Quicksilver

NYTImes has a review of the new book by Neal Stephenson. What caught my attention was this:

Noah’s Ark,” reads one card. “The pharynx and its outgrowths,” reads another. “Pantomime” and “Testes” say two others. And then there are “Nonsymmetrical dyadic relations,” “Sunspots” and “Requirements for valid maritime insurance contracts.”

The cards are stacked precariously in a cabin in Newtowne, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in 1713 where a philosopher, Daniel Waterhouse, is trying to organize all of human knowledge. Each card is also inscribed with a number. And just as each number is a unique product of prime numbers, so, in this system, is each concept a unique product of elemental concepts. For every number there’s a concept, for every concept a number.

For if all the world’s knowledge could be encoded in number, then the acts of creation and invention would just be forms of calculation. And the world would reveal itself as a calculating machine, an information processor.

In Mr. Stephenson’s book, Waterhouse’s stacks tumble down like a house of cards, which is probably a demonstration of how impossible this dream is to realize, but it still haunts contemporary computer culture. What is the hacker, after all, but someone who is a master of number and code? What is the hacker’s power, but the ability to affect the engines of commerce simply by manipulating number? The hacker controls the material world by mastering its code, a notion that has become familiar from the “Matrix” films.

Mr. Stephenson is seeking the origins of the hacker grail, the moments when the world first seemed an incarnation of number and information.

The book is the first in a 3000-page trilogy. Even before release, it is already in the top 10 on Amazon. Seems like one which should be a good read.

Indian Economy

The Economist has an article on the Indian economy.

Because of a confluence of benign trends, economic optimism abounds. India’s GDP is expected to grow by at least 6% this year, thanks partly to demand from a more robust global economy, and, more importantly, to the most bountiful monsoon for many years. Almost half of India’s GDP still comes from the countryside.

In 2002, a subdued year for the world economy, India’s exports grew by 19.2%, a rate beaten only by China, whose currency, Indian exporters point out, is notoriously undervalued, whereas the rupee has, unusually, been appreciating against the dollar. However, India’s is still, in global terms, an economy that has a long way to go before it looks very much like a tiger. Last year it accounted for just 0.8% of world exports.

Asked to explain the rosier outlook, manufacturers cite one factor above all: the sharp decline in interest ratesfrom an annual rate of roughly 12% to half thatin the past five years. Besides beautifying company balance sheets, this is encouraging consumers to borrow, to buy cars, for example, and build houses.

As always, its a matter of a few steps forward, and then a few backward (an example: the recent Supreme Court decision on requiring to get parliamentary approval for the privatisation of some of the government PSUs). Thankfully, in recent times, the forward steps have outnumbered the backward steps!

When I look at Indian policy makers, I cannot help but wonder what prevents them from doing the right thing. There’s a whole bunch of intelligent people at the helm, but the result we get is much less. It is the reverse of emergence (the whole being greater than the sum of the parts) – think of it as “demergence” (my word).

On a related note, the same issue of the Economist has a survey of the world economy: “America can no longer propel the global economy. Unless other countries take over, the economic outlook is grim and globalisation is at risk.”

RSS and Attention.xml

Steve Gillmor has a series on RSS and widening its utility via something he calls attention.xml:

it monitors my attention list, noting what feeds are in what order. Then it pays attention to what items I read, in what order, or if not, then what feeds I scan, and for how long. The results are packaged up in an attention.xml file and shipped via some transport (RSS, FTP, whatever) to Technorati. Dave [Sifry] has some ideas about what he will provide in return: “If you liked these feeds and items, then here are some ones you don’t know about that you may want to add to your list.”

But the real power comes in a weighted return feed that works like this: OK, I see who you think is important and what posts are most relevant to your interests. Then we factor in their attention.xml lists weighted by their location on your list, average the newly weighted list based on this trusted group of “advisors”, and return it to your aggregator, which rewrites the list accordingly.

Some other benefits–pushing duplicate links down the list, providing user data that can be bartered for access to full text feeds, and creating the kind of group formation dynamics so prized by developer communities, CxOs, and advertisers.

What do I want from attention.xml? A little help, that’s all. RSS doesn’t need much more fuel to reach orbit; the technology is good at squeezing out the groovebusters and converting the fibrillations of the marketplace into a nice strong sine wave. If we just pay attention, good things can happen that much sooner.

NetLedger to NetSuite

InfoWorld writes about NetLedger’s name change and its new features:

In conjunction with upgrading its integrated ERP and CRM suite, NetLedger rechristened itself. The ASP, in fact, assumed the name of its software product: NetSuite.

NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson said that the name change is an evolution of the software itself. New to NetSuite 9.0 are improvements to the dashboard, commissions’ management, integrated e-commerce, and matrix lists.

NetSuite’s upgraded dashboard includes customizable views based on user roles, the ability to drag and drop portlets into the dashboard, and the Xtreme List Editing feature can be used to adjust lists from within the dashboard.

Commission management enables salespeople and managers to track the commissions they are earning, as well as to model how much they could bring in from a prospective deal.

Nelson said that NetSuite 9.0 includes integrated e-commerce capabilities that enable customers to build database-driven e-commerce Web sites that leverage the product’s back-office features.

The sum of these new features, Nelson explained, is “SAP-like functionality at a mid-market price.”

CSI Pune Open-Source Talk

I recently gave a talk in Pune at a CSI Workshop on open-source software (Presentation: PPT – 202 KB, PDF – 67 KB). It discusses our usage of open-source software, possible business models, the state in India, and possible opportunities for developers.

Intranet Weblogs

[via Paolo, Mathemaginic and Dina Mehta] From Mathemaginic: “The presentation, which is actually called ‘Making sense of weblogs in the intranet: What they are, why people are using them, making them useful for knowledge management’, is must read. It gives a good example of talking about weblogs in a corporate world, tells a lot about intranet in Lucent and describes Lucent’s approach to internal weblog support (strategy, which is not implemented yet).”

TECH TALK: Random Musings

This week, there is something different. I am putting together microcontent (!) on different topics, which I have been thinking about in recent times. Maybe, some of these will become subjects of future Tech Talk columns. So now, here goes

Software Products

Recently, there have been a few articles in the Indian media talking about how software product development from India can be the next big wave. The focus here is on US-based companies with venture capital funding who are setting up a significant portion of their development teams in India. While this is not the same thing as Indian companies making software products and taking them global it is a start.

There are a few Indian product companies for sure. The most well-known is i-flex, with its banking products. A couple of other companies garnering attention are Subex, in the area of telecom fraud detection software, Pramati, with its Java application server, Infosys with Finacle, and Ramco, with its e-business software. Among companies which are primarily targeting the domestic market, we have, among others, Tally (accounting software) and ESS with its ebizframe ERP suite.

Indian software companies have an opportunity to tap the growing domestic market with appropriate software solutions, and then take these to other similar markets globally. The bigger among the IT majors in India should look at acquiring international software companies. Moving up the value chain does not just mean consulting or BPO. They need to look at how they can get multipliers from software products.

More importantly, Indian companies need to start defining how the world of IT is going to look in the future. I have yet to see an Indian CEO talk about the vision for technology in the world of tomorrow. That is the leadership position we need to start achieving. We need to look no further than Scott McNealys pointers on how Sun wants to commoditise software, and the revolution it wants to bring. While it succeeds or not is another matter. But at least, there is deep thinking on the architecture for the future. For starters, it would be good to see some of our IT CEOs have weblogs.

Our IT industry can learn from the Indian pharma industry. Look at how they are now making the shift to product (molecule and drugs) development with a focus on the international market. It is not easy thinking products, spending money and risk when one is making dollars per employee hour, but the time has come for the Indian IT companies to transition from being service providers to vision definers and intellectual property creators.

Tomorrow: Random Musings (continued)