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Reinventing the Sunday Feast

6 February 2009 | 8 Comments | Tags: , ,

I was listening to the following podcast:

Darrel Rhea: Marking During an Economic Meltdown

The title is deceptive. It is more about analyzing a market or activity holistically and reinventing it to taking into account the complete picture. With a complete view of all the factors, motivations, desires, side-effects and intentions, one can transform into a truly customer focused organization.

Darrel Rhea gives example how he helped do this for Apple Retail Stores, Electrolux Kitchen Appliances, the Australian Tax System and Hospital Stroke Treatment.

How about we think about the classic Sunday Feast in this way? In New Zealand the Sunday Feast has already been adapted and reinvented to a certain extent to make it more accessible to newcomers, but without changing any of the core values of Krishna Consciousness. But more can always be done to improve it even further.

(Learn more about the "Krishna Fest" as it is in Wellington, New Zealand: Gaura Yoga - Festivals)

Think of the usual kind of person that might attend a Krishna Conscious center: curious, wary, ignorant of any kind of philosophy, averse to ritual, averse to religion, proud, attached to the opposite sex, not able to sit on the floor for long periods of time, short attention span, self-conscious (unless intoxicated), concerned about spending too much money and concerned about the environment (although not actually doing much about it).

So, using that picture of the typical guest, how would you reinvent the Sunday Feast with a fresh outlook, unencumbered by past traditions? Things that might be changed: name, time, music, types of events, sequence of events, physical layout of the room(s), decoration of the room(s), devotee numbers, devotee dress & accessories and devotee language & attitude.

Please leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.

How to give a presentation (about Krishna consciousness)

13 September 2008 | 4 Comments | Tags: , ,

In this talk at Gaura Yoga I give some practical advice on how to give an interesting and inspirational Krishna conscious presentation.

How to give a presentation

Download the talk as an enhanced podcast (slides synced to audio) in AAC/M4A format (35 minutes). This file is playable in iTunes or on iPods.

Or, if you can't play or don't like Apple's media formats, here is the audio of the talk in MP3 format.

You can also download the slides I used as a PDF.

What's wrong with what we eat

15 May 2008 | 9 Comments | Tags: ,

Cow equals Nuclear Bomb
(picture credit: cow, nuke)

The cow killing that is going on today is like a nuclear bomb. It is the new holocaust, threatening to destroy us all.

In the United States alone every year 10 billion animals are killed for food. If you lined them all up that they would reach to the moon and back five times! With that many living entities being killed there is simply no way that they can be treated ethically. Doing so also results in second highest contribution to global warming in the world (after energy production, but ahead of transportation and residences).

In this excellent presentation at the TED conference Mark Bittman reenforces much of what I talked about in the King Corn post. It is a really compelling presentation on the importance of local food (Locavore = person who only eats local food; is the new word of year), importance of eating organic food (although it isn't a cure-all) and the importance of eating less meat, less junk and more plants (eating plants is what makes us healthy).

He also talks a bit about the history of food. About how we got into the sorry state of far too much meat-eating we are in today.

Here is the video of the talk (much recommended!)

King Corn

10 May 2008 | 97 Comments | Tags: ,

I saw a documentary called King Corn today. It is about two guys from Boston who decide to grow an acre of corn in Iowa to learn more about this strange grain that is seemingly in everything we eat.

Ear of corn inspection

(picture credit)

Tilling and planting one acre of corn (31000 seeds) with a modern tractor takes only about 18 minutes. So, a single farmer can farm many thousands of acres of corn. What used to be a major undertaking, requiring lots of manpower, now can be done with relative ease by just a few hard-working farmers (using lots of machines, chemicals and GMOs).

Once the corn starts growing it is sprayed with liberty weed-killer. This herbicide is non-selective, meaning it kills any and all plants. The corn, however, is genetically modified Liberty-Link corn that can resist the herbicide.

Ammonia fertilizer is used to increase yields. It quadruples the farm's yield and eliminates the need to rotate crops, like the Romans used to do. So, a monoculture of corn can be grown everywhere, year-after-year. However, as farmers are only now discovering, ammonia gradually destroys soil quality.

The harvested corn is used mainly for either animal feed or high-fructose corn syrup production.

Instead of letting cattle eat grass off fields, the fields are used to grow corn. This corn is then fed to the cows in a feed lot. The benefit is that since cows are not allowed to move, they fatten up more quickly. Corn is also a much richer diet than grass, so the cows gain weight even more quickly and less overall space is required. A cow is usually slaughters within 60 - 120 days of entering the feed lot.

Why 120 days? Because after 120 days on a corn diet a cow starts getting really sick. Its digestion system can't handle eating corn for so long. It develops a condition called acidosis, which will quickly kill the animal (humans can also develop acidosis, but usually only as a side effect of certain pharmaceutical drugs). Antibiotics are mixed in with the corn feed to keep the cattle alive for a bit longer, so they gain enough weight for slaughter.

Modern corn cannot be eaten by humans. It is optimized to produce maximum starch. You don't get something for nothing. So, the price of more starch is lower protein in the corn. The result: corn that tastes like chalk, has almost no nutritional value and is perfect for high-fructose corn syrup production.

One in eight people in New York have diabetes (although most don't know it) largely because of eating (and especially drinking) too much high-fructose corn syrup. Drinking one soda per day doubles one's chance of developing diabetes as opposed to someone who only occasionally drinks a soda. And the main ingredient in sugar water is ... high-fructose corn syrup.

Also, a typical McDonald's meal is basically all corn: The burger is made from corn feed cows, half the calories in french-fries come from the corn oil it is fried in, and the drink is, of course, mostly high-fructose corn syrup. We are what we eat, and what we are eating is primarily corn.

Government subsidies rewards the overproduction of cheap corn. Otherwise, it wouldn't be economically viable to grow so much corn. However, largely as a result of those subsidies, in the USA only 16% of people's income is spent on food. That's half the amount that people spent on food a generation ago. People like it when their food is cheap. More money to spend on other, more important things in life, right? The unfortunate side-effect is that low quality food makes people sick. Life expectation is actually going down in the USA. People are dying younger and it's because of what they eat.

The Bhagavad-Gita affirms all this. In it Krishna declares that wretched persons ingest only suffering when they cook for their selfish motives (BG3.13). (alternative translation credit: Garuda das)

The myth of the rising cost of food

22 March 2008 | 14 Comments | Tags: ,

The BBC has a feature on "the cost of food". It shows how almost all types of food are getting more and more expensive. Drastically so!

What is happening here? Shouldn't modern high-tech farming with its nitrogen fertilizers, pesticides and specially breed (and often genetically modified) high-yield crop varieties allow humanity to easy feed everyone on the planet? Hasn't Norman Borlaug's Green Revolution dramatically increased the amount of food the world can produce (e.g. doubling wheat yield between 1965 and 1970)? Haven't exports of food increased by 400% over the last 40 years, promoting the distribution of foods from countries with lots of farmland to those without the capacity to grow lots of food?

The news reporters give two possible explanations of the rising cost of food (both bogus):

  1. The world population is increasing. Soon 6 billion people now live on the planet and the number is expected to rise by 9 billion in 2050. Feeding more mounts costs more money. Moreover, with the rising wealth of countries like China and India the people in these countries consume more food. "To put it bluntly, rich people eat more than poor people", says the BBC.
  2. The increasing use of corn for biofuels (ethanol) is decreasing the amount of the crop that can be used for food. A lower supply coupled with increasing demand due to an increasing world population naturally leads to higher costs.

Makes sense, right? Wrong!

Sure, the world population is increasing, but so are yields of crops. Sure, the use of corn for fuel is increasing, but the increase in the cost of corn has been comparatively low compared with crops like rice, soya and wheat.

The real problem is shown, but not commented upon, in the original BBC feature, as well as in other news sources. It is the increasing consumption of meat.

Increased Meat Eating

The statistics show how producing meat is radically more resource intensive than producing vegetarian foodstuffs. But take a look back at the original article: the price of meat (and sugar) is not increasing very much at all. What is going on here? Why are all foods except meat getting more expensive, when meat is the single most expensive food to produce?!

One word: subsidies.

The United States spends 35% (the greatest single amount) of its total $8 billion annual agricultural subsidies budget on "feed grains" for livestock. The European Union spends a whooping $76 billion per year on food subsidies and 18% of it (the greatest single amount) goes to subsidizing beef production. So, between them, the EU and USA spend at least $16 billion on keeping the price of meat lower than it should be, given its true cost.

Or, to put this in more down-to-earth numbers: the 380 million people that live in the EU consume 92 kg of meat per person every year. Of that 92 kg, 20 kg is beef (a total of 7 million tons of cow meat each year). This means that the EU pays an extra $2 of tax payer's money for each kg of beef that its citizens consume. And those are only direct subsidies on beef, i.e. not counting indirect tax benefits farmers get, government purchases, subsidies on other types of meat, and so on.

So, what to do?

It's actually really simple: promote vegetarianism throughout the world and simultaneously eliminate subsidies on meat. Without subsidies meat will get so expensive that few people can afford it. Would you buy a Big Mac if it cost $34 a burger?

If a vegetarian diet is advertised as the logical, cheaper, healthier alternative, then people will naturally stop eating dead animals. That lowering of demand will make it more difficult to sell the quantities of meat which are currently produced. Farmers will be forced to switch from growing "feed grain" to producing "grain for human consumption". This, I estimate, can result in a tenfold increase in the amount of available food. Enough to easily feed a world population of 60 billion!

(An added side-benefit would be a huge reduction in the number of people that get cancer, resulting in lower health-care costs and longer life-spans. Large-scale studies in Europe and the USA have proven without a doubt that meat eating causes many different types of cancer)

Solution to increasing health care costs

17 February 2008 | 2 Comments | Tags: ,

It is well known that the aging population of the western world is increasingly placing a huge burden on all nations' health-care systems. Medicine is finding better and better (and more expensive) ways of stopping people from dying. As medicine finds new ways of curing the existing diseases, people's bodies find newer and newer ways of malfunctioning, costing evermore and more money.

I was listening to a panel discussion on what the heath-care issues will be in the upcoming 2008 US presidential election (wait, don't click that link, the discussion was pretty boring). Naturally, the issue of increasing cost and dilemma of how to ration health-care was a hot topic. Surprisingly, one expert explained, that the problem is not the evil pharmaceutical industry that many people like to blame. Drugs makes up just 8% of the total cost of health care in the United States (a "mere" $600 billion). The other 92% are the hospitals, ambulances, doctors, nurses, machines, administration, services, etc. So, even if all the pharmaceutical companies were to give away drugs for free that still wouldn't come close to solving the problem of health care costs spiraling out of control.

So what do to?

Professor Rustum Roy (amazing, the guy has over 1000 publications!) suggests the idea of "dying a good death", as presented in the spiritual teachings of India, as an idea that should be seriously considered (and, of course, everyone else in the panel discussion promptly ignored this idea...)

I certainly think that the Vedic knowledge of ancient India can provide some significant help for solving this global problem. Practitioners of Krishna consciousness could take an active role in advising governments on this issue. Here some of my thoughts as to what could be done:

  • Take care of the body in this life: all too many people are abusing their bodies with drugs, intoxication, meat-eating, and sense gratification. Bhagavad-Gita explains that this is due to self-envy (BG16.18). Hate of the supersoul in one's own body and the bodies of others. A person beginning to practice Krishna consciousness will gradually stop destroying their body in order to squeeze some enjoyment out of it. They learn to relish spiritual pleasure, and no longer long for temporary material bodily enjoyment. The result: lots of people living a healthier lifestyle and not getting sick (i.e. less heart disease because more people are vegetarian, less cancer because fewer people smoke and more people have a good diet, fewer strokes because people are less stressed, less liver cirrhosis because fewer people drink, less homicide because more people value the soul in all living beings (SB5.5.26), less suicide because people are happier with themselves, less HIV/AIDS because of less illicit sex, etc. etc.).
  • Death is not the end: Krishna describes in the Bhagavad-Gita the the consciousness lives on after the death of the body (BG2.20). Death is natural part of life in the material world. Everything that is born is sure to die eventually (BG2.27). Indeed, as the material body grows old, breaks-down and falls apart, the consciousness transmigrates into a new body, just like one might change out of some old clothes into new ones (BG2.22). Such a reincarnation is not a cause for alarm, but a natural part of life (BG2.11, BG2.13). The result: less bereavement and intoxication when a friend or loved one dies.
  • The purpose of work is not to enjoy the fruits: practically everyone works to get money to get enjoyment. However, people are becoming more and more depressed and insane because of too much work. If, as recommended in the Bhagavad-Gita (BG2.47), one works and offers the fruits of such work to Krishna, not trying to enjoy them for oneself, then one can attain unadulterated peace (BG5.12). The result: mental illness is drastically reduced.
  • Die in a sound state of mind: King Kulasekhara gave an example of how to die in a sound state of mind (SB 4.23.13). He wanted to die while he was still young and health, so that he could remember Krishna better at the time of death (note: he wasn't suicidal, he's primary concern was simply remembering Krishna, not forever clinging to his dying body). The result: more people choosing to die "naturally" and not be forever hooked up to an expensive life-support system (similar to a low-tech version of Darth Vader).
  • Look forward to the next life: if one's life is filled with spiritual activities meant to produce a high-quality body in the next life (ideally a body of pure consciousness), then the next life is something to look forward to. Moreover, in such a case, even the current life is highly enjoyable. As stated in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (SB4.27.12), a sage practicing Krishna consciousness is blessed by saying that he may either live or die. It does not make a difference. Either way there is happiness. The result: less depression as disease and old age set in.

The Counseling System: Taking Care of Krishna's Devotees

15 January 2008 | 5 Comments | Tags: , ,

I have been reading an excellent booklet entitled "Taking Care of Krishna's Devotees" by H.H. Niranjana Swami. It outlines his experience and advice regarding the counseling system successfully used in Chowpatti Temple, as well as in many parts of Russia. The following is a summary of some of the book's presentation. I recommend reading the complete book since it contains much more detail and inspiration.

Everyone needs to take shelter of something. Everyone needs friends in Krishna consciousness. Everyone needs spiritual strength. Spiritual strength comes from Balarama. Balarama's representative is the guru.

A good Krishna conscious leader gives encouragement and care to his dependents. He or she is interested only in other people's Krishna consciousness; not in exploiting their skills, their money, etc. Therefore, the essential ingredient for a successful counseling system is: caring (thinking of the welfare of others).

Counselors are not official authorities. They are simply friends. They give advice only when asked and don't force their counselees to do anything these strongly resist doing. Some pushing may be there, but only out of concern and love. Aspiring devotees should deal with their counselors not because they have to, but because they want to. Devotees should trust their counselors. This is, after all, a volunteer movement. There should be no arm twisting or threatening. Devotees should not feel like they are constantly under the Sword of Damocles.

Inspiration should be the first principle, the organized system can come later. Prabhupada wrote in a letter: "This is the duty of the leaders to bring up this voluntary spirit and to fan it so that Krishna consciousness becomes an ever-fresh experience." Devotees can best inspire others if they themselves are highly inspired.

It is not so much a counseling system; it is rather more a means of establishing friendships / loving relationships. It has to come naturally and cannot be forced by the temple authorities. If someone is forced to accept someone as a counselor then they will not necessarily trust the counselor's advice; they suspect that the counselor has some hidden agenda. True friendship is secret of the success of the counseling system in a place like Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha Mandir in Chowpatta, Mumbai. Devotees there love each other and that makes all the difference. They chant together, associate together and thereby learn to see each other's good quality. They are one family.

Fault finding can manifest if devotees associate only for the purpose of service. Therefore, in addition to service, there needs to be association in kirtan, study and support for a nice community to develop. If this is not there then association with materialists starts looking more and more attractive to the aspiring devotee.

Counselees should use meeting with their counselors to benefit personally. The meeting should not be used to complain about other devotees. Bhaktivinoda Thakur said that if someone speaks about others with an attitude of pride or envy, they cannot fix their mind upon Krishna. So, meetings should only be used to discuss personal problems, both material and spiritual, as well as general Krishna conscious philosophy.

It is not that a devotee should only associate with those devotees whom he likes and avoid those whom he does not get along with. That is a kanista (neophyte) mentality. Instead, all devotees should chant very attentively, learn to see each other's good qualities and bring out the best in everyone. There must be an emphasis on internal transformation as well as external distribution. Both must go on equally.

The devotees who take up the position of counselors should expect nothing in return for their service. They should be materially stable with an honest source of income. Counselors should also be stable in their particular ashram (ideally as a householder), so they don't misuse their position of authority. They should be inspiring preachers who lead by their own example.

The counselors should ideally not be involved in temple management (or, if they are, be able to clearly distinguish between the needs of the temple and the needs of their counselees). They should be free thinkers (although strictly principled), who may, in certain circumstances, disagree with the management's ideas and plans. Management should not only appoint counselors who are sympathetic to them. Otherwise, if the counselors are simply an extension of the management, their counselees will doubt their commitment to their dependents' best interest. If a counselee cannot trust his or her counselor then the counseling will be ineffective.

Important qualification for counselors are:

  • Counselors should have a nice understanding of the philosophy and practice of Krishna consciousness.
  • They should have been active within ISKCON for a reasonable length of time.
  • They should be able to give balanced advice according to time, place and circumstance.
  • They should not be prone to taking extreme and controversial positions on issues..
  • They should be willing to extend themselves to help others and have a spirit of sacrifice.
  • They should be compassionate and have a genuine concern for the welfare of devotees.
  • They should be good listeners. They should be able to listen to the people they are trying to serve.
  • They should be mature and sober.
  • They should demonstrate a good standard of sadhana, etiquette, behavior, and commitment to serving the mission of Srila Prabhupada.
  • They should be stably situated within their own ashram.

More information on the counseling system from H.H. Radhanath Maharaja is available here: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=1378

Another review of the book may be found here: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=1421

An electronic version of the complete text of the book may be found here: http://www.dandavats.com/wp-content/uploads/tckd2_web.pdf

Printed copies of "Taking Care of Krishna's Devotees" are available for a very reasonable price by contacting Lila Smarana devi dasi at: lila.smarana.nrs@cis.pamho.net

Designing Energy Efficient Buildings

25 November 2007 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

Amory Lovins (from the Rocky Mountain Institute) is a visiting professor for energy and the environment at Stanford University. He gave a series of talks about using clever design to improve energy efficiency in a variety of industries. I found the talks about improving the efficiency in buildings to be particularly interesting. It's amazing what one can do if one uses a few simple (or not so simple) technologies and designs in buildings.

Dr. Lovins gives examples of buildings in almost all the world's climates that can be built without costly energy wasting air conditioning or central heating systems. Using modern building materials can make a house very comfortable at a fraction of the cost. Better insulation turns out to be cheaper than the alternative of investing in artificial climate control. Better airflow design can make a house more healthy and comfortable.

Anyone that is living or working in a house that is too hot/cold in the summer/winter should listen to these lectures. Anyone that is building a new house should also definitely listen to these fascinating lectures.

Energy Efficient Design For Buildings - Part 1
Energy Efficiency in Buildings - Part 2

Corporate chaplains on the rise

25 August 2007 | 44 Comments | Tags: ,

Corporations in the United States are increasingly hiring chaplains for the workplace. These clergymen come into the offices maybe once a week and employees can talk to them if and when they wish. The chaplains give confidential advice on all life's problems to those people that choose to take advantage of their guidance. They don't force themselves onto anyone who doesn't want their help.

A great benefit of the corporate chaplain is that in an increasingly dog-eat-dog world the chaplain is not some good-for-nothing boss, nor a double-crossing so-called mentor who really just has his own best interest in mind. Instead, he is there for just one reason: to care. And a little care and attention is really just all everyone wants, right?

The trend in the predominantly christian USA is to hire christian chaplains, but I see no reason why there couldn't be successful vaisnava chaplains, too. This is especially so in countries were the traditional churches are mistrusted or frowned upon. However, even in the USA the demand for corporate chaplains far exceeds the supply. There are just not enough spiritually educated people around who are will and able to genuinely care for others. It's a huge growth industry.

This makes me think of Ameyatma's article on implementing Varnashra Universities. But why establish external educational institutions that people need to make an effort to visit? Instead here is the possibility of meeting and helping people directly in their workplaces and getting paid for it too.

I think members of the Krishna consciousness network are ideally suited for this kind of non-sectarian, educational, care-given work. Indeed, employees who are getting guidance from Vaisnava chaplains are more likely to be able to lead a mode of goodness lifestyle, free from so many self-degrading activities. They can be happier, more productive and make spiritual progress, all at the same time. It's a win-win situation.

Someone should try this!

More information in the following articles:

Software architecture with Grady Booch

5 February 2007 | 62 Comments | Tags: , ,

I recently attended a round-table discussion with Grady Booch. Yes, the Grady Booch. What, you've never heard of him? If you studied Computer Science you are sure to have at least one book of his. He is one of the gurus of software development. He is now working as "chief scientist" for IBM.

Read his blog here and another blog of his here.

You can also watch his recent Turing Lecture on "the promise, the limits and the beauty of software". It is very interesting.

Here some tidbits from the discussion with him :

Functional programming languages (like LISP, Scheme and SML) failed largely because they made it very easy to do very difficult things, but it was too hard to do the easy things.

The current buzzword for revolutionizing the software industry is SOA: Service Oriented Architecture. Grady calls it "Snake Oil Oriented Architecture". It is just re-branded "Message Oriented Architecture". The idea is to expose services and describe them using WSDL. This decreases coupling between systems. The service becomes the thing to test things against. The rest of the software application becomes a black box. A meta-architecture emerges: no software is an island onto itself.

It is a good idea, but the hundreds of WS* standards are so complicated and ill-defined that Microsoft's and IBM's implementations end up being incompatible. Lesser companies have no hope of ever implementing these crazy so-called standards. Just another scheme by the big companies to lock people into their software.

Bill Higgins' REST-style of SOA is much more promising. It builds upon the idea of something like HTTP instead of the complex transfer protocols of the WS-Vertigo world.

But back to software architecture...

The next big challenge in software architecture is concurrency. Raw clock speed has just about reached its physical limit. Chip companies are now putting multiple copies of the same CPU onto a single chip. The result is that applications can no longer just be run faster. They have to be run in parallel in some way. For example:

Dreamworks computer animation uses 10,000 serves in a production pipeline to render movies like Shrek 3. They will soon switch to using multi-core processor, but will have trouble distributing the work-load to take advantage of all these multiple cores.

The game company EA has the same problem. the Playstation 3 uses the Cell processor which has an 8-core CPU. How does on take advantage of all these 8 cores? EA segments their games into simple concerns: graphics on one core, audio on another, AI on yet another, etc. But the company admits that they are using only about 10% of the processor's capacity. So much potential computing power is wasted because it is really difficult to parallelize something as complex as a video game.
A typical Google node (and there are many around the world) consists of about 100,000 servers, but Google have a relatively "easy" problem. Search is "easy" to parallelize.

The perfect architecture doesn't exist. Good architectures have evolved over time. The first version of Photoshop wasn't very good, but it has undergone many rebirths. Amazon's computer systems can handle the loss of an entire data-center without a shopper ever noticing. It certainly wasn't always that way, but by gradual refinement they have built (and are continuing to build) a better and better architecture.
A typical EA game costs about $15 million just in development cost (that is without the cost involved in licensing, marketing, or distributing). Two kids in a garage can no longer create amazing software. They can have a great idea, but it has to evolve into something much more complex to be truly useful (on that note: Google is a company most seriously in need of adult supervision; way too much money in the hands of kids. They will soon face a mid-life crisis just like IBM has in the past and Microsoft currently is right in the middle of - just look at the state of Windows Vista).

Some principles for a good architecture:

  • Crisp and resilient abstractions: use an object oriented view of the world, rather than algorithm based view of the world. Think about things instead of processes (this idea dates back to Plato).
  • Good separation of concerns: that is in one sense obvious, but is also really hard to get right. It is very tempting to put a bits of logic in the wrong places in the architecture.
  • Balanced distribution of responsibilities: no part of the system should dominate the entire architecture.
  • Simple systems: the holy grail; very few software companies get to this point. The best systems are ones that actually decrease their amount of code over time. Good developers find ways to do the same functions more efficiently.

How to tell a good architecture when you see one? Ask the following questions?

  • Do you have a software architect? (or, at most, 2 - 3 people sharing the role)
  • Do you have an incremental development process? (not waterfall, but releasing a new version every week or so)
  • Do you have a culture of patterns? (design patterns are beautiful and the best thing for creating good software)

If the answer to all three questions is "yes", then chances are you have a good architecture, or even if you do not have a good architecture at the moment, you will gradually evolve to having one.

4Plus1 Architecture

Want to learn about good architecture? A good place to start is the 4+1 model view of software architecture. Software needs to be envisioned from multiple different perspective simultaneously. Just like their can't be just one 2D diagram outlining the plan for a house, there can't be a single view of a software application. [I might add that there can't just be a single view of the Universe. The Vedic literature therefore describes the Universe from 4 different viewpoints simultaneously.]

As for Web 2.0: it is a meme, an idea, a flag pole that you can hang almost anything off.

As for the Semantic Web? Developers don't understand normal software architecture properly, so what chance is there for them to understand something as complicated as semantically aware software? So, in Grady's opinion, the semantic web is a long, long way off.

Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund

3 February 2007 | 7 Comments | Tags:

287666827 016Dc60Fe5
(source)

Or, in Latin, if you prefer: "aurora musis amica"
That is a German proverb that literally means: "the morning hour has gold in the mouth". It kind of loses something in the translation...

Anyway, in a survey of 20 top CEOs, 80% of them get up before 5:30am. So, if you want to be successful: rise and shine! The early bird catches the worm!

(and, if you aren't into worm-eating, the morning hours are also the best time to meditate)

Core Values

1 February 2007 | 0 Comments | Tags:

The Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson, the largest Christian book publisher in the world, talks about the core values of his company in this blog posting.

Thomas Nelson

The core values of Thomas Nelson are:

1. Honoring God
2. Serving Others
3. Focus and Discipline
4. World-Class Talent
5. Collaboration

These mesh well with Krishna consciousness, I think.
(Nice company logo, too)

Business management gurus

15 November 2006 | 10 Comments | Tags:

Quote from a class by BVPS:

One devotee goes to a big, elaborate, fabulous, inspiring, motivational discussion/self-help seminar from someone of the caliber of John Maxwell, Tony Robbins or Stephen Covey . Everyone loves the presentation. Then in the end, everyone starts to leave; some people come up to the presenter, shake his hand, pat him on the back, etc. But this one devotee is in the back watching the whole thing and thinking about it. So, in the end, after everyone else has left and the presenter is packing up, he goes up to the guy and asks him:

"You're saying all this, but how much is this really practical for the audience that was here."

So the guy looks around, makes sure that everyone else has indeed left and says:

"Actually, for nobody here. You see, it's business. The people who can actually apply it are already applying it. And the common person who doesn't come to these programs isn't interested anyway. The kinds of people that come to these programs come to listen and feel good about it, but they are not able to apply it, otherwise they would already be doing it. They are such common-sense principles. You study all the people who are successful and you say these are the principles of successful people. However, you studied the successful people to get that information. You didn't study the common person, because the common person doesn't have it and will never have it."

So no one really gets much benefit from these kinds of courses. People feel good about it, because they are interested in how to improve their lives. So, if they are given ideas which are the factual points of how they could improve, they like it. But if they could actually improve, they would have already done it. So, the audience is happy and the presenter is happy, because he made the audience feel happy and they gave him lots of money. But really, no one learns anything and life goes on.

Maximum Group Size

24 September 2006 | 2 Comments | Tags:

I was listening to Christopher Allen (blog) giving a talk about Dunbar's number.

Dunbar measured the ideal sizes of various types of groups. The larger the group, the more time must be spent coordinating and socializing, and less time spent doing stuff.

Groups over 150 or so people, do not work.

Settlements split at that size, Roman army units are that size (a Centurion would command no more than 150 men), academic peer-groups don't work if they grow above 150, the list goes on ...

The best group size is far lower than 150, depending on what a group is trying to accomplish. 150 is the ideal number for a group of primates trying to survive. The ideal modern group size is somewhere around 40 - 60. Such groups can work very well.

Allen goes on to describe that a group of 40 people have a different dynamic to a small group of about 5 - 10 people. Groups of 10 people also work well, but do so in a different way to larger groups of 40 people. However, in between these two ideal group sizes the group dynamic falls apart. The group is too big for small group practices to work well, but too small for large group practices to take effect.

Groups of 13 people do not work.

Such groups must either shrink back to a more manageable size, or quickly expand to at least 20 people to allow large group dynamics to set in. Groups between 10 and 20 people will otherwise at best get nothing done or at worst break apart.

Management technique: eat together

18 August 2006 | 2 Comments | Tags:

eating together in WellingtonJoel from the popular 'Joel on Software' blog, talks about the The Identity Management Method of managing a team. His advice: eat together to stay together!

A method I??(TM)m pretty comfortable with, is eating together. I??(TM)ve always made a point of eating lunch with my coworkers, and at Fog Creek we serve catered lunches for the whole team every day and eat together at one big table. It??(TM)s hard to understate what a big impact this has on making the company feel like a family, in the good way, I think. In six years, nobody has ever quit

WWW2006 day 5: health care

17 June 2006 | 2 Comments | Tags: , ,

UK National Health Service (NHS): web-enabled primary care is finally coming, but is still super-clunky. And forget technology use in secondary care, it's non-existent. If only there was a central registry of patient's records. That would be really useful both for patients and statistical medical research. It would also be very cost effective.

The NHS is spending ?£6 billion on modernizing its information technology. Unfortunately, despite being only about one year into the project, they are already ?£1 billion pounds over budget.

I know from first hand ontology building experience that the Systematized Nomenclature of Medical Clinical Terms (SNOMED-CT), which is supposed to underly this whole revamp, is an extremely poorly architected ontology. A disaster just waiting to happen.

USA Health IT: IT in health could prevent some of the 90,000 avoidable annual deaths due to medical errors. Test often have to be re-done, because it's cheaper to re-test someone than to find the previous lab results. We need to get rid of the medical clipboard!

Knowledge diffusion is super-slow. It takes 17 years (!) for observed medical evidence to be integrated into actual practice. Empower the consumer (while also providing privacy and data protection). Also, empower homeland security to protect us from the evildoers.

Most practices don't have Electronic Health Records (EHR). Those would enable some degree of data exchange between practices, which would benefit a practice's competitors. The patient would be less tided to one doctor. Less tie-in means less profit. So, in the fierce competitive market of for-profit health care, there is little reason to go electronic.

However, SNOMED will help (... or so they say).

WWW2006 day 2: Extreme Programming

1 June 2006 | 4 Comments | Tags: , , ,

Along the same lines as Web 2.0 comes eXtreme Programming. This new philosophy of how to program has 12 basic principles:

  • Pair programming: two people to one screen. This is easier than it sounds. Software engineering is a very social activity, so pairing up is only natural. Pairings change naturally over time, sometimes several times a day. This practice helps introduce new people to the team, creates shared knowledge of the codebase and (most important) greatly improves the quality of the resultant code, while only minimally reducing productivity.
  • On-site customer: the customer is present throughout the development process. No huge requirements documents that no one reads. This means that the customer must always be reachable to ask about a design decision. A programmer with a question should not have to wait longer than an hour for an answer.
  • Test-first development: write the tests first and then create the program until all the tests pass.
    Frequent small releases: most important principle. Release a working product at some small fixed period. A beta every two weeks, for example. The customer always has something tangible to use and give feedback on. No big-bang integration.
  • Simple design through user stories: simple 3x5 cards to capture requirements. These serve as a contract to further discuss the feature with the customer and find out exactly what they want.
    Common code ownership: anyone on the team can change anything in the codebase (relies and builds upon test-first development and pair programming)
  • Refactoring: if you need to change something, do it!
  • Sustainable pace: work no longer than 40 hours a week. No burn out.
  • Coding standards
  • Continuos integration
  • Planning game
  • System metaphor

Three types of branding

3 April 2006 | 2 Comments | Tags: ,

Brand is a very powerful in business. There are three basic branding strategies:

  1. Unique brand
  2. Corporate brand
  3. Range brand

Unique branding is used by a company like Proctor & Gamble. All its many different household products use have a unique identity. P&G owns popular brands such as: Ariel, Braun, Crest, Duracell, Fairy, Gillette, Lenor, Oral-B, Pampers, Pringles, Head & Shoulders, Olay and Wella.

A unique branding strategy allows a company to dominate a product area by building a successful brand that stands for just one thing. Such a brand can often become synonymous with the product: Kleenex, for example. Also, if a brand is unsuccessful, its failure does not affect the other brands the company owns. Moreover, the company can even compete against itself by launching different brands in the same product category. No matter which product the consumer buys, the parent company is successful. The disadvantage is that each brand must be marketed separately. It takes a significant investment in time, money and effort to establish a new brand.

Corporate brand strategy means using a single brand for all products. Apple uses this strategy. New products share the awareness of the established brand identity. Time to launch a new product is greatly reduced. Customers already know and trust the existing brand. However, as a corporation extends its product lines into many different markets, it can become difficult to maintain consistent quality for all products and the whole brand suffers as a result. One failed product can bring the entire company's image down. Also, when the company is not perceived as a dedicated provider of a single category of product, people may begin to doubt the corporation's devotion to each of its product lines. The result: brand loyalty is reduced.

Range branding is a mixture of the two. For example, Toyota created the Lexus brand in order to establish a new brand for its luxury cars. The Toyota brand already had too much of an established market identity in order to compete in the high-priced market segment.

Atma Yoga is following the unique branding strategy (or possibly range, it's too early to tell). One might consider call it Krishna Yoga, or even ISKCON Yoga, but an unsuccessfully executed corporate brand strategy prevents that from being a good idea. It will take considerable time and effort to establish brand loyalty and awareness, but the potential payoff is also quite high.

Work/Life balance

26 February 2006 | 3 Comments | Tags:

Amusing but sadly so true in today's world:

work life balance

Original comic site (there is a whole series on this topic)

The Power of a Greeting

20 February 2006 | 3 Comments | Tags: , ,

Greetings are so powerful.

Good hotels, restaurants and conference centers employ one person (sometimes even two!) for no other purpose than saying "good morning" to people as they come in the door.

The Srimad Bhagavatam advocates that every guest must be offered at least some nice words of greeting, a seat and some water (SB 1.18.28). Samika Rishi got himself in trouble because he did not offer these to Maharaja Parikshit. There is even a special hellish planet for those people who fail to greet their guests properly.

When a guest enters one's house or (especially!) one's temple or outreach center one should drop everything and immediately rush to greet that guest. That guest should be made to feel so super-welcome that they can not help but desire to come back again and again. Ignoring guests is mega-dangerous, counter-productive and not good for business.

Money is not wealth

30 December 2005 | 1 Comments | Tags: ,

I recently read an interesting article by Paul Graham on how to make wealth. He advocates working really, really hard in a start-up for a few years and (maybe) getting a huge pay-off from the effort (or ending up with nothing, if the venture, like ever so many start-ups, fails).

However, an interesting point he makes is the distinction between wealth and money. Wealth is what we are really after, while money is just the exchange medium for wealth we use in today's society. All the money of the world would be of no use to you if you were stranded on a desert island with nothing to buy. Similar, if you had a machine (or surabi cow) that could create anything you desired, you would have no need for money.

Graham writes:

Until recently even governments sometimes didn't grasp the distinction between money and wealth. Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations) mentions several that tried to preserve their "wealth" by forbidding the export of gold or silver. But having more of the medium of exchange would not make a country richer; if you have more money chasing the same amount of material wealth, the only result is higher prices.

Similarly, on a smaller scale, many people chase after money, when what they actually desire is wealth. Wealth is whatever someone values and therefore wants to acquire.

Graham falls into the same trap that ensnares practically everyone. He reasons:

Create things that people desire => make money => buy things you desire => objective accomplished.

In reality the following happens:

... buy things you desire => desire more => buy more => desire more => buy more => never become truly satisfied

The spiritual solution is given in BG 2.70: instead of trying to create more and more wealth we should practice minimizing your desires (and since annihilating desire is impossible, replacing it with a higher taste - BG 2.59). That way, even if we don't have the luck (good karma) to be part of a successful start-up, we'll still be supremely wealthy. We'll be able to buy all the things you want, even with a modest income, because we'll desire less stuff than the common manipulated-by-marketing consumer. Even better, we'll also will gain permanent, spiritual wealth.

All material wealth is eventually destroyed by the effects of time. However, spiritual advancement lasts forever.

Mumbai temple: counsel and care

14 December 2005 | 0 Comments | Tags:

Namahatta has a great article from HH Radhanath Swami. He talks about the counselor system in the temple in Mumbai, Chowpatti. It sounds like a great place. A perfect situation where everyone is super nicely cared for. The article is well worth reading.

How to build a word-of-mouth marketing campaign

13 December 2005 | 0 Comments | Tags:

Forrester magazine has an interest short article on the subject. View it here.

The Joel Test: better software development

29 November 2005 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

Joel Spolsky, a prominent blogger and CEO of a small software company, wrote an article on a 12 steps for better software development. The article is from the year 2000, but still relevant today.

The Joel Test: 12 Steps to Better Code

While a University's main purpose isn't exactly software development, computer scientist researchers do frequently have to do programming. Here's how my research group rates based on Joel's criteria:

# Do you use source control?
- Yes (well, half the time, at least for the main project)

# Can you make a build in one step?
- No

# Do you make daily builds?
- No

# Do you have a bug database?
- Yes (finally)

# Do you fix bugs before writing new code?
- No

# Do you have an up-to-date schedule?
- What's a schedule?

# Do you have a spec?
- What's a spec?

# Do programmers have quiet working conditions?
- Hell no.

# Do you use the best tools money can buy?
- No way (our PCs don't even have CD-burners)

# Do you have testers?
- The users are the testers, aren't they?

# Do new candidates write code during their interview?
- No

# Do you do hallway usability testing?
- Kind of

So: 2.5 / 12.

Not the greatest of scores. Now, I could try to revolutionize the University: transform the stale, old practices into a new high-tech, high-productivity environment that students and researchers love to work in. March into the dean's office demanding that he break down the establishment, write essays, post flyers, complain to everyone in the department ...

Or I could just tolerate and leave the country as soon as possible ...

K-CAP day 5: aftermath

7 October 2005 | 1 Comments | Tags: , , , ,

Today, over breakfast, I was at a table with various high-powered researchers. One of them has been up all night writing an "emergency paper" for the boss of a friend. The topic of schmoozing came up.

They enlightened me that it is very important to complement even the most senior speaker on their keynote presentation. The may seem like they are all-powerful and supremely intelligent, but, in reality, they are just as insecure as everyone else about whether they did a good job and people liked their talk. The trick is to boost their ego, become their friend and get them to help you out.

Research is mostly funded by various government agencies (EPSRC and JISC in the UK and DARPA and NASA in the US). At big conferences there are invite-only "brainstorming" sessions where the agency??(TM)s officers discuss with the researchers what the next big research grant should focus on. This is a chance for the University professors to argue that their line of research is best and should be funded (even if it isn??(TM)t ??¦ in fact: especially if it isn??(TM)t).

The key in these brainstorming sessions is to injecting one's ideas into as many other peoples??(TM) mind as possible before these meetings. It??(TM)s a horrible thing to do and one may have to have a shower afterwards to wash off the slime, but the more people argue one??(TM)s case, the better the chance of getting the money.

However, in the end, all this is somewhat of a pretense. The actual decision is made in the pub after the session. The grant officers will give the contract to their friends. Their friends are their drinking buddies. The really successful researchers are those that manipulate the social scene to make everyone their friend. For example, people like Wendy Hall and Nigel Shadbolt are primarily famous not because they are brilliant researchers (though, of course, that must also be there), but because they knows everyone and everyone knows them.

What, if you don't drink? Well, better start soon.

It works the same in most industries. Film producers for example spend most of their time in the five year production cycle of a film going to cocktail parties meeting the potential funders, potential actors and potential directors. They negotiate the production crew over a few drinks. Sometimes a key member will pull out of the agreement and they need to go to more parties to recruit new staff.

Ministers in the Greek government spend most of their time at the ministry drinking coffee with one another. The do this because they need to know that they can pick up the phone, talk to a friend, ask for a report and get it delivered to them next morning.

In the UK and USA beer replaces coffee. Each country has its own style.

When one then finally has the grant money one often can't spend it fast enough. If one doesn't spend all of the money one has been granted, then one obviously didn't need it in the first place, so one will get less next time. Some projects therefore need to get very creative in how they can burn money. They will, for example, finance trips overseas for the entire research group. Even then, sometimes one simply cannot spend enough of the government grant money. In such cases one needs to extend the grant due to "staffing issues". In other words, in order to fudge the records one, once again, needs to be in cahoots with the right people.

The Pitfalls of Outsourcing

2 September 2005 | 1 Comments | Tags:

I'm reading The Best Software Writing I: Selected and Introduced by Joel Spolsky at the moment. It contains some interesting essays. I'll be summarizing some of them as I read more of the book.


The Pitfalls of Outsourcing Programmers
by Michael Bean talks about how companies (especially American ones) go outsourcing-mad and outsource software development to foreign countries (especially India). This is bad since these companies thereby throw away their capacity to innovate. The people driving the core business assets should be kept as physically close together as possible. Their unique set of skills are what differentiates an organization from the competition. A company is otherwise just a generic aggregation of commodity services. There is no added value in that.

Question: is the practice of certain temples that, in-effect, outsource their deity worship (by importing devotees from other countries to do the service) also confusing the box with the milk sweet?