts can’t see your friendly smile, your pleasant expression or your sociable gestures. Your careful grooming or attractive appearance can’t help you create a favourable impression, either. All you have is four invisible qualities to create the impact you’re after: your voice, your speech, your vocabulary, and your manner.
  • Research shows that your telephone voice expresses between 70 and 86 per cent of your message while your words themselves convey only 14 to 30 per cent of your meaning.
  • How much strength, power, and passion do you speak with? That’s your vocal energy. Who wants to talk with someone whose voice is as limp and lifeless as a jug of wilted flowers? Voices with vigour and vivacity are gripping. Your contacts will respond far better if your voice sounds lively and dynamic than if it sounds feeble and flimsy.
  • Avoid `fillers’ such as `I mean’, `ya know’ and `ummm’. Professionals don’t need them. They’re unnecessary and make you sound uncertain and immature. Weak words and empty sounds and phrases destroy your contacts’ confidence in you.
  • `But’ blocks; `and’ builds. `And’ shows you have listened and heard. It acknowledges and extends on what your contact has said. With `and’, you’re working with your contact’s comments; with `but’ you’re dismissing them. `And’ helps prevent arguments because it allows two points of view to stand. Sometimes, you can simply substitute `and’ for `but’.

A book of homework to make call centres communicating centres.

(Book courtesy: EastWest Books (Madras) P Ltd.

Wednesday, Jun 11, 2003


From three meals a day to day-long grazing

D. Murali

Such is the abundance of information on the Web that the appetite grows on feeding and will likely become insatiable.


THE Web is not just www. It has a social and intellectual context, says David Weinberger in “Small Pieces Loosely Joined”, a book that offers a unified theory of the Web. The Web is transforming our social institutions, and also our concepts of space, time, self, knowledge, and even reality. Read on:

  • Consider the Web as a construction project. It’s the most complex network ever created. It is by many orders of magnitude the largest collection of human writings and works in history. It is far more robust than networks far smaller, yet it was created without managers. In fact, it succeeded only because its designers made the conscious decision to build a network that would require no central control. You don’t need anyone’s permission to join in, to post whatever you want, to read whatever others have posted. The Web is profoundly unmanaged, and that is crucial to its success.
  • It is the Web’s hyperlinked nature to pull our attention here and there. But it is not at all clear that our new distractedness represents a weakening of our culture’s intellectual powers, a lack of focus, a diversion from the important work that needs to be done. Distraction may instead represent our interest finally finding the type of time that suits it best. Maybe when set free in a field of abundance, our hunger moves us from three meals a day to day-long grazing.
  • The Web celebrates our imperfection, ludicrous creatures that we are. Its juice comes from there being as many points of view as people and as many ways of talking as there are Web pages. It is not headed towards agreement. Ever. There isn’t one way of thinking or talking or behaving on the Web, and if there were, who’d want to go? It will never be perfect, complete, final, total, true without exception, good without hesitation.
  • Our shared world isn’t the surface of the earth. What makes us social isn’t shared space, for we share geography with nematodes and macaroons, but we are not social with them. What makes us social are shared interests. The Web is a new social, public space.
  • Any page or chat room persona may be as dishonest as a senior manager’s expense report. If the Web is bringing us closer to human authenticity, it is doing so at the level of our species, not individuals. If space aliens want to learn who we are as humans, they shouldn’t read our newspapers and they certainly shouldn’t watch our TV programs. They should browse the Web.

Worth taking time off your browsing to read the book.

Alive and kicking

IF you thought there’s no hope and everything is just dying, here is a book to rev up your spirits. “It’s Alive” by Christopher Meyer and Stan Davis is about the coming convergence of information, biology and business. The book is on the “jolt the world is about to receive as the science of molecular evolution races out of the laboratories and into the business world”. More:


  • Today, whatever their short-term doldrums, biology and information remain the economy’s two growth sectors.

Increasingly, both are teaching the lessons of adaptation and evolution. The theories that drive biology will be adopted in the way we use information, and the way we manage our enterprises. Biology, information, and business will converge on general evolution.

  • As was the case with information, molecular technologists will first improve the way we do the things we already do. Over time, the production economics of the things we make today will change as a result of techniques that use less energy, create less waste, and employ new materials. Next, molecular technologists will change the things we make. Products will take on characteristics impossible today, increasing their durability, strength, and customisation. Some will self-assemble, or self-heal. And in the third phase, new kinds of products and businesses will arise in all economic sectors.
  • Swimming amoeba naturally sense the direction in which the food concentration rises most rapidly, and move that way. A flower senses the sun and turns to gather the greatest amount of energy. Yet companies do not automatically sense their markets and respond to them – they have to work at it. Learning what dissatisfied someone who is no longer a customer generally requires a special effort; even if the customer makes his dissatisfaction known, the message seldom gets through. Imagine not feeling pain when a predator bit you.
  • “Self-synchronisation” is the term the Marines use to describe the ability of a well-informed force to self-organise complex warfare activities from the bottom up… In Network-Centric Warfare, the most important asset on the battlefield is not a weapon, but a sensor… Marines go on excursions to the New York Mercantile Exchange, because both traders and Marines are required to make quick decisions with limited information, in chaotic conditions.
  • Many baulk at the notion of blurring carbon and non-carbon life. They ask: How can cold code be infused with warm wet life? How can the ineffable qualities of humans be passed on, into computers? In return, however, we must ask: How can we accept the concept of evolution yet believe that it stops with us?

And don’t stop with the excerpts, if you want to evolve.

Small, smaller, smallest

THE dictionary definition of nanotechnology puts it as `the science of manipulating material at the atomic level’.

How atomic, if you ask, a nanometer is 1/80,0000th the diameter of a human hair.


And “The Next Big Thing is Really Small” by Jack Uldrich and Deb Newberry is about how nanotechnology will change the future of your business, not in a small way, but big. Unlike the Internet, which applied new technology of the digital revolution to many old processes and businesses, nanotech is about creating entirely new materials, products, systems, and markets, explains the blurb. A sampler:

  • Nanomanipulation can be classified into two categories: nanofabrication and self-assembly.

The former is nanoscale engineering, that is actual atomically precise sculpting or building; and the latter is the process of atoms and molecules adhering in a self-regulated fashion.

  • The US Army is investing heavily in nanotechnology in the hope that it will help create materials that can make uniforms that will simultaneously monitor a soldier’s health, detect and detoxify chemical agents, heat and cool the soldier as appropriate, and independently generate power so the soldier’s wearable computer can wirelessly remain in constant communication with headquarters.
  • In late 2003, IBM will formally announce Millipede, a new data-storage device capable of storing approximately one terabit (one hundred billion bytes) of data per square inch. The device, which resembles a walking millipede when it is operational, consists of a thousand nano-sized probes placed on a silicon chip. Think of it as a Braille reader that decodes molecule-sized bumps.
  • By connecting to a wireless adapter, electronic paper will be able to access the Net and change the image being shown on the paper. As the technology progresses and as users become more comfortable with it, electronic paper is going to require the $60 billion newspaper, $59 billion periodical, and the $23 billion book publishing industries to rethink their business models.
  • The UN estimates that there are 38 global trouble spots where fighting might break out due to water shortage. If nanofiltration systems can desalinise water, or if nanotechnology-enabled advances can reduce water usage, or if nanobiotechnology can help grow crops in either drought conditions or with salt water, competing populations would no longer have to fight for control over scarce resources.

Perhaps, small is really beautiful too.

Books courtesy: Landmark

Wednesday, Jun 18, 2003


Talking in the .NET realm

D. Murali

Be it high-level or low-level languages or installing applications, there’s a lot on in the .NET arena. Catch up with the latest.

IN the world of languages, there are levels, high and low, as you may well know. If HLL is not an FMCG major but high-level language, IL is the intermediate language, if not an interesting one. Then you need the ILAsm which is the IL assembly language, a low-level language, specifically designed to describe every functional feature of the common language runtime. Serge Lidin’s “Inside Microsoft .NET IL Assembler” is about the ILAsm in the .NET realm. Read on:

  • Methods are the third and the last leg of the tripod supporting the entire concept of managed programming, the first two being types and fields. When it comes down to execution, types, fields, and methods are the central players, with the rest of the metadata simply providing additional information about this triad.


  • High-level language compilers provide a significant level of protection against invalid metadata emission because they shield the actual metadata specification and emission from programmers. But ILAsm is a platform-oriented language (rather than concept-oriented); it allows a programmer to generate an enormously wide range of metadata structures and IL constructs, only a fraction of which represent a valid subset.
  • The data section (.sdata) of an image file generated by the ILAsm compiler is a read/write section. It contains data constants, the v-table, the unmanaged export table, and the thread local storage directory structure. The data declared as thread-specific is located in a different section, the .tls section.
  • A managed pointer is managed by the runtime’s garbage collection subsystem and stays valid even if the referenced item is moved in memory during the process of garbage collection, whereas an unmanaged pointer can be safely used only in association with `unmovable’ items. Using unmanaged pointers in IL is not considered nice, because such code is deemed unverifiable. Managed pointers are tamed, domesticated pointers, fully owned by the common language runtime control.
  • The security system of the .NET Framework includes two major components: security policies and embedded security requirements. While the former reflect the opinions of the system administrator and user, the latter are of two kinds, viz. imperative security which is part of the application’s code, and the declarative security which is part of the application’s metadata.

An architectural reference book if you are into serious code building.

Zero impact


ZERO-ERROR, zero-gravity, zero-sum, zero-mark and so on are part of your vocabulary. But what is zero-impact installation? That is where you install an application and it does not affect applications already installed on the system. And this is something guaranteed when you program with Visual Basic .NET, assures John Connell in “Coding Techniques for Microsoft Visual Basic .NET”. More:

  • Because a message box is really a window, as everything that’s visible is to Windows, its class is found in the System.Windows.Forms namespace.

Using IntelliSense, you can see that MessageBox is a real class because it has the tri-brick icon.

  • All Visual Basic .NET methods are virtual methods, which means that if both the parent class and the child class include methods with the same name, the child class’s implementation of the method is always called first when the method is invoked from the outside world. The method that is called is always the one that’s included in the class used to create the object.
  • Most CPUs actually have a special instruction set that is provided explicitly for the debugger. You set a breakpoint and can then step through your running program one line at a time.
  • Many times, network managers in larger organisations create a dummy file with a tempting name such as salary.xls or passwords.bin and check to see whether anyone tampers with it.

This technique is called placing a `honey pot’ on the network.

  • To successfully deploy your Visual Basic .NET application, you must understand how the .NET runtime locates and binds to the assemblies that make up your application. The common language runtime (CLR) performs a number of steps when attempting to locate an assembly. Probing is the term used to describe how the runtime locates assemblies.

A book for the probing VB programmer.

XML dialect

How to transform your organisation’s relational databases into potent e-com, B2B, and Web applications? How to retrieve XML data from database? How to use SQL Server and XML to move into e-tailing? Graeme Malcolm’s “Programming Microsoft SQL Server 2000 with XML” has the answers. Excerpts:


  • EXPLICIT mode queries define XML fragments in terms of a universal table, which consists of a column for each piece of data you require and two additional columns that are used to define the metadata for the XML fragment.
  • When a database is accessed by many users, you can encounter concurrency issues (such as excessive locking) as multiple users attempt to access the same data. Database applications adopt different strategies to deal with locking – the most common approaches being optimistic locking and pessimistic locking.
  • XSL documents define style sheets that you can apply to XML documents. XSL defines a number of processing commands that are useful for extracting data from an XML document and merging it into an output document.
  • One of the common issues that developers face when trying to map XML schemas to data in a database is what to do about XML elements or attributes that have no corresponding table or column in the database.

To ensure that the SQLOLEDB provider `knows’ that the submitted query is an XML template query and not a conventional Transact-SQL command, we need to specify the dialect of the command. To do this, you need to set the Dialect property of the Command object to a globally unique identifier (GUID) representing MSSQLXML dialect.

Hope you understand the dialect.

Books courtesy: Word Power

Wednesday, Jun 25, 2003



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