Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Frustuated Robots

I have been reading the book Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things by Don Norman, one of the directors of the MMM program at Kellogg. The book has a fascinating chapter on Robots, and how robots might affect everyday life in the future. Don sees several robots being present in the household, each of them dedicated to one or more tasks. They would not all look like human beings; instead, they would have a form based on their function. So a dish-washing robot would like a ...well...dishwasher!

Don also talks about the need for these robots to have emotion to effectively perform their tasks, and make appropriate decisions. We, as humans, use emotion to make several decisions without even realizing the fact. Robots will not necessarily have human emotions; on the contrary, they would have emotions specialized to their needs. Don discusses a situation in which the emotion of frustration might help the robots in deadlock scenarios, as described here.

Suppose there are 3 robots in the household; a pantry robot, to fetch things from the pantry; a dish-washing robot, for washing dishes; and a servant robot, who does common chores around the house. You tell the servant robot to go fetch a cup. The servant robot goes to the pantry robot and asks for a cup. The pantry robot does not have a clean cup, so he(at the risk of assuming that all robots are male!) requests the dish-washing robot for a clean cup. The dish-washing robot does not have any cups - clean or dirty - so he requests the servant robot to get a dirty cup lying around the house so the he could clean it. Now the servant robot is waiting for the pantry robot for the clean cup, so he cannot take on a new task. And so, we have a deadlock!

Now what if the servant robot gets frustrated, quits his task for the time being, and moves on to the next task? Problem solved! Now he listens to the dish-washing robot, gets him a dirty cup, and in a few seconds, the clean cup passes to the pantry robot and finally to the hands of the servant robot (who now experiences happiness!). All's well that ends well, even if it produces a little frustration in the middle.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Now that I have made this information public to my peers at my company, I am proud to announce that I am headed to the MMM program at Northwestern University, a dual degree program that will lead me to the MBA degree from Kellogg and a MEM degree from McCormick School of Engineering.

The application process for business school has been long and frustrating, but immensely rewarding. A few 'things' were invaluable in helping me get through it:

1. Friends and advisors - Several friends and mentors from work, my undergraduate college, the TiE Leadership program and at other business schools helped me with various aspects of the application: developing my story, reviewing my essays, preparing for my interview, and connecting me with current students and alumni of the schools I was applying to. And of course, my fiancee and other friends who kept me in good spirits as I was getting depressed doing the 10th round of the Why MBA essay.

2. Time - There is no substitute to starting early, and giving yourself enough time to do the essays. I had taken the GMAT a while ago, so that wasn't a problem. I concentrated only on the essays, and developed and changed my story several times. Ultimately, the applicaton process was an exercise in marketing myself, and plenty of time to craft the story helped quite a bit. Also applying in the second round to several schools helped. My Kellogg application was actually my last application, and I feel that I had been able to refine it on because of all the time I had. This brings up an important point - the perennial 1st round vs 2nd round debate. I strongly feel that both rounds are the same for most schools, and one need not submit a hurried Round 1 application.

3. Talking to current students and alumni - Doing this helped me really understood what each school stood for, beyond the brochures. It helped me understand Kellogg's social culture, Ross's laid-back students, and Wharton's rigor. Of course I did not get in everywhere, but gave it a good shot nevertheless.

4. Taking time off - Business school essays can be extremely taxing. Like in most creative endeavors, one needs to mix periods of extreme focus with periods of fun. Working too hard can be pretty harmful

5. Not listenening to everyone - Everyone has an opinion that they would share with you. If you are a B School applicant, you are reading my opinion right now. Listen to everyone, but then do your own thing. You know yourself best. I heard several conflicting opinions, and ultimately stuck with what I felt was right.

6. Energy during the interview - By nature, I am laid back in my social interactions. While this works well for me in several situations (helping me come across as an approachable person, for example), it wasn't the best strategy for the interview. My mentor, Anupendra, pushed me several times on this aspect, and challenged me to express my passion for the school when I interviewed. It clearly helped; my Kellogg interview was by far the best, and really helped me get through.

7. Not going to the Businessweek forums - they are evil! Avoid them like they plague, they will just make you nervous. I started going to the forums for a while in between, and stopped once I realized how I had become part of a group of panicky,nervous Type-A applicants who get pissed off and have useless arguments utilizing the anonimity that the internet provides us.

8. Why MBA? Why this school? - I struggled till the end in getting these questions answered in a concise, believeable, and interesting manner. Ultimately, I feel that I got accepted to the schools, which had special aspects that linked well to my career goals, background and personality. A great book that helped me craft this message was Made to Stick.

Facebook Connect

As the web becomes more social, I wonder why more businesses don't link to Facebook connect? For example, Sears and Kmart have consumer social networking sites called mySears and myKmart. I would be more willing to post/interact with these sites, and generally be more engaged if I could login with my facebook id rather than create a new account.

Perhaps it is because businesses love to gain access to customer data, with the objective of targeting the customer with better advertising. However, at what price? At the risk of missing out on several potential customers? And even with Facebook Connect, they are getting access to basic user information, and the potential of reaching out to an even larger set if the customer posts to his/her Facebook Profile?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

More from the Palazzo

Vegas was supposed to be the place with the perks! Free rooms if you gamble a lot, free drinks etc. etc. Well, no more. The hotel I am staying at Palazzo has a nice gym. However it charges a nominal usage fee - $30 a day! Down from $40 a day, because my company is having a conference there.

Seeing that I could not exercise at the gym, it was time to look for alternatives. I found these free, on-demand videos on the hotel TV which were pretty awesome. I did a 10 minute stretch workout which stretched muscles that I did not existed! The videos were free, courtesy of a site called Exercise TV which features these free videos as well. They make money by selling these videos as DVDs, or as videos for your portable devices. The try-before-you-buy business model seems sound; by providing the free videos at the hotel, they get publicity, and new customers. The hotel benefits, and customers like me (who are too cheap, or maybe too sane to pay $30 to workout) benefit.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I am in Las Vegas for Momentum, my company's annual user conference. I walked down to go to the breakfast at 6:30 AM. Passing through the casino, I saw people smoking cigars, drinking and gambling even at that hour! Vegas is really amazing!

Another cool thing is how my company is using Twitter for the conference. They have asked everyone to follow and post one a twitter name they created, and actually have a large screen showing the latest tweets.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Why I switched to Mac!

I am switching to a Mac. And the ad above really shows nothing as to why I am switching. Yep, I do like the slick aluminum feel of the new MacBook. But the key feature is the OS! I am sick and tired of Windows hanging on me, of not being able t shut the laptop cover and then having it power back in a couple of seconds. Of having to reboot my laptop just to get access to the wireless. Of having my laptop freeze on me randomly. That is why I switch. Unfortunately I am no longer a PC

Thursday, May 14, 2009


This startup is awesome! It enables you to put your phone on the web (well not the best description - I am sure I can do better)! See the youtube video below

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Acting Class

I attended an acting class yesterday at the Cambridge Center for adult education. It was taught by Stan, who's probably 80 years old, and has been teaching the class for 42 years! I met some interesting people through the class, including:

1. One Welsh guy who is here with his wife. His wife is on a program with Harvard, and he is taking tons of classes at the CCAE to keep himself sane
2. A voice-over specialist who told me how profitable doing voiceovers is
3. A very shy young guy, who did open up in the class, but found it too much, and left halfway through.
4. A model trying to get into some acting
5. Several other people who just wanted to learn to be more expressive

I learned about the four key emotions of acting; happiness, sadness, anger and fear. What was surprising is how one can fake physical actions that mimic the emotions, and start feeling these emotions. Try it - maintain a happy face and you will get happy pretty soon! For an actor, the challenge is not getting into an emotion; the challenge is to quickly get out of it and then switch to an entirely different emotion. We did an exercise which involved acting in pairs, playing off each others emotions and quickly switching between them. There was no script and no defined guidelines.

Loved the class! Also realized that I am probably not going to become a professional actor (duh!) but would certainly love to learn this art more to improve how I express myself.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Personal Om

One of the coolest iPod apps I have seen is Personal Om. It plays the Om chant continuously in the background for a set period of time, and presents a calming visual on the screen. That's it! Very simple but very useful. I use it pretty often - whenever I want to calm myself, and spend a few minutes meditating. The best things in life are simple, just like this app.

Of cats and sound sleep....

Typically I am not one of those people who blog about their pets. But I had to post this picture. Last night, before going to sleep I went to get some water. I found Millie sleeping on the couch squished under two pillows that had flipped on top of her.

I nudged her to make sure she was ok. She woke up with a start, obviously pissed at me at waking her up from a deep sleep.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

I hate delta

UPDATE: I emailed Delta about this. They re-terated their policies (irritating) but gave me a $100 certificate to be used on the next flight. Cribbing works!!

After being a fan of delta airlines over the past few years, I have really started disliking them. 2 incidents led me to do this:

1. One morning my flight to Detroit was delayed due to a technical glitch. I was supposed to go to Atlanta later in the day, so I got off the flight and had my ticket changed to an evening flight to Atlanta. I went back home for the rest of the day, but delta refused to pay me for a cab back to home and back to the airport.

2. Recently I had a flight booked from Boston to Chicago and back. I had a work trip scheduled the day before to Chicago, so I figured I could tell Delta that I wouln't take the first leg. They get an extra seat, I get convenience and everyone is happy! WRONG! I had to pay a $150 CHANGE FEE to make the change to my ticket. Why? Because I apparently violated my contract with delta.

After 2 years of being platinum and gold medallion, and spending so much money with them, these events have totally ticked me off. A great case in how you get your customers to start taking their business elsewhere!


I am on Google Latitude now, constantly broadcasting my location to my friends. This is a great idea in concept. Particularly as I go on Business trips and have a free evening, I want to meet friends who are in the area.

Of course, in reality, I have 4 friends on google latitude. I need more people adopting the platform if it is to become useful. To the scale of Facebook and Linkedin.....
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