Life Codecs Ruminations. Reflections. Refractions. Code.

January 28, 2016

Who Do You Work For?

Filed under: general,philosophy — Kamal Advani @ 01:14

Corporations often talk about values. Expected behaviour and human traits that the corporation deems necessary to achieve its goals as a whole. It is expected that all levels of the organisation will display these traits. Of course, anything involving people is bound to have its own challenges. It is very difficult to instill values in people; more so adults.

The idea behind value statements is legitimate, and having this framework of character is certainly a step in the right direction. When the toplevel folks consistently display these values, employees down the chain either fall in place, or leave. I am, for the moment, ignoring matters of hiring the right people, a non-trivial problem worthy of its own post (many, many posts).

In effect, it is people that bring values and traits to life. Without enough people making these values pervasive, they mean nothing. Words on a corporate brochure.

Very few places I can think of — in fact, just one, my extended family, the BKC — have values so tangible, that, it would seem even if not one human were left in the place, those values would remain alive, palpable. One gravitates to the promoted values nearly by osmosis. Such places are the exception rather than the norm, of course. Given this, I have come to the epiphany, that for most other corporations, I cannot possibly work for the company. I work for people at the company. Together, we progress the organisation. The latter is nearly a side effect. But it is very much akin to having money as a side effect of providing value, not a particularly big idea by now one would hope.

Management experts like to use terms like “restructuring”, as if an organisation is a malleable construction of easily replaceable lego blocks. In 2016, that many places do not recognise just how organic, just how alive, and how cellular in nature corporations are, is a cause for sadness. Until the importance of people takes precedence, and not just as lip service, everything tends towards disorder, or at best, mediocrity.

One must consider that to start a company, to drive it to provide value and derive profit — the beginning — takes a huge amount of energy. Most company founders are smart and driven. To me, a state of mediocrity (or perhaps, complacency) is when only this initial impetus moves the company in, essentially, auto-pilot mode. When no more of the same drive and energy is applied to achieve continuous innovation.

I recall a Yow! event I attended recently, the speaker — I believe from Netflix — mentioned that execs from other companies often mentioned how they could not hire good people. To which the speaker responded that many of Netflix’s engineers were hired from these execs’ companies. The phrase “damning evidence” comes to mind.

September 18, 2013

Team Enthusiasm and Productivity

Filed under: general,software dev — Tags: — Kamal Advani @ 17:10

A friend posted this HBR article on the transience of high-performing teams on his Facebook account. This got me thinking, and commenting… thought a blog post might be a better medium to express my thoughts.

Overall, I agree with the article, but I think it, possibly deliberately, does not consider what can be done in more corporate workplaces, where team members tend to stick around for about 2 to 3 years on average.

Keeping this premise in mind — I think the cause of complacency/comfort is doing the same thing over and over again. In many creative fields, this is recognised as an issue. I would say many more “corporate” fields are also “creative”, but not recognised as such, in particular (as it affects me), writing software. This has made real gains in those fields pretty elusive, and limited to a few select teams where the creative aspect is acknowledged, or obtained through accidental discovery then subsequently forgotten.

To me the answer to battling complacency is simple: there needs to be regular, short breaks, where you go do something different but related for a period. For example, explore some new technology, some new framework you think would amount to eliminating some pain point in your core product. Or write some experimental feature integrated into the core product even if there is no known business requirement for it. Or, write something orthogonal to the core product, a support tool. You get the idea: something that makes the employee happy even if there is no immediate business driver for it.

Digression: Speaking of business/customer drivers, it’s a good time to remember Henry Ford’s quote: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” So customers are not the only people who gain insights into what they need. Neither is just management, nor just developers. That’s the point of a team — a collective hive mind.

Back to the core issue, ideally, these breaks need not be accounted for stringently — their purpose is intangible. To require say a short discussion of what one did is very reasonable, but to require that it produce something that adds to the bottomline directly is not reasonable IMV.

One might consider Google’s 20% time, but from what I gather (and I could be wrong here), that time is accountable and you MUST produce something which then feeds into employee performance reviews, etc. For me, that is a fallacy, and misses the point of this “productive downtime” idea I am proposing.

Complacency in my view is a form of mild boredom, and this implies being in a sort of shallow rut. To get out of ruts, people need to do something differently. Employers though are generally not creative enough, or brave enough to allow such measures, due to at least the following reasons:

  1. Trust: In some places, employee/employer relationships have a trust issue, say because in the past employers were bitten by employees abusing leniency. The reaction is human… but equally human is to get over it and not let one or two experiences taint one’s outlook for life.
  2. Excessive Sense of Accountability to a Board: A form of paralysis which forces management members to only ever make “safe”, mundane choices. Unfortunately, safe and mundane choices lead to safe and mundane results a lot of the time.
    I am not proposing constant risk taking — we need to ship and produce within reasonable timeframes… but there is no doubt that calculated risks and a willingness to be different in a positive way are behind some of the greatest successes.
    I would also argue one of the tasks of management is to be able to shield deserving creative people from the scrutiny of an uninformed board.
  3. Excessive Adherence to Best/Established Practice: At one point in time, slavery was established practice. It was a given. That’s how things were done. Was it right? I am all for properly backed studies, but they do not always apply. I also find there’s a bit of selective best-practice adherence, i.e. some places only use best-practices that will please management, but discard others that may in fact be required for the adopted practice to work! It’s like going on a diet without exercise, or exercising but keeping to your 30 Big Macs per night diet.
  4. Lack of Understanding of Staff Psychology: If employers are managing say, software projects (me biased? What bias?), it is necessary they understand the drivers and motivators of software developers. What makes software people tick exactly. I think here we have a generational gap problem too… many of us got into software because it was different, it has a joy of its own. But it is scientific, precise, and creative all at once; thus a lot of software developers suffer the same psychological issues as say artists and actors. Yet, we work under fairly corporate conditions. So there is a mismatch.
    This point is then inexorably linked to the point on Trust… how can you trust easily what you do not understand…
    Granted there are software developers that come with a sense of entitlement… just as there are managers that come with the same. That is an individual issue, the punishment cannot be applied to the whole species.

In my view, there are plenty of things employers can do to improve team morale (and thus output). It just takes some willingness, some creativity, some courage, and some trust.

January 21, 2012

Loudmouth SOPA Proponents & Hypocrisy

Filed under: general,gripe,politics — Tags: — Kamal Advani @ 01:22

It’s been several months since I stopped actively blogging with any real content (actively? real content? me? I know, "does not compute"), there had been nothing interesting to say, and overall I lost motivation.

Today, however, my blogging inertia has abated for a little while by virtue of coming across this article on BBC, discussing SOPA, One of the uniting traits of the world, for better or for worse, is the trait known as stupidity. Alas, there must be something most politicians and executives consume — their own steaming hot air aside — that inflicts this trait so readily in these poor (metaphorically speaking of course) humans.

The metaphor applies to both "poor" and "humans". In case you were wondering.

I read the article on the way home from work today. My anger (and thus, inertia cure) stems from statements made by the Grand Overlord of the MPAA, a certain US ex-senator Chris Dodd.

Dear audience (or lack thereof), the previous sentence translated to Swahili would be "mgongano wa maslahi" (at least that’s what Google Translate tells me). In Indonesian, we get a clearer indication, "benturan kepentingan" — well okay, clearer if you’re Indonesian. Finally, in Swede: "intressekonflikt".

To have initially worked for the people and then lobby for a broken corporation, that takes balls. Well, no, it takes very little effort for most politicians (ball bearings? Not even that heavy, sigh), you get the idea. Usually, Republicans are known for stunts like this; to my dismay, Monsieur Dodd is/was supposedly a Democrat. Perhaps, this is an instance of "I say to-may-toe, you say to-mah-toe".

Let’s examine some statements made by the MPAA (henceforth all quotes are from the linked article):

But backers of the legislation, led by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), described the action as an "irresponsible" publicity "stunt".

This "stunt" is referring to sites, especially Wikipedia, that went offline, or publicly displayed their anti-SOPA stance. There was nothing irresponsible about it, a huge internet-based protest occurred, no one (except the MPAA and related clowns) got hurt — compare that to almost any other massive protest — the worst thing that happened (for MPAA of course), is enlightenment. People seeing the blackout (notice the irony?) woke up to the mess that is SOPA — which by the way, is irresponsible considering it wastes tax payer money to essentially assist a very, very rich bunch get even richer. This happened according to Wikipedia (in the article):

"More than 162 million people saw our message asking if you could imagine a world without free knowledge," the site said. "You said no. You shut down Congress’s switchboards. You melted their servers. "From all around the world your messages dominated social media and the news. Millions of people have spoken in defence of a free and open internet."

I am not a US citizen, however any bill that affects a global network needs to involve custodians and netizens of said network. I consider myself a netizen, so this matters to me.

The MPAA is neither a custodian, nor a netizen of the Internet.

It is a leech.

But pardon me, a leech has blood sucking as a natural instinct. Ergo the MPAA is a lot worse than a leech, incomparable even — please ignore my previous analogy.

The MPAA’s constituents happily use the Internet when it suits, then trash it when it doesn’t. In layperson terms, that’s akin to crapping in your community centre’s hall. That’s just how disgusted I am by this organisation. And if the organisation is not enough, let’s continue with Monsieur Dodd. Oh, boy… this is one broken toy… (woot, a rhyme):

Ex-Senator Chris Dodd, MPAA’s chief executive, described the blackouts as an "abuse of power"

One word: "intressekonflikt" (or is that two?). You’re talking about "abuse of power"? Really?

The above quote doesn’t take the cake though, next I reveal the real impetus behind my post. Check this Oscar-winning material out:

Ahead of the day’s action, Mr Dodd said: "It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests."

I wonder if Mr. Dodd was in a room full of mirrors when he said this. Or perhaps he just came out of some form of freaky MPAA-sponsored Cataract-Vipassana 15-day retreat. I mean, really.

Okay, more talk of Mr. Dodd and yours truly will need to go on that retreat. Let’s move on to good ol’ Rupert Murdoch:

News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch, a vocal supporter of Sopa, continued to spar with users on Twitter. He tweeted: "Seems blogsphere has succeeded in terrorising many senators and congressmen who previously committed. Politicians all the same."

"Terrorising"? If ever there was a Hackneyed Word of the Decade competition, this would get my vote. So protesting these days is "terrorising"? Hmm. And the News of the World crackery bullshit was, I suppose, ethical journalism in comparison. The only shred of truth in his tweet, in as far as generalisations go, is the last sentence. And Mr. Murdoch, Wikipedia is not a blog, in case you haven’t been doing rudimentary fact-checking in recent times. The Internet is not just the "blogosphere" (his actual tweet spelt it correctly).

And yes, when I said "good ol’", it was sarcasm. In case you were wondering.

The sheer ease with which executives and politicians spout brobdingnagian volumes of pungent, diarrheic verbiage never ceases to both disgust and amaze me. I mean, that you can manage to stay in human form while expertly incanting turdspells like the above is nothing short of a miracle. The utter blindness to your own actions, the total inability to reflect on things as they are, the overreaching stupidity, the incomprehensible levels of arrogance… wow.

I need to do something about this naïveté of mine… one of these days.

As the Nihonjin say, well at least the Anime Nihonjin: yare yare…

January 19, 2012

Testing Blogilo Desktop Client

Filed under: general — Kamal Advani @ 23:01

Foo bar baz.

April 25, 2011

Mystery of Dinkle Berry

Filed under: general,gripe — Tags: , — Kamal Advani @ 23:04

Let’s edit this now1 force-footnote3.

“Dinkle Berry” is.. dinkle berry. A test user so abused in my test
data. Ah Dinkle Berry, where did your name come from?

I should google you, eh2?


1yep, still messing with my blog to email thingie.

2ok, so I did google it… whatever you do, please ignore
interpretation… it’s scary how I came up with that word
independently, and had no such mental association, kthnks.

33 6 edits now… textile support seems a bit.. flaky in Python.

April 22, 2011

Happy Easter

Filed under: general — Kamal Advani @ 22:34

To those celebrating, Happy Easter. May it be a blessed one.

October 23, 2010

Garudas, Phoeni[xes|ces], Eagles

Filed under: arts,general,philosophy — Tags: , , , — Kamal Advani @ 18:43

Disclaimer: Some of these views are my own, they may not be accurate, they may be downright wrong in fact – they are opinions. Please research accordingly. This article is not meant to be a historical thesis of any sort, just observations and personal inferences.

With the disclaimer out of the way, I can go crazy with fiction or non-fiction as I please, whee.

I got into a discussion about ancient history today with a senior teacher of mine. It reminded me of how much I used to like stories, myths, legends, and associated symbolism. Anyway one link led to another, and I began reading about Prambanan[1][2] – a temple in Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia built around the 9th or 10th century. One of the depicted major gods in Prambanan is Vishnu, one of the 3 major Hindu Gods[3], whose consort/vehicle is the Garuda[4.1][5] – a mythical powerful bird.

In Indonesia, the Garuda is used as a national symbol, a symbol for the Pancasila[6] – the 5 unifying cross-cultural, cross-religious, tenets of Indonesia.

A part of article [2] and article [5] tell of Garuda as being the son of a mighty sage Kasyapa and his wife Vinata. Paraphrasing [5], in short, Garuda had a brother, Aruna, who was born misshapen. Aruna was forced out of an egg (like a real egg, think chickens, not wombs) by Vinata’s (his mother) impatience and overexcitement.

Aruna was angry that he suffered this and cursed his mother. The details of this curse are unclear – [5] says that the mother became a slave to Naga, I’ll let you read up on it. Essentially, the fix to this situation was for Garuda to steal some heavenly ambrosia – a non-trivial feat (we’ll need to trust the myths on this) – guarded by various beings. Garuda was able to do this and save his mother. This virtuous quality of being able to save one from a disaster underlies (among several other things I suspect) the choice of using Garuda as a national symbol.

Article [4.2] depicts various uses of Garuda as symbols in an organisational or governmental setting. Article [5] gives an overview of the use of Garuda in Thailand.

The Greeks (and Romans) revered the Phoenix[7.1] “as a symbol of rebirth, immortality, and renewal”[7.1]. USA uses the Bald Eagle[8.1] as their national symbol. According to [8.1], “The founders of the United States were fond of comparing their new republic with the Roman Republic, in which eagle imagery was prominent”. I suspect that the eagle in turn was inspired by the phoenix in those circles. A phoenix is also most closely associated as being the European mythological counterpart to the Eastern Garuda[7.2].

Furthermore, [8.2] speaks of the role of eagles in Native American culture, an ancient culture with their own series of mythology and belief systems. It is highly likely this also factored into the decision to use the Bald Eagle as a US national symbol.

It’s fascinating (to me anyway) that so many places come to similar symbolism, in spite of the vast diversity, and physical proximities between the lands.

Something to munch on on a Saturday. Speaking of munching, I am starved. Exeunt.

[2] (in Bahasa Indonesia unfortunately)
[3] – Vishnu the Preserver, Shiva the Destroyer, Brahma the Creator. Hinduism is considered to be a polytheistic religion, however, I believe this to be a superficial classification. In fact, many of the older Yoga-based philosophies are very monotheistic. The various divinities and deities being almost individual aspects of the One. In that, it is both monotheistic and polytheistic – the many from the One, and eventually back to the One. It is my personal view, that many of the “modern” groups have, perhaps accidentally, muddled the core essence.
[5] – use of Garuda in Thailand.

September 20, 2010

A Tribute to Vajra

Filed under: general,personal,poetry — Tags: , , , — Kamal Advani @ 22:03

I just gave away my laptop of some 8 years. Its hostname was “vajra“, a Sanskrit multi-semantic word – some meanings rather less subtle than others, but that’s a tale for another rainy day. The meaning I first encountered for it however was ‘diamond’. That is the name I gave to it.

I do not know if I can confer this name on to an equally worthy machine in the future – whether I do, or do not – equality in this case will never replace Vajra’s intrinsic identity.

The Vajra that just left was truly a diamond, it stuck with me through thick and thin, all throughout my university and personal life – the whole of my time in Melbourne. A most resilient machine. It was sad seeing it go having been a significant part of my life for so long. Yet it is well that it went to someone who wanted to reuse it as a small mail server, as my main use for it has, sadly, since dissolved.

While a university student with a tight budget, it gave me no trouble. Many days it ran at least 10-15 hours a day, compiling code, browsing the net, playing music, yapping on IRC. It has been a companion for the longest time.

I remember that on the way to Melbourne, the first time, I managed to lose its original power adapter due to tardiness at the airport security check. I found an original, new, and cheap replacement not long after though. Truly it was Divine synchronicity. Even when I messed up, it remained kind to me.

2-3 years ago, the one thing that died was its hard drive. I replaced it the next day, and it was buzzing with life once more.

Vajra – a Compaq Presario 1700 AP – has the following featureset:

  • Pentium 3 (Coppermine), 750 MHz
  • 384 MB RAM
  • 110 GB HDD (the original was 40GB I believe)
  • NIC
  • Built-in (soft-)modem
  • Floppy drive-bay

It has accomodated several OS spirits during its time with me:

  • Linux: Mandrake, Redhat 7.2, Debian, and most recently Ubuntu Karmic
  • Windows: WinME, WinXP

I wish it well, and when the time comes – may its various elements evolve further: the minerals powering its chipsets, the metals of its frame, the luminous atoms of its LCD.

May the spirit of Vajra,
the diamond,
be forever.
In one form
or another.

Walking Down (Virtual) Memory Lane

Filed under: general,personal — Tags: , — Kamal Advani @ 00:34

I’ve been gathering up my old machines to either give away, or recycle. As part of this I’ve had to look at contents of old hard drives to decide what needs to stay, and what can go. It has been a rather emotional process – not a very easy one at times. So much lies in those bits and bytes. Chunks of life from days gone by. People, names, places, items. Some which test old wounds (dang, how deep). A timescale quite close to a decade for me.

Much of the material was not well-organised – so there was a lot of grepping for patterns of files that I might want to keep. I did not find a heap to keep, but those that I did find – they would be in the calibre of things, which, if I did suddenly remember about them, and realised that I had deleted them – well let’s just say it would not be a great feeling. At some point, one perhaps has to let go of it all – but for now I was glad to find those files.

In Indonesian, we have this interesting phrase, ‘napak tilas’, I don’t actually know what it means literally – but metaphorically, it’s an act of reflection – to revisit places (sometimes very much physically revisit places), or things, and reflect on the values gained from those, how one has changed or not changed, what one has learnt or not learnt, etc. – much like a deep, psycho-emotional XP retrospective for the Agile software-development-inclined.

I can’t help but think that so much ‘napak tilas’ must occur in the digital world these days – photos, music, writings, even code. This is of course in addition to ongoing life in the physical world. One lives, quite literally, in a multidimensional world today.

Night, (multidimensional) world.

August 28, 2010


Filed under: general,personal — Tags: — Kamal Advani @ 03:34

Australia has this thing called Daffodil Day. It is essentially an annual initiative by the Cancer Council to raise money for cancer research by selling bright yellow merchandise – daffodils obviously being one prominent item. I’ve always wanted to participate (that is, donate) on Daffodil Day (I know I can donate any other day, but Daffodil Day sounds so much cooler) – so today – Daffodil Day 2010-08-27 – I went ahead and got some daffodils (oh and a teddy bear in a yellow tee which is now placed in the centre table of our work pod).

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them really… so on reaching home, I emulated what femmes and flower lovers usually do, put the flowers in a vase with water. I know, brilliant.

My first problem made itself known — I do not have a vase.

I could not just wait and let the flowers without water, they were already in my backpack for most of the day :-(. So using my high IQ (the same IQ that thought of emulating well-known procedures), I emulated a vase. I had an empty tin can of Astor Wafer Sticks – good stuff that, highly recommended – washed it up, filled it with cold water, and placed the daffodils in them.

A couple of hours later in the middle of the night, these amazing flowers just bloomed… quite surreal. As ruby2shoes (gotta love handles) once told me – paraphrasing a bit – “daffodils are hardy flowers, like ‘whee! we’re here!! hi hi!'”.

I am glad I got them now :-).

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