Friday, June 20, 2008

It’s size that changes the experience

We know that in the government, possibly because of the size, the right hand often doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.

Are are the rest of us better?

Do large, profitable and professionally-run organisations offer a smoother experience than the silos of a bureaucracy. 

Here’s my experience of the Airtel web site that makes me wonder.


Retrieving an MMS from the web

It started with the following message from AirTel:

There is an MMS message for you. at Your Passcode is: c6s8**

Okay, I knew these were pictures sent by a friend, so I followed the url.


The requested URL /mms/ was not found on this server.

IBM_HTTP_Server Server at Port 80


Activating MMS on the phone

Maybe the url had changed. We know it happens.  So I look around and find this:

Getting Started
You'll need a compatible mobile phone to send and receive picture messages. To Activate MMS, send "MMS ACTIVE" to 121. Requires MMS enabled handsets. If your friends don't have a picture messaging phone, you can still send them a picture message. They'll receive a text message asking them to go to a web address where they'll be able to enjoy your message online.

:: Airtel :: Postpaid Mobile - Mail & Messaging Services.


All right, I send the SMS to 121 requesting activation of MMS, but get this response:

Welcome to My Airtel. Make a selection
1-For Billing
2-For Payments
3-For Bill Plan
4-For Do Not Disturb
5-For Help



Trying something else


So I give up on MMS, but continue to look around and discover something different but useful:

Access via PC

Access Airtel Msgr via your PC or Laptop:Instant chat with friends with any mobile number in India. Airtel Messenger on your PC offers many reasons for you to get hooked on. Foremost, it lets you send messages to any Airtel mobile number in India , for free. GET CRACKING, MAN!

Download NOW!
Click here to download AirTel Msgr.


:: Airtel :: Postpaid Mobile - Mail & Messaging Services.


OH, but “download AirTel Msgr” link brought in a completely useless zipped folder called mysites! :-(



Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A “must have” feature from Gmail Labs

You known that Gmail has powerful search built into it.

But after you’ve crafted that perfect query, do you throw it away? Not any more!

You can use an experimental feature in the new Gmail Labs to save the query for as long as you want. It is called “Quick Links” and is extremely easy to use.

How to enable Quick Links

  • Click on settings from within your Gmail account.
  • Select the last tab on the setting page, called “Labs”. It’s been placed there a few weeks ago.


  • Enable Quick Links from a list of dozen or so feature that are currently available. 


VoilĂ ! A Quick Links panel is now added to the left column in your Gmail account. It’s below the panel called Labels.


In this panel, you can place a shortcut to whatever view, search results or individual message you are viewing.


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Monday, June 16, 2008

Lesson for software engineers from a filmmaker


Picture from: Shekhar Kapur's Website


What could a filmmaker say to CEO’s attending a software conference?

Probably very little, unless you are Shekhar Kapur and unafraid of opening up your thoughts to scrutiny by strangers.


Giving up Control

Mr Kapur started by asking how a symphony is created? Does it happen by exercising control or by giving it up?

He didn’t provide an answer but rather hinted at it by asking more questions and describing his own experiences.

For instance, he recalled body surfing—something he did in his younger days. And he cited the experience of filmmaking, for which he is acclaimed now.

He says he prefers to work from loose scripts because the rigid ones leave little room for creativity. How do you create anything, when all you do is follow instructions?

His method is to be obsessed with the subject, and to do all the hard work and research in the preparatory phase. And then to panic!

This serves to disrupt the stranglehold of earlier preparation and frees him to live in the moment and make his decisions on the fly. It’s not unlike being in the zone, which is what breathes life into his work.

Just like with body surfing, his other example. You need to learn how to control your body in water. But you really surf only when you give up control.  It happens in the moment when you allow your body to follow the wave, rather than controlling anything. That’s when you cease to exist because you’ve become one with the wave.

It is, perhaps, also how symphonies are created. Beethoven’s fifth (my example), has a very precise structure in terms of group theory. But no mathematician has created a comparable work following the discipline of mathematics. And Beethoven, who created the masterpiece, is no mathematician and wasn’t following a mathematical procedure. 

We all know that Beethoven never really studied advanced mathematics. Yet he incorporates a surprising amount of math in his music, at very high levels. The beginning of his Fifth Symphony is a prime case, but examples such as this are legion. He "used" group theory type concepts to compose this famous symphony. In fact, he used what crystallographers call the Space Group of symmetry transformations! This Group governs many advanced technologies, such as quantum mechanics, nuclear physics, and crystallography that are the foundations of today's technological revolution. At this level of abstraction, a crystal of diamond and Beethoven's 5th symphony are one and the same!

Source: Chapt. One, IV.4, Mozart, Beethoven

Yes, the mathematics is there. But it was formed into the symphony when Beethoven let his imagination discover its structure, unfettered by any control. If there was discipline, it was went into training the musician and composer that Beethoven was, not in the actual act of creation of the symphony.

Okay, so what is the lesson for the software engineer?

Here, it is (and I hope Mr Kapur agrees):

Great software doesn’t come from following the detailed SRS that you or someone created. It is more likely to emerge when you do an obsessive amount of preparatory work, but respond to the requirements as you see them when the action begins.


Download Firefox now to participate in a Guinness Record

Help create a Guinness Record by downloading Firefox 3 browser on the day of its launch!

In the bargain you get:

  1. The safest access to Internet, and
  2. A large number of free, easily set-up tools you’d love. (Only if you care for them, of course!)

Here’s a convenient link to get you started:

Download Day

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Organise your life without lifting a finger!

There are two kinds of people: those who can--and do--maintain an organiser, and others who can't because of a genetic disability. I've been a long-suffering specimen of the second type.

No leather-bound volume with name embossed in gold could ever persuade me to fill more than three pages of appointments or other details. The Lotus organiser, MS Outlook or Google Calendar didn't help either.

Reason? The organisers help organise things, which is an extra step to doing things.

I couldn't make an appointment and remember to it look up in a leather binder. And while the electronic versions offer an alarm, one still has to key in the appointment.

But as you can guess, I've overcome my incapacity. Consider this:

My secretary schedules a meeting, after checking with your office, and it magically appears on my phone. Without GPRS and on my basic Nokia N72.


She creates the appointment in her own Google Calendar and invites me to the meeting. You could do that too, if you knew my email address.

The rest happens automatically, if you set up things as I explain below.

You need Google Calendar (free with Gmail or an independent Google Account) and MS Outlook to make it work.

Download and install the following software:

  1. Google Sync
  2. Nokia PC Suite

Both are easy to set up. Just follow the instructions.

Fill in your Gmail address and password and Set Google Sync for a two-way sync as shown:




Now Google Sync runs silently in the notification area to keep MS Outlook and Google Calendar synchronized.

And the PC Suite keeps Outlook synchronized with the N72, with just a double click on the rightmost icon shown below (also found in the notification area):


The other two icons in the screen capture above are Bluetooth and Nokia PC Suite, identifying from right to left.

If you don't have Bluetooth on your desktop or laptop, you can connect the N72 with a cable that came in the box.

About Nokia PC Suite in general, from their web site:

Nokia PC Suite is a free PC software product that allows you to connect your Nokia device to a PC and access mobile content as if the device and the PC were one.

Nokia Europe - Nokia PC Suite - Support


What could be your reason for not being organised now?