Saturday, September 30, 2006

All book lovers, you'd adore this!

You pop your music CD into the drive and notice that the PC has recognised it from an online catalogue!

Without any further assistance from you, it copies information about genre, the band, names of individual tracks, cover design, etc. into your library and neatens everything up.

Well, why don't they have something similar to catalog your books? It seems they do.

I took Library Thing for a test drive today.

"LibraryThing is an online service to help people catalog their books easily. You can access your catalog from anywhere—even on your mobile phone. Because everyone catalogs together, LibraryThing also connects people with the same books, comes up with suggestions for what to read next, and so forth."

Source: LibraryThing | Catalog your books online

I type in the name of one book (partially) and the website locates several editions of it on One click and the book is added to my brand new online catalogue!

But that's not all. It listed several related books that people had tagged or catalogued. Oh, I had some of them too. So, click, click, click and my library grew to 15 before I stopped to check what was happening. See three random books from my collection below!

It seems people have already catalogued over 5.8 million books with them.

That would be easy to understand, except that the free account only holds 200 books.!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A hack for tags!

While Microsoft Word's AutoSummarize can hardly deliver the Executive Summary for your next report, it has its uses.

For instance, in Word Help, there's the suggestion: "It's a good idea to review the summary to make sure it covers your document's key points. "

Yes, if the machine generated summary covers the key points you want to make, you can be reasonably assured that they are presented prominently and in an accessible manner in your document.

But there's another advantage. The process of summarizing also produces a keyword list. (The keywords get written into the property sheet. Check File/Properties in the menu.)

For the 267 word Lincoln's , it suggests: "dedicate nation dead people great." Surprised? For longer documents, where it has more text to work with, it generally does better.

So here are a few things you might find useful:

  1. You can paste text into MS Word and let it suggest the keywords. It takes only two clicks to insert keywords into document properties. (See below.)
  2. If you refer to a larger piece elsewhere, copy that piece into the word document before generating the keywords.
  3. Use the automatically generated list with other words of your own to make up your tags!
  4. If you use Live Writer or Qumana, the process of converting keywords to tag is straightforward. It isn't rocket science but an automated system is easier.

The keywords for this post?

Here they are: , , , ,

I can add a few more: , , and I'm done!

Coda: “Two clicks” method for keywords

  1. From the menu choose: Tools/Customize
  2. On the Commands tab, select Categories: Tools
  3. Scroll down in the Commands list and locate: Resummarize
  4. Drag this button to the Standard or Formatting toolbar

Now when you click on the button you added, a "no questions asked" summary would be created. You may dismiss it immediately, if you wish. However, the keywords in your document would have been written into the properties sheet!

Prizes, rather than patents, as reward

The Nobel laureate  argues in favour of prizes (over patents) in New Scientist

"Patents are not the only way of
stimulating innovation. A prize fund
for medical research would be one
alternative. "

The full essay can be accessed here.

Stiglitz's views have sparked a lively discussion at Marginal Revolution. Worth a look, if you are interested in such stuff.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Be open to surprises, says Stephen J. Dubner

dubner.jpgBOONE—Be ready for surprises, says writer Stephen J. Dubner, guest speaker for Appalachian State University’s convocation Sept. 7.

The co-author of the university’s freshman summer reading selection, “Freakonomics,” told his audience that his success has been the result of a series of surprises.

Source: Appalachian News » Blog Archive » Be open to surprises, says writer Stephen J. Dubner

Dubner said that "students will find there is a gap between what they think they will do in life and what they will actually end up doing."

Okay, but aren't you supposed have a Statement of Purpose (SOP) when you approach the colleges for admission? It used to be that way when I last checked with the B-schools, admittedly a long time ago.

Now, if it's going to be unpredictable, it is a good idea to be "open to that sort of thing". But what should the rest of your strategy be? What should you do to prepare yourself as you wait for the surprises?

Any ideas about that, Dr Levitt? Or you, dear reader?

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Monday, September 25, 2006

More on: What to eat, who to marry!

In an earlier post What to eat, who to marry!, I added my two bits to the advice given by the economist Tim Harford, without reading the full post because it was for pay only. has now made the column free! You can pick the rss feed from my blogroll.

There is an interesting observation in the part that was not visible earlier:

Your best guide, then, is to consider the incentives of the food supplier. At a restaurant they will try to fill you with cheap stodge, so hold back and wait for the good stuff to arrive. But at a wedding banquet they will try to make a good first impression. Guzzle the champagne and tuck into the starter: it will all fall apart from there. You do not want to be filling up on slices of wedding cake.

Source: / Arts & Weekend - Dear Economist

At a sit down, close family and friends only lunch at a Bengali wedding, I was advised to take only a little bit from what is offered at the beginning. Because it is customary to serve the real meal in subsequent courses.

The reason? Guests from the grooms family are expected to know what to eat. The joke's on the gluttons.

Maybe I don't know this custom too well. Any other explanations?

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The ladder of success

Success is transformative. It brings change. If success didn't change anything, why would we seek it at all?

Doctors tell us that any change induces stress. And if one isn't prepared for the change, the stress can be ruinously destructive.

That's why, I guess, prayers are never answered swiftly. You need to be more prayerful to cope with what must inevitably follow if the prayers were granted. The advance practice must be necessary.

But, of course, if you work for success as well, the experience and skills developed in the effort equip you to deal with its consequences automatically.

You want to crack that exam and go to MIT? Sure. But in the unlikely event that you are granted a wild card, please, decline the offer with a prayer.

There is nothing more unfortunate than to be in a situation you were not prepared for.

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Clinical trial gone horribly wrong?

In Mobilizing Opinion, Herding Butterflies I compared trying to mobilise bloggers' opinion with herding butterflies.

While holding that the comparison remains valid, I'd like to revisit the story of the baby with one eye that Scott Carney presented at . He gave more details of the case in this post later the same evening, where he also provides a link to the original story he'd done for Wired News.

The facts, in very brief, are as follows:

It’s suspected that the child’s mother, Gomathi, was prescribed cyclopamine at a fertility clinic. (Some anticancer drugs are known to promote ovulation and have been tried for this purpose in the past.)

However, cyclopamine can cause birth defects, specifically cyclopia: the name given to the otherwise rare congenital disorder that means only one eye in the foetus.

It is irresponsible to administer this drug to a pregnant woman, much less to prescribe it for fertility problems. The question is, did this actually happen?

  1. Was the fertility clinic trying a reckless shot in the dark?
  2. Was an unapproved and unethical trial conducted, with or without Gomathi’s knowledge or consent?

Can the bloggers help unravel the truth?

If you would like to help, a good place to begin your research would be Scott's update at Finding the Birth Certificate and Cyclopamine.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Don't let it grow!

"It had to come out finally," he said, after  revealed that he had served in Hitler's elite Waffen SS.

Why did this Nobel-prize winning author feel compelled to reveal something that had been safely hidden in his breast for 60 years?

A constant pressure or irritation on skin causes the body to add protective layers. This dead tissue overtime becomes hard and itself adds to the irritation, which eventually leads to a painful corn. Once that happens, the core needs to come out before you can be peaceful again.

Probably, Gunter Grass could not put the secret out of his mind and the protective layers of rationalisation he added over the years, never really helped. Like the corn, his condition became pathological. 

It doesn't have to be a secret, obsessive thought patterns that can be the constant irritation by themselves.

How does one avoid corns? By breaking the process of their development:

  1. Learn if your skin-type (or personality) is prone to this condition,
  2. Discover the irritation early and screen if off,
  3. Remove the source of irritation. (You don't definitely need any shoes because they are stylish.)

A new shoe or perspective on life is much better than the pain of growing a corn. Never, ever let it grow.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

How would you sell watches?

Especially, when they are expensive.

You may think up one of these themes as your brand strategy (clever you!):

  1. Contemporary, but with a long tradition of excellence
  2. A tradition of innovation (therefore, unique features)
  3. Meeting exacting standards (like those of the aviation industry)
  4. A beautiful, stylish woman

That's Rolex, Blancpain, Breitling and Raymond Weil respectively, advertising in Time, Asia edition dated September 11, 2006.

Of course, you'd blend these approaches, the devil that you are.

Rolex mix a little no. 4: Anoushka Shankar (contemporary music 700 years in the making). Breitling add 1884 under the logo, Blancpain trace their traditions to 1735 and Raymond Weil feature easy-release case clasps for Charlize Theron, and  you.

Surely others sell exceptional watches too. They just  didn't advertise in this one copy of Time magazine I picked up for the journey. 

Now, some fun for those of you who are truly creative: Can you think of any other approach to selling these kind of watches?

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Principles for the new Global Medium

At the last weekend, Rajesh Setty, author, entrepreneur, and CEO of CIGNEX Technologies shared insights for communication on the net. He presented them as a mixed list of dos and don’ts, ten of them in all. Rajat blogs about the rules here.

Here are the underlying principles, as I understood them:

Do not limit the appeal of your work

The Internet audience is global and extends into the future. Therefore, do not limit your focus. If you have a local story, relate it to concerns that are universal. Do not use local jargon.

And say what would remain interesting and relevant several years down the line.

Focus on quality

If you write about technology, ask yourself why should NASA be interested in what you have to tell. (His own example.)

Add value when you link

By providing context for the story or a perspective for the news item.

Be considerate

Of the time that people spend visiting with you. Don’t waste it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Use for Managing Contacts!

David Brunelle has some good tips at: Become a Power User.

I've been using to also manage contacts. Here is how.

Almost everyone has a company (or sometimes a personal) URL on their business card. You can bookmark that page with:

  1. His or her name

  2. The place you met

  3. Person who introduced the two of you

  4. Interests you share, or whatever

For example, you could bookmark with "Sunil.Bajpai BlogCamp city.Chennai Kiruba piano government", etc. And you could write your impressions about me, things we chatted about or promises made (let's meet for a drink at the Club).

You'd now discover my other affiliations, if I ever walk into your office and present my business card with the company URL. And you'd automatically link me with other people in the same company, city, etc.

It hardly takes a few seconds, the date and time is saved with the item, and it beats scribbling behind business cards by a wide margin.

Bonus: Others may have bookmarked the same pages. You might learn something interesting or important there!

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Learning from the Chennai experience

We do want to learn from every experience, folks, isn't it? What could have been done different at Chennai?

Experience: Some speakers, though knowledgeable, had not done adequate homework.

For next time? Request everyone to give an abstract on the wiki. If visitors comment or raise questions on the abstract, the speakers would know better how to structure their presentation.

Use this interaction to apportion time between speakers.

Experience: Most of the activity happened only at two places. Informal sessions with a few people did not emerge of their own.

For next time? Behaviour does often emerge from structure, so maybe a different a layout could be tried.

However, all this takes nothing away from the splendid efforts of the people that made it all happen.

So ladies and gentlemen, would you fill up your glasses? Thank, you. Please rise and let's drink to Kiruba Shankar and his dedicated team of volunteers.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Every good thing must come to an end

BlogCamp was an enjoyable learning experience for me. About blogging and about how an enthusiastic team can work effectively.

Didn't live blog Sunil Gavaskar's visit and Robert Scoble's address because I was less than live by afternoon.

But I must tell you just how remarkable Sunny was. He played it with a straight bat, like he always has; spoke with a fluid, measured voice and got his ideas across the boundary effortlessly.

Listening to Robert Scoble was nice too. He stayed up late and spoke with enthusiasm after waiting a long time for the link to be restored and for the tired bloggers finish their lunch.

My only regret was that I had to ditch my quiz partner and leave. Venki found someone else to team up with and I'm sure he did better with his new teammate.

Tag and link:

That's why it isn't telephony?

Okay, there is a temporary lull in the activities here. We are waiting to connect for Robert Scoble's talk via Skype to BlogCamp.

Update: Didn't work out too well. I feel a pity for Robert who stayed up till midnight for nothing.

Hopefully it would happen after lunch.

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What to eat, who to marry!

Tim Harford writes on about about the problem of deciding what to eat from a buffet:

If the buffet offers you every choice simultaneously, your best strategy is to try a little of every plausible dish so that you can decide what you would really like to eat. Then go back and get properly stuck in: to your favourite dish if you have no taste for variety, otherwise to your favourite two or three.

If the dishes are presented sequentially, then you will have to take more risks. There is always the chance that you will take a too-small portion of what later turns out to have been much the best course.

This is similar to the problem of deciding who to marry. And there is a solution from Group Theory that says if you would test a sufficiently large (but finite) population, test the first 37% and then settle on the one that is better than anything you've seen before.

Why am I blogging about it from BlogCamp? The same problem: which platform to settle for the blog, or the mobile phone or, the person to chat with at lunch in a little while.

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PS. I didn't read Mr Harford's full argument because it is available only for pay.

Is blogging any use for politics?

A young lady, Veena of, started a discussion (not a presentation, despite the powerpoint) on political blogging. It soon looked took on aspects of the political debates we have seen on TV.

Here are the questions and my responses to them:

1. Would a politician blog? How many would be willing to give you something in writing when they may have to stand by it?

Politicians make statements all the time. They get widely reported in print and get captured in video. That never frightened them off!

2. There has to be a criteria for selection of politicians. Many are not even literate? And when their constituents are illiterate people, why would somebody use a medium like blogging?

When the majority of Indians are illiterate, why do have largely politics discussed in our mainstream newspapers?  And that too in English?

3. Can bloggers not focus the attention of politicians on issues by blogging about them?

Yes, I am sure. Especially if they pick on current hot topics. Nuclear deal with the US. Reservations. Political interference in criminal investigations. The proposed amendments to RTI.

4. Political blogging and politician blogging are different.

That's a valid point. We must not confuse the two.

5. It would get reduced to PR agency handling the blog!

Probably. But do we care when a politician's office answers your letter, if it's under his signature? Do company CEO's answer all their letters? Atul Chitnis doesn't allow comments and may not respond to mails he gets. Big politicians would probably have bigger problems than his for similar reasons?

6. Free bags of rice get votes whereas technology could lead to a negative, "out of touch with the constituent image" for a politician.

Let's not forget that the rice could be more important to someone than rhetoric.

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Is it worth the trouble?

Why should one travel long distances to be at conference like BlogCamp when you can catch all the action live via youtube, IRC or podcasts? When you can even have a side conversation of your own with some live blogger or an embedded messenger friend!

One reason could be that if everybody stayed home, there will be no live action to catch. But, couldn't you have a virtual event designed to achieve the same buzz and objectives?

My answer is: NO. And reasons, in brief:

1. When you take that flight you make a powerful statement that it is something that you do consider worthwhile.

2. You get to meet some delightful people. Nothing can replace a face to face.

Ok, now this session has got off. I'd let you know if I can find more reasons to justify why I came back today.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

They help the most, who collaborate

As the local community in Nagapattinam district struggled to respond to the devasting impact of the December 2004 tsunami, some bloggers created an "on the fly" internet resource to direct help and focus. In the process they also created and archived a snapshot of the unfolding story. And many other independent bloggers documented, with pictures and poems, the reality that so easily gets hidden in statistics.

Last year I was in this district on a two-week study with three other officers of the Government of India. These blogs were an invaluable resource in understanding the situation and each actor's response to it.

Earlier today I met two of these bloggers: Peter Griffin and Dina Mehta. Hats off to both of them!


Search Engine Marketing generates heat

Ashwan Lewis of Pinstorm began his presentation on Search Engine Marketing by pointing out that paying the search engine for a high ranking or for an ad to be displayed aside the results might make sense for a professional blogger who's in it for money.

Immediately there were protests from people who didn't like the commercial view of something that is a personal passion for them.

Well folks there are business letters and love letters. One doesn't in anyway reduce the usefulness of the other, does it?

When you can't tell one from the other, that's not good. But otherwise, both can co-exist peacefully. Any comments?

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Making money, not sense

There is Amit Agarwal telling us that he makes serious money (several lakhs of rupees a month) with his blog on blogspot.

He gets over a million hits and 80% of this revenue is actually from AdSense.

You want to know how he does it? I would too. And if I ever succeed, some of the things that he told here today would come in handy.

Btw, he does seem to be a nice guy and can hold the interest of the audience. But you could have guessed that on your own.

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I thought they might be exaggerating a bit.

There is no beer at but the coffee is good.

There may be beer at the Beach party in the evening that I'm not joining. Oh, they just announced that there is still place for more people. Good for those who didn't make up their minds earlier.

Mobilising opinion, herding butterflies

Scott Carney presented a case of a child born with one eye. He posed the question:

Would bloggers take up stories like these and pressure the authorities into investigating what may have caused it?

Dina made an immediate and very valuable suggestion. Set up a Technorati tag and let people blog about it. Very soon you'd have mobilised an opinion. How simple and effective!

Someone pointed out that the actual story has appeared in the main stream media. You'd expect that, won't you? A story like this is conventional news.

Yes, it was something horrible to have happened to the child and the family. But is it the most important thing that bloggers need to take up? I don't think so, especially when we have little more than vague suspicions about a drug being the reason.

You can mobilse blogging opinion, but not in any direction that you wish it would take. Sorry folks, you don't get my vote here.

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What difference does it make?

Neha made an important point about how blogging changes the bloggers, and perhaps, through diffusion people around them.

She made that point by illustrating it with her experiences rather than in words, like I did above. Which made that very point so much clearer and important.

Now that's another reason to read blogs, you learn about life in a way you won't if somebody described it in a lecture.

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The point that Atul Chitnis made

If you become really successful, you begin to face the some of the same problems that celebrities face.

And he took a long time saying it!

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Why blog?

From , live.

The Sulekha guy said that 97% of bloggers simply give it up because they can't get the audience they'd hope to get. Does that mean that the dice is loaded against a would-be blogger even before he gets started?

On the contrary, I think even low activity blogging is important. Why? Consider this: What would happen if I stood up and abused this guy?

I'd be shouted down and shown my place, if not actually roughed up. That is, all these passive listeners would get activated and set things in order.

That is how world events might be shaped tomorrow when bloggers take notice of it.

But it is more than that, of course. Neha made a very important point that deserves more thought and separate post.

Not so old yet!

Yes, these are all youngsters around me. But I don't feel so old or out of place anymore: my first post is already done, whereas there are still some shouts for help in getting connected to the network.

It actually helps to be older and in the government, which are, of course, two different things.

Being older means you have a good high-end machine (gift from my wife). And being in the government helps because your car drives right up to the main entrances and then parks nearby.

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At the BlogCamp today!

Like I promised myself, here I am at this Saturday morning to learn something and, perhaps, to make some new friends.

How the world has changed! I recall reading the Time magazine one evening that announced the launch of the IBM PC and have watched the amazing events that unfolded in the quarter of a century since then.

Yes, many of those I would hope to interact with today may have been in diapers then. Which means nothing because Roger Federer was not even a sperm when I tried to learn tennis.

How long would I stay here?

Don't know. But it is nice to be up and running on wifi in about 30 secs and to get productive right away.

I asked the driver to wait but it appears that was unnecessary. Might as well tell him to return in the evening.