About Me

!nversed Poignancy!

...I am an eclectic amalgamation of many seemingly paradoxical things. This can be exemplified in both my seemingly endless persistance on many topics and arguments, as well as my careful cautiousness on other topics and arguments. This is largely due to how astute I am of the topic: more knowledge, more persistant; less knowledge, obviously more cautious. I also have times of obsessive compulsions regarding certain things (mostly just my thoughts, however)...

Life and Death

!nversed Poignancy!

Life

An assembly

Possibly impossible

Perfectly interchangeable..

Death

That lives most upright

Beyond the unspoken

Neither a squiggle nor a quibble..

She and Me

!nversed Poignancy!

She

A daffodil

Tyrannizer of me

Breaking the colors of dusk!..

Me

The rising sun

Infringed with violations

The impurity in the salt..

Love and Poetry!

!nversed Poignancy!

Love

A puerile desire

Buried in the heart

Never leaves..

Poetry

Sentimentally melodramatic

Cursively recursive

My thoughts idiotic!

reCAPTCHAring ;)

Scribbled by Bharath C On September 22, 2009 0 Thoughts have been Sprinkled!, Your Take?

We’ve all seen CAPTCHA’s — those distorted words that function as a cut-rate Turing test, separating humans from spambots on any number of websites.

About a mweekend I was at MSR Summers..and of the participants was Luis von Ahn — the guy who was responsible for inventing the CAPTCHA idea. He gave a great one-minute talk, in which he traced his personal feelings about being responsible for something that is so useful, yet so annoying.

CAPTCHA, you will not be surprised to hear, is ubiquitous. Luis figured out that the little buggers are filled out about sixty million times per day by someone on the web. So, as the inventer, he first felt a certain amount of pride at having exerted such a palpable influence on modern life. But after a bit of reflection, and multiplying sixty million times by the five seconds it might take to fill in the form, he became depressed at the enormous number of person-hours that were essentially wasted on this task.

Being a clever guy, Luis decided to make lemonade. What we have here is a huge number of people who are recognizing words that a computer can’t make out. Luis realized that there was a separate circumstance in which you would want the computer to recognize the words, even though it wasn’t quite up to the task — optical character recognition, and in particular the problem of digitizing old texts. Apparently, before the advent of the Internet, people would store information by binding together pieces of paper with words printed on them, forming compact volumes known as “books.” In the interest of preserving the products of this outmoded technology, various efforts around the world are attempting to scan in all of those books and store the results digitally. But often the text is not so clear, and the computers don’t do such a great job at translating the images into words.

sample-ocr.gif





Thus, reCAPTCHA was born. At this point you should be able to guess what it does: takes scanned images from actual books, with which optical character recognition software are struggling, and uses them as the source material for CAPTCHA’s. The project is up and running, and can be implemented anywhere the ordinary CAPTCHA’s are used. Now, when you get annoyed at having to make out those squiggly words with lines slashed through them, you can take some solace in knowing that you’re making the world a better place. Or at least saving some books from the trash bin of history.

A lot of people who think about time tend to emerge from their contemplations and declare that time is just an illusion, or (in modern guise) some sort of semi-classical approximation. And that might very well be true. But it also might not be true; from our experiences with duality in string theory, we have explicit examples of models of quantum gravity which are equivalent to conventional quantum-mechanical systems obeying the time-dependent Schrödinger equation with the time parameter right there where Schrödinger put it.

And from that humble beginning — maybe ordinary quantum mechanics is right, and there exists a formulation of the theory of everything that takes the form of a time-independent Hamiltonian acting on a time-dependent quantum state defined in some Hilbert space — you can actually reach some sweeping conclusions. The fulcrum, of course, is the observed arrow of time in our local universe. When thinking about the low-entropy conditions near the Big Bang, we tend to get caught up in the fact that the Bang is a singularity, forming a boundary to spacetime in classical general relativity. But classical general relativity is not right, and it’s perfectly plausible (although far from inevitable) that there was something before the Bang. If the universe really did come into existence out of nothing 14 billion years ago, we can at least imagine that there was something special about that event, and there is some deep reason for the entropy to have been so low. But if the ordinary rules of quantum mechanics are obeyed, there is no such thing as the “beginning of time”; the Big Bang would just be a transitional stage, for which our current theories don’t provide an adequate spacetime interpretation. In that case, the observed arrow of time in our local universe has to arise dynamically according to the laws of physics governing the evolution of a wave function for all eternity.

Interestingly, that has important implications. If the quantum state evolves in a finite-dimensional Hilbert space, it evolves ergodically through a torus of phases, and will exhibit all of the usual problems of Boltzmann brains. So, at the very least, the Hilbert space (under these assumptions) must be infinite-dimensional. In fact you can go a bit farther than that, and argue that the spectrum of energy eigenvalues must be arbitrarily closely spaced — there must be at least one accumulation point.

Sexy, I know. The remarkable thing is that you can say anything at all about the Hilbert space of the universe just by making a few simple assumptions and observing that eggs always turn into omelets, never the other way around. Turning it into a respectable cosmological model with an explicit spacetime interpretation is, admittedly, more work, and all we have at the moment are some very speculative ideas. But in the course of the essay I got to name-check Parmenides, Heraclitus, Lucretius, Augustine, and Nietzsche, so overall it was well worth the effort.

“Under-promise and over-deliver” is a catchy and well accepted management maxim these days. It’s frequently found hand-in-hand with that other popular wisdom about the need to “constantly exceed customer expectations”. In fact many managers would argue that in order to constantly exceed customer expectations, you need to under-promise and over-deliver.

The marketing and management literature supports the notion that what is delivered to customers must relate to their expectations and this is in large part driven by what was promised in the first place. The real problem is how managers have blindly picked the idea up and assumed that it applies across the board.

Let’s explore the assumptions that underlie these traditional wisdoms and show how it adds up to nothing more than a pathetic set of fallacy!

Flawed assumption 1: That being positively surprised time and again is a sensible and sustainable thing to do

A common traditional wisdom is that one of the best things you can do is to “constantly exceed the expectations of your customers”. It’s like the customer management version of continuous improvement because it’s a stretchy and aspirational thing to do. But, given the earlier discussion about how customers dislike surprises, is this actually a sensible aspiration to pursue?

Look at the stock market example again- a blue chip stock is defined by the way it delivers the promised results time and again over the years as promised. As one web dictionary puts it- well-known common stocks with a long record of profit growth and dividend payment, and a reputation for quality management, products and services. What happens if a certain stock becomes renowned for beating expectations? Beating expectations quickly becomes the new expectation.

If for example, bank customers generally wait five minutes for teller service, their expectation will be to wait five minutes. To exceed their expectations, the bank will need to shorten the wait to less than five minutes. Perversely though, once customers experience a shorter wait, their expectations are generally revised. The inevitable happens- the bank creates a rod for its back and it feels under pressure to progressively reduce the waiting time, and following the logic, the waiting time will ultimately need to be zero.

One of the key points is that customer expectations are rarely static. The expectations customers hold will adapt and change according to what they hear in the market and what they experience.

Flawed assumption 2: That over delivering pays off

One of the biggest risks of over-delivering is wastage… the sort of wastage that cannot be seen.

It is a well known fact that some very high quality companies around the world have gone out of business. Even Baldridge award winners like Florida Power and Light have gone broke because their quality has been too good for what customers pay. There’s an assumption that great quality and service pays off, but ultimately it is about what the customer gets for what they are prepared to pay. Offer more than what a customer is prepared to pay and it will be the wastage that costs dearly.

Yet, if we explore the psychology and motivation of customers we get a picture why substantial wastage often goes unnoticed. What happens if a customer gets offered something positive they did not expect? First, they will of course usually accept it, especially if it comes with no strings attached. Unless the unexpected bonus is related to something really important and relevant to the customer, then it is likely, the customer will accept it without really thinking much about it.

Take the bank waiting time example again. If a customer comes in and this time goes straight to a teller without waiting, they will undoubtedly feel good about that for a short while. Importantly, the attitude of most customers is usually that this is a little win for them… some serendipity when “it’s usually me, the customer, who gets the raw end of the deal… so I deserve this bit of luck”. It’s likely they won’t attribute this to the good planning and management of the bank, unless it starts happening on a consistent basis. So isolated over-delivery will achieve little enduring behavioural modification for customers in the moderately dissatisfied to moderately satisfied ambivalence area of the satisfaction scale. Customers will take whatever is on offer though- they’d be crazy not too!

The main conclusion here is that over-delivery is a dangerous game. Most over-delivery will be happily accepted by customers, but don’t expect to get much back in return. To work, over-delivery must become part of a consistent, on-going offering that customers value and anticipate. And if that is achieved, that is no longer over- delivery, it’s simply doing what is promised and expected. So the emerging wisdom is don’t over-deliver, just “deliver on the nail”.



Flawed assumption 3: That under- promising works

This leads to another popular belief- that it is smart to manage the expectations of customers downwards, so that it is easier to delight them. Even better if you can delight customers by doing nothing different to what you are currently doing! This is so called “under- promising”- one half of the widely accepted “under- promise and over-deliver” approach.

On the surface of it, this seems a clever thing to do. Since the expectations of customers are quite fluid, it is obviously smart to keep them under control as much as is possible.

Let’s look at the bank waiting time example again. Imagine the bank has decided to manage expectations downward to ten minutes, but still deliver on a five minute wait. Note that in the past waiting times were one of those issues avoided if possible in any communications with customers. Obviously, it costs very little to explain to customers that they can realistically expect a waiting time of up to ten minutes. As the theory suggests, naturally, they will be pleasantly surprised if they only have to wait five minutes (the amount of time they have always had to wait)- or will they?

There are a few inherent dangers:

  • There’s a negative message to be communicated in order to manage expectations- that that the waiting time could be ten minutes. Keeping in mind that studies show that it takes about 11 positives to make up for one negative, there’s a very real danger that there could be a negative backlash against the bank which could be difficult to overcome. This will be especially so if waiting time is an important criterion for customers to evaluate the performance of the bank
  • What if another bank uses the opportunity to promote shorter waiting times? This might be an attractive proposition to the many ambivalent customers of the first bank, even though in reality waiting times in the two banks are the same. Under- promising on a systematic basis can open up an opportunity for competitors when really there is no difference between the two.

In this competitive world, it’s unusual to have the space to under- promise on an ongoing basis, especially to make enough of a difference for the under-promise; over-deliver strategy to stand out to customers.

Much more important to work on is communicating realistically what your firm is capable of, so that there is no misunderstanding with the customer. You could call this “promise on the nail”- the art and science of promising exactly what a customer is going to get.

Where does that leave “under-promise and over- deliver”?

It’s catchy, but it has no substance and it’s not sustainable- “under-promise and over-deliver” rarely works for all the reasons argued above.

Most success will come from promising what can and should be delivered and then doing it- “promise on the nail and deliver it on the nail”.

Effective “Promises Management” calls for finding the right balance between how the right promises are made and whether they are reliably delivered on. It is much more than a two handed balancing act though. Yes, one’s own promises must be managed on the one hand and delivered on the other, but what about the promises made to you? Two more hands are required to track and manage promises made to you and whether they have been delivered… unless of course the people you are dealing with can be trusted to do what they say they will.
"Our emotions, our sentiments, our thoughts, the whole paraphernalia of the mind, are manipulated and conditioned by the outside. Scientifically, it has become more clear now, but even without scientific investigation the mystics have been saying exactly the same thing for thousands of years, that all these things our mind is filled with are not ours; you are beyond them. We get identified with them, and that's the only problem."

Who you are not

You are not the body. If a doctor amputated both arms and legs, and if he transplanted into your body someone else's kidneys and an artificial heart, the essence of who you are would not change because you are not the body. You are not that.

You are also not your brain. Even if a doctor hooked up wires to your brain, and by applying voltages to different regions of your brain, forced you to move various limbs, or even to change certain emotional behaviors, the very essence of who you are would not have changed because you are not your brain. You are not that.

You are also not our mind. While asleep, your mind might take on the personality of a sexy model, or a dapper ladies man, or a silver-tongued international spy, or a bird in flight. But, the I that is you is merely the observer to the journeys your mind takes. The I that is the essence of you never changes. It is not the mind. You are not that.

Who you are

Who you are, the very essence of who you are, is Consciousness. The challenge for you, in this life, is to gain knowledge of Self --- to understand what, exactly, this Consciousness is that is Self.

Certain research into the functioning of neuromelanin over the past century has offered clues to guide us in our search for Knowledge of Self -- a search that Man has been on for as long as Man has been Man --- for as long as Man has possessed Consciousness.

The Self transcends the body. You are not that.

However --- and this is an important point --- melanin does have a critical role to play in the _functioning_ of our Consciousness. And, this role is consistent within All -- both Whites, and Blacks, and Browns, and all the other artificial subgroups of mankind. Melanin is an energy absorber. Skin melanin absorbs light energy from the rays of the sun, from without. And, neuromelanin both absorbs, and transfers/radiates, energy within the body. But, what is this energy that is both without, and within? What is this light that is the life of men?

The question is straight forward but the answer is ambiguous..:)
For our entire lives, most of us have depended on highly centralized systems. Our food comes from a thousand or more miles away. Our savings is shipped into distant financial centers and invested by strangers in enterprises run by strangers. We watch highly scripted news that serves the same spin no matter how many channels we try. We bank at impersonal global banks with criminal records that would make a felon blush and have no idea where our money goes, just that the government guarantees that we will get it back.

Within this centralized system, diversification means having your financial assets deposited into a “one-stop-shop” brokerage account invested in securities representing different global industries, the idea being when one industry is doing poorly, another “countercyclical” industry would be doing well.

But suddenly, we find that we may not be able to trust these centralized systems. Suddenly, traditional portfolio theory no longer addresses our anxiety. This is because we need to shift from diversification within a centralized system to real diversification in a decentralized, possibly “out of control” world.

If you study the investment patterns of families and wealth that has survived through the generations, including through periods of lawlessness and warfare, you come to understand that for those who want to thrive in all economic and political scenarios, diversification has had a far deeper meaning than what is commonly understood in the financial markets today. For the astute strategist, it means not putting all your eggs in one basket in every important aspect of your life. Given what is happening in our world and economy, it’s time to revisit the deeper meaning of diversification.

Diversification means that our assets are invested such that an economic, political, or natural event — particularly a catastrophic event — cannot wipe us out. So, for example, we don’t invest all of our savings in a single financial institution or fund. Investors who lost their life savings in the Madoff scandal were not practicing even the most basic form of financial diversification.

Diversification also means having multiple types of assets and custodians in multiple places. Custodians (i.e., those who hold our assets for us) might be brokerage firms, banks, depositories or our own safe.

Diversification by place means locating our assets in states or countries subject to different legal and political risks. It means denominating our assets in currencies of multiple countries. It means selecting assets subject to different risks of loss due to climate change, weather conditions, social conditions and other uniquely local vicissitudes. Local investment is a great idea, but the people who lived through Katrina can tell you why having all of your eggs in one local basket may not be the best idea.

Diversification means that we don’t have all of our savings in just one type of asset. So we don’t invest in securities only — we also invest in tangibles. If possible, we buy a house without debt, or with debt that can be serviced by one family member’s income, or invest in our home to lower energy and food costs permanently. We also maintain a sufficient inventory of household goods. And it’s a good idea to invest in disaster preparedness if we live in an area that experiences earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, or tornadoes or is prone to power outages.

Having all your money in one currency or one country is pretty risky – a risk many in the US tend to take. Ask your Jewish friends whose parents got out of Germany in time because they had gold coins or family and assets abroad. Gold coins may hold their value if the dollar collapses, but they can also disappear in a burglary or if you forget where you put them. Digital gold may be a great thing, but if the Internet is not reliable where you are, cold cash may be a good thing. Or if your cash is worthless, a stockpile of food, vitamins and liquor can be priceless. However, food, vitamins and liquor are only good when you are bartering with someone who wants them or is close by. Which takes us back to gold and thats back to square one! ;)
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