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Archive for the ‘Disjointed Laptop’ Category

An Obituary For My Disjointed Laptop

Posted by RB Kollannur on September 26, 2008


It’s finally happened. My disjointed laptop has finally met its maker, at least its maker’s service center. After one year of unhinging service, my laptop finally encountered the Blue Screen of Death. I should have realized the end was near. The signs were all there (No, not the movie). The Mark was always on the wall, ever since Euro came around. It was inevitable that the machine will finally meet Doom or Doom II or Doom 4 or any of the other dooms (even Doctor Doom, if you may). Okay, back to the point.

It was never the big star. Compared to Eta Carinae, it was not even a star. It barely scraped through the cut throat market, mainly thanks to its lack of throat, guts and other human body parts (Though a bacterium or a dust mite might have hitched a ride). It had a timid 40GB memory, 256 MB RAM and an Intel Celeron to boost its power. But, it was a loyal fellow, always came through in the end (because it took so long to process anything).

First the hinges came off (I meant that in the literal sense) after an year of servitude (Too late for warranty, boo hoo). Fortunately, three encyclopedias, which the former tenants had left behind, came to the rescue. But with its mobility compromised, the good old days would soon end. From there on, it was all downhill. Its relationship with WiFi came to an abrupt end. Only with close physical intimacy could the fidelity (Wireless Fidelity, I mean) be restored*. But the estranged relationship soon broke its heart (the battery, which pumps the juice to the system). Its strength dwindled everyday and soon it needed a defibrillator (any source of electricity did just as nicely) to last beyond fifteen minutes.

But, that was all an year ago. It lasted over an year without its hinges and the malfunctioning battery. It had to be plugged into a life support system (namely, an electric socket) for most its remaining life, but as time went on a sense of stability set in. Having lasted such an ordeal for so long a time, one would wish there was hope it may still live long. I finally bought a really long lan cord (which kept tripping my roommates), to give it some sense of mobility.

But it turned out to be just another mirage waiting to scourge the thirsty desert traveler. A freak accident broke its spine. Right when it was all smiles and functioning in all glory, an accidental hand (mine) tipped the fragile sense of stability, the system had achieved after such a long struggle **. It lost the utility of its spine. The nerve connecting the monitor and the processor was almost severed. The accident left the laptop devastated. The laptop was left disoriented; at least the monitor was, as you can see below. The laptop lost its screen and the monitor left counting the pixels. Wrecked and dysfunctional, with the chimes of the pendulum (from the Edgar Allan Poe novel) reminding of impending doom, the laptop became reclusive was left in its shell (the laptop bag) ***. The final hour arrived bringing with it a gust of sadness. The laptop had to be taken to its maker’s service center for its final rites.

Let us share a moment’s silence in memory of the disjointed laptop.

* Meaning WiFi worked only when the laptop was next to the WiFi router. What were you thinking?

** The monitor fell on the keyboard.

*** Since I couldn’t use it, might as well as pack it.

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Some Excel Tips and Tricks

Posted by RB Kollannur on September 13, 2008


Few weeks back, I came across a post about some useful tips in MS Excel – Excel can be exciting . So, I thought I’ll collate some of the helpful tips and tricks that I’ve come across while handling data in MIS. First a couple of disclaimers, there maybe simpler ways of doing things than the ones I’ve come across, but I don’t know of them. Also, I’ve done all this on MS Excel 2003, so I cannot comment on how the same can be done in later versions.

1) Copying unique data – This is a tip I picked up from my batchmate in my MBA days. Many a time, we come across large log files that have repetitive data, for example take the following list of sales in a super market. When we have a log file like this running into thousands of lines, it is not easy to determine all the categories that have been sold. But, using a unique filter, you can identify the categories.

All you need to do is go to “Data –> Filter –> Advanced Filter”. The following dialog box will appear.

Set the “Action” to “Copy to another location” and check the “Unique records only” box. The “List Range” will be the column containing categories and the “Copy to” will be the cell to which you wan to copy the unique list of categories. Click “OK” and viola.

2) Vlookup & Hlookup – Couple of extremely useful functions that my mountain trekking roommate who works in an IT company doesn’t know, we use the two when we need to get data from a table that corresponds to the information in hand. For example,

Here, we need to find the corresponding data for soap fro the table. Vlookup takes the location of the category and the table as input. Be careful when signifying the location of the table. Vlookups looks for data in the first column of the table. As seen in the figure, though the table starts from column B, the table is selected from column C for vlookup’s purpose. The other two inputs, “2” tells the function to retrieve the data from the second column of the table and “false” signifies that the looked up data should be an exact match of the given data.

Hlookup is the same as vlookup in syntax, except it takes data in rows or horizontally, unlike vlookup which take data from columns or vertically.

3) Composite Key – Now many a time we need to get data based on multiple conditions. For example in the following case we need to select the data that corresponds to both ”Chennai” and “Soap”

Here, we borrow a concept from database management where we combine to fields to form a unique composite key for each row.

I’ve separated the two columns by a comma so that in case they need to be separated at a later stage it can be easily done through “Data –> Text To Columns”

4) Pivot Table – I came across pivot table during my summers and it has been an essential component of any data analysis I’ve given since then. Pivot table is used to aggregate data and becomes useful when you large amounts repetitive data. You can create a pivot table through “Data –> PivotTable and PivotChart Report”. For example, I have a list of transports from a source to location. I need to know the aggregate of the data. So, I have created a pivot for it.

You can select the data you want in rows, columns and pages. Normally, pivot is used for a larger set of data, rather than the one I have used.

5) Calculated Field – One of the issues with a pivot table is that if you need to work on it by formula, it does not directly allow you to do it.

In the first “Cost / Tonne” row, I have clicked on the cells to calculate. However, instead of picking up the cell location, it picks up a formula which cannot be copy pasted across other cells, thereby giving the data across. This can be circumvented by manually typing the cell location, as I have done in the second “Cost / Tonne” row.

However, this is usage becomes redundant when the structure of the pivot table is changed. So, we need a more permanent solution for the problem. This is a “Calculated Field”, where we manually add another field to the pivot table. It is different from adding a similar column in the base data, since the calculated field is derived from the aggregate figure and not each row.

6) Getting data from a matrix – This is one of my favorite usages. Most people tend to show use data in the form of a matrix, when there are limited number of rows, like a source-destination matrix. However, this data is not amenable for the lookup functions because they need data to be horizontal or vertical. So, use a combination of the two. (Please open the following pic in a new tab, since it has not been shown in full)

Here, an index column is introduced to the end of data (or the second column, if we can tamper with the other data). The vlookup function will return the index to the hlookup function, which then takes the value from the corresponding row. I haven’t found a simpler usage to get data out of a matrix. Do tell me if you have one.

Afterthought : There are shortcuts for setting Auto Filter and creating a Pivot Table in the “Standrad” Toolbar. It is generally hidden and have to manually added. The “Auto Filter” key filters one the data on the basis of the current active cell.

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Why Can’t We Indians Elect Our Own Government? Is It Time For A Presidential Form Of Government?

Posted by RB Kollannur on September 11, 2008


One of the most disconcerting thought of the ongoing political drama is that in our country the people have no say in who governs them. A voter casts his vote to indicate not only his choice of legislature, but also his choice of government. But, our suffrage is limited only to electing representatives who then decides who will govern. In the era of coalition politics, the will of the people can be easily subverted by the whims and fancies of the representative.

The situation in the country in the past two decades, where fractured verdicts have been the norm, rather than the exception, we have seen smaller parties become kingmakers and assert considerable influence against the will of the people. As a result, the government lacks the freedom to take strong decisions, with the danger of political instability always around the corner.

One of the misfortunes of coalition politics is that it is tough to get out of. The smaller parties thrive on their ability to understand a smaller set of people. It is customization at its best. Hence, regional parties can always better serve their voters. However, it is while passing a law that this advantage should be used, not during government formation. By allowing smaller parties to have a say, we are letting ourselves to be held hostage to their whims.

When you look at the contemporary scenario in US, the so-called haven of democracy, it is the people who decide who governs them. The people are empowered to elect their executive, the President, who then selects his cabinet with the approval of the legislature. In the Presidential form of government the will of the people cannot be easily dissuaded. It instills stability to the political system and enhances better decision making. Decisions are made based on the interest of the nation, with representatives from both sides of the political divide, ruling and opposition, making their choice, instead of party orders.

If we seek to have a stable political structure, we need to bifurcate our vote and vote separately for the executive. An executive elected by the will of the people cannot be easily dissuaded. If we let the current system continue, we will continue to hold our governments ransom to the ego of petty politics. Democracy is for the people, of the people and by the people. So should be the government.

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Why Indians Are Conservative – An Historical Perspective

Posted by RB Kollannur on September 11, 2008


Few weeks back, I came across an interesting article regarding the dearth of entrepreneurs in India – Microsoft/FaceBook/Google from India? Can Indian Society produce Gates/Larry/Zuckerburg? One of the apparent differences that came out was we Indians tend to be too conservative, while Americans which has produced most the entrepreneurs over the last century are aggressive as a society (I have simplified the ability to take risks as a quality of aggression). Being a history buff, I was curious about the evolution of the current day societies that may have inculcated some qualities that may have led to these characters. For simplicity we can consider the world into four spheres:

Europe & the Americas – I am clubbing Europe and the Americas together because for much of the past two millennia they share a common history. To start with, the Roman Empire gave Europe political stability for most of the first five hundred years of the Anno Domini calendar. Rome gave Europe what a good primary education can give us – a strong base to start from. The European successor states grew out of the Roman political structure and did not need to reinvent the wheel. After Rome, its successors constantly fought against themselves vying for European superiority. This provided the European societies a constant avenue for growth. The ease with which Europe conquered the rest of the world speaks of the level of improvement which came about with this constant in-fighting. Europe was blessed with a powerful base in the form of Rome and since then they have been on a path of constant growth in relation to the rest of the world.

The Americas are built together on immigrants from Europe. They already had the inherent advantage of the Europeans, but above that, they were explorers, seeking new opportunities. The risk taking ability of its people allowed the Americas to grow exponentially as a society. Of these, US stood out winning against Britain nearing its peak, while Latin America freed themselves only from a declining Spain and a weak Portugal.

Middle East & Iran – From the days of the Achaeminids, who were stopped by the Greeks in Marathon and Platea, and the Selucids, who succeeded Alexander, to the Parthians and the Sassanids who fought against Rome, Persia provided the biggest rival for the European world. However, the ever changing dynasties meant that each had to start from scratch unlike Europe. The advent of Islam gave long term political stability to the region, but it was still not enough to overhaul Europe (As seen in Poitiers). The rule of the Caliphs and the Ottomans gave Middle East & Iran what Rome gave to Europe, albeit a millennium later. As a result, they are currently playing catch up.

China & Japan – The terrain and the distance from the rest of the world meant China and Japan remained isolated and unaffected by the changes in the world. Since they were never challenged by the outside world till the nineteenth century, they grew at their own pace, unlike the aggressive pace of Europe and US. However, both the countries have enjoyed considerable period of political stability (especially Japan where the Emperor comes from a line of royalty over two millennia old) which has allowed them to bring about consistent growth over the last two millennia.

Indian Sub Continent – The Sub Continent unfortunately has the worst of all evils. Isolated from the rest of the world by the Himalayas and the oceans, we have very rarely been challenged by an outsider. And in all occasions, we have failed miserably; against Ghorids of Mohammed Ghori, the Mughals of Babur and finally the British. Also, there has been practically no state in our history that could give a sense of political stability throughout the subcontinent. The Delhi Sultanate and the Mughals gave some semblance of stability but only till the Vindhyas, and in the South there were the Cholas and Vijayanagara. Mughals came close to giving a consistent rule, but Aurangazeb undid most of the good work they did for two centuries and the Mughals fell over themselves. The British instilled a proper structure and foundation to the society and since then, we have been playing catch up to the rest of the world.

On the whole, progress has had a direct correlation to periods of aggression. However, reckless aggression without proper thought will be similar to the Germanic barbarians attempting to bring down Rome – futile and disastrous. With a proper base, however, aggression can bring positive results.

Conservatism seems to be brought upon us because we have very rarely needed to show aggression. But with global resources stretched to its limit, it is time for us to find the latent aggression and take risks.

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