Birth of a Baby

Last week on Tuesday (April 19), I became a father. My wife, Bhavana, gave birth to a baby boy, whom we have named Abhishek. (“Abhishek” means the bathing of a deity by constant flow of water or milk.) Abhishek is an IVF baby. Credit for Abhisheks birth is due to the husband-wife team of Dr Aniruddha and Anjali Malpani, who are not only two extraordinarily gifted doctors but also wonderful people. It is their efforts that have brought Abhishek into our lives. (Ill write about the entire IVF process and the emotional ups and downs sometime soon. UPDATE: Here is the full story.) I have put a few photos on Flickr.

While there is a lot Id like to talk to Abhishek, for now, there is this touching essay by Tom Evslin, written in 1979 (and posted recently on his blog) on the birth of his daughter:

A few weeks ago my daughter Katy was born. She started out terribly; grey, streaked with blood, and with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Central Vermont Hospital took care of all that very well and now she is less the worse for wear than I am.

But she is helpless, incredibly helpless. Its been a few years since Ive had an infant to watch and Id forgotten. She cant hold her huge head up; she cant use her hands; and her eyes discover the world piece by piece at random.

No other mammal has babies nearly as helpless as ours. Even blind puppies walk to their first nursing. And the reflexive curling of Katys toes reminds me that, if she were a monkey, shed already he able to hold onto a branch.

One theory is that the head is the problem. For better or for worse, humans have brains proportional1y far bigger than those of other species. The head built to contain this giant brain has run into an evolutionary trap. Its almost too big to be born.

That is why humans have more trouble with childbirth than other species. And so, the theory goes, in order to be born at all, humans must be born prematurely. In other words, human babies are so helpless because they are still in an advanced state of fetal development. If they waited until they were as developed as other mammal babies, their heads would he too large for delivery.

I think there is another reason in the grand scheme of things why our babies are born with so much to learn.

The babies of other species come preprogrammed. They already have most basic motor skills. In general, the lower down the evolutionary ladder a species is, the more adult skills its babies have built in.

Our babies know how to nurse. Everything else they have to learn. It seems very inefficient that we have to learn to lift our heads, then learn to roll over, then creep, then walk. But I think this inefficiency serves a purpose.

While my daughter Katy is learning the simple task of making her hand touch what her eye sees, she will also he learning how to learn. As she tries and fails and tries again, her mind will learn how to retain experience. As her left hand learns what her right hand knows, her mind will learn to reason and extrapolate.

As Katy takes a year to learn the motor skills a monkey is born with, she will be preparing herself for the great task of mastering a spoken language. As she struggles pitifully to make a rattle work right, she will he learning to learn to read and write.

Above all, we are natures best learners. We have very dull eyes, puny teeth, a weak sense of smell, and we dont hear very well. Our physical prowess is probably the laughingstock of the animal kingdom. But we can learn. We learn how to learn while we learn how to walk.

Welcome, Katy, to a genuine learning experience. And good luck.

Welcome, Abhishek, to a genuine learning experience. And good luck.

Porcess Portals

Bill Burnham discusses Super Services, Process ortals and the road to Composite Applications:

In recognition of both the increasing number of web services and the increasing complexity of linking them together, a new crop of start-ups has emerged including such companies as eSigma, Bindingpoint, Xmethods, and Strike Iron. Initially these start-ups appear to have the rather mundane goal of creating directories of publicly available web services or even libraries of proprietary web services (such as Strike Iron and Xignite have done), but dig a bit deeper and you realize that their ambitions may extend much further.

Take eSigma for example. I had the opportunity to chat with its founder, Troy Haaland, the other day. As Troy explained, the simple portal-like interface of eSigma actually hides an increasingly complex infrastructure. Right now, at the core of this infrastructure is a fully functioning UDDI directory. All of the services you can browse via the portal are actually formally registered in the UDDI directory making them programmatically discoverable. The goal is to link this directory core to a higher level process management capability via a BPEL-based visual authoring/scripting platform. Not only would such a platform allow enterprising developers to easily create and, theoretically re-sell, their own super services, but more importantly it would allow enterprises to create composite applications that exist solely in the cloud. Such cloud based composite applications could then be used a back-bone of inter-enterprise applications.

In this way, what appear at first to be simple directories may ultimately be transformed into Process Portals, or sites that not only centralize web services meta-data, but host a set of custom-designed super-services and composite applications as well as the visual authoring tools needed to create them.

Virtual Offices for Smaller Companies

PortalsMag writes: “Let’s take a look at a virtual office built out of the following elements: Webmail; IM; personal calendars; an online group; and a home page to serve as a lightweight portal to aggregate these and other services. The goal of the office is to provide a basic (and free) communications and collaboration platform for geographically separated employees.”

Web 2.0

Anil Dash points to a rant by Dan on the Web 2.0 definition in Wikipedia. “It’s not the technology that wows people, it’s getting music recommendations or notification of when friends are hitting town or building ad hoc communities around the shared goal of learning to forgive. Real stuff, that people can relate to. Let’s make sure we keep that in mind.”

Next-Generation Dynamic HTML

Jon Udell writes about the use of Ajax technologies (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) for powerful UIs:

et’s focus on how this technology can deliver the kinds of dashboard views that make hearts flutter in the enterprise. Until recently, I’ve used a couple of bookmarklets to gauge reaction to my InfoWorld articles, based on the list of bookmarks pointing to an article and the Bloglines summary of citations. Now, instead, I have a Greasemonkey script that counts these things and injects the counts into the InfoWorld pages I read.

You’d think these extra requests would slow things down. But because they’re asynchronous, they don’t. The script just fires off requests. When (or if) answers come back, it interpolates them into the page. Two components make this possible. One is the scriptable DOM, which enables in-situ alteration of Web pages. The other is the XMLHttpRequest object, which is now available in all the major browsers and which supports asynchronous interaction with remote services.

Combine the two and you get a powerful system for delivering real-time alerts in the context of Web pages. AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) is the new name for this strategy, but it’s an old idea, and XML is optional. At its core, this is about Web pages that communicate autonomously and update themselves dynamically. You’ll soon see a lot more of these, and you may well find yourself creating some, too.

TECH TALK: Good Books: The Daily Drucker

Summer is a time of intense heat across much of India. In places like Mumbai, the humidity makes it even more unbearable outside the comforts of ones home or office. With kids having vacations and airlines offering great deals for travelling outside India (round-trip fares from Mumbai to Singapore are available for as little as Rs 10,000), summers are good times for taking off. If, like me, you cannot do that, then we have the next best alternative: read a few good books! They will take the mind away from the heat outside and provide some interesting food for thought.

My first recommendation is The Daily Drucker. As the sub-title says, it is 366 days of insight and motivation for getting the right things done. Drucker is one of those few people (Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger are others) whose every word is filled with deep meaning and requires careful consideration. Through his life, Drucker has authored over 35 books. This book compiles the best of Druckers writings in easy-to-absorb capsules. Each thought is punctuated with an action point.

Consider for example the entry for April 18. It is entitled: Decision Steps for Picking People. Drucker says that the most important thing is that the person and the assignment fit each other. He writes:

General George C. Marshall followed Five Simple Decision Steps in making people decisions. First, Marshall carefully thought about the assignment. Job descriptions may last a long time, but job assignments change all the time. Second, Marshall always looked at several qualified people. Formal qualifications, such as those listed in a resume, are no more than a starting point. Their absence disqualifies a candidate. However, the most important thing is that the person and assignment fit each other. To find the best fit, you need to consider at least three to five candidates. Third, Marshall studied the performance records of all three to five candidates to find what each did well. He looked at the candidates strengths. The things a person cannot do are of little importance; instead, you must concentrate on the things they can do and determine whether they are the right strengths for this particular assignment. Performance can only be built on strengths. Fourth, Marshall discussed the candidates with others who worked with them. The best information often comes through informal discussions with a candidates former bosses and colleagues. And fifth, once the decision was made, Marshall made sure the appointee understood the assignment. Perhaps the best way to do this is to ask the new person to carefully think over what they have to do to be a success, and then, ninety days into the job, have the person to commit it to writing.

Druckers suggested action point for the day: Follow these five decision steps when hiring someone. Understand the job, consider three to five people, study candidates performance records to find their strengths, talk to the candidates colleagues about them, and once hired, explain the assignment to the new employees.

Tomorrow: The Daily Drucker (continued)

Continue reading