Let It Be

Archive for the category “Life”

Breaking Bad : The Real Walter White

When AMC’s Breaking Bad premiered in 2008, one of Alabama’s most successful meth cooks was already knee deep in building a massive meth empire. His name? Walter White. In this video, Walter tells us the secret behind his product, how he stacked up thousands of dollars per day, and why his partner is now serving two life sentences.


Meet this Bill from Microsoft.

Meet Bill Thies , who’s products have a way of bridging the digital divide in rural areas.

He collected a clutch of degrees from MIT, completed his Ph.D. in Computer Science in 2009, began his career programming languages and compilers for multi-core processors and micro-fluidic chips, and joined Microsoft as a researcher in the Technologies for Emerging Markets Group. Here Bill Thies found his calling. His technology products have a way of leaning towards bridging the digital divide in rural areas, bringing life-needs like education and healthcare within the reach of people deprived of it, helping the less empowered face life with confidence, using only the cell phone as a weapon. He describes his work as “building Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) that contribute to the socio-economic development of low-income communities — Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D).” Not surprisingly, his neatly-organised one-page digital mantelpiece is crammed with awards and citations.

A short-list of his — and his team’s — work: Interactive voice response (IVR) Junction that enables anyone with a basic mobile phone to participate in social media like Facebook, YouTube and the like. CGNet Swara, a voice portal for citizen journalism in rural India. A low-cost system for audience polling that uses computer vision and printed cards instead of electronic “clickers”. A project with Operation ASHA and Innovators in Health, on using biometrics to improve adherence to tuberculosis medications. Studies on how people respond to human-computer interaction and mobile crowdsourcing. Co-organising DataDev 2012 — the international workshop on mobile data collection in the developing realm. Teaching a course on building mobile services for emerging markets. Among projects in the pipeline is VidWiki, a system that makes it easy to translate videos into local languages (say, for online education) into a style called TypeRighting.

I ask Bill of his switch from core-tech to developing apps, primarily to help urban and rural disadvantaged groups. “I’ve always wanted to work on projects that could have a large social impact,” he says. Upon graduating, he decided to get closer to low-income communities in the developing countries, “to see if there was a role for technology to contribute to their health, education and well-being.” He had tech skills, he would train them towards projects meant “to address the most pressing problems” of the marginalised. He felt India was the place for him to match his skills with his dream.

In Bengaluru, the Microsoft office provides him with resources/equipment/personnel; walking outside, he can interact with people with limited literacy, “with people who have never touched a computer before”. Having both realms close-by presents opportunities to develop technology for social benefit quickly.

India, to him, is much more than a cold platform to practise his skills for the benefit of “low-income populations”. “I enjoy living and working in India. There is tremendous energy, diversity. I’m learning something new everyday. And as a vegetarian, I love the food as well!”

It is rewarding that his tech-apps help disenfranchised people in remote places, but what is truly heartening to him is how they “invent creative ways to use the tools”. The voice-forum where callers in rural areas can share cultural content, to his surprise, “found a large uptake amongst the visually-impaired populations… they testified this was the first medium where they could express themselves and people would listen”. He landed here hoping to stay for three to five years, but now has no plans to leave. India has become very special for this young techie. Apart from greatly enjoying his work, he found his wife here. “In fact, I got married to the girl in the office next to mine!”


This article first appeared on Nov, 21 on The Hindu. Its was written by Geeta Padmanabhan. 

How The Economic Machine Works

How The Economic Machine Works by Ray Dalio.

‘What I want my…

‘What I want my alphabet to convey to the reader is the sensation that children feel in front of books they cannot yet understand.’

— Luigi Serafini

The Quantum Indians : S. N. Bose, C.V. Raman and Meghnad Saha

The story of how did they overcome colonialism, British rule, racism, inadequate funding and limited resources to place India at the cutting edge of World Science more than 20 years before Independence?

Why shouldn’t I work for the NSA? I’m Holding Out For Something Better.

A fantastic scene from Good Will Hunting. The film got it right way back in 1997. If you haven’t watched the film yet, a little more description might act as a Spoiler!

Q&A With Binay Pattanayak, UNICEF India Education Specialist, Jharkhand, India


“The greatest present challenge in the Indian education system involves enabling teachers and parents to be mindful of how children learn.”

What’s home life like?  

My home is interesting. My wife Sagarika, a doctor, and I live with our two children Vivek, 12 and Vedika, 5. Vivek and Vedika run our home, we cooperate in executing their plans. They run a monthly home newspaper ‘Parakh’, develop various audio-visual materials, and conduct a wide range of hands on activities. Now, Vivek and Vedika are watching and documenting a spider nest. This project has gone on for nearly a month since the mother spider laid eggs. Yesterday they hatched and hundreds of wonderful spider babies have started moving around! We have moved around with our children to various places. Vivek and Vedika are very curious and keep us busy.

Most of our time at home and outside is spent discussing our plans and experiences. We eat together, chat together and end our days with happy thoughts!

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had in your office?

We have Mango eating competitions on summer days! I enjoy the expressions of everyone involved!

Why did you want to work with UNICEF?

My life has made me a good friend of children, teachers and parents. One day I discovered that here is a dedicated organization for children. My interests and abilities were appreciated and I was selected as a staff. Prior to this, I worked as Chief Consultant (Pedagogy) to The Ministry of Education, Government of India, for quality improvement in education. I nurtured teams in every state and guided them through curriculum renewal. Today I am applying that rich experience in the field to making a difference in the lives of millions of children. UNICEF provides a great platform.

What is the most memorable place you’ve traveled with UNICEF?

While working with the India Country Office of UNICEF New Delhi, I got a chance to take part in an International Workshop in Kerala on ‘Emerging Critical Perspectives of Curriculum and School Practices’ which was facilitated by Prof. Michael Apple. It was a wonderful learning experience.

How do you spend your free time?

The mysteries of nature, creativity, and scientists’ query for knowledge fascinate me. I always get back to these activities through field visits, exploratory activities with children, interaction with traditional artists and interaction with scientists. My family also is equally curious. We all move around and explore on the weekends.

What’s the hardest project you’ve ever worked on?

Jharkhand is a highly multi-lingual state. More than 30% of children drop out of school at class 1 stage. The medium of instruction remains Hindi. Textbooks are printed in Hindi. Teachers are trained for Hindi based teaching from class 1.

To understand this issue, we supported a socio-linguistic survey in all the districts. It was a hard project! Many in the system never thought that children’s mother languages had anything to do with their learning. The survey showed that 96% of children have different home languages. The study clearly depicted language disadvantages for non-native Hindi speaking children at class 1-2 stage. This turned out to be an eye-opener.

What do you miss most about being a kid?

Curiosity. Exploring nature. I was brought up in the hills. I had many tribal friends, each of whom was better than me in some skill or another. It gave me a great opportunity to learn new things. They were superb – active, creative, adventurous, skillful all-rounders! Today many of them are nowhere! Our education system did not appreciate their unique potential, nurture their talents and pushed them out through the narrow-minded examination system. I miss those champions who contributed enormously to my holistic development.

Today, I have taken up the agenda to make a difference in the system so that it relearns to respect every child, irrespective of her or his background!

What qualities are most needed to be successful in your job?  

UNICEF is a rights based organization using result based management. We believe in SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. Hence a staff needs to possess some core competencies such as communication, working with people and a strong drive for results.

We need to possess functional competencies such as leading and supervising, formulating strategies, analyzing, relating, networking, initiating action and applying technical abilities.

If you had an extra day per week, how would you spend it?

Conduct nature camps for children. Nature camps are a great tool for peace, happiness and progress. Nature provides you many things through its mysteries and diversities.

What have been the biggest frustrations in your career and how have you dealt with them?

I am a very happy person.

What’s one of the biggest risks you’ve ever taken in your life?

I resigned from government service the year my father retired as a teacher. I joined the peoples’ science movement. Financially we had a difficult time. I was a bit emotional, then. However, this turned out to be the best learning phase in my life. I discovered India and her many challenges and possibilities! It was a risk, but a wise decision!

What is the biggest advantage to work for such an organization?

People recognize UNICEF. That helps in a big way.

What’s the most scared you’ve ever been?

There was a time, when I had 52 snakes, 26 poisonous, at home. On a couple of occasions I was bitten by snakes while catching them. We ran a center for science, education and development for children, who really enjoyed time with these animals.

If you could give one piece of advice to everyone reading this, what would it be?

Read Richard Bach’s ‘Jonathon Livingstone Seagull’.

What was the most challenging moment?

The greatest present challenge in the Indian education system involves enabling teachers and parents to be mindful of ‘how children learn’. Old colonial baggage weighs on many. Some in the system see children as empty slates … empty vessels … in need to disciplined … girls are weak in mathematics … tribal children are not good at their studies … children with disability cannot be managed … tribal languages are inferior. Similarly, some believe teachers are the centers of knowledge and can ‘impart’ knowledge. Rote learning is essential and without pass/fail in examinations children cannot learn.

These thoughts and practices can be dangerous! Generations of students have struggled with rote-learning-based pedagogical processes.

A new curriculum framework, launched in 2005, that is based on learning theories that promote child-friendly, child-centered learning processes through democratic, inclusive and cooperative principles as committed to by Preamble of Indian Constitution. It urges every teacher and parent in the country to look at the child, her/his unique potential, background, previous knowledge, interest, pace of learning, abilities and learning styles. It also clearly defines how the school and teacher need to develop appropriate learning environment to facilitate holistic development of every child irrespective of her background.

Strategy is Not a To Do List , It drives a To Do List.

I had breakfast with two of my ex-students from Singapore who were building a really interesting startup. They were deep into Customer Discovery and presented a ton of customer data on the validity of their initial hypothesis – target customers, pricing, stickiness, etc.  I was unprepared for what they said next. “We’re going to do a big launch of our product in three weeks.”  I almost dropped my coffee. “Wait a minute, what about the rest of Customer Development? Aren’t you going to validate your hypotheses by first getting some customers?”

Without any sense of irony they said, “Oh, our investors convinced us to skip that part, because our customer feedback was all over the map and our schedule showed us launching in three weeks and they were worried that we’d run out of cash. They told us to stay on schedule.”  Now I was confused, and I asked, “Well what do you guys believe – Customer Development or launch on a schedule?” Without missing a beat they said, “Oh, we believe both are right.”

I realized I was listening to them treat Customer Development as an item on their
To Do list.

Suddenly, I had a massive case of déjà vu.

Can You Pull This Off
I was VP of marketing at Ardent, a supercomputer company where a year earlier I had a painful and permanent lesson about Customer Discovery. I was smart, aggressive, young and a very tactical marketer who really hadn’t a clue about what strategy actually meant.

One day the CEO called me into his office and asked, “Steve I’ve been thinking about this as our strategy going forward. What do you think?” And he proceeded to lay out a fairly complex and innovative sales and marketing strategy for our next 18 months.  “Yeah, that sounds great,” I said. He nodded and then offered up, “Well what do you think of this other strategy?” I listened intently as he spun an equally complex alternative strategy. “Can you pull both of these off?” he asked looking right at me.  By the angelic look on his face I should have known that I was being set up. I replied naively, “Sure, I’ll get right on it.”

25 years later I still remember what happened next. All of sudden the air temperature in the room dropped by about 40 degrees.  Out of nowhere the CEO started screaming at me, “You stupid x?!x. These strategies are mutually exclusive. Executing both of them would put us out of business.  You don’t have a clue about what the purpose of marketing is because all you are doing is executing a series of tasks like they’re like a big To Do list. Without understanding why you’re doing them, you’re dangerous as the VP of Marketing, in fact you’re just a glorified head of marketing communications.”

I left in daze angry and confused. There was no doubt my boss was a jerk, but unlike the other time I got my butt kicked, I didn’t immediately understand the point. I was a great marketer. I was getting feedback from customers, and I’d pass on every list of what customers wanted to engineering and tell them that’s the features our customers needed. I could implement any marketing plan sales handed to me regardless of how complex. In fact I was implementing three different ones. Oh…hmm… perhaps I was missing something.

I was doing a lot of marketing “things” but why was I doing them?  I had approached my activities as simply as a task-list to get through. With my tail between my legs I was left to ponder; what was the function of marketing in a startup?

Strategy is Not a To Do List, It Drives a To Do List
It took me awhile, but I began to realize that the strategic part of my job was two-fold. First, (in today’s jargon) we were still searching for a scalable and repeatable business model. My job was to test our hypotheses about who were potential customers, what problems they had and what their needs were. Second, when we found these customers, marketing’s job was to put together the tactical marketing programs (ads, pr, tradeshows, white papers, data sheets) to drive end user demand into our direct sales channel and to educate our channel about how to sell our product.

Once I understood the strategy, the To Do list became clear. It allowed me to prioritize what I did, when I did it and instantly understand what would be mutually exclusive.

Good Luck and Thanks For the Fish
My students were going through the motions of Customer Development rather than understanding the purpose behind it. It was trendy, they had read my book and to them it was just another step on the list of things they had to do. They had no deep understanding of why they were doing it.  So they were at a crossroads. Since their investors had asked them to launch now, what happened if their initial assumptions were wrong?

As they left I hoped they would be really lucky.

The author of this article is Steve Blank and it first appeared on

Remember When Stores Couldn’t Track You Within the Store?

I can see it coming. *runs*


I met a traveler from an antique land who said, “I read an article in the New York Times about how stores are now using their unwitting customers’ cell phone signals to track their movements within the store.”sweet ride

I can picture it now.  A major retailer is having its mid-July meeting, and the Director of Sales is going over old and new business.

“All right, let’s see where we are.  Winston, are all the school supplies on the shelves?”

“Yes sir.  As of 11:59 on the night of July 4th we started putting out the pens and pencils and notebooks of every size, shape, and cover material.”

“Good.  And when is the Christmas merchandise going out?”

“We’re aiming for middle of next week, sir.”

“Excellent.  Okay.  Now, on to new business.  I believe you were going to prepare a presentation for us on the new technology that allows us to…

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In May 2012, Alex Knapp at Forbes published an article criticizing the Nikola Tesla comic on The Oatmeal This was the latter’s response. Nikola Goddamn Tesla!

In May 2012, Alex Knapp at Forbes published an article criticizing the Nikola Tesla comic on The Oatmeal This was the latter’s response. Nikola Goddamn Tesla!

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