5 MAs and a CAMEL; Top-down, start-to-finish; Seven Ps that apply in call centres; Across the post, in a jiffy

Books2Byte – July 2004


5 MAs and a CAMEL

D. Murali

Foxed by the headline? If you don’t want to be left out of the 3G network, you’d better catch up on those abbreviations and explanations.


JI is for our leaders; and G is for the generational leap in mobile technology. “After the successful adoption of Second Generation (2G) technology GSM and 2.5G technology GPRS, the industry is rapidly moving towards Third Generation (3G) Networks,” write Sumit Kasera and Nishit Narang in 3G Networks: Architecture, Protocols and Procedures, published by Tata McGraw-Hill (www.tatamcgrawhill.com) .

This is a heavy book, and heavy-duty too, so if UR2 allergic to abbs, cut yourself out of mobile gyaan. Such as the five-six DMAs you come across early on as candidate schemes for 3G: WCDMA, WTDMA, TDMA/FDMA, OFDMA and ODMA. The field loves jargon, so 3GPP is Third Generation Partnership Program to achieve global roaming, CN is Core Network, LCS is Location Services, AuC is Authentication Center and CAMEL stands for Customised Application for Mobile network Enhanced Logic. There are concepts you may understand with less difficulty, such as, that `spreading’ is for transforming the user’s original signal over a larger bandwidth – “using the chips in the spreading code to `chop’ the user signal into smaller parts”; or that macrodiversity denotes that the same signal can be transmitted to a mobile station via multiple base stations.

The discussion on security management would explain the functional blocks, viz. user domain, network domain, and network access. AKA, also known as Authentication and Key Agreement, ensures secure access by generating IK and CK – that is, integrity key and cipher key. Then come SAGE – Security Algorithms Group of Experts, and the example algorithm based on the block cipher Rijndael. Network Domain Security for IP-based protocols (NDS/IP) uses two important concepts, viz. security domain defined as the collection of networks managed by a single administrative authority; and SEG, that is, Security Gateway responsible for enforcing the security policy of a security domain.

You may wonder if you need ESP to understand 3G, but that’s short for Encapsulating Security Payload. 3G is not on yet but when can we expect 4G? By 2010, or earlier, but it may have more tech-speak than its predecessor. So, first catch up with Sumit and Nishit.

People = machinery + technology


JYOTHI Menon’s The Power of Human Relations, published by Pearson Education (www.pearsoned.co.in) has `a word of caution’ at the start: “We cannot get ourselves into the comfort zones that we are slipping into. We are getting so comfortable that employees in several companies are settling for the status quo. I’ll work and you’ll pay. There is nothing emotional about that, there is nothing challenging about that and surely, there will be nothing profitable in that approach.” Kiran Karnik notes in his foreword how knowledge economy has given impetus to HR “since people are both the `machinery’ and the `technology’ of this sector.”

The book itself meanders through about 150 pages, where Jyothi, breaking free from chapter-mould, shares her HR experiences. Recruitment cost adds up with too many irrelevant CVs – such as “when companies were looking for C++ candidates with Unix skills, they have found VB and Java resumes in the `relevant’ pile.” Thus, effectiveness of recruiting would mean lower costs, something that can offset the negative effects of losing talent. A company that had a high attrition rate stopped to ask why: “The finger actually pointed to one person. The person had a knack of picking up the wrong people for all the wrong reasons.”

Another anecdote is of an Indian company that wanted to take over a budding IT consulting company in the US. “Almost the entire process of due diligence was complete and it was only a matter of time before the head of the company that was being taken over would count his money.” But then they found a record of unethical dealings, undisclosed liabilities, unprofessional behaviour and some other misdemeanours in the target company. To explain the importance of training metrics, Jyothi cites the BPO scenario. “It is the external customers who actually throw light on the quality of service.” This QOS is controlled by the training department, and its success would translate into client satisfaction and increased business. “BPOs should not behave like English tutorials,” advises the author. “They should check their recruitment strategy so that they can get better English speakers, instead of trying to get people with the requisite technical skills and teaching them to speak in English!” A good tutorial for HR chaps.

Adam Smith is wrong for the bit economy


FILLED with 50 chapters that are called `bytes’ is what Peter Cochrane’s Uncommon Sense is all about. It is based on the author’s `silicon.com’ column and published by Capstone (www.wileyeurope.com) , to put together `out-of-the-box thinking for an in-the-box world.’ “One of Peter’s pet peeves and frustrations is technology that fails to deliver what was promised. He is also irritated by managers who don’t understand that they don’t understand, and politicians who take a disastrously focussed (single or limited issue) view in order to survive rather than improve things,” writes Leonard Kleinrock in `standby’ which looks like a foreword by a different name. Byte 00 sets the tone by relaxing you a bit: “We are all challenged by change, and we all have to find our own survival strategy, and it need not be full of stress and worry, it can be full of fun.” Our economy is bit-based where Adam Smith’s notion of finite source of material with limited production fails. “There is no limit to what customers will purchase and use or expect and communicate,” writes Peter talking about exponential growths in technology areas. We have the wrong shopping protocol, he would argue elsewhere: 47 per cent of global GDP is what transaction costs add up to. “Wouldn’t it be nice if stores, gas and railway stations developed memories so that we are recognised as we enter, our information is available at the point of sale, and the financial transaction becomes a minor part of the purchase process, as apposed to a major trauma at the end of a long day.” Go for Peter’s `Bytes’.


Cashier: “Do you have another card, sir?”

Customer: “What about the one I gave you?”

Cashier: “I put it in through our new shredder which looks very much like a reader.”

Monday, Jul 05, 2004



Top-down, start-to-finish

D. Murali

One way of designing networks can be top-down. That involves a logical view of a network, including a traffic-flow description and architectural topology, before developing a physical view. Game for it?


NORMAL people don’t try to peer behind their desktops to study which wire is going where, because they know that the system staff would have connected things right, one way or the other. One way of designing networks can be top-down, says Priscilla Oppenheimer in Top-Down Network Design, published by Cisco Press (www.ciscopress.com) . The focus in this approach is on customer applications, technical objectives and business goals.

“It is a methodology that helps you design a logical view of a network, including a traffic-flow description and architectural topology, before developing a physical view,” explains the author. She cites an Einstein quote before describing the design methodology: “The world we’ve made as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far creates problems that we cannot solve at the same level at which we created them.” So, what’s the moral? Start from the top, where all requirements are specified – such as “availability, scalability, affordability, security, and manageability.” Your customers may also talk about service level – `the required level of network performance’.

Know thy customer is a diktat for auditors too, but the book suggests something more rigorous for network designers: “Before meeting with your customer to discuss business goals for the network design project, it is a good idea to research your client’s business. Find out what industry the client is in. Learn something about the client’s market, suppliers, products, services, and competitive advantages.” Networks have become so integral to our lives that even a 99.7 per cent uptime may be intolerable, because that means for every hour, the network is down for 10.7 seconds. Computing cost of downtime, factoring mean time between failure (MTBF) and mean time to repair (MTTR) in calculations should interest accountants. Don’t be baffled by MTBSO (mean time between service outage) and MTTSR (mean time to service repair), which are aliases for the shorter 4-letter ones.

`Tips’ have been strewn all over the book and they are easy to grasp. Try this: “Network problems are usually not caused by the stations sending bad frames or error reports. The stations reporting problems are usually the `victims’ not the `perpetrators’.” So, if after you complain, `machine not working’, a crack-squad arrives suspecting some foul play at your end, rest assured that this is only too normal. “In the case of Ethernet, it is more difficult to pinpoint the cause of problems. With a thorough investigation, however, you usually can isolate a problematic area of the network where frames are damaged by a bad repeater, electrical problem, cabling fault, or misbehaving network interface card.”

The chapter on network security and management strategies should interest `information system auditors’; both security and management are often overlooked during the design of a network, notes the author, because they are considered operational issues rather than design issues. Such a flawed thinking can deprive the system of scalability and robustness, cautions Oppenheimer.

A book to be read, start-to-finish, before laying the cables top-down.

You can fly!


DO you know everything? To say `yes’ would be foolhardy because, as Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell note in Learning to Fly, we constantly hold back, feeling we don’t know enough to keep up with the accelerating pace of changes.

“Start with the assumption that somebody somewhere has already done what you are trying to do,” exhorts the blurb of the book, published by Capstone (www.CapstoneIdeas.com) and the key is to lay hands on such knowledge. The authors are from BP, `one of the world’s leading knowledge organisations’, and they talk on the strength of having put into practice what they preach. “To be useful, knowledge needs to be refreshed frequently,” is a line you can paste on stale homepages; “And it takes the organic nature of a network to own and refresh the knowledge with new experiences.”

Know-how is not the same as knowledge; it’s only a part. Know-how is the processes, procedures and tools you use to get something done; know-why is the big picture. Then there are know-what, know-where and know-when too. You may have the best of systems for intranet, but “a lot of operational knowledge and experience will always remain in the heads of the practitioners, as tacit knowledge that we cannot codify easily.”

Check also if your people “have a desire to give and to receive knowledge.” That would prevail only if you foster “a supportive company culture that recognises and rewards employees and teams for sharing and using learning in their day-to-day activities.” Ready to take off?

From @ to Zmodem


WWW dot, and then you are ready to jump into “Essential Internet” from The Economist, written by Sean Geer. The book, distributed in India by Viva (www.vivagroupindia.com) , notes that “this extraordinary medium continues to grow, both physically and conceptually” though the investment world turned its back on the Internet during the post-dotcom-bust days. “From bandwidth to burn rate, from mail rage to malware, it’s here,” writes Geer. The first entry in the A-Z is @ – the symbol in e-mail IDs; “credit for its first use goes to Ray Tomlinson.” If only some IP right had mandated the payment of royalty for every use of @ in mail IDs, think of how much Ray would have made by now. “Brochureware is a pejorative term for a Web site or page that simply replicates a company’s paper-based marketing materials.” Saves paper, but a distinct identity for your home pages is better. What’s copyleft? It’s “a software licensing scheme in which programs can be modified, redistributed or even sold, with the proviso that anyone who does so also passes on the freedom to make further changes.”

So, now you know where to look for to find the meaning of all Net-ty terms, but suddenly you wonder where you read about what. That’s infonesia, a common affliction, the inability to remember where you came across a particular piece of information. “This irritating ailment is becoming much more prevalent as the number of digital information sources in people’s lives increases.”

A related condition, as the book explains, is internesia – not the failing of memory when trying to remember where you met which intern, but the problem of avid Web surfers to remember a URL. To wrap, here is a quote from T.S. Eliot that Geer provides: “Where is the wisdom we have list in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost with information?” Essential read.


“Hello KDH, can you tell me your e-mail ID?”

“Kanpur Delhi Hyderabad at wheretogo dot… ”

“Sorry, it looks like I have connected to a travel agency.”

Monday, Jul 12, 2004



Seven Ps that apply in call centres

D. Murali

How do you speak right at a call centre job? Here’s help from one who trained as an actor at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.


AMONG the hottest career options is a job in a call centre. It’s something that offers a link between information technology and the English language, and also often between the East and the West too. The side-effects are more than living through the disturbed biological clocks and time-zones but also faked persona. To the enthusiastic, Arjun Raina advises, “Don’t put on any accent.” His book, Speak Right for a Call Centre Job! from Penguin (www.penguinbooksindia.com) is `a complete training guide for international telephone interface’. Fight to stay true to yourself; if you have any history of disturbed sleep or depression or any other psychiatric stress, stay away from the job, instructs Raina. “Once you have enough energy to take on the job, respond to life around you. Don’t exist in a bubble, the deadly corporate capsule.” Why? “You work elsewhere, but you belong here. Make an extra effort to locate yourself in this reality… Negotiate the duality of the job.”

The author, trained as an actor at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, has worked as voice and speech trainer at the National School of Drama, New Delhi, and now coaches communication personnel in call centres. There are seven Ps to remember, writes Raina in the intro: “Promptness, answer the phone in three rings because the fourth is too late;politeness, do all the nice things that nice people do;preparation, don’t waffle while searching for info; precision, be precise with numbers and even feelings; professionalism, concentrate on customer needs and deliver; practicality, stay real and pragmatic; and positivity, because that makes your job easier.”

We’ve heard of Ramesh becoming George and Sushila turning into Susan when talking to American callers. Is that okay? “In a country where cultures are based on the celebration of names of a million gods, this loss of conscious choice and control over personal names and identities is a cause for serious concern. Business must look at this issue very seriously if not for what it is asking of a whole generation of young Indians, then at least for its own success and survival.”

Pay heed to the call of Raina.

Go the grid way


PERHAPS you are a neophyte to the database arena and are looking for a way to fast-track your knowledge.” Or, maybe you have been working in the industry for a number of years and are considering a move into a different RDBMS. Or, someone has walked into your office and uttered what some feel are the most dreaded six words in the English language – “So, you’re the new database administrator.” If so, there is every chance you’re reading Oracle Database 10g: A Beginner’s Guide, by Ian Abramson, Michael Abbey and Michael Corey, published by Tata McGraw-Hill (www.tatamcgrawhill.com) . The book presents fundamental concepts in 10g admin and programming, through self-paced tutorials and in-depth intro to SQL, PL/SQL, Java and XML programming.

The product has undergone many name changes: v6, 7, 8i, 9i and now 10g. “Oracle Database 10g is the culmination of thousands upon thousands of person hours building an infrastructure to deliver data to a hungry, worldwide community, just as electricity is delivered to a three-prong outlet near you,” says the intro. But you ask Larryji about the `g’. And a four-letter word may hit you back: grid. “With grid computing, the industry envisions a computational grid where machines all the way from Intel-based server to the high-end servers from HP, IBM, and Sun are interlaced with one another in a massively scalable and sharable environment.” The analogy to electricity grid indicates that in grid computing, idle processor time is deliberately consumed by shared applications. “Imagine if computing power from the quiet time (11 p.m. to 7 a.m. EST) in North America can be absorbed by users in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.”

The authors would answer simple questions too, such as: “What is the major difference between the clob and blob data types?” Sounds like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, but the answer is: “The clob stores only alphanumeric data, whereas the blob can accommodate any type of data, including sound and video.” Or, “which method do you normally use to shut down a database.” For this, the experts respond with a discussion on shutdown normal, alter system checkpoint, shutdown abort, startup restrict, and shutdown immediate. Okay, next question: “What is the best way to become a good Oracle DBA quickly and then to keep improving?” Here’s my answer: Read this.

Owners of knowledge economy


IN 1972, Edumund Pratt became the CEO and chairman of Pfizer. In 1982, the GATT Ministerial Declaration contained a decision authorising GATT Council to examine the question of counterfeit goods.

On July 1, 1986, the manufacturing clause of the US Copyright Act is allowed to lapse. And on January1, 1995, TRIPS entered into force. What’s the connection between all these? For answer, you need to read Information Feudalism by Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite, published by Oxford (www.oup.com) .

“Who owns the knowledge economy?” is the question that serves as the subtitle, and the authors start chapter 1 with a shocking scenario of parents receiving notice from police – giving the option of paying a licence fee or face prosecution for patent infringement – because their child was found to be swinging not forward and backward as usual, but side to side by pulling on one chain first and then the other, a patented method. The chapter on `piracy’ informs how the profession is one of the oldest, and that its practitioners were respected.

“Under Elizabeth’s reign, piracy became a large-scale business involving old aristocratic families and high-ranking navy officers.” It was an organised crime, because England was poor compared with Spain. IP rights began life as tools of censorship and monopoly privileges doled out by the king to fund wars and other pursuits, the authors narrate.

Another chapter titled `biogopolies’ is on the patenting game; between 1981 and 1998, revenues from licensing and litigation of US patents rose from $3 billion to $100 billion.

In `infogopolies’, the authors discuss `software blues’; “IBM’s strategy of linking software to copyright and patents has led the Internet into an era of public-private regulation.”

What’s the bottom line? Information feudalism is not economically efficient, observe the authors, because it does not get the balance right between rewarding innovation and diffusing it; and it rewards guilds instead of inventive individual citizens.

“It makes democratic citizens trespassers on knowledge that should be the common heritage of humankind, their educational birthright. Ironically, information feudalism, by dismantling the publicness of knowledge, will eventually rob the knowledge economy of much of its productivity.”

Grim analysis.


“If I copy off a pirated CD, will you call me a pirate of the second order?”

“No, just a pirate, because once a pirate always a pirate.”

Monday, Jul 19, 2004



Across the post, in a jiffy

D. Murali

Vehicles can cross the checkpost in two minutes, about the time it takes to cook instant noodles. It’s no dream, but what can happen with e-governance.


THERE are floodlights and traffic lights that make the roads look like runways at night for a distance of about a kilometre as vehicles approach the checkpost. High on poles are video cameras, one for each lane to capture the registration number of trucks. Using SIPCA process (that is, Satellite Image Processing and Capturing of Phillips), these data are transmitted to the control room in the Regional Transport Office (RTO). There, two AS400 servers run DB2 and retrieve from a database of 0.5 million commercial vehicles registered in the state, info about the make of a vehicle, national permit, insurance and tax payment.

Power to the system is assured by dedicated lines from the State Electricity Board, backed by a high-capacity generator and a 72-hour backup UPS. After the vehicle arrives at the weighbridge, details such as unladen weight, actual weight, amount of overload and fine that must be paid are displayed on an electronic plasma board. Drivers use their prepaid cards for charges. “Operators check headlights, tax payment and so on. Any shortfall is recorded in the computer. Only if corrective measure is taken and recorded in the system will the sensor-controlled barrier allow the truck to proceed.”

What a dream, you’d be saying and shaking your head, but this is what Panneervel, who became Commissioner of the Transport Department in Gujarat, visualised.

The problems are many: Leased lines are available only at two of the 10 interstate checkposts; and some inspectors continue their old habit of harassing and extorting bribes. Since writing and pattern of licence plates are non-standard and so software could read only about 35 out of 5,000 accurately, vehicles with such plates are required to replace at the checkpost for a fee. Look at the results: Three-fold increase in tax collection over two years. “Revenue increased from $12 million to $35 million, paying back the total project cost of $4 million in just six months. Also, on an average, vehicles are cleared in 2 minutes instead of 30 in the manual system.” That is, you can cross the checkpost before Maggi noodle gets cooked.

This is just one of the dozen or so case studies drawn from six countries that Subhash Bhatnagar presents in E-Government, published by Sage Publications (www.indiasage.com) . A must-read for the new Minister of Information Technology, because it shows what difference IT can do to all other government departments.

She-bang to start with


PRACTICAL Extraction and Reporting Language is what PERL is. A language created in 1986 by Larry Wall to perform data-handling tasks in his company but it grew into a general purpose programming language. “It is most commonly found on Web servers to provide interaction between Web browsers via the Internet or an Intranet,” writes Mike McGrath in PERL in easy steps, published by Dreamtech Press (www.wileydreamtech.com) . “You may have visited some impressive sites where the URL ends with a file extension such as .cgi or .pl. Typically, these are dynamic Web pages served up to the Web browser using the power of the PERL scripting language on the server,” explains the author.

For starters, CGI is Common Gateway Interface. “Typically, a browser user will be asked to input information into a HTML form on a Web page. When the user pushes the `submit’ button the input data is transmitted to the CGI on the Web server whereon the server can call upon a PERL script to process this data. The script can then dynamically respond to the submission by sending a Web page back to the user based upon the data submitted.” Sounds so simple? Yes, and PERL scripts are written in plain text and used in that form without compilation into byte code. “This is similar to the way that client-side JavaScripts are run in major Web browsers using the JavaScript interpreter built into their software,” writes McGrath.

If interested, visit www.perl.com for a free download of PERL interpreter. After installing, you can try the traditional `Hello World’ program, as PERL script, beginning with the “so-called she-bang line”. What? “This name is derived from the line’s first two characters, `#’ – sh (from sharp) and `!’ – bang.” So, what’re you waiting for?

Spam vs ham


ANY way you cut it, spam wastes money,” write Paul Wolfe, Charlie Scott and Mike W.Erwin in Anti-Spam Tool Kit, published by Tata McGraw-Hill (www.tatamcgrawhill.com) . They have written the book “to help you thwart the assault of unwanted commercial e-mail whether you run a sizeable organisation’s e-mail system or you’re sitting at home banging your head on your keyboard, trying to sift a real e-mail message from the chaff.” The book covers more than 30 individual anti-spam tools over three major platforms, be they client or server based, open source or proprietary; discusses e-mail technologies and highlights what makes the system spam-prone; delves into the mindset of spammers and explores their motivation. “What we cannot teach you is how to completely eradicate spam from your life,” the authors concede in their intro. That’s because you can be sure only 99 per cent. Accept that spam is here to stay. “It has permeated the e-mail system, crossed over to Web pop-ups and spyware, and even infects mobile phones and text pagers.” So, wage your own war on spam with this book in hand.

What is the opposite of spam? Ham, or legitimate e-mail. You can teach the computer to separate the two. “Using machine learning, content analysis, and a continuously updated database of profiled spam, a mail server can recognise the difference between a legitimate message and spam. This reduces false positives (legitimate e-mail tagged as spam) and false negatives (spam in your inbox).” Fight positive.


“She says e-this and e-that, and he says, hee-haw!”


Monday, Jul 26, 2004





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