Post SAPPHIRE NOW musings

SAPPHIRE was way cool – one of the most well-organized ones, and I enjoyed it very much, despite the extreme sleep deprivation that I had to endure. In general, I was quite excited with SAP’s messaging, and analyst commentary. But as soon as I left the convention center, I started thinking more about the messages I heard at SAPPHIRE, and I think I am not as excited as I was a few days ago. It was a mixed bag. Please check my blog I posted when I was on my way to Orlando.

Let me start with Sybase. For one – SAP paid a huge premium for Sybase. The only reason I can think of is that SAP fears some one else like ORACLE or HP might be ready to buy Sybase, and in the process put roadblocks to SAP’s way forward on enterprise mobility. SAP claims to have figured out in-memory data bases even before Sybase story came out – and Sybase is nowhere near the top-tier of enterprise DB market. Even in SAP ecosystem, I think Oracle and DB2 have the lion share. So this is not going to help SAP rule the DB market. On Analytics – SAP has BOBJ, which is top of the line. So it is hard to imagine that they need more from Sybase. So mobility is the only reason that is worth SAP paying this premium. But why pay that much when Sybase is already a big partner, and is committed to building SAP specific solutions? 

Where this makes it confusing for me is that on one hand – SAP swears that they are committed to all the partners having an open level playing field. On the other hand – if a client gets a mobility pitch from a partner and Sybase tomorrow – which one will they choose? In today’s world – Sybase solutions are SAP CRM specific from what I know – and there are other partners that do other things. Post acquisition, I am pretty sure Sybase will become the de-facto standard.  This looks like a repeat of BOBJ story in analytics world – it is true that other BI partners can still sell to SAP customers, but what is the long-term value proposition for non SAP BOBJ vendors any more when they sell BI to primarily SAP shops? 

SAP cannot buy every company around – so of course they need partners to build things around their solutions. So I am not surprised that SAP reiterates its commitment to keeping it an open field for every one. But won’t partners now feel a constant fear that after they have invested in SAP solutions for a while, SAP will buy one of them – and leave others by the way side?

Now on to HANA and in-memory. I was super excited to hear that SAP is taking this route, and that they have something that customers can sign up for right away. On the flight back from Orlando, I posted these questions on my SAP blog and there has been some good discussion around it. .  Technical questions apart – SAP is a relative late entrant into this market. So calling it innovative is a stretch. Hasso had this idea a while ago. So what prevented this from getting productized for so long?

It was great to hear that Business By Design is finally ready for prime time. SAP also has a lot of side benefits due to this – they probably figured out how to scale with Agile, something that I am very keen to find out. Please check out the great discussion I had with Enterprise Geeks at .Another plus is the use of Silverlight, a Microsoft technology that I think is superior to all the SAP UI tools currently available. I am fully bought in on Vishal Sikka’s position that SAP has way too many UIs to use just one common tool.  but for all the good things – SAP leaders made a statement that sounded like “we do not have a firm target for growth of BBD “. Really? Would you just throw billion dollars at something that you have no real expectations for? Had to swallow that.

I just think it is plain funny when SAP talks about sustainability in these big events like SAPPHIRE. This is an event that makes such a lot of carbon emissions – high energy use for the many display gizmos, the jet setting executives, and many vendors and participants who fly to get there, and the massive air-conditioning that keeps participants alive in Orlando heat and humidity. Al Gore, Powell and the Virgin guy didn’t drive their hybrid cars to get to Orlando, did they? And did the SAP top guns fly commercial between Germany and US to appear at the concurrent events  or did they fly in private jets? So yeah – it is very hard for me to buy into the whole sustainability pitch. It sounds hollow .

SAP is clearly in the top bracket of companies who have figured out how to use social media to its advantage. SCN has 2 million members and the SAP mentor program (of which I am a part) provides excellent input to SAP for free. SAP has a blogger program – which I think pays T&E for bloggers to come to these events, but in no way forces these bloggers to let go of their objectivity.  And twitter helped several of us keep track of the massive event. That is extremely forward thinking and admirable. They are leading from the front – and other companies should watch and learn.

Finally, a couple of things on the leadership front. First and foremost – Hasso is still SAP’s superman. None of the others evoke the kind of passion he delivers. Bill and Jim are a perfect pairing – and I think SAP made a wise decision to do the Co-CEO thing again, especially with these two guys. And Vishal Sikka has all the qualities of a great tech visionary – and like the taste of good wine, his message gets more and more clear to people who follow SAP as time passes. I used to think John Schwarz was the next big leader at SAP – but I was wrong. he left, and probably took some of his trusted guys with him. Now with Sybase comes its CEO John Chen. He is an amazing leader – some one who successfully turned around Sybase and kept it growing despite a terrible economy. Will SAP manage to keep him and his team or will he too leave one day soon after the acquisition? I am very keen to see how that unfolds.

Software companies , Innovation and On-premise

You cannot walk on the street, or browse on internet, these days without some one screaming “innovation” on your face.  Software companies lead the pack here – not only do they use the word “innovation” ad-nauseum, they also take time to explain why their competition is not using “innovation”.

Read this excellent blog by Dennis Howlett . Dennis is known to give software companies, including SAP (He, I and Craig who is mentioned in the blog, are all SAP Mentors), a hard time on the incessant use of the word “innovation”. After reading his blog, I wanted to put in my 2 cents as well.

When do we call something innovative? I would think that, it is innovative when something changes for the better – in a significant fashion.

When you are working on a project – your aim is to make something better. But you don’t know if it is better or innovative, till your customer uses it and acknowledges it as better than status quo. So does that mean all projects are innovative? I would say no. It is an after the fact issue – a lagging indicator.

I don’t think it makes sense to say “I am working on an innovation project”. Every one is working on projects that can claim to be innovative – but only the ones that make a meaningful result at the end can claim to be innovative.

I read somewhere that Edison had to do few thousand prototypes before light bulb was invented. Do we say that Edison worked on 2000 innovation projects that failed? or do we give him credit for one great innovation?

So in my mind – I would consider it a total marketing buzzword till such time as software companies can say something like ” here is how this product was when it came out, here is what we changed 3 years ago, and over the last 3 years – our customers gained 20% cost benefits due to this. And we have several such cases which we can demonstrate value-add measured by independent sources.  This proves we are known for innovation, and you can trust us to make better and better stuff for you as time passes”.

A closing comment on “On Premise” – as in “On premise vs On demand”. I am told this die was cast and it won’t change – but doesn’t premise mean something like an assumption or a hypothesis? And hence shouldn’t these people start saying “On Premises” or even “On the premises” to denote a system that is local as opposed to, say somewhere on the cloud.  I am not a native english speaker, so I will gladly stand corrected if my premise is wrong 🙂 

So what do you think about this? I am very keen to hear your take on it.

South beach diet didn’t work for me, and neither did Agile development.

Normally, I would write this in my SCN blog – but this is not about just SAP projects, I am going to do it here. As always, these are strictly my personal opinions – not that of my employer.

Some of you have seen me  – at work, at some tech conference, dog show or at an airport. I doubt if “Agile” was the word that came to your mind when you met me. I could easily lose 20 pounds and have some one ask me “hey, why are you not doing something about your weight?”. You get the idea. I have tried many a weight loss / excercise plan – and have  come to the firm conclusion that the magic bullet for weight loss is to eat less of everything I like (Rice, red meat, fried food) and excercise more.

In parallel, I was going through a similar excercise at work – trying to find an optimum way of managing the projects I get to run. I have read and tried several different things over the years in a variety of projects. Over the last couple of years, I have been fascinated with Agile development and hence I have been reading, talking to others, and trying it out in teams I manage – and again, I have  come to the firm conclusion that, just like the various dieting schemes – Agile also does not work for me.

This is not to say Agile does not work for others . South beach diet must have worked for others, and I am sure Agile would too. For me – no sir, I will pass. That being said, let me explain why it does not work for me.

Would you pay an Agile contractor to build your deck?

I need a deck built, and I don’t know how to build one. So I hire some one else to do that. And this dude tells me he can do it one of two ways. 1. I can discuss with him on how a basic deck has to be built, and he can give me an estimate. Or 2. I can give him a rough idea, and he will start building the deck, and every day or two – he and I can get together to see how it is going and what changes I want, and I can pay him for work that he has done every day. Of course in the second option, he cannot tell me how much the deck will cost me or how long it will take him to build me one – but I can see progress every day. I don’t know about you – but I know what option I will go for.  Same thing with my clients – if the work and schedule are not predictable – it is hard for them to just pay as I go.

Global and Agile are like Oil and Water – They don’t mix.

I forgot the last time I had all the IT and Business guys and gals working in the same location.  Most often – we have people working on a project from all over the globe. It is seldom possible to get teams from Japan, India, Germany and US to be on a conference call. And even if you do – without a written document explaining the problem and/or solution – it is hard to get anything done. 

There are only so many super stars in this world

In any given team, the norm is to have a few super stars, several average performers and a few below average ones. This has a direct effect on pulling off delivery in an agile fashion. Not every one can go away with minimal instructions and come back with the right solution, and right questions to ask for next day. 

It can be argued that Agile needs less programmers, and hence you can keep just the super stars and let go of every one else. This argument works only if the scope is small.  The day still has only 24 hours – and even super stars  cannot work 24X7  all the time to get everything done.

Most projects do not have dedicated business users.

The whole idea of Agile is to get something back to business users faster than in a waterfall model, and keep them informed of progress frequently. This is very good – except it won’t happen in most projects. Most companies find it hard to dedicate full-time business people to a project. More often, business users have to do project work on the side. So – even if the tech  team wants constant face time , the chance of that working out is low.

A few product companies have tried out Agile successfully. However, in the couple of cases where I got a chance to talk to people from the team – it seems, the customer was almost never present in the scrum meetings. Instead, the product manager assumed the role of being the customer voice. If that is the case, I would have to wonder aloud “so what is new?”.  Product manager is not the one who has to live with the product after it is out – it is the customer.

What works for you –  people over process? or process over people?

This is what it boils down to – Agile manifest claims the superiority of people over process. And traditional waterfall puts process over people. For me – as a manager of big teams, with a deadline and budget that seldom cuts me any slack – I would trust a good process to compensate for the human errors most of the time. I think it is a high risk for me to trust that every one in the team will perform to the same high standards. Having a disciplined process helps me get the best out my team, despite not every one being a super star. 

Would you build a mission critical solution using Agile?

I don’t know – but I keep wondering if NASA would use Agile for designing systems for their next space mission? I somehow can’t see any application that is very important and deals with life and death, or dealing with large amounts of money – like air traffic control or stock market transactions –  to use Agile.

I hope every one knows about 3C. This was the big Chrysler project that was the poster child for XP (Extreme programming). Well, guess what – that didn’t quite work out. Check this out  or just google and you will find several interesting takes on it.

Building a car and building a software solution have similarities in design. However, there are significant differences too. Just as it is impossible to build a car without knowing what exactly needs to be built – we cannot build a good software solution without knowing what the heck we are building. Otherwise, even if you follow Toyota manufacturing Process to build a Camry – you could end up with a Chevy Malibu.

Is Agile really good for long-term stability of a solution?

Most software is built by first putting a framework in place, and then building on top of it. It is the rough equivalent of putting a good foundation for your house. If you know that you will have a house with 2 floors – you will probably put a certain amount of concrete in your foundation. Now that you have finished the house – and for some reason, you now want one more floor – would you put one more floor without also doing some additional foundation work? And if you build by constantly messing with your foundation – I am definitely not going to buy that house or rent it for living.  Same thing with software – the way sprints happen from what I have seen, I doubt if it is possible to put a solid foundation in place.

It is fun, but is that good enough for customer to pay?

One thing I really like about Agile is that every one involved in it usually has more fun than in a waterfall project. This improves team morale and all the good stuff – temporarily. When you cannot get user involvement, or if a blame game starts – where there is no documentation to go back and clarify what every one agreed to, this fun does not always last. And fun for the development team, while important in a project, is not the sole reason why some one pays for a solution.

Waterfall is not such a terrible thing to do, as its opponents make it to be. And it is a big exaggeration to say the team does a very long design up front, and that user gets to see things only at the end. That is not how most projects run. Waterfall can also have users involved more frequently. Also, you can build in plenty of  feedback options and test driven development in a waterfall project. Also there are very strong visualization tools that can give the users a taste of the solution very early in the process.  For example – iRise is a great tool to use for that. Do try it out, and your whole perspective will change. Also, once you have a good change control process established, changing requirements can be handled very effectively.

So, when do I think Agile would work?

Despite all these points above, I am not an extremist when I think of methodologies.  In my opinion, Agile is going through a hype cycle exactly like how it happened with SOA.  Once the hype died down a little, we mostly figured out what is possible with SOA and what is not. SOA is great for several use cases, and terrible for others. Same is the deal with Agile.  Just because Agile possibly has the issues I called out above, it should not be inferred that Agile should not be used. If you have a bunch of highly skilled people, where the team has a clear vision of the end product, and/or where time to market is not such a big deal – all these challenges will vanish. Such a team can probably come out with a great solution using Agile. But in the type of projects I am dealing with – I don’t think Agile can succeed. 

Rather than take an extreme view of either/or – it is probably best that we let individual projects decide the methodology they want to follow.

Woman geeks and their troubles

I don’t know what is the real definition of a geek. For that matter, I don’t know of a crisp definition for “nerd” either. When I hear “Geek” or “Nerd”, it  generally makes me think of the word “odd”.  I work for a consulting company, and I have a deep interest in technology. However, I certainly don’t think of myself as a geek or a nerd.  I have (and can be) called many things – but never a geek or nerd.

It is no secret that women are a definite minority in technology companies at all levels. I honestly do not know what causes it in a country like USA – especially in this day and age.  I have been working in US for about 10 years, and have worked for and with many women. And when I became a manager, I had women in my team. Not once have I seen anything that made me think they are any different from the men working alongside them  in the same team. 

My mom only studied till 10th grade, and she married my dad when she was 17.  She had me when she was 18. But, she was one of the first in her generation to drive a car and a motor bike, and was a succesful small business owner. My sister had a masters degree in commerce, and was an anchor in a popular regional channel. She moved to the US with her husband, and easily moved into a business analyst job. My wife is a civil engineer, and she is now studying computer networking, and is now aiming for her Cisco certification. Despite not knowing anything about computers – and being  one of two girls in her class, she has been consistently at the top of her college class. My aunt was a major in English literature, and decided to join Indian Police Service – and became the first woman from my state to do that.

The list goes on – and remember, these women are all from India, where social progress has been a lot less compared to US and other developed countries.  So if they can do this successfully, why would this be hard for women in general, and for women in developed countries in particular?  Beats me .

Recently, there was a survey that I saw which showed sharp difference between the pay for men and women in the technology I specialize in. This made me all the more curious as to why such disparity exists. I have been reading about this, and talking with others (both men and women) about this.  And then yesterday, a very accomplished lady pointed me to via twitter . 

Admittedly, the first picture that comes to mind when I hear the term “geek” is not that of a woman – it is that of a T-shirt and Jeans wearing guy, usually sporting glasses.  So , I have some difficulty thinking of women as geeks – thanks to how my mind has been conditioned all these years. I read through a lot of postings in that site – and have been fascinated at how women view themselves and their challenges. It was quite an eye opener – since this was totally not how I thought about the issues. 

Before I read this blog, I did not exactly realize that women in technology felt like they had to work twice as hard to prove themselves. In multiple posts there was the idea ” I want to be feminine – wear a nice dress, heels and make up, but if I do that – men think I am craving their attention, and they won’t take me seriously at my work”.  

This makes sense. Sure, if a girl is attractive, guys will look at her more than they will look at a less attractive girl. But this is true in reverse too – there are also some guys , who attract the attention of  a lot of female colleagues.  And this causes some halo effect for sure. If you like something about a person, you will extend that liking to other things that person does.  This is true for dislikes too.  So yes – I can believe that some of that halo should be affecting how work is perceived by others. 

However, I think this problem exists for any kind of minority situation. If I am the only chinese guy in a team of Indians, I will stand out. Question is – what do I do about it. I definitely will have to try harder and be more creative and smarter than the Indians in this example, if I were to succeed.  And come to think of it – most of  us have something that puts us in a minority.

Geeks feel that there are way too many suits in this world, and that is why their career does not go anywhere. Women think that there are too many men in the organization, and hence they have to work twice as hard for same benefits. I think that there are way too many professional dog handlers in US, that an amateur owner handler like me have no chance of winning a dog show.  Have you read the results of horse races – no horse in history has ever lost a race because it was slow. The horse always loses because  of  the wrong turf, bad handicap, inexperienced jockey, or a million other things – but never because it was slow. You get the drift – the only way out is to try harder. If you stand there with a lemon in your hand – nothing changes, and you still have a lemon. You squeeze it hard, and you can potentially have some lemonade.  There are plenty of examples around us to get us inspired – so it is not fiction, it has been, and can be done.

Another theme in the blog that picked my interest was about low presence of women speakers at tech conferences. This is also probably true, since I have presented at many events and have hardly seen many women speakers. But I keep wondering what is the cause.  Is it because less women apply? or is it because many women apply, but the guys picking speakers ignore many of them? or is it because women do not get funding from their companies to go present at conferences? From my personal experience, I have noticed that very few of my female colleagues have an interest in public speaking. There are a few who like it, and they present frequently at tech conferences. Similarly – in any of my employers till date, I have never seen any one being refused funding because of their gender . In fact, many male managers I know , within and outside my employer – including me, actively encourage  female employees to present at conferences. But of course this is not a large enough sample to derive any good conclusions.

And it is not all men who are making it hard for the woman geek. I think there are some women techies out there who do not think very high of other women techies. I recently asked a woman techie  that I know, about the glass ceiling, and pointed out to her several succesful senior women execs who seemed to be not affected by it. The answer stunned me “Did you notice that they are mostly blondes and have model like  figures” !!!

Who let the dogs out?

Any one who knows me know how crazy I am about dogs – training them, playing with them, and taking them to dog shows. In college, my ambition was to become a handler full-time.  I have lost count of how many times I have sneaked out of lectures and labs to go to dog shows all over India. Almost every one in my family thought that I will drop out of college and ” go to dogs”.  Well,  that did not happen – thanks to my dad’s cousin.

Uncle R was a retired business man – and an international all breeds judge.  He talked me out of my plan. His point was “Finish your engineering degree and get a job – you will be able to buy better dogs that way”. It was not easy, but I was convinced. So I finished my degree, went on to do my MBA and got a job. Next thing I know, I got assigned to USA . First thing I did before I left India was to find out the best German Shepherd kennels to get a puppy from. I found one in Germany, and used my first salary to buy a 6 month old pup.

I was generally happy that I followed uncle R’s advice. I could afford to buy the dogs I liked – and good dogs win at more shows.  After spending a lot of money and time buying dogs and sending them to handlers and trainers, and winning my fair share of shows – I realized one thing. It was not fun any more – I was just kidding myself that it iwas fun. Where is the fun when I pick a dog, and a handler finishes it for me and I hardly get to see the dog? I missed out on going into the ring and the fun of chatting with old friends at ring side.

Pendulum swung the other way – I stopped it altogether. No dogs with friends and handlers (well almost). My next dog had to stay with me home, and if a handler is showing him, I want to be there most of the times to see him in the ring. And since my wife didn’t like German Shepherds, we bought a Golden, and then a Lab. I have no qualms about using a handler to finish a title and some of my best friends are handlers – in India, Germany and USA. 

In the mean time, my career became more demanding and I am on the road a lot more than I used to. It is virtually impossible to attend several dog shows. I would rather spend a weekend with my wife and daughter than drive to a show. So I get to go to only a handful of shows these days, and that too mostly without a dog.  But I still get some time to play with dogs and train them when I am home, but not to the high degree that I could do earlier. In college days, my dog used to beat the top dogs in India in obedience and now, I don’t do anything with them beyond very basic obedience. 

My little Lab guy is 14 months now, and next weekend is his debut in show ring. He is not trained for the ring – and I am pretty sure he and I will make total fools in the ring.  Totally my fault – I dropped out of handling class, and his socializing is restricted to walks around the neighborhood. If I hand stack him, he will do it with a face that will make people think that he is expecting to be hit with a stick. If I free stack him, he will stay focussed for about 10 seconds at most, and then prefers to leap than stand. He hates showing his teeth, and since he is not conditioned like he should be (except for swimming  in our pool), he tires easily. 

Just yesterday I realized that he has not been around many dogs really – and my short cut solution was to drive to the bark park in Snedigar Park.  I expected him to either get bullied by other dogs, or bully someone himself. Instead he was a cool customer – he went and played with dogs of every size, and allowed himself to be petted by every one there. And he chased a frisbee for 30 minutes (not his toy, he just was faster than the dog it was thrown for). And when he was tired, he came to me and flopped on the ground. I am much relieved – he will do just fine in the ring with other dogs.

He is an independent spirit and a happy puppy. So my strategy in the ring will be to take a chance that judge will forgive him for his goofiness, but will like to see a happy dog, who will move well and do a great stack for a few seconds.  Far too many dogs look like mechanical dogs in the ring, and he will stand out. I am fully aware that this has only a 10% chance of working, and 90% chance exist for him to be the one that makes every one crack up and get me kicked out of the ring.  Either way – I have no complaints. I have lost plenty of dog shows with well-behaved dogs – way more than I have won. And while I am a fiercely competitive guy in general, I don’t feel that way about dog shows any more. (probably because I am well aware of my own limitations compared to others in the ring ).  However, we are going in there to win – and if we lose, it won’t be because we didn’t try.

And I still dream of my five-year old taking up junior handling (in addition to becoming an engineer, doctor, lawyer and a consultant). So far there are no indications of that.  But then if dreams were horses, fathers of five-year olds would fly !

In India, is innocence only found in villages?

From the time I started to read books and watch movies by Indian authors in my childhood, I have noticed that the innocent victim in the story has to be from a village. Village always has a villain – but just one guy, or just one family. Rest are all good guys. The villager then gets to go to the big city in search of better prospects – and guess what, it is the exact opposite in the City. There is only one good guy there in the city, or one family, or one group of friends. Every one else in the city is out to get the innocent guy. It makes me ask – How do you people in the city sleep at night?

I feel like screaming from the roof – who are you literary giants trying to kid here? Isn’t this a clear indication of widespread lack of imagination and creativity on your part?

In earlier books and movies, the villain had to be a landlord or business man. If you are rich, you must be bad. Then some creativity apparently kicked in – the rich villain had to originate from India, but earned his money from abroad. And he has to constantly be drinking whiskey, and smoking and womanizing.  He also has to ill treat his parents, wife and in-laws. He usually has a big dog that sits by his side.

Really? is that how the average dude who returns to India behaves?

Then came the craze with Europe and America – the average story being – young Joe argues with dad over a silly issue, and leaves for Europe. Next thing – he is driving around in a red convertible, wearing Armani suits and meets a beautiful woman. And then they return to India to complete the story.

One thing this story line does is give a real bad impression to people in India who have not traveled abroad. This makes them believe that if they somehow find a way to land in a western country, life is a bed of roses, and riches are yours for the asking. To further damage the reputation of Indians living abroad,  these movies invariably have dance sequences in railway stations and downtown areas. These actors and actresses must have really thick skin.

I readily admit that a few movies and books that follow this theme have some merit – but they are an exception. But the majority do not belong in the merit list – which makes me believe, are we that gullible?

I have a strong urge to bitch about the umpteen “crying woman” series that come on regional TV, but I have to get back to start my day.

If you have read till here – thanks for listening, and sorry for venting on you. Next time, stop at the first sign of trouble and turn on your heels.

One breed or many breeds?

I am the guy who used to tell others “There are just two types of dogs – German Shepherds, and those who want to be German Shepherds”. And for the last few years, I don’t have a German Shepherd – not one. Instead, I have a Golden Retriever and now a one year old labrador male.  These two breeds are totally different from shepherds, and also somewhat different to each other.  And guess what –  I love them and think they are also great dogs to have, as long as I recognize they are unique and dissimilar to shepherds.

At the height of my craze for German shepherds – I knew pedigrees of  hundreds of dogs, and had videos of every big show that happened in the GSD world. I had way more dogs than I should have had.  I knew most top breeders – and knew all top dogs, and up coming stars. I also spent a large part of my disposable income in doing all this. And I totally understood how little I knew even with that kind of commitment.

For a variety of reasons, I bought a Golden and then a Lab . Thanks to the experience in Shepherds – I don’t worry at all any more if my dogs don’t end up as succesful show dogs .  They can still stay home and play and cuddle with us if they don’t make a career in show ring.  However, I still only buy pups which are of show potential, and that too from breeders I like, and blood lines i like.  I think it is a great investment even if the dog turns out not so good in looks when he matures – and so far I have had no regrets.

It is kind of funny when you get into a new breed. Despite not being a newbie to purebred dogs, and despite handling and winning with a variety of breeds for friends – I have to start similar to a newbie all over again. To begin with, I buy books and videos and research internet. But that is just a small step. Unless I see several good dogs at different ages , I cannot appreciate the breed at all. So I go out and get introduced to breeders and handlers.  It is not really a slow process – there is a lot of stuff that you know from other breeds that can be applied to your new breed. 

However, I learned the hard way that this can be awkward too in some cases.  I did not like the movement in a lot of goldens I saw at the national show in Malibu,CA a few years ago. So I got in touch with a judge over email, and asked him. After a few back and forth emails – I got it. I didn’t like some goldens because I was expecting them to move like German Shepherds. The scary part was that I was actually liking a few who did move the way I liked, and hence my “eye” was developing an appreciation for a wrong type of Goldens.  

Life is a bit more easier with labs – since I have owned and shown labs when I was in school, and hence have a decent foundation. But I don’t know them like I know shepherds – which means I still need lots of time invested to learn, and find some mentors to guide me when I get stuck on something. Thankfully – as with Goldens, the lab people are also a friendly crowd. I have met very few who wouldn’t answer my questions – however silly they are.  Another advantage was that I worked in UK before, and they have some great labs. So I have some exposure to good dogs. Couple of trips more to Potomac, and I will have enough to have my basics covered.

I don’t think I will ever become a “breeder” – due to the lack of time and inability to suffer like my many friends who do breed. It is not for a part timer like me – I would much rather make use of the work put in by the dedicated folks who put their hearts and souls into it, by buying from them. A good part of my education in dogs will remain incomplete since I don’t breed – maybe I will try it at retirement. Maybe not. Most probably not. But then again – if I can buy a dog that is not a German Shepherd, I suppose I can breed too someday.

It makes me wonder – when I get my next dog, what breed will he be? Will I buy a German Shepherd, a Golden or a Lab? Or will I buy something else – I also like Irish Setters, Dobes and Boxers. I don’t quite know.  A good dog of any large breed gives me goose bumps.  Maybe next time, I should buy a dog that fits Arizona climate – so may be a Saluki? If I am buying a Saluki – I need to hire a skinny handler. I cannot even imagine what ringsiders will say if I walk into a ring with a Saluki with its 3 ribs showing !

Are you an expert?

Experts come in many flavors.

A couple of weeks ago, my 4-year-old daughter made a statement that warmed my heart…”My daddy works for IBM, and My uncle works for HP..guess what, IBM is bigger than HP !”. My euphoria  didn’t last long – pretty soon I figured out that she didn’t have any grandiose ideas of comparing IBM with HP – all she meant was IBM has 3 letters, while HP has only 2. But that was enough in her mind to reach the conclusion that her daddy worked for the bigger company.

Then it dawned on me that I too make plenty of such conclusions – and probably a lot many others too. Human mind apparently likes simple answers – and as long as the simple answer is not disproved, we won’t go much farther to find another answer. Over the holidays, I got to catch up on a lot of reading , mostly on two topics very close to my heart – Dogs and Management. And on both topics – I can see plenty of examples of this.

I think that once  you are an expert on something – like say stock market, dog shows or horse racing –  you feel compelled to give an explanation for anything that happens in your field. Keeping quiet is apparently not an option.  Being logical or being fact based in your argument is not a necessary quality of such experts either.

Take dog shows – you will keep hearing that “this breed is no longer resembles the great dogs of a 100 years ago…and does not resemble the third sentence in the breed standard..” . Except – the standard was written by people who were no more smarter than the people who live and breed today. Also, while they created the breed, and knew the function the breed was supposed to do – those folks did not have the benefit of health and genetics studies that happened in last few years. So – we still hold on to a standard that was written a century ago and think god wrote it.  Also, over a period of time – context is lost. If a standard says ” the dog should look like a clever hunter” – how will the dude living in an apartment in NYC know what a clever hunter is? ..Same with eye color in some breeds..”darker the better” – although no one knows why darker eyes are better.  And it is easier to create a time machine than to revise a breed standard.

it is worser with business management – where there is always an explanation on why something has happened, and it is always after the fact – never ahead of time. When I was doing my MBA in the nineties, Cisco was the cult. Every one wanted to be like John Chambers. Cisco did everything right – I have lost count of the Harvard Case studies I have read on Cisco – from supply chain management, to mergers and acquisitions, to raising employee morale. Cisco could do no wrong. Every business magazine – business week, Fortune etc – wrote cover stories on Cisco every few months. And then tech bubble crashed, and Cisco went down. The pundits at these magazines  didn’t skip a heartbeat – they wrote cover stories immediately on how Cisco did everything wrong. How they never listened to customers, how they did Mergers in cowboy fashion, and so on. I don’t remember having seen “We were dead wrong about Cisco in our prior analysis” from any pundit.

The ecosystem in which we live constantly evolves – and possibly, there are no black and white answers to every question any more. But do we need this compulsive obsession to find a simple answer to every thing?  Einstein said something along the lines of “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler” . I think the man had a point.

The one field that hates simple answers that I know of is  horse racing – have you ever read that a horse failed just because he was slow? The horse failed because he didn’t like the surface he ran on, or because his jockey was no good, or because his trainer didn’t put him in the right race – but never because he was simply  slow !!

Maybe there is a middle ground between where the management gurus stand and where the horse racing pundits stand – but then, how would I know – I am no expert.

Stop making new year resolutions

Like every one else I know, and don’t know, I have had my fair share of new year resolutions over the years – but looking back – I DO NOT REMEMBER EVEN ONE such resolution in any great detail.  I also DO NOT REMEMBER even one time when I cried “Eureka, I made good on my new year resolution”.So what is with people (I am part of the “people” too? Why do we keep doing it?

There are a bunch of reasons why I think it is a bad idea to begin with. Weight loss is, I suspect , every living and dead man’s and woman’s and animal’s  usual resolution come January the 1st.. So let us see how well this goes.

It is December 12th – and I start my vacation. I already know that my new year resolution is to lose a hundred pounds off me. But new year is 3 weeks away – so I don’t have to worry about it quite yet. So I could still have all the meat and rice and potatoes and cream and so on, and not feel bad about it. So by the time new year’s land – I am heavier by few more pounds, and have practically ensured that I will never make good on the resolution.

What the heck? I still make the resolution. I start paying a hundred bucks every month to the best gym in town – believing that if I am paying for it, I surely will be doing it. And I do start strong – I take the private lessons, I religiously do 30 mins of cardio and 30 mins of weights for four days a week and so on.  And the 100 bucks covers my wife (if we do it together, we should have higher chance of making it succesful) and child care for my kiddo. So I am set up for success.

This goes well for a few weeks…and then . Yes, you guessed it right – I still like rice and meat, and I still hate exercise. I go to the hotel gym to find the lone treadmill in use. Ah well..I could walk a mile and get the same exercise. Except I don’t want to walk – it is too hot, too cold, too windy, too dark – if only mother nature gave me a break. Not to despair – I go back home in a couple of days, and can always make up.

So there I am at the gym – only to learn that my body does not respond kindly when I switch to greater weights and longer times. So, I don’t push it – and by february – I go to the gym twice a month, but still pay them a hundred bucks every month.

Oh but stop – you have to cut down on your food too. You have to take a holistic ( who made this word? it rings true with hole…not Whole..) view to weight loss, according to the Rambo like guy on TV who inspired me. You also need special blenders to make you healthy smoothies.

I can buy that – it is pretty logical. So I measure calories on every darn edible thing I dare to even look at. I stick to portion control religiously – to the extent that I dread lunch and dinner time.  Lets cut the miserable story short – you guessed right again, it does not work. I fall back to larger portions of the stuff i like.

As part of the weight loss campaign – I also bought a new weighing scale. And every week on Saturdays, I weigh myself and write it down. This is a very depressing way of starting my weekend most times. occasionally, it brings a smile to me – when I have lost 2 pounds. Although my head says that it is because I didn’t have much fluids on friday – my heart makes me believe that it is because of 10 minutes of extra cycling I did at the Gym.

Weight loss resolution at new year’s time is just an example of such bad ideas – weight loss by best friend’s marriage, training puppy to make it a canine good citizen in 3 weeks, running boston marathon next year – so on and so forth, are all in the same boat.

I have some theories about this, and  I am going to try these for myself.

1. Aim small – Miss small : You can probably lose 1 pound a week for next 3 weeks. But this is not a scalable goal – so do this 3 week thing and reset your goal, rather than aiming for 50 pounds in a year.

2. Our strengths are in different areas. The gal who cannot lose enough weight to run the Boston Marathon, might have sufficient strength to get through college in the next year or two. Find out what your strength is – and achieve that goal. Success breeds success – so if you are succesful in something you are good at, then you can use that adrenalin rush to help you with succeeding in something that you are not all that good at.

3. Variety is the spice of life – so do a variety of things in life. This is the hardest to do. We all have an inertia to stay with status quo. Try to get over it, and try something new – cook something new, walk a trail you have not tried before or teach your dog a new trick. And don’t worry about success – this is just to break the monotony of daily life. Success is just having the ability to try. I am particularly bad at this – so this is something I am seriously going to challenge myself .

So let’s do ourselves a favor – and make a new year resolution that “We won’t make any new year resolution”  !

Do you live to eat or eat to live?

Those who know me well, surely know the answer to this – and knowing most of the “those who know me” and others, I know that I don’t stand-alone in my conviction.

Now, most of us who live to eat, do not live “only” to eat – we do other things too. Just that we love good food, and gluttony is a virtue in our holy book.

Like everything else in life, we can categorize the “live to eat” people into a few types.

1. Those who live to eat a specific item

For me – it is rice. I need rice like I need oxygen. If I don’t get some rice every day, I cease to be me. I have paid 50 Euros in Germany to get a cab to go eat some rice at a restaurant, where the meal costed me 10 Euros.  Although I have a marked preference for Indian food, I love rice in all forms. I love Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, pretty much any form of rice.

Same goes for drinks – If it is warm – 90% of the time, I will order a Mojito. If it is cold – 90% of the time, i stick to a Bloody Mary. If I have to drive, I have just a bloody mary mix – which can also be called a bloody shame.

2. Those who live to enjoy a specific taste/flavor

For my wife – it is “anything” sweet. She can eat honey flavored cereal for 3 meals a day for several days a week. Her mom puts several spoons of sugar into her tea. If I bring home half a bag of European Chocolate, it will be gone in 2 days flat.

3. Those who live to enjoy a specific cuisine

I am a road warrior due to my job as a consultant. restaurant food is what I have to it – whether I like it or not. While I have favorites in every place I have had to work, I try to mix it up. Specifically, despite my love for Indian food – there is hardly a week where I have eaten twice at an Indian eatery. But earlier this year – I was assigned to a gig in East Germany, in Dresden.  Dresden is a very touristy place – and has every cuisine you can think of. There are 5 Indian restaurants there. Over a period of 9 months, I would have spent about 3 months time there – and I ate Indian food almost every single day – most days for lunch and dinner, and usually at the same restaurant called Agra. 

When I think about it – why did I do that? The answer is “comfort”. We had a large team from India, most of whom were out of the country for the first time.  For them, Indian food was the closest to being back home. And although I live in USA, I am as much an Indian in my food habits as the next guy. So as a group – we flocked to this Indian restaurant.

There are two more reasons – one, apart from Indian restaurants, it is hard for Indians to find vegetarian food that they like.  And two, it was a stress buster to have a routine where every one went to this place every night and had a beer, or salt lassy and talked about everything that affected them that day.

4. Those who live to enjoy a variety of cuisines

This is the exact opposite of the above. I have a few friends who are open to try anything and everything – including  uncooked fish,  and monkey’s brains. They have favorite cuisines too, but generally they are driven by the need for variety.  And now that I think about it – all these friends are Europeans. Is it a European thing?

So, what about our brethren (should I add “and sistren”?)  who eat to live? For the rest of us – we don’t comprehend these people at all.  They also can be divided into some classifications…well heck, every thing can be classified into atleast two.

1. Health junkies

You know them – soymilk, half a splenda , “can I get more raw spinach for lunch?” types.  These guys make me want to ask them ” if you are doing this to lengthen your life, can you explain one more time why you want to live an extra year munching on spinach and lettuce?”.

2. Too busy to eat

Well – I do feel sorry for them. These people survive on granola bar and diet soda. Talking of diet soda – does any one know the difference between Coke Zero and Diet Coke?

3. Speedy Converts

Nothing to do with religion at all- these are folks who went too far down the “eat to live” path and want to swing the pendulum the opposite way in one sweep. From one pint of ice cream a day, they go to one granola bar a day. I feel bad for them – most of them get threatened by doctors and spouses – usually rightfully so – to change their diets to save their lives. It is a huge sacrifice. And there usually isn’t sufficient time to ease into it. If this happens to me – I will probably be convinced that I was a big sinner in my past life.

Striking is a happy medium is admittedly difficult – but I do believe that such a thing exists. How else would Atkins and Bowflex and all these other things survive for so long despite individuals giving up on it all the time? Or are we all suckers of the highest order?And why do I not see some one my size doing them in the TV ad, instead of a Rambo figure guy ? “Before and After” pictures don’t cut it for me – I refuse to believe them.

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