Pinned Post - Flipkart vs Amazon Series

Flipkart and Focus 4 - Beware the Whispering Death

The fourth part of my series on Flipkart and its apparent loss of Focus and its battle with Amazon appeared in DNA on April 20th, 2015 . ...

Jan 30, 2011

Manufacturing Depression

Manufacturing Depression: The Secret History of a Modern Disease
Manufacturing Depression: The Secret History of a Modern Disease (Kindle edition)

A personal account of the industry of depression. Happiness is not a disease, but sadness evidently is, and a very profitable one for industry.

This is a depressing (ah the irony) look at the history of depression, the science behind it, the lack of science, and the rapaciousness of industry and advertising behind convincing us that we are sicker than we are. Sadness is a disease of the brain that can be cured by antidepressants. Happiness, by that line of reasoning, however is not considered a disease. The book does not cover the genuine cases of mental illnesses for which medication and treatment is necessary, which is a legitimate drawback of the book. What the book does do a great job is at illuminating the history of depression, the characters behind its evolution, and the difficulties in qualifying depression as a disease. Are each of us only "an electromolecular stew just a dash short of this or that crucial salt." [page 334]

Some excerpts from the book.
Leaving aside the obvious cases of mental illnesses, the problem with tests conducted to diagnose depression is a fallacy of logical reasoning.
... you have to assume that the patient is depressed in order for his feelings to be considered symptoms, but the symptoms are the only evidence of the depression. ... To logicians, this is known as assuming your conclusions as your premise, or begging the question. [page 129]

A total of seventy-four trials have been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for the twelve leading antidepressants. Of these trials, only thirty-eight showed an advantage of drug over placebo. ... You wouldn't know from a Prozac ad that the drugs have failed almost half their tests, or that even their successes are well short of miraculous. ...
A 1962 amendment required that there be "substantial evidence ... consisting of adequate and well-controlled investigations .. by experts qualified by scientific training and experience" would certify the efficacy of a drug.
So long as the research eventually yielded evidence of efficacy, the failures would remain off  the books. This is why antidepressants have been approved even though so many studies have shown them to be ineffective.
[pgs 203, 215, 216]

The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About ItThe randomized controlled trial (RCT) is the touchstone on which the efficacy of new drugs is tested and evaluated. However, the author points out "... that an RCT is much more suited to disproving than to proving, that it can give us probabilities, that its primary purpose is negative: to rain on an experimenter's parade..." [page 219]

The law of unintended consequences was in full display in the way the FDA was granted powers.
When the US Congress outlawed any statement "which is false and fraudulent...", "This law actually discouraged research by making ignorance a defence; falsehood is not fraud unless a company has taken the time to fogure out the truth." [page 208]
The chief scientist of Smith, Kline, and French was appointed as the first head of the FDA.
The bureau obliged the industry by imposing standards for drug preparations with which only a large company processing the resources to control its supply and manufacturing processes precisely could comply. [page 207]
What the FDA meant by efficacy was proof that a drug was effective with a particular disease. Suddenly, it was more important than ever to find an indication, the specific illness on which the drug could be tested and for which it could be approved (and advertised) as a treatment. [page 224]

Let Them Eat Prozac: The Unhealthy Relationship Between the Pharmaceutical Industry and Depression (Medicine, Culture, and History)Using advertising you can sell anything. You can convince people that without whitening creams they will continue to be ugly. Without the newest toys children are worthless. Without a cola drink that will cause cavities teenagers won't be considered cool. Without processed foods without an iota of goodness in them mothers are not doing a good job of parenting unless they stuff these foods down their children's throats. And, you can even convince normal people that they are weirdos, sickos, and a danger to society unless they call themselves diseased, and more importantly, get treatment for their disease. Happiness is not a disease, but sadness evidently is, sadly.
Adam Block, an independent researcher at Harvard estimated in 2007 more than a half million doctors' visits were inspired every year by consumer advertising of antidepressants. Using epidemiological data, he estimated that only one in fifteen of those patients was likely to be depressed, but using statistics derived from other studies, he determined that more than half of them would get a prescription, which meant, he said, that only "six percent of the increase in anti-depressant use due to [direct-to-consumer] advertising is by people who are clinically depressed." [page 277]
Read excerpt via Amazon Kindle:



© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Idiots on roads - 1

See this?
This is NH7, National Highway 7 (National Highway 7 (India) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia), and I shot this photo near Hosur Road, as the sun was setting over the horizon.

Cutting corners to save time is so much a habit on highways that drivers don't even think twice about driving on the wrong side of the road. Not just a road, a freaking national highway!!! He is being considerate, or so he thinks, by driving partly on the shoulder, and also has his truck's headlights on. We should be thankful, right? This type of idiotic driving is the reason why one cannot drive on highways without keeping a paranoid eye peeled for trucks and buses and cars and tractors and bicycles and people and cows and goats and more that are either trying to cross the road or coming straight AT YOU.

All posts tagged with the label NH7.
Yercaud - The Drive
To Pondicherry

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Jan 26, 2011

Mixed Milk Truck

This is truck, carrying milk, but milk that has been "mixed" with something else, and is not for sale. I shot this photo in Punjab, earlier in the year, on NH1 I think. Several quips come to mind....

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Jan 24, 2011

Oracle Business Intelligence Condensed Guide - Book Review

Oracle Business Intelligence: The Condensed Guide to Analysis and Reporting Oracle Business Intelligence: The Condensed Guide to Analysis and Reporting

I was approached in December (2010) by Packt Publishing and asked if I would be interested in reviewing this book. I agreed, and the publishers provided me with a PDF version of the title.
This is a quick primer to the world of Oracle’s Business Intelligence Standard Edition products like Discoverer, Reports, Spreadsheet Add-in, and to Oracle Warehouse Builder. It is clear that the author knows his subject area well, and uses a number of examples to illustrate such concepts as dimensions, data cubes, metadata construction, and working with Oracle Warehouse Builder to create target structures such as cubes and dimensions. For those familiar with these products however, there may not be much that is new. Those looking for information on the 11g version of these products will be disappointed as the focus is on the 10g version.

The first chapter, “Getting Business Information from Data”, provides the reader with a definition and description of the world of analytics, business intelligence, multi-dimensional data structures.

Chapter 2 introduces the user to the different components of Oracle Business Intelligence. The installation examples and screenshots use the 10g version. A simple installation scenario is described, where the user installs Discoverer without associating it to a metadata repository or identity management infrastructure which would give it access to public connections, portlets, and more.

Chapter 3 introduces us to analytical SQL functions, and there is a comprehensive example using the Oracle Database ROLLUP and CUBE functions.

Chapter 4 takes a closer look at the Discoverer Administrator, the admin tool used to create and manage Discoverer metadata, the EUL (End User Layer).

Chapter 5, “Warehousing for Analysis and Reporting”, is in my opinion by far the best chapter in the book, where the author dives into Oracle Warehouse Builder to give a very good and quick overview of how to create dimensions and cubes from data sources, and how to populate these cubes via staging tables. While the whole area of ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) is too large to be done justice in a single chapter, the author is able to do a commendable job of letting the reader take a glimpse into the powerful world of the product and the world of data warehousing itself.

The last three chapters, 6, 7, and 8, cover very commonly used and powerful Discoverer features like Drilling, Pivoting, Parameters, sorting, and conditional (or stoplight) formatting.

Some other, minor, quibbles with the book:. Diagrams are not labeled, making it difficult to refer to them except by the page numbers on which they appear.
. In the discussion of Oracle OLAP data in Ch 2, while analysts or data architects can certainly use Oracle Warehouse Builder, a much more suitable tool would be the Analytical Worksapce Manager (or AWM as it is commonly referred to.)
. There is no mention of Oracle BI Publisher and its integration with Discoverer. This was released in the second half of 2007, and allows users to use BI Publisher to create highly formatted report templates using Microsoft Word that use Discoverer worksheets as their data source. The advantage that this integration brings to the thousands of Discoverer customers is two-fold: they can create highly formatted reports from their underlying Discoverer worksheets, something that the Discoverer product does not allow users to do (basic formatting capabilities notwithstanding), and secondly, the ability to schedule and distribute such reports via email as attachments (PDF, RTF, HTML, etc...). This also has been a much-requested feature by Discoverer customers, and fulfilled a long-standing gap in the product.

In summary, there is much to like in the book. This book does do what the title says, viz., provide a condensed summary of Oracle Business Intelligence Standard Edition. While the book also covers in more generality such topics as dimensions, cubes, and data warehousing concepts, the treatment is at much too a high-level to be really useful. Two shortcomings prevent the from realizing its potential of becoming a truly awesome condensed guide to Oracle Business Intelligence:
. The organization of the chapters. The book seems to jump from one topic to another without giving much of a sense of cohesion, and it is not till the second half of the book when there is a logical flow to the content matter.
. The absence of a single dataset that would be used throughout the book as an example. That way a reader could follow the examples in a more coherent manner. Making a data set available for download to the book reader would have helped. The author could also have chosen to use an existing sample data set from the Oracle web site (ahem - yours truly had played a substantial part in the creation of the SH dataset).

The best book on Discoverer 10g, in my opinion, still remains Michael Armstrong-Smiths’s Discoverer 10g Handbook. It’s a pity Michael has not yet published an updated version of the book, since there is a lot that has changed in the 11g release with respect to how Discoverer is installed, managed via Oracle Weblogic and the new Enterprise Manager console. Then there is the integration with BI Publisher, the migration utility for migrating your EUL-based Discoverer metadata to the Oracle BI Server RPD-based metadata. There is also a workbook migration utility that is on the product roadmap, as is further integration with the Dashboards product in the Oracle BI Suite Enterprise Edition.

Oracle Business Intelligence: The Condensed Guide to Analysis and Reporting
Oracle Essbase 9 Implementation Guide
Oracle Warehouse Builder 11g: Getting Started
The Business Analyst's Guide to Oracle Hyperion Interactive Reporting 11


Kindle for the Web - Discoverer 10g Handbook

Kindle for the Web - Hyperion Planning

Kindle for the Web - Oracle Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence

© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Jan 16, 2011

Leading Change

Leading Change

My review; all my reviews.
(cross-posted to my books blog)
Eminently readable book on the challenge of change. A little dated. And no index?!!

This is an eminently readable book on the the challenge of effecting meaningful and lasting change. According to the author, the path to successful and lasting change is laden with (at least) eight pitfalls, each of which forms a chapter in the book. A ton of common sense pervades the book. For my money, the most enlightening piece is in Chapter 10, on culture (more on that later).
However, there are two shortcomings with the book. The first is that it lacks a detailed case study, with specifics, that would make the problem vivid and real. The abundance of anonymized examples do not really help beyond a point. We know they are all based on the author's experiences with real companies, but by making them anonymous we are robbed of the precious insight that reality can provide. They are too short and focused on illustrating the immediate point in question to be of much help. The second is that when reading this book in 2010, the lack of any references to the world of information technology hurts the contemporariness of the book. IBM's change under Lou Gerstner, Microsoft's change to embrace the Internet, Microsoft's subsequent failure in the search business, or the rise of social networking and how established software companies were unable to change to embrace these changes - all examples of successful change or failure to change, and at large, successful corporations. Among all industries, the world of information technology has probably seen the most change over the last two decades. Not having any examples from this industry, to my mind, lessens the impact of this book, in the year 2010.

This book is about "leading" change, not "managing" it. The author makes clear this is by design and not accident.
"At the beginning, those who attempt to create major change with simple, linear, analytical processes almost always fail.
Q: So why would an intelligent person rely too much on simple, linear, analytical processes?
A: Because he or she has been taught to manage but not to lead.
Management is a set of processes that can keep a complicated system of people and technology running smoothly. ... Leadership is a set of processes that creates organizations in the first place or adapts them to significantly changing circumstances.
[page 25]
One of the key points that the author makes is that change has to be communicated often and to the lowest level of a company, and that enough important people of the company are on board with the change. That the naysayers, the skeptics, the cynics, the saboteurs are all out to undo any change that may be effected is not in doubt. The author argues that they need to be engaged with. This is a message that the author repeats in his new book, Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down. Why change can be difficult to cement is in no small part due to the pervasive influence of culture. And this, in my mind, is one of the most important learnings from the book.

Culture refers to norms of behavior and shared values among a group of people. Norms of behavior are common or pervasive ways of acting that are found in a group and that persist because group members tend to behave in ways that teach these practices to new members, rewarding those who fit in and sanctioning those who do not. Shared values are important concerns and goals shared by most of the people in a group that tend to shape group behavior and that often persist over time even when group membership changes.
Generally, shared values, which are less apparent but more deeply ingrained in the culture, are more difficult to change than norms of behavior.
Consultants, industrial salespeople, and others who regularly see firms up close without being employees know well how much culture operates outside of people's awareness, even rather visibly unusual aspects of a culture. [page 148]

You can almost hear the future echoes from Jim Collin's book, How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In,when Kotter states,
"Success creates some degree of market dominance, which in turn produces much growth. After a while, keeping the ever-larger organization under control becomes the primary challenge. So attention turns inward, and managerial competencies are nurtured. With a strong emphasis on management but not leadership, bureaucracy and an inward focus takes over." [page 27]

I would say that this book should not be read in isolation. There are several other books that should be read along with this excellent work by Prof John Kotter. I have railed against the brevity of Jim Collin's latest book, How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In, but I think it is a worthy read on what causes companies to fail.

Long and detailed pronouncements not only can feel like straitjackets but can soon become obsolete in a rapidly changing world. At the same time, visions that need constant readjustments lose their credibility. [page 76]
The eight errors committed when leading change are:
Error #1: Allowing Too Much Complacency
Error #2: Failing to create a sufficiently powerful guiding coalition
Error #3: Underestimating the power of vision
Error #4: Undercommunicating the vision by a factor or 10 (or 100 or even 1,000)
Error #5: Permitting obstacles to block the new vision
Error #6: Failing to create the short-term wins
Error #7: Declaring victory too soon
Error #8: Neglecting to anchor changes firmly in the corporate culture

And yes, this book has no index. A Harvard Business School title (Leading Change (Hardcover)), and it has no index. That's not change I care for.


© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Karanji Lake and Aviary, Mysore

Karanji Lake in Mysore is one of those small but hidden gems that seems to be often overlooked by the hordes of tourists who descend on this cultural capital of Karnataka. The Mysore Palace, Zoo, Chamundi Hills, Srirangapatna, and the like are the places that attract the most attention. But if you are willing to spend a couple of hours at the Karanji Lake and Aviary, expect to be rewarded for your time.
Karanji Lake (Kannada: ಕಾರಂಜಿ ಕೆರೆ) is a lake located in the city of Mysore in the state of Karnataka, India. The lake is surrounded by a nature park consisting of a butterfly park and a walk-through aviary. This aviary is the biggest 'walk-through aviary' in India.[1] There is also a museum, the Regional Museum of Natural History which is located on the banks of this lake. The total area of Karanji lake is 90 hectares. While waterspread area is about 55 hectares, the foreshore area measures about 35 hectares.[2] Karanji lake is owned by the Mysore Zoo Authority.[3] Mysore Zoo gets a revenue of an average of Rs. 50000 per day from ticket sales to enthusiasts who visit this lake.[4] [Wikipedia, accessed Dec 22, 2010]

You can actually see the top of Chamnundi Hills from the lake.

This is the zoomed out shot of Chamundi Hills.

and this is a closeup:

The Aviary 
From Wikipedia -
The aviary constructed on the shore of the lake has a height of 20 m, length of 60 m and width of 40 m making it India's biggest walk-through aviary.[1] [5] The aviary was set up at a cost of Rs 3.8 million. It includes an artificial water fall and two small water bodies. Water from the Karanji lake is pumped inside the aviary in the form of a stream while the used water is discharged into the lake.[6] It has about 40–50 birds of 17 species.[5] Hornbills, peacocks, white-peacocks, turkeys and black swans are some of the birds found in this aviary. This aviary was temporarily closed in the year 2006 to prevent the break-out of bird flu.[7]

Cross-posted to my photos blog.
© 2009, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.