Saturday, April 26, 2008

Learning Abstraction

There are many arguments presented for and against learning abstract concepts as opposed to real world applications.  A study done by Ohio State scientists indicates that abstraction might be better, at least under certain contexts. 

The trick is to learn how to figure out the rules of the game.  The notion behind abstraction is to learn the underlying principles rather than how such principles manifest in the real world.  In contrast, learning via examples, not knowing the mechanics of abstraction, provides the nice "aaha" moments, without an understanding of the underlying principle. It is a valid argument that in certain sciences you need to look, touch, feel and play with things to understand them better, whereas others are more amenable to learning via abstraction.

A reflection on my own learning during my undergraduate education in engineering tells me that I was better at abstracted learning rather than learning by playing with things in the laboratories. I scored very nicely in theoretical courses with equations and derivations while losing out in the laboratories :).  I am not sure if I can conclude that I was better learning the principles from my scores, but for some reason I was better at manipulating equations rather than play with the diesel engine in the laboratory.

People seem to have an intrinsic preference for one type of learning as opposed to the other.  Or maybe they use a combination of the two to achieve optimality.  What does become important however, is while teaching kids at home, we might have to pay attention to the principles as well, and not just be happy seeing them play with toys that provide the "touchy" "feely" learning.

Pay up Toyota: It is my idea

I guess someone at Toyota had a similar inspiration as I did.  Let me explain.

If you are an avid reader of my blog (which puts you in a group of about maybe 0.000000001% of earth;s population or i/6785 visitors to my blog since I started tracking visitors), then you might remember my post on the missing e in the english alphabet. Just to refresh your memory, you can re-read my adios amigos post here.  Some have written to me saying it was creative, while others have LOL, and some have promised to beat the hell out of me.  However, I realized that my inspirational story of a missing alphabet shares ist storyline with a recent Lexus' hybrid commercial.  You can watch it here.

Hmm, the missing H vs., the missing e.  maybe I should have worked at an ad-agency.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Wubi Ubuntu Heron and Thinkpad

I have been running Ubuntu Gibbon through Wubi on my Thinkpad.  I decided to move to Heron last week as I noticed that the beta for Heron was available through Wubi.  I prefer Wubi as it has made life so easy while using multiple OS on my laptop.  The few issues I had with Gibbon were that configuring the wireless took me sometime and configuring the screen resolution took a while given that I had a ATI card.

I first uninstalled Gibbon as I had learnt from my previous experience that I cannot upgrade Ubu8ntu if I am using Wubi.  I then downloaded the beta of Wubi. However, by default Wubi was trying to install the 64 bit version of Ubuntu and I never realized that. The first attempt was a failure during Ubuntu boot.  I then read the FAqs and found the guidelines! That was a no-brainer.  The guys should have posted a warning at least during the installation stage.  I then found the beta for the 32 bit version on Ubuntu's site, downloaded it and placed it in the same directory as the Wubi exe file.  from then on the installation was really smooth.  I booted using Ubuntu and the screen was automatically configured and the wireless configuration was a breeze through as well. 

More importantly, I was able to configure a bluetooth device, my Razr phone, and managed to transfer files to my laptop.  This was something I was never able to manage with XP.  Somehow Ubuntu made it so easy.  I use Ubuntu for browsing as I am beginning to feel that it takes less resources and does not convert my laptop to a heater!

I hate using Microsoft. However, I do, because much of my work is still tied to the OS.  I will probably remain a dual-boot nerd for a long long time.  As I continue to stick to Ubuntu, I have realized that it has nicely evolved into an alternative to the Microsoft OS.  Now that Vista is an official flop and Microsoft has speculated the release of Windows 7, Ubuntu shines on the horizon as the future of computing.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Social Media: Evolution of the Community Evangelist

It is a fact that online communities are here to stay. Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin, Orkut ...these have become more than what yahoo groups had aspired to be a decade ago.  They have become windows into various aspects of everyone's life.  The real issue for firms is how can they manage the evolution of such communities to their advantage. Can they leverage the formation of such communities to strengthen their brands? Speed up product adoption? Better advertise?

One essential step that many firms have taken to better understand such communities is the creation of a new role, "Community Evangelist". Read an interesting post by Mario Sundar hereMario Sundar of Linkedin, Lionel Menchaca of Dell are examples of a few famous bloggers who have become the icons of a new age of blogging.  Community evangelism aims to inform and perhaps shepherd the communities towards a state of positive predisposition towards the brand.  I also see a much bigger role in the technology sector wherein such individuals can have a bigger impact on product adoption and creation of expectations for the future.

The real satisfaction for me as a researcher watching such initiatives by firms is the legitimacy of this emerging phenomenon.  My interest lies in unearthing the mechanics of social communities and what that implies to businesses. 

Launching India back to its past - The Mayawati Story

It might not come as a surprise to many that Mayawati has grander political ambitions than merely being the Chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.  She clearly has an eye on the Prime Minister's Office and given her mass appeal with the underprivileged across the nation, particularly the cow belt, she might as well turn out to be the biggest winner in the next coming elections. 

Whether she will become the Pm or not she is sure to have a big influence on policy decision at the central level.  It would have benefited the underprivileged if she really had the integrity to follow up on her speeches.  However, the past has only shown that she is in fact as corrupt as they come.  But, what she will do is throw a wrench into the reform machines and the free market policies that are being implemented, albeit with inefficiencies, in the country.  With ambitions of serving the poor she will only make it worse for the entire country to move forward.

It has been proven many times over that nothing serves the broader welfare of the society than enabling them to help themselves.  Developing infrastructure in sectors such as power, telecom, transportation and energy will have a broader and deeper impact on chronically suffering sectors such as agriculture than giving it subsidies.  However, as expected any government which takes support from Mayawati or her likes is bound to become more protectionist at the same time being ineffective in the very premise of uplifting the poor.  What we will have, as a result, will be a Bihar at a much wider scale.

It is a pity, that it cannot be stopped by a defunct nepotistic Congress and a faith-ridden BJP.  We have no viable alternative and that is the primary reason for a rise in Mayawati's equity.  Let's hope there will be a miracle in the elections and Maywati falters.  Else, as a country we will only be launching ourselves into the past.