Some secrets are to be said in bits; Make something out of nothing; Are you baring all?; Can’t live with `em, or without `em; Of security, and change

Books2Byte – October 2003

Some secrets are to be said in bits

D. Murali

Want to make a secret of what you want to say? Here’s how you go about it.


YOU can’t think of a VIP without a black cat; nor data transmission without a mention of encryption. Practical Cryptography by Bruce Schneier is about how to secure one’s digital future. “Without a secure computer system, you don’t make money, you don’t expand, and bottom-line – you don’t survive,” states the back cover. The book discusses practical rules for choosing and using cryptographic primitives, from block ciphers to digital signatures; implementing cryptographic algorithms and systems in a secure way on today’s computers; and so on. A few crypts:

  • Security does not come for free. If you want security, you’ll have to pay the price. If you can’t afford it, then you won’t get good security. It is as simple as that.
  • Of all the cryptographic primitives, hash functions are the most versatile. You can use a hash function for encryption, authentication, and even for a simple digital signature scheme. A hash function takes as input an arbitrarily long string of bits (or bytes) and produces a fixed-size result. Hash functions are sometimes called message digest functions, and the hash result is also known as the digest, or the fingerprint.
  • Something that surprises many people is that simply overwriting data in memory does not delete the data. The details depend to some extent on the exact type of memory involved, but basically if you store data in a memory location, that location slowly starts to `learn’ the data. For instance, if the same data is stored for a time in the same location in static RAM (SRAM), then this data becomes the preferred power-up state of that memory.
  • Don’t trust any of the random number generators provided with your programming language or your operating system. Most of them fail virtually all requirements for a cryptographically strong PRNG (pseudorandom number generator).
  • Many companies file patents not so much to enforce them, but to defend themselves. If you have a whole pile of patents, and your competitor sues you over one of his patents, you can always find one of your patents that he infringed, or at least one that you can allege that he infringed. It is a bit like MAD: mutually assured destruction. If you sue me, I’ll sue you, and we both lose enormous amounts of money (on legal fees and lost opportunities). Sometimes we see two companies involved in this game of chicken. Quite often they settle after a year or so, once cooler heads realise that a mutual suicide pact doesn’t provide much shareholder value.

A book on how to make a secret of what you want to say, even if it is not something critical.

Communication class


EVERYBODY talks about digital communication systems, data transfer, networks, mobile computing and so on, and you are looking for a primer about these. Try out Dr K.V.K.K. Prasad’sPrinciples of Digital Communication Systems and Computer Networks. The book discusses information theory, PSTN, RS232, optical communication, signalling system, ISDN, frame relay, ATM, WAP, 3G, Bluetooth, IrDA, radio paging, information security and a host of other topics. A sampler:

  • Twisted pair gets its name as a pair of copper wires is twisted to form the transmission medium. This is the least expensive transmission medium and hence the most widely used one – in underground telephone network, PBX and LAN. Coaxial cable is used extensively for cable TV distribution, long-distance telephone trunks and so on. Optic fibre is now the most preferred because of the high rates that can be supported and low attenuation (that is, signal loss).
  • The three widely used frequency bands in satellite communication systems are C band, Ku band and Ka band. The higher the frequency, the smaller will be the antenna size.
  • In Mobile IP, the mobile device will have two addresses: Home address and care-of-address. When the mobile device moves from one network to another network, the packets will be forwarded to the mobile device using these addresses.
  • Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) is an attractive packet switching technology that achieves fast packet switching with small packets of fixed size. ATM technology is an outcome of the developments in broadband ISDN. In ATM, each packet is called a `cell’. The cell size is 53 bytes – with 5 bytes header and 48 bytes of data.
  • Conversion of text into corresponding pronunciation is called transliteration. In English, 26 letters are mapped onto 42 phonemes – these are the smallest speech sounds. These phonemes are represented by special symbols. For English, 350 pronunciation rules are required to convert text into the corresponding pronunciation. Even with so many rules, not all the words are pronounced properly. Therefore, a dictionary of exceptions is required.

If your engineers are talking mumbo-jumbo, this book may help in deciphering.

Play while you play


ALL work and no play makes Jill a dull girl. So, here comes Mike McShaffry’s Professional Game Programming – the ultimate reference with a complete coverage of programming commercially viable computer games. The back cover states that the book would teach you the nuts and bolts of the game-coding process; insider techniques for writing top-notch game code; 2D and 3D graphics techniques used by professional game developers; unique insight on critical algorithms you can’t live without, debugging secrets; and key `gotchas’ to avoid that can really hurt game development projects. Read on:

  • You can’t design `fun’. Fun is a `tweakable’ thing, not something that exists in a design document. You hope like hell that the original design will result in a fun game, but the first playable version frequently leaves you with the distinct impression that the game needs some more chilli powder and a little more time on the stove.
  • Any game programmer who wants to remain being a game programmer for very long quickly needs to master the art of developing great user interfaces so that players can better interact with their games. The trick to building successful interfaces is to make sure that the interface really matches the format and complexity of the game you are building.
  • Smart game programmers realise early on that some problems are harder than others. If you thought that creating a good flight simulator was a piece of cake, I’d tell you that the tough part isn’t simulating the airplane, but simulating the ground. Games need enormous amount of data to suspend disbelief on the part of players.
  • Some relative newcomers to the middleware arena are physics engines. This software provides APIs to simulate the movements of 3D geometry under effects of gravity, friction, collision with other objects, and even soft body motions such as cloth. But check if you really need a physics engine. For instance, collision with simple shapes is a well-published problem with relatively simple solutions.

Perhaps having objects simply disappear after they’ve been hit is a good alternative to spending the annual salary of a good programmer on licensing fees.

  • Content complete is really a milestone that is pretty special to game development.

This stage focuses on completing and installing all the other game data: sound effects, speech, music, map levels, help, and anything else that isn’t a part of the executable.

Content complete usually follows four to eight weeks after the code complete milestone.

Play by the book.

(Books courtesy: Wiley Dreamtech India P

Wednesday, Oct 01, 2003


Make something out of nothing

D. Murali

Make ideas click into action, get better at playing manager, and learn all about `modern myths.’


OUT of every hundred ideas, only one can be considered a good one. Out of every hundred good ideas, only one is worthy of pursuit, of building a new company or division around. Of those hundred start-ups, perhaps only one will be considered successful. This is the frightening scenario that Kevin O’Connor paints in “The Map of Innovation”. He helped create DoubleClick, and in the intro he talks of two important lessons: One, ideas are cheap. “Once you have come up with one, you need to do something with it.” Two, if you really are going to do anything with your ideas, you need a process. You need a way to find the best idea you can; then, more important, you need the most efficient way to bring that idea to market by developing the best strategy, raising the money, and hiring the right people.” Getting people to work hard is not the big issue, writes Kevin. “It’s getting them to think big enough.” More about `creating something out of nothing’:

  • My thoughts on money are pretty simple: raise three times more than you think you could ever possibly need, and do it at a time when you don’t need it. Hiring people is another area where innovators tend to make things more difficult than they need to be. The key is to hire smart “athletes”.
  • To find out whether what you have is a need or a want, ask yourself this: Will the idea make the consumer or business money? Will it save them money? Will it make them more efficient? Will it make them more competitive? If the answer to all those questions is no, then what you are dealing with is likely a want. But if your idea meets a basic need, and there is an existing technology already in place, then you’re on to something big.
  • Entrepreneurs fall in love with their ideas. And they should. They are devoting their lives to them. But it is naïve to expect everyone else on the planet to share your enthusiasm. They aren’t going to care.

As a father, I came to realise that not everyone wanted to see all the baby pictures I had taken. People have their own projects and agendas (and kids). That’s why you need to tell them what you have in a sentence. This single sentence is what you say to your employees, customers, suppliers, investors, and everyone you meet at a party. It is why you are.

  • A lot of people confuse skills with intelligence. They think that because someone is a decent Unix programmer, she would be a better hire for a programming job using Unix than, say, an excellent Windows programmer. Unix programming is a skill, excellence is a trait. Skills are easy to learn, and traits are impossible to obtain. Ideally, you want to hire a person who is very smart and possesses the skills you need. If you are forced to choose between skills and smarts, IQ always wins. Because a smart person can learn anything.
  • Founders often have great visions. Unfortunately, they often have more than one and don’t communicate any of them well. You need to have a single vision, and you need to communicate that vision over and over and over again. One-on-one. In small groups and companywide. You have to keep repeating the message until everyone is clear on what it is.

Think of an idea… to lay your hands on the book.

For the asking


WHETHER you’re a seasoned manager or a rookie, you’ve probably realised that managing isn’t as easy as just telling other people what to do, then sitting back to watch it get done. That is a tautology from the back cover of “The Manager’s Question and Answer Book” by Florence M. Stone. It has all of 190 important questions, with “practical answers to make you a better manager”. A sampler:

  • How can I manage the e-mail I receive? It’s very easy to get caught up in your e-mail, checking almost every few minutes to see if you have another e-mail message. But that is a terrible waste of time. Better to check your e-mail only twice a day, more often only if you receive time-sensitive information. Separate attachments from e-mail, and electronically file them.
  • A well-written job description has six components: Job title, statement of objectives, major responsibilities, job requirements, preferred criteria, and relationship with others.
  • How do I best use Web ads to recruit people? The secret to a well-written online ad is the use of `key words’ – that is, words based on those factors critical to the job being offered. Here are three other rules, courtesy of Peter D. Weddle: Use intriguing headings; summarise the job in the first five lines; identify pay range within the first five lines.
  • The four stages of cross-functional teams are: Forming, storming, norming and performing. Some management gurus say there is even a fifth stage, mourning.
  • On an average, online recruitment costs 5 per cent of the price of placing a help-wanted ad in a major newspaper. There is the guarantee of a heavy and immediate response, but there may be many from those browsing the Web site during office downtime, not serious jobseekers. The resumes in response to an ad may bury you and the HR in replies, but few may meet the requirements you listed in your job posting.

A ready reference for FAQs that managers come across.

Conflicting ends


EVEN as the world is two years ahead of 9-11 and Bush is still smoking out Osama, there is a new book from John Gray titledAl Qaeda and What it means to be Modern that states that the terrorist group was a product of modernity and globalisation, and that it will not be the last group to use the products of the modern world in its own monstrous way. A sampler:

  • The modern myth is that science enables humanity to take charge of its destiny; but `humanity’ is itself a myth, a dusty remnant of religious faith. In truth there are only humans, using the growing knowledge given them by science to pursue their conflicting ends.
  • India is cited by western commentators for its success in developing new industries, such as those involved in software production.

The success is real enough, but it has come from ignoring western ideas. Except in one or two regions, India never embraced Marxism; and it has stubbornly resisted the more recent neo-liberal cult.

As a result of its relative immunity to western ideologies, India avoided the catastrophes that befell China during the Maoist period and Russia in the neo-liberal Nineties; but it has been forced to adopt some aspects of European modernity.

  • The history of ideas obeys a law of irony.

Ideas have consequences; but rarely those their authors expect or desire, and never only those. Quite often they are the opposite.

  • History demonstrates a good deal of regularity in human behaviour. It also shows enough variety to make the search for universal laws a vain enterprise.

Yet in recent times the `laws of economics’ have been invoked to support the idea that one style of behaviour – the `free market’ variety – should be the model for economic life everywhere. Certainly the free market is highly productive.

But that does not mean it is humanly fulfilling.

  • By enlarging human power, science has generated the illusion that humanity can take charge of its destiny.

Borne along on a flood of invention, the modern world believes it has left the past behind.

Instead, taken up by human beings to serve their needs and illusions, science continues the drift of history.

A little book with weighty thoughts.

Books courtesy: Fountainhead

Wednesday, Oct 08, 2003


Are you baring all?

D. Murali

Here’s something interesting, and perhaps disquieting, on how technology can be used to compromise workplace privacy.


WHEN you enter the portals of your employer, you normally don’t expect to strip. But Frederick S.Lane III could debunk that myth. His book The Naked Employee is about how technology is compromising workplace privacy. “If your company possesses the tools and the desire to peer through the windows of your life – and it probably does – you may discover that you are indeed `naked’.” But employers defend themselves with statistics: 80 per cent of resumes contain lies; billions of dollars of inventory to sticky-fingered employees; and so on. Does it shock you to learn that several major companies such as Adidas, Samsonite and Levi Strauss have funded research involving the concept of `smart clothing’ – uniforms that can track an employee’s health, habits, location and more. A few glimpses:

  • Most companies recognise that an occasional personal e-mail or a little online Christmas shopping is not an enormous threat to employee productivity and, in fact, may help to improve workplace morale.
  • Companies run into real trouble, though, when employees use the Internet to share racist or sexist jokes, or to access sexually explicit Web sites. Companies that fail to take steps to prevent that from happening face the threat of harassment suits based on the existence of a hostile work environment.
  • The consequences of an unplanned adoption of the Social Security number (SSN) as a national identifier in the US have been profound. Not only does the SSN serve as a handy tool for uncovering and tracking large amounts of information about nearly everyone in the US, employees and non-employees alike, but it has also given rise to the Digital Age phenomenon of identity theft.

If someone can learn the name and SSN of another individual, they can pretend to be that person for the purpose of obtaining credit cards and other financial resources.

  • Sony apparently forgot to test what would happen if the NightShot option (in its video cameras) were activated during the daytime.

It turned out that when the NightShot technology is used during the day in conjunction with an infrared black filter, the video camera can effectively see through the top layers of thin clothing. This discovery proved particularly attractive to voyeuristic beach-goers, since the NightShot technology is especially effective at seeing through wet bathing suits. NightShot images quickly became a popular sub-category on voyeurism Web sites.

  • The same phenomenal advances in computer technology that are aiding in the identification of the human genome are also making genetic testing both inexpensive and deceptively easy to do.

Already, a variety of companies are marketing devices that can be used in a doctor’s office to test for specific genetic abnormalities, most of which report their results in just a few minutes.

  • If you decide to use the latest Playboy centrefold as the wallpaper for your home office computer, there’s little likelihood that a co-worker or client will see it.

Yet, telecommuting employees are increasingly subject to the same types of surveillance as their hard-wired co-workers, and in fact, surveillance programs such as SmartSuite and Win-What Where are being or have been written to monitor the activity of remote computers.

Be warned that walls have ears, and eyes too.

An ode to a dead dog


WHAT are prime numbers? They are what are left “when you have taken all the patterns away”. They are “like life”. They are “very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them. No one has ever worked out a simple formula for telling you whether a very big number is a prime number or what the next one will be. If a number is really, really big, it can take a computer years to work out whether it is a prime number.”

One wouldn’t expect to find such lines in a story, but Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the night-time is about a boy who is on the trail of a dog’s killer. He uncovers mysteries “that threaten to bring his whole world crashing down around him,” says the blurb. Read on:

  • People think that alien spaceships would be solid and made of metal and have lights all over them and move slowly through the sky. But aliens, if they exist, would probably be very different from us. They might look like big slugs, or be flat like reflections. Or they might be bigger than planets. Or they might not have bodies at all. They might just be information, like in a computer.
  • Eventually scientists will discover something that explains ghosts, just like they discovered electricity which explained lightning, and it might be something about people’s brains, or something about the earth’s magnetic field, or it might be some new force altogether. And then ghosts won’t be mysteries. They will be like electricity and rainbows and non-stick frying pans.
  • People’s brains are like computers. And it’s not because they are special but because they have to keep turning off for fractions of a second while the screen changes. And because there’s something they can’t see people think it has to be special, because people always think there is something special about what they can’t see. Also people think they’re not computer because they have feelings and computers don’t have feelings. But feelings are just having a picture on the screen in your head of what is going to happen tomorrow or next year, or what might have happened instead of what did happen, and if it is a happy picture they smile and if it is a sad picture they cry.
  • When I am in a new place, because I see everything, it is like when a computer is doing too many things at the same time and the central processor unit is blocked up and there isn’t any space left to think about other things.

Story with a good dosage of math and tech stuff, plus a lot of logic.

For your wired problems


HOW to establish an efficient telecommunications system that makes the most effective use of the latest the telecommunications industry has to offer? How to track and manage projects, systems and services? How to create a telecom database to track and record everything you learn? These and more questions are answered in The Telecom Manager’s Survival Guide by Stephen W.Medcroft. A few excerpts:

  • If your company has an internal network and uses Web-browser technology to give access to company information via an intranet, abscond a corner of it for telecom. Create a master information section with user guides and reference documents. As you solve problems and create new solutions for the business over the years, file the information (FAQ style) so self-determined users might help themselves out of a jam without necessarily coming to you for every little thing.
  • Some bills are bad. One globally respected long-distance carrier has a billing format that is so complex and confusing that the basic cost per minute is nearly impossible to correctly calculate. Maybe it’s possible this huge, multinational corporation had a team of lawyers and accountants conspire to create a bill so difficult to interpret that the mere mortal customer will just give up on trying to understand it and write the cheque. More than likely though, this company’s billing software program, in an attempt to meet the various needs of millions of customers, grew too complicated over time.
  • There are so many ways for people to communicate with each other that `infoglut’ has developed. Unified messaging proffers to bring these disparate messaging technologies together under one roof. Unified messaging gathers voice mail and fax messages and puts them into your e-mail inbox.
  • A digital subscriber line (DSL) is a term for a technology that uses the same installed copper telephone wire used for stand-alone telephone lines and ISDN service, but increases the bandwidth. A special interface unit (digital subscriber line access multiplexer) DSLAM is installed in a local exchange carrier’s (LEC) central office.
  • If you find roaming charges for calls made, check the carrier’s coverage map. If you were within the coverage area, fight the charges. There are two ways this billing error could happen: another carrier’s network transmission towers are so strong they overwhelm your carrier’s network and fool the phone into roaming. Or, the carrier had coverage holes within its territory, which allows roaming to happen.

A reference to consult before you make the frantic call.

Books courtesy: Landmark

Wednesday, Oct 15, 2003


Can’t live with `em, or without `em

D. Murali

These people are brilliant and notoriously resistant to being managed. But one can’t do without them. Here’s more on geeks.


IF `geek’ sounds like Greek to you, you are not one of those who research, develop, design, build, test, install and support technology. Who are geeks? They drive technology, writes Paul Glen in Leading Geeks – a Jossey-Bass book on “how to manage and lead people who deliver technology.” Conventional leadership style may not work with geeks because they are knowledge workers who are brilliant and notoriously resistant to being managed. The blurb promises that the book would give managers “the tools they need to transform the chaos of the creative workplace into a coherent and compelling place for geeks to work.” The author begins his intro thus: “You can’t live with `em and you can’t live without `em. No, I’m not talking about the opposite sex. I’m talking about geeks, a.k.a. nerds, computer jockeys, or knowledge workers.” A taste of more geek-y stuff:

  • Geeks are the highly intelligent, usually introverted, extremely valuable, independent-minded, hard-to-find, difficult-to-keep technology workers who are essential to the future of your company. They are best able to function at peak efficiency when everything makes sense. A geek leader’s goal is to build and maintain a state of harmonised content and context.
  • Although geeks generally are clear, careful thinkers, they can get very sloppy about the differences among facts, assumptions, opinions, inferences, and implications. This often results in unnecessary embarrassment or conflict. It is very common for a geek to confuse facts and opinions and to have a tin ear for the response to his statements. Regardless of how smart geeks are, it’s important to keep an eye for statements that substitute opinions for facts.
  • Geekwork is all about art. As each technical problem is solved, each network designed, or each program module coded, a tiny piece of art is born. To the observer, these creations may seem simple and straightforwardly mechanical – even boring – but to the creator, the systems integrator or programmer, they are children – tiny extensions of self.
  • A geek leader has to manage ambiguity. Ambiguity, the absence of clarity, is inherent in all creative work, making progress difficult and elusive. Rather than being certain about what should be done and how to do it, geeks are usually uncertain about precisely what they are trying to accomplish and how they are going to go about it. It’s not that they’re confused; this is the nature of geekwork. Three categories of ambiguity must simultaneously be managed within technical organisations: Environmental, structural and task ambiguity.
  • Earning the trust of a group of geeks can be just as difficult as earning their respect, if not more so. Trust carries a more emotional commitment and is given more slowly than respect. A geek group may learn to respect a new leader very quickly as she displays vast knowledge and skill in initial meetings. Trust takes longer to develop and stems largely from the authenticity and consistency with which a leader embodies her stories. In geek groups, the essential trust and respect that leaders need cannot be sought but only granted.

Read this if you want to mind-read the geeks.

Don’t miss the bus this time


WAS it not an economist who looked at a lone brown cow in a field and remarked that the country’s cows were brown? The common criticism is that economists look at the wrong things and measure things wrong. Here comes Graham Tanaka to take “an up-close look at the new economic environment” and to reveal, “how far off base many of today’s most venerated statistical measures really are”. The sub-title of his book Digital Deflation has the good news: “The productivity revolution and how it will ignite the economy”. And the blurb of the McGraw Hill book talks about Tanaka’s models and techniques that investors can use “to uncover and invest in today’s most high-potential, undervalued companies.” Inflation and interest rates are at their lowest levels in decades, and new economic realities are likely to drive them even lower, predicts Tanaka. For the market-minded, there are happy tidings: “Many of the forces that fuelled the 90’s stock market growth are poised to return.” Read on:

  • If a consumer bought a new PC with 25 per cent better performance but at the same price as last year’s model, that PC would be counted by economists as having had the equivalent of a 25 per cent reduction in price. It would be measured as `deflationary’, in the sense that getting more performance for the same price was equivalent to buying the same PC at a lower price. If the government is not counting quality improvement in a number of IT-driven products and services, there is an enormous potential for the undercounting of deflation, and therefore the overstatement of inflation.
  • The digital economy is gaining market share versus the non-digital economy because the consumer at the margin sees digital products as offering more and better value by becoming faster, better, and cheaper with each new design cycle. The consumer buys more of the improved quality (digitally deflating) products at the expense of non-digital products, which typically cost more each year due to constant pressure of wage and raw material cost inflation. For economists, these divergent trends introduce yet another challenge. How do you model an economy where one part is growing rapidly and deflating while another much larger part of the economy is growing slowly, but is generally inflating?
  • Housing and other tangible assets, long thought of as inflation hedgers that go up in price as inflation rises, will actually benefit from declining inflation in the aggregate economy – or, more specifically, from expanding deflation in the New Economy.

In essence, there can be more home price appreciation in the Old Economy because it will be offset by price reductions in the New Economy.

  • It is critical to realise that a lack of understanding and a lack of measurement of the rapidly improving quality of products and services could leave the Digital Revolution unfulfilled in a manner quite analogous to what led to the demise of the Industrial Revolution in the 1920s and 1930s.
  • Throughout history, some of the biggest policy blunders were the result of misinformation and bad data.

Today, huge policy mistakes are being made by central bankers worldwide – huge because inflation is being overstated by 1 to 2 per cent in virtually every economy with a reasonably large IT sector. This is a major reason why fiscal and monetary policymakers in all the major world economies have been struggling to understand why their policies haven’t been working.

Has crucial messages for all the FM’s men?

Books courtesy: Landmark

Wednesday, Oct 22, 2003


Of security, and change

D. Murali

`Even as you read this, somebody could be triggering off something that could change your life… ‘ Want to know more? Just read on!


THERE are moats with crocs, walls with spikes, guards with guns, doors with locks and so on. But ask yourself, “Is your information secure?” Okay, you have firewalls and vaccines. But Thomas J. Parenty warns that such defensive measures don’t go far enough. His book Digital Defense argues that information security should be about protecting your company’s information, not its computers. He brings in the idea of “Trust Framework” that goes beyond reactionary risk management to strategically aligning security technologies with a company’s overall mission. The blurb explains the two core principles of the framework: “One, every technology choice must be linked to a company’s specific business activities; and two, a company needs to prove to its partners and customers that every electronic business transaction can be trusted.” A sampler:

  • Although assigning value to information assets is important, it’s not necessary to make it a highly quantitative and complex process. An asset’s value is used to make two security decisions: deciding when a company will take steps to protect an asset, and determining how much protection an asset needs. Assets won’t have any better protection, nor will a company reduce any real risk, by using a complex valuation process.
  • A firewall can adopt one of two basic policies to control access from the Internet to an internal computer. The first is “whatever is not prohibited is allowed,” and the second is “whatever is not allowed is prohibited.” If a firewall functions like a gate, a reasonable question to ask is, “What functions like a wall?” Within a computing environment, nothing actually functions as a wall, except the absence of a connection to the Internet.
  • Biometrics differ from other authentication evidence in three ways: secrecy, revocability, and accuracy.
  • The attitude that security is someone else’s problem, or is something to be addressed after the real work gets done, is pervasive in the business world. And it leads to the perception that security concerns just slow down innovation. For a fiscally responsible company, however, information security plays an important role in business innovation.
  • Every business activity that can be performed using a computer entails access to information assets and applications, so controlling computer-enabled business activities comes down to controlling access. This is true whether the activity is purchasing stock over the Internet or collaborating on the score for a new movie.

Check if your sentries are awake at their posts.

Where’s the big idea?


REVOLUTIONARY innovations result from flashes of brilliance by lone inventors or organisations. Wrong, says Andrew Hargadon in How Breakthroughs Happen which reveals “the surprising truth about how companies innovate”. Innovation involves “creatively combining ideas, people, and objects from past technologies in ways that spark new technological revolutions,” says the blurb. The process is “technology brokering” explains Hargadon. Exploiting the `networked nature of the innovation process’, technology brokers simultaneously bridge the gaps in existing networks that separate distant industries, firms and divisions to see how established ideas can be applied in new ways and places, and build new networks to guide these creative recombinations to mass acceptance. Read on:

  • What set Edison’s laboratory apart was not the ability to shut itself off from the rest of the world, to create something from nothing, to think outside of the box. Exactly the opposite: It was the ability to connect that made the lab so innovative. If Edison ignored anything, it was the belief that innovation was about the solitary pursuit of invention. William Gibson, the sci-fi author who crafted some of the earliest versions of the Internet in his novel Neuromancer (and coined the phrase cyberspace) was once asked how he got his fantastic yet prescient ideas about the future. His answer: “The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.”
  • Rather than believing they have seen it all, or at least seen all that is worth seeing, those in the habit of finding unexpected connections begin to recognise in each new person they meet, each new idea they hear, and each new object they find the potential for new combinations with others.
  • Many stories of innovation, when you get past the smoke and mirrors, reveal a backstage filled with other people, ideas, and objects that were as critical – if not more so – than the one presented onstage. Ultimately, the amount of credit we insist on giving to individuals in the innovation process is absurd.
  • If you think about it, there’s no real difference in the early stages of innovation between entrepreneurs and deviants. Successful innovations are just those deviations that survived adolescence. In their youth, each was just a brash new way of doing things differently, one deviant idea among many. The same and worse receptions await new ideas in organisations.
  • Customers move often among firms in the same industry – among competitors, retailers, repair shops, and after-market manufacturers – and serious customers often push the boundaries of the market’s products. Firms can often find valuable new information from such customers working at the margins of their own market. At these far extremes, customers are rebuilding, reprogramming, and recombining bits and pieces from competing products or adding their own designs.

Just look around… for that hidden breakthrough.

Get on track


BILL Gates names James Burke as a favourite author, and The Washington Post said that Burke was one of the most intriguing minds.

Burke, the author of The Knowledge Web and Circles has explained “the unexpected origins of the modern world” in Twin Tracks.

The blurb talks of the book’s theme: “In each of the work’s twenty-five narratives, we discover how the different outcomes of an important historical event in the past often come together again in the future.”

Burke writes in the intro: “As you read these words, somewhere someone you’ve never heard of is doing something that will sooner or later bring change to your life. And sometime in the course of the next twenty-four hours you’ll do the same to others. None of us is untouched by the swirl and eddy of serendipity that drives human endeavours at all levels from quantum chromodynamics to painting your house.”

He goes about wrapping things in 25 tales – “each with a common beginning and a common end but different middles” – to show the patterns in an otherwise chaotic history.

Unusually for a book, there is a guide: “How to read this book”.

This is how: Each chapter opens with a paragraph on the trigger event that kicks off the twin-track storylines. Track One then runs, on successive left-hand pages, until: “End Track One.”

At this point, don’t turn the pages to see the chapter ending unless you’re one of those people who likes to go to the back of the book and see who did the crime before you start the thriller. Return to the beginning of the chapter and this time read Track Two, which runs only on the right-hand pages, until: “End Track Two.” Read the chapter ending. Repeat as required, or until the onset of sleep.

The `contents’ page has clue to what’s in store: Encyclopaedia to Vitamins; smallpox to Big Bang; Stone Age Boy to photocopier; Boston Tea Party to contact lenses; Sanskrit to cybernetics; pottery to neon signs; and so on.

Are you on the right track?

Books courtesy: Fountainhead

Wednesday, Oct 29, 2003




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