Category Archives: Ephemera

Miscellaneous items.

When Facebook tries to stalk your business

Every couple of weeks I get email from Facebook along these lines:


Yup, Facebook is stalking me.

In its remorseless scanning of everyone’s private information, Facebook has figured out a personal phone number for me, and now it is “helpfully” trying to make that a public piece of information by associating it with my company instead.

And it’s not just phone numbers: Facebook tries repeatedly to associate my home address with my company’s page as well, because, you know, it would suck if any part of the Internet were “inaccurate or out of date.”

I guess I should feel flattered that I am as worthy of stalking as the best B-list celebrity, but there’s also the incompetence common to any creep who thinks he can safely hide in the bushes.

Clicking through on the “Review Page Info” link always lands me on an dead-end page:


Let’s all sing along…

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now,

It’s just a spring clean for the May queen.

Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run

There’s still time to change the road you’re on.

And it makes me wonder.

By the way, I learned to program in 1978, so I can tell by now when someone writes crappy code. Facebook does.

AdBlock was messing up our website (even though we don’t serve ads!)

We discovered recently, to our considerable annoyance, that it is possible for AdBlock to mess up our website in a really serious way, even though we don’t serve up any advertisements of any sort (and never have.)

Here’s what was happening: when you use AdBlock, you have the option to add various lists of advertising sources. (You can find them here.)

One of these lists is from someone called fanboy.

If you subscribed to fanboy’s EasyList, for example, Kerika’s sign up page would not display the buttons for Kerika+Google and Kerika+Box:

AdBlock problems
AdBlock problems

(The same problem showed upon the Login page as well.)

It turns out that the EasyList filter uses JavaScript classes called social-media-header’ and social-media-button,  social-button and soc-button which were also the names of classes that Kerika was using.

The conflict caused Kerika’s signup and login buttons for Kerika+Google and Kerika+Box to not appear for Chrome and Firefox users who had AdBlock installed.

It took a while to figure out this was the cause.  We are not fans of fanboy.

Off-topic, but fantastic: Meet Bill Sowry

OK, so this has nothing to do with Kerika, Lean, Agile or even software for that matter, but this is a great story that we can’t help but share with the world…

Bill Sowry is a Brigadier with the Australian Army, currently posted as Defense Attache in London.

He is 53 years old. And very fit. (This bit is important.)

Bill Sowry
Bill Sowry

Many years ago, he had a tour of duty in India: he joined a long tradition of Australian officers who were selected for specialized training at the Indian Army’s Defense Services Staff College, where his local “sponsor” officer was another up-and-coming officer: Major Mohit Whig of the 2/5 Gorkha Rifles.

Here’s what they looked like back then:

Mohit Whig & Bill Sowry
Mohit Whig & Bill Sowry

Bill had a great time in India and loved the time he spent with the Whig family — Mohit’s cheerful, amiable personality had survived years of front-line action in Sri Lanka, the Indian North-East, and Kashmir.

And Bill retained a fondness for India long after leaving its shores — as he said, “you can take the man out of India, but you can’t take India out of the man.”

Bill and Mohit's family
Bill’s family, Mohit’s family, and friends


In 1997, Mohit was killed by an IED in Kashmir: false information was fed to his unit that led to troops being sent into an ambush

Mohit was never one to “lead from behind”. His unarmored Jonga was at the head of the convoy and was blown up by a bomb.

When Mohit died, he left behind a widow and two young sons, one of whom was born with severe spina bifida, which has left him disabled for life.

And there the story might have ended.

OK, so some soldiers go on a mission in insurgent country. They get blown up. Happens all the time. No big deal.

But it didn’t, because Bill is not an ordinary soldier…

A couple of years ago, using Facebook he was able to get back in touch with Mohit’s family (Thanks, Mark Z!)  and learned that Mohit’s younger son needed some critical rehab treatment to give him more independence, especially as he grew to maturity.

This treatment was expensive (£25,000) and unavailable in India, so Bill resolved to raise money for sending Mohit’s son to Australia for rehab.

And he is doing this in a truly spectacular way: a minimum of 4 pushups for every Km. of the Tour de France.

Bill has already over 15,300 pushups over 3 weeks — yes, that’s hundreds of pushups each day!

OK, remember that bit about Bill being 53 years old?

Bill is raising money using the JustGiving site: he has 4 days to go, and a final £5,000 to raise in order to meet his goal.

We have been thrilled to help Bill, and invite you to help him get to the goal line!


Off-topic: Should you go to college at 16?

Note: this post is off-topic; it has nothing to do with Kerika, Lean, Agile or even software…

After a couple of years of lurking on Quora, I finally decided to contribute; here’s my (slightly edited) answer to the question What are the benefits of going to college at 16?

In my experience, the benefits of going to college at 16 are outweighed by the disadvantages. I finished high school in India at 16 and had to make the critical decision of what to study next, and where.

Pretty much by accident I ended up studying Physics at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi: Physics had been my favorite subject at school, and I assumed that at college I should simply study more of whatever had been my favorite subject at school, because that’s what it meant to pick a major.

(Although the IITs were already well known, I was actually completely ignorant of their existence, which says something about the unusually cloistered nature of my high school education. I happened to meet the head of the Physics Dept at IIT Delhi who encouraged me to take the entrance exam. I crammed for 3 months for the exam, got admitted, and never even applied elsewhere. Big Mistake #1.)

Looking back, almost every aspect of this decision was ill-considered:

  • College is actually a different chapter in your life, not a more focused continuation of  school. I discovered that just because Physics was my favorite subject at school, I had no real desire to make it my career, nor the talent to be in the first rank of scientists.
  • You cannot pick a school by reputation alone; you need to have a savvy understanding of your own needs and see what the overall college experience can bring you that you need most for your personal development.  After I got admitted to IIT Delhi, I was persuaded by friends that I had already won the lottery of life, and so I never even considered other colleges.
  • At 16, I had just finished eleven (!) years of boarding school life and it turned out that I really didn’t know how to work well with people from more mainstream backgrounds. By going from an “elite” boarding school to an “elite” college, I did myself no favors.

And so after 3 years at IIT Delhi I learned that

  • I really needed to explore a wider range of subjects than the very narrowly focused curriculum at the IITs would support. (It was as essential to read Bertrand Russell as to learn thermodynamics.)
  • I had no real experience or skill in dealing with “ordinary” folks from ordinary, middle-class backgrounds, and was lacking some critical skills in that respect.
  • I really liked computers far more than Physics or any other subject. (An introductory class on FORTRAN IV did the trick.)

I ended up quitting IIT Delhi to study at Washington State University and considered it one of the smartest moves I ever made, but it was a move I made at 19 when I was finally old enough to understand myself.

(And quitting IIT Delhi turned out to be a bizarre experience in itself: they had no expectation that anyone would ever want to leave, since getting in was so hard in the first place, and hence no idea how to deal with my request to exit. I think they finally struck me off the rolls for cutting classes, a couple of years I had already moved to the U.S. By then I had given up trying to explain to them that I really did want to leave.)

If you are 16 and done with school, don’t go to college. Do a bunch of different activities, read, paint, travel, meet people, explore ideas,  and, most importantly, take the time you need to understand yourself better before you go off to college a year.

LinkedIn endorsements: revisiting the long tail

Eleven months ago, somewhat bemused by the surprising number and variety of LinkedIn endorsements I was getting, I wrote a blog post graphing the “long tail” of these endorsements:

Arun Kumar's LinkedIn endorsements
LinkedIn endorsements (August 2013)

At that time, I was astonished to find that I had a total of 251 endorsements across 35 categories of skills!

I was fairly certain I had maxed out, and was sure that the entire practice of LinkedIn endorsements would die out altogether since I felt the currency had become already become devalued: LinkedIn was aggressively suggesting endorsements to all users, pretty much every time they logged into the site, and this was creating an inflationary bubble.

So, 11 months later, what does the picture look like?

LinkedIn endorsements (July 2014)
LinkedIn endorsements (July 2014)

What had previously seemed an unrealistic set of numbers (251 endorsements across 35 categories), is now 411 endorsements across 50 categories.

The tail is even longer, as you can see: 10 categories where I have 1 endorsement only in each category, and 15 categories where I have just 2 endorsements each.

Last year, the top 5 categories represented 55% of all my endorsements; this year, the top 5 categories represent 50% of all my endorsements — more proof that the tail is flattening and lengthening.

And in my previous post, I had argued that LinkedIn was hair-splitting: too many categories sounded like they were the same.

This year, the effect seems even more pronounced; here are categories that I would recommend be collapsed together to provide a more coherent picture of a person’s skills:

  • Entrepreneurship, Board of Directors, Board of Directors Experience (really?), Startups together as “Entrepreneurship”, because all of that relates to the startup world.
  • Cloud Computing, Scalability, SaaS together as “Cloud” because all that relates to, well, cloud.
  • Online Marketing, Go-to-market Strategy, Competitive Analysis, SEO, Product Management: all this is part of “Marketing”.
  • Program Management, Project Management, Software Project Management, IT Management, PMO, SDLC together as “Program Management”.
  • Strategy, Strategic Planning, Management Consulting, Consulting together as Strategy.
  • Enterprise Software, Integration, Outsourcing together under something I would prefer to call “Big Company IT”.
  • Management, Executive Management, Team Leadership, Cross-functional Team Leadership, Leadership, Communication Skills all are part of “Leadership”.
  • Business Process, Process Improvement and Business Process Automation could be just “Business Processes”.
  • Analytics and Business Intelligence could be together.
  • Acquisitions and Mergers & Acquisitions should certainly be together!

If I normalized this data, it would look like this:

Normalized LinkedIn Endorsements
Normalized LinkedIn Endorsements

Now my top 5 categories account for 66% of all my endorsements, which would give you a much sense of my skills!

Maybe I should award myself an extra endorsement for “Analytics”?


LinkedIn endorsements: a devaluing currency with a long tail.

LinkedIn’s “endorsements” feature was an interesting innovation when it first came out, last year, but the way it has been implemented isn’t great, and it runs the risk of becoming a devalued currency.

LinkedIn is too aggressive in soliciting endorsements. With old-fashioned recommendations, you had to do some work – and, more importantly, your best contacts had to do even more work – in order to get a written recommendation.

LinkedIn takes away all of that work by throwing up a splash screen whenever you log in to their site that very persistently solicits endorsements on behalf of everyone you know. First you are prompted to endorse 4 people, and if you do that, you are again prompted to endorse another 4 people. And so on, ad infinitum. It’s like being trapped in an infinite loop: even after you have endorsed a contact for a few skills, you are asked if that person has yet more skills.

It’s one thing to make a feature accessible and easy to use; quite another to push it down everyone’s throat, devaluing your currency in the process.

The other, more subtle problem with LinkedIn’s endorsements is that the data appear highly structured but are, in fact, not really normalized. Take a look at this graph which shows the endorsements given to Kerika’s CEO (Arun Kumar):

Arun Kumar's LinkedIn endorsements
Arun Kumar’s LinkedIn endorsements

The long tail is immediately apparent: of the 35 categories of skills representing a total of 251 endorsements, the top 5 skills provide 55% of all endorsements.

The long tail of LinkedIn endorsements
The long tail of LinkedIn endorsements

Several categories could be combined quite easily: for example, Board of Directors and Board of Directors Experience are surely the same thing?

What should we do with this long tail: a tail that grows longer by the week?


Facebook Home on Android: a great way to monetize the addicts

In many industries, a small proportion of the users will consume a disproportionate amount of the product, and will provide the vast bulk of a company’s profit.

This is true in the beer business for example: the beer companies have long known that a small percentage of their customers will drink a vast amount of beer every day. (This factoid used to be a staple of marketing classes in the 1980s, when it was offered as an example of the 80:20 rule — 20% of the consumers will drink 80% of the beer. Which actually amounts to about a case of beer a day…)

It is also true for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) businesses: Forbes reported in 2011, for example, that just 4% of Dropbox’s users pay for the service, and yet Dropbox is a growing, profitable company! The other 96% contribute indirectly, by adding to the network effect and recruiting others who have a 4% probability of becoming a paid-up subscriber of Dropbox.

These percentages can seem small, but they can quickly add up when you have millions of users.

Facebook has a similar profile of users: a small number of people are logged in obsessively, and these will provide the bulk of their advertising revenues — not just because they are more like to see the advertisements, but because they are more likely to view Facebook as a trusted source of useful content.

In this context, creating Facebook Home on Android makes a lot of sense: it doesn’t matter whether a very large proportion of your user base never uses it, if you can get the addicted segment to be logged in all the time. These people will drink all the beer you are selling.

Kerika isn’t written in Indonesian. (And Google Docs isn’t in Vietnamese either…)

An odd problem that we cannot quite figure out: every once in a while Google’s Chrome browser will tell the user that the application is written in Indonesian, and then offer to do a translation.

We cannot figure out what’s going on with this: all of the code is written in Javascript and Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), so why would Chrome consider it to be an Indonesian page?

The problem must lie with Google Chrome itself: now, we are noticing that it will sometimes report that Google Docs is written in Vietnamese, as this screenshot shows!

When techies turn libertarian, neither Democrats nor Republicans will win

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page contains a bemusing article called Keeping the Spirit of Steve Jobs Alive that concludes that

Thanks to Washington, the liberal politics of Silicon Valley may now be tilting toward the libertarian right.

The WSJ is, of course, a Republican mouthpiece, which probably explains the writer’s smug assumption that when techies turn libertarian, they will all start voting Republican, which is absurd on two counts:

  • It is based upon what is essentially “non-news” in the first place: many techies have long tilted libertarian in their political views because of the very nature of their profession: information technology itself is based upon the free flow of information, so respect for the First Amendment runs deep within the tech world, and the business itself is relentlessly meritocratic and brutally disruptive, which supports neither the collective approach of the left, nor the deference to authority of the right.
  • Libertarianism may be to the “right” of liberalism, but in its emphasis on personal liberty, it could just as easily be described as being to the “left” of conservatism. In any case, libertarianism forms a 3-D point with respect to classic liberalism and conservatism, so any mapping of a 3-D topography of political views to a 2-D spectrum will necessarily be misleading.

And because libertarianism confounds the simple soundbites and clear definition of the “enemy” that both Democrats and Republicans find convenient, neither party would really welcome libertarians in their midst.

If the WSJ had understood the difference between Republicans and libertarians (with a small “l”) in the first place, they would have noticed a long time ago that a lot of techies are social liberals and economic conservatives…