Books2Byte – March 2003
- When the oracle speaks (March 05, 2003)
- Sniffing money on the info trail (March 12, 2003)
- No man is an island (March 19, 2003)
- The great mouse chase (March 26, 2003)
When the oracle speaks
|He may be nearly 100 but when the management guru talks of technology, you’d better take note.|
IN about five years, Peter F. Drucker would be 100 years old. Yet, when he has something to say, corporate chiefs stop to listen. A collection of Drucker’s articles is out in the form of a book titled “Managing in the Next Society”, from Viva Books. It offers `searching analysis’ of the information revolution and the knowledge society it has created. Management of an institution, whether a business, a university, a hospital, has to be grounded in basic and predictable trends that persist regardless of today’s headlines. What are these `basic trends’? According to the guru, these are: “The global shrinking of the young population and the emergence of the new workforce; the steady decline of manufacturing as a producer of wealth and jobs; and the changes in the form, the structure, and the function of the corporation and of its top management.” The book has interesting one-liners such as – “A change is something people do, and a fad is something people talk about”. Here’s more:
- What we call the Information Revolution is actually a Knowledge Revolution. Software is the reorganisation of traditional work, based on centuries of experience, through the application of knowledge and especially of systematic, logical analysis. The key is not electronics; it is cognitive science.
- The first management conference we know of was called in 1882 by the German Post Office. The topic – and only chief executive officers were invited – was how not to be afraid of the telephone. Nobody showed up. The invitees were insulted. The idea that they should use the telephones was unthinkable. The telephone was for underlings.
- Traditional multinationals will, in time, be killed by e-commerce. The e-commerce delivery of goods, of services, of repairs, spare parts, and maintenance will require a different organisation from that of any multinational today. It will also require a different mind-set, a different top management, and in the end, different definitions of performance.
- There are few unique technologies anymore.
Increasingly, the knowledge needed in a given industry comes out of some totally different technology with which, very often, the people in the industry are unfamiliar. No one in the telephone industry knew anything about fibreglass cables.
They were developed by a glass company, Corning. Conversely, more than half the important inventions developed since World War II by the most productive of the great research labs, the Bell Laboratories, have been applied mainly outside the telephone industry.
- In businesses across the board, information technology has had an obvious impact. But until now that impact has been only on concrete elements – not intangibles like strategy and innovation. Thus, for the CEO, new information has had little impact on how he or she makes decisions. That is going to have to change.
A must read.
Moving with a baggage of legacy
HOW to migrate your legacy software to Microsoft .NET framework? A book by 5 software specialists of Patni Computer Systems provides the answer in “Migrating to .NET”, from VB, Visual C++, and ASP applications. The preface identifies the target audience as people in different levels of the IT industry who are involved in strategising and performing migration activities. More specifically, it is meant for “audiences who have a knowledge of OOP concepts, understanding of Visual Basic, Visual C++, ASP application architecture and the Microsoft .NET platform and who have over 3 years of working experience.” A few excerpts:
- In Visual Basic 6.0, error handling is done with the help of On Error statements. Visual Basic .NET has vastly improved the error-handling techniques. In this, conditions in which code fails are known as exceptions.
A block, which can throw an exception, is enclosed within a try/catch block. If the block throws an exception, it is caught by the code in the catch block.
- ASP relies largely on scripting languages such as VBScript and Jscript. One disadvantage with using scripting languages is that the page is interpreted each time it is accessed. Also, scripting languages are not strongly typed.
This invariably leads to performance and scalability issues.
Visual C++ .NET has introduced a new programming model for C++ developers, managed extensions.
Now, using managed extensions, you can write C++ code with the classical approach using Microsoft Foundation Classes (MFC), Active Template Library (ATL), COM, and WIN32 APIs, generally referred as unmanaged code.
Generally the unmanaged code is faster than the managed code because it does not have the overhead of .NET runtime execution engine.
- Component-based development is widely recognised as one of the best ways to develop reusable software.
.COM provides specification about the layout of interfaces and their methods at the binary level that makes COM compatible across languages.
- A Web service is a collection of functions that are packed together as a single entity and exposed to the network for use by other programs over the Internet.
It is a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) – addressable resource that programmatically returns information to clients.
Web services can be considered as building blocks for creating distributed systems over the Internet.
Useful for the migratory who don’t want to fall between two stools.
It’s no dumb switch
SWITCHES are for flicking on or off. But a whole book on switches? Yes, “The Switch Book” by Rich Seifert is subtitled “The complete guide to LAN Switching Technology”, a publication of Wiley Dreamtech. The back cover lists what you can expect: How switches and bridges operate; how to deploy switches in homogeneous and heterogeneous LAN environments; explanation of the Spanning Tree Protocol; source routing, available on Token ring and FDDI networks; full duplex; SNMP and so on. And the preface promises readers that the book would give them “enormous insight into the reasons why things are done the way they are, rather than just cold facts”. A few picks:
- Traditionally, LANs provided a means for multiple devices to share a common high-speed communications channel. The key word was share; in addition to providing connectivity, LAN technology offered a way to take an expensive resource (the high-speed channel) and spread its cost and capacity among multiple stations.
- Ethernet, Token Ring, and FDDI comprise the vast majority of installed LANs. However, there are numerous other technologies. From a LAN switching perspective, most of these other technologies can be treated as variants of one of the more popular LANs.
- In traditional computer memories (e.g. RAM and ROM) you need to know the address where information is stored in order to retrieve it. In a content addressable memory (CAM), you use the storage contents as a key for retrieving data associated with those contents. CAM functions as a virtually-instantaneous hardware search-and-update function element.
- Network designers are always balancing a three-way tradeoff among capacity, distance, and cost. It is always possible to get higher capacity at lower cost within a LAN than across a WAN, because the distances are so much shorter. To achieve the longer distances of a WAN, the user is forced either to accept a lower data rate or to pay more money.
- Rarely can we perform fault diagnosis or gain any real insight into the operation of a network by inspecting the management information from just a single device. Often, we need to compare counters and error statistics from a number of devices in order to determine if and where a problem may exist.
Highly readable stuff though the subject may be complex for many. Don’t miss Seifert’s laws of networking, sprinkled throughout the book – such as: “If everyone uses high priority, no one actually gets it; if the hardware doesn’t understand it, give it to the software; architectural purity goes out the window when purchase orders come in the door; and so on.”
Books courtesy: Publishers.
Wednesday, Mar 05, 2003
Sniffing money on the info trail
|Information processing sets detectives and investors in the same club. It pays to uncover investment techniques from the legendary sleuths. Happy treasure hunting!|
IT is information that distinguishes the smart from the dumb, the tech savvy from the rest. Similarly, it is information processing that sets detectives and investors in the same club, claims Robert G.Hagstrom in his book “The Detective and the Investor”, which aims to uncover investment techniques from the legendary sleuths.
Borrow insight from Auguste Dupin, Sherlock Holmes, and Father Brown to navigate towards safe and profitable investments, says the author, because detectives and investors need to gather information, analyse facts logically, sort through conflicting and often unreliable data and factor in human psychology to come to the right conclusion about the perpetrator of a crime or the value of a company’s stock. And the blurb makes the right pitch: The book “is especially relevant for today’s market, when investors need clear heads and cool calculations to cut through marketing hype, suspect accounting, and corporate malfeasance.” More:
- Great detectives outwit the criminal not because they work harder, not because they are luckier, not because they can run faster, hit harder, or shoot straighter, but because they think better.
- Modern investors can take two lessons from Dupin: First, look in all directions, observe carefully and thoughtfully everything you see, and do not make assumptions from inadequate information. On the other hand, do not blindly accept what you find. Whatever you read, hear, or overhear about a certain stock or company may not necessarily be true. Keep on with your research; give yourself time to dig beneath the surface.
- How to dig out obscure information on all sorts of issues and from all kinds of sources in both private and public sectors? Read “The Reporter’s Handbook” written by Steve Weinberg. Gathering information, the handbook explains, involves looking into two large categories – people and documents. Paper trails and people trails. Weinberg asks readers to imagine three concentric circles. The outermost one is “secondary sources”, the middle one “primary sources.” Both are composed primarily of documents. The inner circle, “human sources”, is made up of people.
- At a certain point in their research, the eager investors have collected enough information that a pattern becomes clear, and they assume they have found the answer. If subsequent information then contradicts that pattern, they cannot bring themselves to abandon the theory they worked so hard to develop, so they reject the new facts.
- We know that wide swings in market returns do occur, and they do not reflect the physics of an equilibrium system. In an equilibrium system, five-sigma events are so statistically unlikely they are thought mathematically to occur only once in 10,000 years.
- The simplest tool is your computer. Web sites will load you up with more than you need, but with practice you can quickly skip over the more esoteric reports and zero in on material relevant to a company’s financial picture.
Kya com-bat hai
NOT much has changed, it is still a game of survival of the fittest. And you need to be ready for combat. The dotcom-bat, to be more exact. Shawn P.McCarthy’s “The Art of .COMbat” adapts the ancient wisdom for the competitive economy. A book to help you use the Net as a weapon to wage business war; develop offensive and defensive strategies; maximise your organisation’s competitive punch; and so on.
It “reveals proven tactics used by today’s most successful e-warriors and shows you how to use Internet logistics to squeeze out inefficiencies and create frictionless commerce, and appraise the five factors of a market battle, viz. politics, climate, terrain, commander and vision.” A few snatches from the war theatre:
- No matter what market space you want to carve out, how well-honed your supply chain is, or how perfectly positioned you are in the brick-and-mortar universe, a tremendous amount of competition challenges your move into the online business world. You’re competing with hungry, low-budget operations maintained by stock-option-holding staffers willing to work far into the night.
- Just as you may wait for others to look fatigued, others most certainly will look for signs of fatigue in your organisation. Other companies will take advantage of any real or perceived crises of confidence. When they sense you are in disarray, they will seize market opportunities or lure away employees.
- In the military, keeping the war machine moving is actually a matter of establishing the proper logistics. It takes at least 10 soldiers to properly supply every soldier on the front line. In a fast-paced .com economy, this aspect is often overlooked. It’s understandable. There is an urgency to get it out the door and then worry about other parts of the business later.
- Information is a commodity, too, but the highest-quality and timeliest data carry a premium. Whoever controls the downstream flow controls the pricing of the most valuable data. Like anything else, news and information can be turned into a product. That’s what your local newspaper is, and it’s very difficult for anyone to displace a major metropolitan paper because of the huge investment required to build such an infrastructure.
- The secret to being a first mover seems to be this: First movers are gamblers. If they bet early and bet right, they arrive to set up shop before anyone else. Good timing and a gambler’s hear are often what it takes to get there first.
Are you ready to wage the war?
Investor in form
YOU don’t need an advanced degree, inside information, or friends on the trading floor to control risk, get better returns and design investment plans with a high profitability. Thus assures the blurb of “The Informed Investor”, a hype-free guide to constructing a sound financial portfolio by Frank Armstrong III. The author offers help to those who feel drowned in a sea of data on the TV screen and on the Net. A few excerpts:
- The information deluge is symptomatic of a larger problem. Investors are poorly educated about the financial system. Their chances of obtaining meaningful insight from the traditional sources are remote. Schools rarely teach financial economics, thereby overlooking a critical survival skill for modern man.
- The markets are far too efficient to allow higher rates of return without increased levels of risk. An investment proposal in violation of the free lunch rule is an early warning indication of a con job. Investment results far from the risk-reward line are just not going to happen. If investors kept that rule in mind, most of the boiler room operations would be out of business overnight.
- It is vitally important to have clean data. No one wants to do a study only to find out that the data used was corrupt. Fortunately, we have a great deal of clean data available from reliable third-party sources such as SEI, which maintains the largest database on investment performance of institutional managers.
- The US Census Department estimates that more than one million baby boomers will live to be more than one hundred years old. Yet few of the boomers have begun to save for retirement or even know how much it will cost. Savings rates have fallen, and life expectancy is increasing. Like two trains hurtling down a track toward one another, there is bound to be a crash between the two factors.
- Investing is a different kind of cat. It is a very passive activity, somewhat Zen-like. Markets don’t respond to our can-do attitude. We can’t just whip them into shape. They have their own flow. We must attach ourselves to the world’s markets and allow them to carry us to our goals.
That lets the cat out of the bag.
Books courtesy: Landmark. www.land markonthenet.com
Wednesday, Mar 12, 2003
No man is an island
|Networking has always been the need of the hour, more so in a society invaded by computers. Here’s more on effective communication.|
IF humans are gregarious animals, information technology has made them more such, with the help of networked machines. In a society that has been invaded by computers, those who rely on a freestanding PC should be the odd recluses. The elementary networking happens on a local scale and is the LAN, the local area network. LAN is what one may find in most workplaces to achieve effective communication among the employees and customers. And to understand the underlying technology and also the business issues related to LANs, here is a book by Arne B.Mikalsen and Per Borgesen – “Local Area Networks: Management, Design and Security”. A few picks:
- Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) is a more recent routing protocol that operates on a different principle from RIP (Routing Information Protocol). Instead of using only the number of router hops as a basis, OSPF calculates the connection in terms of cost. This calculation brings in not only the number of router hops but also speed/capacity, reliability and so on. It is also possible to differentiate the choice of route on the basis of the TOS (type of service) field in the IP datagrams.
- The most important task performed by servers is file applications. Very many of the server’s tasks involve passing files back and forth on the network. Many tasks that do not appear at first sight to be file applications are in fact just that. Printouts are one example of this.
- How can a network card tell the host computer that it has a message? Like most other hardware devices, network cards use interrupts or interrupt requests (IRQs). When a network card receives a communication for the computer where it is installed, it sends an interrupt signal. When the CPU detects this interrupt, it stops and looks at the interrupt line. It uses this line to consult a table, specifically an interrupt vector table.
- Often the LAN environment is compared to a society of users. The LAN society is a hierarchical society. The principle underpinning the society is that some of its members must have privileges that others do not have. We could almost say that they have special powers. Regular society members or the citizens in the society are called users. The users are normally organised in groups to achieve a better overview of the system.
- Adding users to the network is an important issue in terms of capacity planning. If the network was previously used for printing, communication, document sharing, and other standard tasks, an Internet connection will have dramatic consequences when it comes to stress on the Net. The Internet is a “killer” for network traffic with all its images and huge amount of data.
- Often, when disaster strikes, the data on the backup tape cannot be read even though you have a safe strategy for backup. Magnetic tapes get worn out very quickly, and may be the wrong data was saved on the medium. Therefore it is important to check regularly whether backup really works as assumed. Any backup strategy is practically worthless if it is not taken seriously.
A book that can make you more knowledgeable than your systems administrator.
The wily maulers
YOU know hardware, software, brainware, tableware, and so on. What is malware? Viruses, the malicious software that make your working harder. By learning exactly how viruses do what they do, you can understand better how anti-malware technology works, say the authors of “Viruses Revealed”, a definitive guide to the world of viruses by David Harley, Robert Slade and Urs E.Gattiker. “Remember the Aztecs?” asks Eugene H.Spafford in his `foreword’. “They ruled a mighty empire until exposure to a few hundred Spaniards with smallpox and measles incapacitated or killed 90 per cent of their population and left them too weak to resist conquest.” More:
- By virus, we mean a program meeting the much-used definition included by Dr.Frederick Cohen in A Short Course on Computer Viruses – “A program that can `infect’ other programs by modifying them to include a possibly evolved copy of itself.” By infect, we mean that a virus inserts itself into the chain of command, so that attempting to execute a legitimate program results in the execution of the virus as well as (or instead of) the program.
- If you want guaranteed protection, you can follow Jeff Richards’ Laws of Data Security: “1. Don’t buy a computer. 2. If you do buy a computer, don’t turn it on.” On the other hand, as is often said, “A ship in a harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” A completely protected computer is safe, but it is not useful. A computer in operation is a useful device, but it is vulnerable.
- Microsoft is trying to tighten the links between its operating system and its applications. This interrelation between platform and programs is behind a number of recent e-mail viruses. Outlook and Internet Explorer cannot be easily secured, since they use programming that is also foundational to the operating system. Where Microsoft offers a major fix, it may be either a fix to the wrong problem or so extreme as to reduce drastically the functionality of the product.
- Dealing with a virus outbreak is not just a question of cleaning the infected disk with the current flavour-of-the-month scanner. At the very least, your reaction should involve, as far as is practicable, stopping the loophole by which the malicious software entered the enterprise, and limiting damage caused by any secondary infection that might possibly have spread before the virus was detected.
- Naïve and uninformed curiosity has been causing problems since Alice swallowed the contents of a bottled labelled “Drink Me”. Nowadays, we have hostile applets with a nice big button labelled “Click Me”, and Trojan horse programs that promise interesting cultural experiences. There’s an element of social engineering in every Trojan horse.
WHAT makes a spreadsheet a spreadsheet? “Formulas,” is the answer that John Walkenbach provides in the preface to the book “Excel 2002 Formulas”. Excel is the spreadsheet market leader, he states. “One area in which Excel’s superiority is most apparent is formulas. Excel has some special tricks up its sleeve in the formulas department. And only about 10 per cent of Excel users really understand how to get the most out of worksheet formulas.” A sampler:
- Goal seeking serves as a useful feature that works in conjunction with your formulas. If you know what a formula result should be, Excel can tell you which values of one or more input cells you need to produce that result. You can ask, “What sales increase is needed to produce a profit of $ 1.2 million.” Single-cell goal seeking is also known as backsolving.
- Sometimes, you may want to work with time values that don’t represent an actual time of day. For example, you might want to create a list of the finish times for a race, or record the time you spend jogging each day. The value represents the time for an event, in hours, minutes and seconds.
- It is important to understand the difference between rounding a value and formatting a value. When you format a number to display a specific number of decimal places, formulas that refer to that number use the actual value, which may differ from the displayed value. When you round a number, formulas that refer to that value use the rounded number.
- A financial schedule is a detailed listing of cash flows. Typically, each row represents a time period (such as a month), and the information for that time period is displayed in the columns. The most useful type of financial schedule is a dynamic schedule, which uses input cells (that represent variables) to adjust itself.
- A pivot table is essentially a dynamic summary report generated from a database. The database can reside in a worksheet or in an external file. A pivot table can help transform endless rows and columns of numbers into a meaningful presentation of the data. For example, a pivot table can create frequency distributions and cross tabulations of several different data dimensions.
Join the 10 per cent club of elite Excel-ites.
Wednesday, Mar 19, 2003
The great mouse chase
|How does it feel to see people lined up at a cash register, ready to spend their hard-earned dollars on a product that didn’t exist before it became an idea in your own head?|
HERE is a book `dedicated to all those who have sacrificed the need to follow in order to pursue their dreams and passions’. The Mouse Driver Chronicles by John Lusk and Kyle Harrison is `an entrepreneurial adventure’ of bringing a simple idea to the marketplace. “There’s only one thing that we did that most entrepreneurs don’t do,” write the authors in the prologue. “We kept an ongoing record of what was happening with our company. We started a diary… making entries roughly every other day, just as an exercise in collecting our thoughts and blowing off steam.” So, they wrote about the realities of everyday life as entrepreneurs – `the screwups and masterstrokes, the boredom, excitement, dumb luck, humour, and mood swings that come from creating a product and a business’. A few picks:
- Marketing and entrepreneurship classes are valuable, but it’s hard to tell what it means to get good or bad grades in them. Every business school student knows the story of Fred Smith, who took his C-grade Yale paper home to Memphis, Tennessee, and turned it into a start-up called Federal Express.
- We needed industry-specific contacts as soon as we could find them. And we needed a mentor. Someone who could tell us about distribution, supply chains, pricing, margins, product life cycles, revenue seasons – the dos and don’ts of moving a product like ours through the marketplace. Otherwise, we would waste a lot of valuable time and money learning for ourselves what more experienced people could tell us in a few minutes’ time. We would have to reinvent the wheel just to move our mice.
- Kyle and I spent the better part of the day test-dropping mice, then taking them apart to review the damage. It was a weird sight to behold, even for the two of us in the middle of it – young entrepreneurs repeatedly dropping their first creations on the floor, then examining the damage from the crashes. Many broken samples later, we had our answer: MouseDriver was way too fragile.
- High finance was all about reputation and potential; a well-respected team of engineers and MBAs could talk their way into VC money and investment bank money, if their ideas held the promise of a huge upside. Low finance had more to do with anonymity and repeatedly reaching modest goals; the less the issuers of our credit cards and our lines of credit understood what we were doing, the more access to capital we could get, provided we paid on time.
- For the broader PC market, the obvious move was to have come up with other clever themes for computer mice – a mouse that looked like something other than a golf club head. An egg. A turtle in a shell. A bar of soap. A hunk of cheese. A Chinese dictator.
Anything whimsical, anything that brought life to a computer in a cubicle.
- We went into this adventure with the idea that we would make millions, but we’ve come out with something worth even more – the knowledge of how to turn ideas into reality. It’s impossible to assign a value to the experience of seeing people lined up at a cash register, ready to spend their hard-earned dollars on a product that didn’t exist before it became an idea in your own head.
There are lessons to learn from those who rode the mouse.
From inbox to cashbox
Direct marketing `guru’ Herschell Gordon’s book “Effective E-mail Marketing” is about how to craft messages that build the magical combination of rapport and sales, and adapting mass-market messages to the one-to-one medium. An over-used medium, though, plagued by poorly constructed messages and widespread phobia among computer users. A sampler:
- E-mail has a problem. Everybody is an expert. And do you know what happens when everybody is an expert? Mistakes compound themselves because we so-called experts don’t recognise mistakes as mistakes.
- Nothing is leisurely about the Web. The mouse is merciless, and boredom is always a threat. An ancient principle of force-communication is: Get to the point. This principle must prevail if you want your message to be read and to generate a response.
- No clear definition of spam can exist, because spam is in the eye of the beholder: One person’s spam is another person’s salvation.
- Text tends to outpull HTML when your message suggests urgency. HTML tends to outpull text when your message suggests artistry.
The more technically oriented your targets are, the more likely it is that they will prefer text to HTML. That seems wrong at face value, but many who have tested both types seem to feel HTML works best with those who aren’t technically adept.
- Advertising is adjectival. Advertising writers look for adjectives and often subordinate the other parts of speech.
Unless you want your message to reflect an advertising intent, play down the adjective. And the most valuable e-mail noun is a proper noun – the individual’s name.
- A report by eMarketer highlighted the difference in response time between e-mail offers and conventional direct mail offers. The report said that 85 per cent of e-mail message response comes within forty-eight hours after the message is sent.
Compare that to the ancient direct-mail formula of a 55 per cent response by the second Monday after the first response came in, with a total of four to six weeks to reach 85 per cent.
A book that can put your faith back into a ubiquitous tool.
You slog, they blog
Roughly half a million people a day go online to do what? They “update their self-published weblogs, jotting down the latest news” and that can be about world events or an apple recipe.
That is an interesting statistic from “We’ve got blog”, a book featuring articles from Derek M.Powazek, Rebecca Blood, Jon Katz and so on. Weblogs have become some of the hottest places on the Web, says the blurb. So, catch a glimpse of weblogs:
- The original weblogs were link-driven sites. Each was a mixture in unique proportions of links, commentary, and personal thoughts and essays.
Weblogs could only be created by people who already knew how to make a Web site. Many current weblogs follow this original style. Their editors present links both to little-known corners of the Web and to current news articles they feel are worthy of note.
- Blogging is the art of turning one’s own filter on news and the world into something others might want to read, link to, and write about themselves.
Weblogs are time-bound and date-stamped, with older entries scrolling off the bottom into chronological archives. Some blogs are closer to public diaries; others, the idiosyncratic or authoritative musings of experts and cranks.
- Blogorrhea: A tendency for creativity-strapped bloggers to write meaningless prose in an attempt to keep their blogs active.
- The most popular weblogs started as junkyards of weblog intelligentsia. What is amusing is the litterboxes are being held up by others as masterpieces despite the rancid smell.
Indeed, a whole industry is forming around the fetid heaps of trash that others have left behind.
There are now publishers, monitors, and even goddamn awards for the newest form of web waste.
- Weblogs are the anti-newspaper in some ways. Where the editorial process can filter out errors and polish a piece of copy to a fine sheen, too often the machinery turns even the best prose limp, lifeless, sterile, and homogenised.
A huge part of blogs’ appeal lies in their unmediated quality. Blogs tend to be impressionistic, telegraphic, raw, honest, individualistic, highly opinionated and passionate, often striking an emotional chord.
Get over the blog-block.
Wednesday, Mar 26, 2003