Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Misc Reading - Week of Feb 15

Selected reading from the week of Feb 15 2010.
  • All Things Digital muses about the future of Hunch, a site that attempts to use machine learning algorithms to make better suggestions to users. Interesting for sure. [link]
  • Greg Mankiw recommends a memoir by a physicist who worked on Wall Street. [link, the book link - My Life as a Quant: Reflections on Physics and Finance]
  • Steve Sack's cartoon on the Republican Party double-speak on fiscal stimulus [link]
  • Steve Breen's cartoon on, again, the Republican Party and the stimulus conundrum [link]
  • Paul Kedrosky links to Bill Gates' TED talk on nuclear energy [link]
  • Paul Kedrosky on the Simon-Ehrlich bet. Eh? Yes. [link]
  • Ritholtz links to Matt Taibi's excoriation of Wall Street bonuses. Bailout turns into bonus bonanza for Wall Street. Gee, why do people dislike bankers so much?? [link]
  • Paul Kedrosky reminisces with fondness his run-ins with airport security. Read it to believe it. [link]
  • I haven't read Data Flow, and I haven't read Data Flow 2. Maybe I should. [from the Infosthetics blog - link]
  • Co-workers stealing credit for your work? Surely not. Evil HR Lady ruminates. [link]
  • You must really have a credible, visible, and effective way of handling customer enhancements. [link]
  • Why don't airlines charge for the compressed air you breath on board a flight? Not too far from that. [link from the ProductMarketing.com blog]
  • At some companies, crappy customer service is actually the norm [link from OnProductManagement.net]
  • If you are an Oracle developer who also works with maps, you just have to get this SQL Developper extension [link]
  • xkcd.com on honor societies. How big a loser do you have to be to want to join one?? [link]
  • A VC tells us the PV of FVs [link]
  • The Heath brothers informed us that their latest book, Switch, is out, and available real cheap from Amazon.com [link]
  • Cliches used as anti-cliches? Seth Godin explains. [link]
  • The zero rupee note 'nudges' corrupt babus into honesty? Let's hope so. [link]
  • Asia's largest literary event is in Jaipur. [link]
  • Steve Jobs really got this one wrong - Netbooks vs. the iPad [link from the Flex888 site - who else?]
  • Longish article from Charles Hooper's site on how CPUs are either 100% busy or 0% busy performing a task. There is no middle ground!!! [link]
  • The movie 3 Idiots is fairly idiotic on several levels. Maybe that's why it's a big hit. This cartoon strip does a fantastic job of telling us why. [link]
  • Google lives 10 years in the future. Cringely tells us why. [link]
  • And to think MySpace was hot just a couple of years back. Recall the reference to it in the movie IronMan? [link]
  • Scott Kelby on HDR photography. You have an opinion or not. No 'High Def Ranting' allowed. Ok - that was lame. [link]
  • Did you read the book, Presentation Zen? Well Presentation Zen Design is out. Go read. [link]
  • People who spend without thinking really need to get their heads examined. Science says so now. [link from Kedrosky.com]
  • The first chapter of the Heath brothers' new book, Switch, is available for free from their web site. Register to read it in a nicely formatted PDF form.[link]

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Free First Chapter of Switch

The Heath brothers have made available the first chapter of their forthcoming book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, on their website here. All of almost seven thousand words.
If you want a nicely formatted PDF, you need to sign-up on the site.

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Misc Reading - Week of Feb 8

  • Barry Ritholtz points to NY Times article on how Goldman Sachs looted billions from AIG [link]
  • Ritholtz, author of The Bailout Nation, explains the dismal economics of book writing. [link]
  • Bill Gates recommends some of the courses from The Teaching Company that he enjoyed [link]
  • Cringely on how start-ups generate most of the new jobs in the US - "big companies grow by increasing scale and productivity, ...while startups grow by inventing cool stuff. "[link]
  • Bob Sutton tries to find a word or phrase for "someone who "opts out of participating in something but then complains about the outcome."" [link]
  • Dan Heath posts about a new series on the New York Times site, started by a Cornell math professor. Look interesting. [link]
  • John Batelle on what sort of metrics marketers want from Twitter [link]
  • Joel Spolsky has a poorly argued and full of logical fallacies post on headcount [link]
  • Bruce Schneier posts excerpts from a post on an interview with a Nigerian internet scammer. Fascinating. [link]
  • The author of the 'Junk Charts' blog is coming out with a book - Numbers Rule Your World: The Hidden Influence of Probabilities and Statistics on Everything You Do [link]
  • John Batelle muses whether Google is losing its customer focus. [link]
  • Is this just another photo, or is it really 'the gayest photo from the Super Bowl'???[link]
  • Ritholtz links to a Fortune article on how Greenspan is trying to re-build his tattered reputation [link]
  • Continuing debate on Facebook vs. Gmail Buzz [link]
  • Fred Wilson from the Sillicon Alley Insider links to this very well-argued post on Flash vs. HTML5 [link]
  • Silicon Alley Insider post that Yelp walked away from $700 million offer from Microsoft. Will they regret it, or will Microsoft regret not upping the offer? [link]
  • Michael Arrington argues that Social today is where Search was in 1999 [link]
  • Henry Blodget wonders whether Google was lying earlier, or is it lying now? [link]
  • Heath Brothers post on 'customer service' [link]
  • Seth Godin on the three types of people when change comes a-calling [link]

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The New Yorker - On The Money

Almost 75 years of cartoons, on the economy. A treat.

The cartoons also provide a sort of journey through time, through the times we have lived through. While some of the cartoons are topical, and have references that may not mean much to most people today, others are timeless. These cartoons talk about highly paid executives, salaries, bonuses, and more.

You can pick the book and select pages from any decade, and the cartoon will elicit a chuckle. Now surely that's got to be worth something in these trying economic times. The cartoons are by and large funny. Sometimes poignant, sometimes very timelessly relevant. And sometimes it is difficult to get the context that inspired the cartoons.

There is a short index at the end of the book, with a listing of each cartoonist whose work has been featured in the book. You can see some cartoonists occur much more than others. The most prolific cartoonists are Robert Mankoff, who incidentally, is also the editor of this compilation, Robert Weber, Lee Lorenz, William Hamilton, Alan Dunn, Dana Fradon.
Some like John Agee, Marissa Acocella, Ed Frascino, Rea Irvin, Robert Kraus, and others feature only once.

Sample these cartoons over the decades:

- a couple of women looking at a polo player and remarking, "He has no right to look so dumb. He isn't so terribly rich."
- a happy mother handing a bill to the father, "Darling, here's the bill from the hospital. One more installment and the baby's ours."

- a pilot telling his co-pilot while pointing at the controls in the cockpit, "Most of them are mysteries to me, but that one on the right gives stock-market averages."
- two young ladies having a smoke in a club, "He's an investor, or speculator, or embezzler - anyway, he's rich."

- a woman admonishing a bill collector at the door, "Has it occurred to you that if everybody paid their bills on time, you'd be out of a job?"
- a ticket collector in a train remarking to another, "Here's a 'Wall Street Journal' that appears to be streaked with tears."

- a huckster trying to lure a pedestrian - "Psst! Next Friday's 'Wall Street Journal'?"
- a buxom blonde telling a nonagenarian at a dinner table, "Gee whiz, Mr Curtis, a million dollars isn't old!"

- a secretary's reply to a visitor, "I'm afraid Mr Koerner is no longer with us. He was taxed out of existence."
- a 'silent' cartoon depicting humpty dumpty sitting on a street sign that says 'Wall Street', looking down at a bemused pedestrian.

1980s: and the decade of fears of Japanese domination
- a couple watching a news story on television, "Today the secret ingredient for Mom's Apple Pie were sold to the Japanese for sixty-eight million dollars."
- Wall Street executives remarking at a party, "As far as I'm concerned, they can do what they want with the minimum wage, just as long as they keep their hands off the maximum wage."

- a banker revealing to a couple, "Your money was working for you, but it suddenly quit and now it's working for me!"

- One executive remarking to the other; "These new regulations will fundamentally alter the way we get around them."

One has to wonder after reading the introduction and the cartoons themselves just what exactly did Malcolm Gladwell bring to this book. The cartoons themselves are mostly funny and often brilliant to stand on their own in this collection. Gladwell's commentary is fairly un-illuminating. Perhaps the publisher weren't confident the book could sell on its own merits?

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Neuroplasticity, Monkeys, and Success

Success Gets into Your Head—and Changes It, by Scott Berinato, from the Jan-Feb 2010 issue of the HBR.

Success teaches us more than failures. So say the monkeys. Correct. Researchers did studies on monkeys, and came away with the conclusion that the brain learns more when it succeeds at a task than when it fails.

Ok seriously. What does the article say?
Neuroscientists have long understood that the brain can rewire itself in response to experience—a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity.

“Neurons in the prefrontal cortex and striatum, where the brain tracks success and failure, sharpened their tuning after success,” says Miller. What’s more, those changes lingered for several seconds, making brain activity more efficient the next time the monkey did the task.
Well - maybe. Consider the contrarian example: when you get an electric shock upon sticking your finger into a live socket, trust me, your brain is teaching you to avoid sticking appendages into any socket in the future. Prefrontal cortex, striatum, and every tex in the brain is teaching you the lesson.

Aha. But the researcher, Earl Miller, anticipated such smart-alec arguments:
Miller says this means that on a neurological level, success is actually a lot more informative than failure. If you get a reward, the brain remembers what it did right. But with failure (unless there is a clear negative consequence, like the shock a child feels when she sticks something in an electrical outlet), the brain isn’t sure what to store, so it doesn’t change at all.
So maybe the key to making the brain as good at learning from failures as from successes is to make consequences carry a clear, negative message. Hmm... maybe that's why some parents are so willing to use the stick than the carrot.

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Misc Reading - Week of Feb 1 2010

Misc reading from the week of Feb 1-7 2010.
  • Barry Ritholtz, author of Bailout Nation, gives a breakdown of the costs involved in writing a book. The real payoff from a successful bestseller comes from any subsequent book deals and from the business opportunities it creates.[link]
  • Dilbert, actually Wally, Hairless Potter, and Baldemort [link]
  • Greg Mankiw, Economics, and the acrostic [link]
  • A special report from the Economist on social networks [link] via Paul Kedrosky.
  • Silicon Alley's Blodget on Microsoft and its money sink - the Online Division [link]
  • Go figure - Microsoft Bing's URL shortener is longer than its domain name!! [link]
  • Apple COO on the GM CEO shortlist. Really?? [link]
  • Newsweek's 1997 Holiday Gadget Shopping List. Anyone remember Palm Pilot, StarTac? [link]
  • Sun's CEO blogs his resignation. And also tweets it. [link]
  • Guy Kawasaki on how to blog like a Brit. [link]
  • xkcd on the Mars Rover. Sooo sad :-( [link]
  • Excellent article on what makes a great teacher [link]. From the Heath brothers' blog [blog link]
  • Flash storage memory. It's what makes Oracle Exadata tick. [link]
  • If you think the "MasterCard Secure" or "Verified by Visa" thing makes you more secure, think again. [link]
  • Can you imitate, and yet be original? John Battelle links to a paper describing a "Large Scale Social Search Engine" [link, link to paper]
  • Moore's curse and the great energy delusion - link, via Kedrosky [link]
  • Brahma Chellaney on China's Cyber Warriors [link]
  • Are Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner or the New York Fed serving the public interest? [link]
  • Link to video if interview with Barry Ritholtz. You need to forward 15 mins or so to get to the interview. [link]
  • There are inventors, and there are bureaucrats. Both are needed. But don't make one do the job of the other. Or so says Seth Godin. [link]
  • Everyone's sitting on a pile of cash. Like in the tens of billions of dollars. [link]
  • Silicon Alley's Henry Blodget, former equity research analyst and now barred from the securities industry, does not like the conversation mode in Gmail, so therefore, according to him, Google knows jackshit about customers. Yeah, Blodget, the world still revolves around you. [link]
  • Bruce Schneier on Security and Function Creep. Excellent. [link]
  • Cringely writes how SSL would not really have prevented the Google hack by Chinese hackers.[link]
  • Remember the Yahoo exec's "peanut butter memo"? Now we have a "dysfunctional corporate culture" op-ed from an ex-Microsoft VP. [link]
  • Offices improve productivity. Research proves it. Except for the solo iconoclast. From Bob Sutton's blog. [link]
  • Naik Jadu Nath Singh's first charge would have been medal worthy. To do it thrice is beyond belief. Salute this posthumous Param Vir Chakra winner, the bravest of the brave. [link]

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

The Shadow of the Great Game

The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India's Partition 

by Narendra Singh Sarila (Amazon, Flipkart)

What Goes Around Comes Around
Highly recommended, very well researched, and equally well written and presented. This book uses recently discovered papers and documents, stitched together by the author, a former ADC to Lord Mountbatten, to put forth the point that there was much more going on behind the scenes during India's Independence struggle, and the partition of the country that happened than has generally been known or believed.

Specifically, the author makes the following points:

1. The Congress Party made some serious mistakes in its fight for freedom, the biggest perhaps being its decision to resign from government at the outset of the Second World War, thereby creating a power vacuum into which the British were able to inject Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The second being to launch the Quit India movement in 1942, which helped build world opinion in favor of the British - because the British were able to quell it in a fairly short order of time, and because the movement helped create the impression that India was against the war movement.

2. The British very much wanted to have Pakistan get control of certain territories during Partition, because, in their opinion, it was necessary to have these territories in the possession of a country that would be more amenable and friendly to the British, and thus help them create a geo-political buffer against the Soviets and to help protect their strategic oil interests in the Persian Gulf (every piece of historical villainy in the last hundred years seems to go back to oil, or so it seems). This led to decisions that seem almost tragic in the light of recent events. Hence the title of my review; 'what goes around comes around', or as Indians would put it, 'the wheel of dharma cannot be escaped from'.
"'It would have been natural for Kashmir to eventually accede to Pakistan on agreed terms.' This was the pith of British policy on J&K: the state had to go to Pakistan but with India's agreement, as was done with the NWFP. ... This did not happen. However, the two areas of the state that Britain had absolutely marked out for Pakistan - one in the context of Britain's world strategy and the other to ensure Pakistan's security - were successfully kept out of Indian control and so they remain even after more than fifty-five years. These were the Northern Areas of the state along the Chinese and Soviet frontiers and the strip of territory in the west with a common border with Pakistani Punjab. The Northern Areas consisted of the Gilgit Agency, with its dependencies of Hunza and Nagar and the principalities of Swat and Chitral... " [pages 330, 331]

3. Jinnah was a stout nationalist, against religious extremism, but also ambitious, and egocentric. Partition for him turned out to be a way of fulfilling these ambitions. He was helped along the way by Congress Party intransigence and British connivance.
"... (Jinnah) continued ... 'We are all sons of this land. We have to live together. We have to work together and whatever our differences may be, let us at any rate not create more bad blood'." [pages 85]
"Gandhiji, in fact, was making this offer [of Mr Jinnah forming the new Interim Government and to have the new cabinet be named entirely by him] some twenty years too late. If, in 1928, he had offered Jinnah the Congress Party's presidency, instead of to the younger Nehru, Jinnah - an old Congress Party stalwart, at heart no fundamentalist, and hungry for attention - might have grasped it and not thrown himself into the British lap. He was a more intelligent and a more disciplined negotiator than the others." [page 277]
4. The British were at pains to ensure that the world see the Congress Party agreeing to partition on its own volition, even while it worked furiously to negotiate, trick, cajole, and out-maneuver the Congress party to form post-partition boundaries to its maximum advantage. Their dealings post-Partition were quite dishonourable, especially when it came to the issue of the Kashmir accession.

Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, comes across as a hard working, honest person who did his best to convince the 350+ Indian princely states to accede to India, working with Sardar Patel, to ensure that independent India emerged as united as possible. This was also because of Britain's own interest in avoiding a Balkanization of India, lest it be accused of incompetence or worse. Mountbatten's role in the Kashmir imbroglio, was however not as straightforward.

Some other nuggets on information that come out are that Winston Churchill, the lion of England, and who is credited with turning the tide of the Second World War against the Germans, was a scurrilous rogue and racist imperialist when it came to his dealings with India.
"After hearing him speak at a cabinet meeting, Lord Wavell, the future viceroy, noted in his diary: 'Churchill hates India and everything to do with it.' Churchill himself is no record as saying: 'I hate Indians - they are a beastly people with a beastly religion.'" [pages 53, 54]

"While Gandhiji's life hung in the balance, he [Churchill] wired to Linlithgow: 'Have heard that Gandhi usually has glucose in his water when doing his various fasting antics. Would it be possible to verify this?' And was heard to remark: 'I do not think Gandhi has the slightest intention of dying and I imagine he has been eating better meals than I have for the last week.'" [page 139]
Those who have seen the girths of Gandhiji and Churchill can only wonder as to the extent of derangement of the noble Englishman.
"The Intelligence Bureau's view was that communal disorders were an antidote to the agitation taking an anti-British course." [page 193]

"As soon as Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India, Brown [Major Alexander Brown, British officer of the Gilgit Scout] got the Gilgit scouts to surround the Residency, and, after a short gun battle in which he lost a scout, he imprisoned Governor Ghansara Singh. Peshawar was then informed by Brown about the accession of Gilgit to Pakistan. [page 333]
5. The Americans were a lot friendlier to the Indian independence cause than is generally acknowledged in India. They had leverage and influence over Britain far in excess of what was generally believed at the time. Furthermore, and this is somewhat surprisingly so, they supported India at the UN when it came to the issue of Kashmir, and held that the princely state of Kashmir had acceded legally to India.
One reason why this aspect of American support for India has not received its due mention in Indian history texts is probably because Indian historical research post-Independence has mostly been in the control of communists and people with strong leftist leanings, which may have prejudiced them against acknowledging US contributions.
"Roosevelt replied to Churchill the same day (11 April 1942):
'... The feeling almost universally held is that the deadlock has been caused by the unwillingness of the British Government to concede to the Indians the rights of self-government.' "[page 112]
"Attlee frankly admits in his autobiography that Britain could not continue to hold on to India because of 'American pressure against the Empire'." [page 189]

"Throughout 1948, the US insisted that J&K's accession to India could not be brushed aside .... and, meanwhile, Pakistani forces that had entered the state had to be withdrawn. It was this US stand that prevented J&K's accession to India being negated, at Britain's behest, by the UN Security Council." [page 404]

6. Muslims in India by and large were against the concept of partition. There are several reasons listed for this, all of which seem to make a lot of sense.

Of interest to the western reader will be the pieces on the North Western Frontier Provinces, now part of Pakistan, and which are home to the Swat Valley, that has been in the news so much recently for the hunt for terrorists hidden there. The NWFP was headed by a Congress Party government. The NWFP had Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan as its leader. This person was also known as the Frontier Gandhi (or Sarhadi Gandhi), for his pacifist ways, and for his belief in Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence. This province, in 1947, did not want to accede to Pakistan, but through the machinations of the British and because of the Frontier Gandhi's aversion to violence, which he feared would be unleashed by pro-Pakistani extremists of the Muslim League, voted, to become part of Pakistan by the thinnest of margins. That a region that followed a leader like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in 1947 should now have become one of the world's most dangerous regions and a veritable hotbed of jihadi terrorism is tragic, and ironic to an extent, because this is what the deliberate policies of the British have wrought.

Whether partition was inevitable, whether it was desirable, is something left best to speculation, informed or otherwise. The author does seem to lean more against partition, but he does list some of the arguments why partition may have been a necessity, an inevitability. Whether a country 4.2 million sq kms, a combined population of 1.5 billion, with 900 million Hindus and 500 million Muslims, would have been viable as a single entity is debatable, or not, but that is for a separate discussion.

There are references listed at the end of each chapter, and some chapters have as many as 60 references, sometimes more. They probably total 500, not necessarily distinct references. Needless to say, the author has done much research to prepare this book.

The book is very well written, neatly organized into short chapters, each of which deals with a specific aspect of the Indian independence movement, and backed by copious research. Very highly recommended.

Harper Collins India Book Page

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

HBR Article - What Would Peter Say

What Would Peter Say? - Harvard Business Review by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, from the November 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

Peter as in Peter Drucker, legendary management guru, and considered by many as the father of modern management.

Management professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter argues that many of Peter Drucker's advice on management would be readily relevant today, especially in the context of the many challenges faced today by society - from the erosion of trust in corporations, to employee motivation and retention, and more.She states that Peter Drucker foresaw the problems at GM. The siloed structure at GM helped it become the leader in the American automotive market, yet the same structure became ossified and prevented GM from addressing the challenges posed by a changing market. According to Kanter, Drucker also foresaw the rise of emerging markets, primarily Japan. She credits Drucker, perhaps a bit too much, with helping third world countries create a middle class, writing "He gave leaders in those nations the concepts and permission to move from tribalism to corporatism ... helped create a middle class and transformed political regimes". One would like to see such claims backed by more evidence than is available from the article. A bit of over-enthusiastic hyperbole, perhaps?

The article serves as a useful though short summary of Peter Drucker's achievements, his far-sightedness, blind spots, shortcomings, and the gist of his thoughts on management.

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Kaoboys of RAW

THE KAOBOYS OF RAW: Down Memory Lane
Lancer's (Publisher) Book page

(Amazon US / CA / UK, Kindle US / UK / CA, Flipkart)
Bahukutumbi Raman is a former head of the counter-terrorism division of India's external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW). He retired from service on August 31, 1994, and his first article appeared in a newspaper on Sep 1, 1994! He has been a prolific writer since, with his columns appearing regularly in newspapers and on online sites like Rediff.com.

He has written several books, but this one captured the most attention in the public.

This book is a reminisce of B Raman's time in the R&AW. The book traces the origins of RAW from its inception, and is divided into chapters, each of which covers a broad topic, such as the Indo-Pak war of 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh, the terrorism in Punjab, terrorism in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as political leaders like Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh, Chandrashekhar, and political events like the Bofors scandal, assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Interspersed are accounts of both the development and decline of India's intelligence gathering capabilities, corruption and nepotism within the intelligence community, counter-espionage, the role of the ISI, and brief bios of some of the luminaries of RAW, like RN Kao, Sunook, Girish Saxena.

B Raman measures his words carefully. He does not drop names, except on a couple of occasions - to either settle score or to make a point or two, nor makes any strong political statements. His opinions about some luminaries nonetheless come across on occasion. Like his dim view of the former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. He believes that Vajpayee was not very interested in building up India's counter-intelligence capabilities, often delegating communications with the RAW to his National Security Adviser. B Raman is also critical of Vajpayee and the BJP for the after-effects of the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, which he states led to the alienation of the Muslims in India from the mainstream, thereby providing an opportunity to to the ISI to infiltrate into India. B Raman is full of admiration for the handson approach of Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi. And his grief and pain at their assassinations is there to read:
Since 1947, no other Prime Minister had taken more interest and done more to improve their conditions of service than Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. What a shocking tragedy that these agencies, which owed them so much, so miserably failed to protect them. Every officer, who had served in our agencies at that time - in whatever capacity - should hang his or her head in shame. We failed them. [page 243]
It is somewhat sad and disappointing that the RAW, formed in 1968 by the Prime Minister of Indira Gandhi, reached its zenith in a very short time, during the 1971 War, but rapidly fell into decline soon thereafter, to the point where its efficacy even in Bangladesh was close to zero. It has been infiltrated by foreign intelligence agencies over the years, repeatedly, its cadre often nepotist, corrupt, and incompetent, its failures many, and its successes far and few inbetween, and where they do occur, hidden from the public eye.
Failure to diversify contacts in Bangladesh, pockets of hostility in its security forces and intelligence community towards India and the R&AW, suspicion in the non-Awami League political circles over what was perceived as Indian favoritism towards certain sections of the political spectrum and a lack of objectivity in the Bangladesh analysis branch contributed to the decline in the R&AW's performance in Bangladesh during the Emergency. This has continued since then. [page 53]
Jihadi Terrorism, Pakistan, and the War on Terror
Most Indians have known that the epicenter of jihadi terrorism has been Pakistan, something which is now public knowledge the world over, and roots of this jihadi terrorism can be traced to the times of its military dictator Gen. Zia Ul-Haq, who is credited with accelerating Pakistan's drive to acquire nuclear weapons capability and of hurtling the Pakistani Army into Islamic radicalization. Pakistan's support, military, economic, logistical, and diplomatic, of terrorism in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, is well known to Indians, but was for long denied and un-acknowledged or its impact minimized by the Western World. This has been sore point with Indians, and B Raman minces no words when he takes the West to task for this perceived duplicity.
Jihadi terrorism, which has been causing so much havoc across the world, including India, is this the product of two minds in the world of intelligence - William Casey and Le Comte Alexandre de Marenches. During his secret visits to the terrorist training camps and madrassas in Pakistan in the 1980s, Casey used to address the trainees as "My sons". He died of cancer during the second term of Reagan, and therefore, did not live long enough to see the thousands killed by "his sons" and their associates, including 3,000 of his own countrymen on 9/11. Some of the retired CIA officers of those days, who are now parading themselves around the world and making money as the leading Al Qaeda watchers, were the original creators of Al Qaeda. [pages 81, 82]

This is something some in the West may well disagree with. Lawrence Wright, for example, in his excellent book, The Looming Tower, argues, with a lot of documentation, that the creation of Al Qaeda was very much an organic creation of the likes of Al Zawahiri and later Osama Bin Laden. Lawrence Wright's book however skirts the entire episode and ramifications of of US participation and involvement in the training, arming, and creation of the terrorists that first fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, then the Indians in Kashmir, and now pretty much the entire Western World.

Raman reveals more, later in the same chapter, referring to the hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft in 1984:
The revolver given by the ISI to the hijackers at Lahore before the aircraft was taken to Dubai was of West German make. ... the West German intelligence intimated that the revolver was part of a consignment sold by the company to the Pakistan Army. The Government of India immediately shared the information with US officials and pointed that it was a fit case for declaring Pakistan a State-sponsor of international terrorism. ... But, the US authorities were not prepared to accept this oral evidence as conclusive proof against Pakistan. [page 92]
And further on:
It was this protection extended to Pakistan by the State Department ever since the days of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan and it was their practice of closing their eyes to the spawning of jihadi terrorists in Pakistani territory, that led to the emergence of the Pakistan-Afghanistan region as a breeding ground of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and numerous other jihadi terrorist organizations. [page 281]
Even before his (Jagjit Singh Chauhan, one of the major proponents and self-styled leader of the terrorist movement for the separate Sikh state of Khalistan) arrival in the UK, the Pakistani High Commission and the US Embassy in London were in touch with the activists of the Sikh Home Rule Movement. They established contact with Chauhan after his arrival and started encouraging his propaganda against the Government of India in order to embarrass Indira Gandhi. [page 85]
The law of Karma cannot be escaped from. B Raman essentially states that the spectre of terrorism that haunts the West is more or less a creation of the West. Terrorism, grown and nurtured by Pakistan in the hopes that it would destroy its arch enemy, India, now threatens the very existence of Pakistan itself and threatens to render the fabric of its society. Jihadi terrorism, trained and financed by the CIA, in the hopes that it would bleed and defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan, and nurtured by Pakistan, in the hopes that it would bleed India, did just that, but then turned on its creators.

Benazir Bhutto was the daughter of the late Zulfikar Ali Bhtto, the Prime Minister of Pakistan during the war of 1971, when Bangladesh won independence from (West) Pakistan. This terrible loss at the hands of India left a deep and permanent psychological scar on Benazir Bhutto, and was responsible for her antagonistic policy towards of India, especially when it came to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, parts of which have been under Pakistan occupation since 1948. She desperately wanted to be the daughter that won back from the enemy what her father had lost.
According to the source, Lt. Gen. Gul replied: "Madam, keeping Indian Punjab destabilized is equivalent to the Pakistan Army having two extra Divisions at no cost. If you want me to drop the Sikh card, you have to sanction the creation of two new Divisions." She found this argument compelling and kept quiet. [page 160]
While Benazir tried to cut down, if not totally stop, the assistance to the Khalistanis, she wanted to go down in Pakistan's history as the Prime Minister who succeeded in annexing J&K. [page 162]
The situation became worse in J&K after she returned to power. Even though she had tried to stop the ISI's assistance to the Khalistani terrorists during her first tenure as the Prime Minister between 1988 and 1990, it was under her that the ISI started helping the Kashmiri terrorist organizations in a big way in 1989. She was the most virulent towards India so far as J&K was concerned and gave the ISI total freedom and the required funds to do whatever it wanted in J&K. [page 260]
B Raman also reserves some stinging criticism for the late Gen Sunderji, who retired as Chief of Army Staff, and considered by many as a "scholar warrior".
Lt. Gen. Sunderji, who co-ordinated the Operation (Bluestar), blamed the intelligence agencies for the untidy operation. ... Over-confidence in his ability to score easy success before launching difficult and sensitive operations and a tendency to blame the intelligence agencies when over-confidence was found to have been misplaced were the defining characteristics of Gen. Sunderji. [page 97]
One was told that an over-confident and over-enthusiastic Gen. Sunderji, the then Chief of Army Staff, told Rajiv Gandhi that the IPKF would be able to accomplish its mission within a month. When this did not happen and the IPKF got involved in a quagmire, he put the blame on the intelligence agencies - particularly on the R&AW - for not warning him in advance of the capabilities, strength and motivation of the LTTE. [page 209]
Some points that could be made after reading the book:
Provides a fairly good and broad overview of RAW and some historical perspective on the challenges faced by India.
This book feels very "skimmy". No one topic is covered in much depth. This may be by design, but it does feel like a deficiency of the book. Some of the chapters, like the one on the 1971 India-Pakistan war, or on the terrorism in Kashmir and Punjab, are deserving of entire books for just the intelligence and counter-intelligence aspects.
The style of writing is very much declarative - statements are made, but without much by way of reasoning or backing up with references. Part of this may be because of the nature of the disclosures, but a more academic and rigorous approach would have benefited the book and given it more credibility.

The book, for some reason, and surprising even given the fact it is a hardcover edition, is printed on glossy, art-like paper. An overkill surely.

Some other well known defence and strategic analysts in this space are Brahma Chellaney (Wikipedia link, Blog), Maj. Gen. (retd.) Ashok Mehta, Colonel Anil A Athale (retd.).

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

HBR Article - Making Better Decisions

Make Better Decisions, by by Thomas H. Davenport, appeared in the November 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

The author, Thomas Davenport (author of Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning and Analytics at Work: Smarter Decisions, Better Results), argues that despite the abundant availability of tools and literature to leaders and corporations make better decisions, there is an abundance of ill-informed and wrong decisions. It is high time that decision making became more formal and provides a framework to help achieve that.

For example, academics defined “groupthink” the forced manufacture of consent, more than half a century ago – yet it still bedevils decision makers from the White House to company boardrooms. In the sixteenth century the Catholic Church established the devil’s advocate to criticize canonization decisions – yet few organizations today formalize the advocacy of decision alternatives.
The framework suggested by Davenport lists four steps to improving decision making:
Identification - of the decisions needed, Inventory - of the factors that go into each decision, Intervention - designing the "roles, processes, systems, and behaviors your organization should be using to make" the decisions, and Institutionalization - providing managers with the tools to help them decide when a decision should be made unilaterally and when through a consensus.

Davenport argues that analytics and decision automation are very powerful tools in decision making. However, these should be used by managers only after they have been understood. This then calls for an increasing need for managers to become familiar and knowledgeable with analytics.

A table in the article lists some of the newer approaches to decision making, like "small-group process", "Analytics", "Automation", "Neuroscience", Behavioral Economics", "Intuition", and "Wisdom of Crowds".

If more decision making can be formalized, and run through the rigor of a formal process, and institutionalized, the better the result of these decisions should be. From arbitrariness to a reasoned process.

Suggested Reading from the article:
Two books on analytical and automated decision making:
While decision making can probably not be submitted totally to machines and algorithms, what we can certainly do is take it out of the dungeons of individual arbitrariness and expose it to the light of reasoning and a logical framework.
    © 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

    Monday, February 1, 2010

    HBR Article - Combining Products and Services

    A Practical Guide to Combining Products and Services  by Venkatesh Shankar, Leonard L. Berry, and Thomas Dotzel, from the November 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review.
    Combining products and services into a hybrid offering, can help companies improve their bottom lines, provide better service to customers, and arrest declining market shares. In other words, as close to a panacea as you could hope for. However, achieving a successful hybrid offering is easier said than done. Tivo is one successful example. But for each successful example there are dozens of failures. What is the key to success here?

    The authors state that "Two underlying characteristics determine how customers
    will value and use an offering. The first is
    complementarity, or the degree to which the value to the customer increases when the product and the service are used together. ... The other is independence."
    Examined through the lens of complementarity and independence, the authors list the following types of hybrid offerings:
    1. Flexible bundle
    2. Peace-of-mind offering
    3. Multi-benefit bundle
    4. One-stop bundle
    It is not obvious how distinct and non-overlapping these bundles are. It seems that many offerings could arguably be put in one bundle or the other without too much fuss. More details would have helped.

    The authors list four rules to keep in mind when evaluating options:
    1. Differentiation - for commoditized products, the key is to develop a high quality services. Or, "enhance its value through the addition of a high-quality service, or vice versa." - whatever that means. Do the authors mean that if the product is not commoditized, the company should launch a low quality service? I hope not.
    2. Scalability - "scope the service and scale the product". Gillette is a classic example of a company that is able to achieve massive scale of its hybrid offering, the razor and the blade. Another question to ask is whether the service can be centralized, especially for people-intensive services.
    3. Pricing - figure out which half is most profitable: the product or the service, whether the product or the service should lead the purchase, and the frequency of purchase of the product and service.
    4. Branding - the authors argue "Be prepared to invest in branding activity that promotes the link between the product and the service and enhances the company’s credibility. Brand investment is particularly important for hybrid offerings with a high degree of independence."
    A useful article that makes extensive use of lists and enumeration to help organize the content in the article and to make assimilation easier.

    © 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

    Misc Reading - Week of Jan 22-31

    Misc reading links from the week of Jan 22 to the end of Jan, 2010
    • Koenraad Elst on Jyoti Basu [link]
    • James Kalbach reviews the book, "Free" [link]
    • Dilbert and the CEO visit [link]
    • Maybe people really do need to shut up, a little [link]
    • "Rocket Surgery Made Easy", from the author of "Don't Make Me Think" [link]
    • Scott Adams on his gift with words. [link]
    • Seth Godin on competition [link]
    • The structured vs unstructured data problem [link]
    • Schneier argues that it is not as easy to connect the dots as it appears in hindsight [link]
    • Schneier on the failure of full-body scanners [link]
    • Scott Kelby has a guest post on his blog, on photographic reality [link]
    • Paul Kedrosky's reading list [link]
    • Daily Dose of Imagery on permissions and shooting people [link]

    © 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

    Misc Reading - Week of Jan 15

    Misc reading from the week of Jan 15, 2010

    • Dilbert on the WDG - Worthless Dumb Guy [link]
    • Very informative post on the Kumbh Mela and Makar Sakranti [link]
    • Chinese hacking is not good news for the Google Apps business[link]
    • Dilbert on outsourcing, the cloud, and monkey [link]
    • Interview with Photoshop co-creator [link]
    • Valleywag has a very useful post on how to keep your data safe [link]

    © 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

    Misc Reading - Week of Jan 9

    Misc reading from the week of Jan 9 2010

    • Cringley wonders why we run our "credit card operations so well and our national security so poorly" [link]
    • Seth Godin links to a site of vintage ads. Cool [link]
    • Event-based concepts for user-driven visualization, from the Info Viz blog [link]
    • Jeff Atwood, of the Coding Horror site, takes exception to netbook bashing [link]
    • Vivek Wadhwa, on the Techcrunch site, on fight and flight in IP battles [link]
    • Cringely's rant on banks [link]
    • The Penguin publishing group crows about its successes in 2009. Yay! [link]
    • On the continuing fascination with Jane Austen [link]
    • The Daily WTF and why no testing is good! [link]
    • Bruce Schneier on the comparative risks of terrorism [link]
    • Deve Gowda, former PM, and his flowery language [link]
    • UCLA and India-bashing [link]
    • Cringely prognosticates on Apple [link]
    • Cringley has no soft corner for IBM. [link]