Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Myths of Security

Author:         John Viega
Published:     2009
Publisher:     O'Reilly Media Inc.
Paperback:   252 pages
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The author John Viega, an IT security expert  is of the view "... and the (IT security)  industry as a whole is broken ". This viewpoint coming from a person who is the CTO of SaaS business Unit at McAfee, a leading security product vendor, is bound to grab attention of the readers who are worried about the security and privacy of their digital information stored in the confines of their computers. 

According to the author, the internet users are at heavy risk, which can be mitigated to a great extent  if the security industry examines itself and changes for better. It is not only the hackers or lay users who are to be blamed for security disasters. Security industry needs to come out with products which provide  the promised security but without  impacting  the performance of the  user's system (most of the security products tend to slow down the system !).

Through 48 short yet interesting articles (4-5 pages average, 10 pages maximum.) , the author provides his  perspectives on the security industry, identifies glaring problems, shows what the industry can do differently to give the end users more value for their money.  He promises no "silver bullet", but hopes that  the security industry takes note of  his criticism and correct the things which are fundamentally wrong. 

The articles in this book gives the author's opinion on a wide range of security subjects and issues like :
  • Anti-Virus (AV) products -   why they are slow; why they do not work well; what AV companies should be doing;  is it true that  AV companies create viruses they detect. 
  • Is vulnerability research community helping to improve security ?
  • Are Macs more secure than Windows PCs ?
  • Open Security Standards
  • Phishing, Identity Thefts
  • Personal Firewall problems
  • Why most people shouldn't run intrusion prevention system ?
  • Google is Evil - it takes only half-way measures  to check click fraud in its online advertisements. Stringent measures are actually in conflict with its business interest.
  • VPNs usually decreases security
  • HTTPS sucks: lets's kill it
  • CAPTCHA and the Usability/Security Tradeoff
Each article can be independently read, however I felt that the order of the articles could have been better organized - for e.g. AV related articles are scattered throughout the book (widely separated  chapters -6,8,12,22,23,39). Instead all the articles related to a subject could have been ordered closely.

I am not a security expert so I am not in a position to either support or oppose the author's views expressed in this book. But I found the articles written with a sense of humor a very good read and understood around 75 % of what he has to say.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

I Have a Dream

Author:        Rashmi Bansal
Published:  2011
Publisher:   Westland Ltd.
Paperback: 350 Pages

Having posted 100 odd book reviews/summaries in this blog, I get to write  my first commissioned book review !  Blogadda sent this book to me under their Books Review Program.  It offered a carrot (I get to keep this book for free!) and also wielded a stick (a 500+ words review should be posted within 7 days of receipt of the book in order to continue being considered for the future reviews program!).

So I put aside  the other two books  which I was in midst of reading  and confined my  reading to this book alone. Anything to get a good book free! I was sure that it will be a good book to possess since I had bought and read Rashmi Bansal's earlier book "Stay Hungry Stay Foolish" where she has narrated the stories of 25 IIM Graduates who took the hard road of entrepreneurship rather than take up  high-paying jobs which they could have easily got..
In this book she introduces us to 20 social entrepreneurs. 
According to Wikipedia "A social entrepreneur recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create and manage a venture to achieve social change (a social venture)."The stories of the social entrepreneurs featured in this book are classified under 3 sections - Rainmakers, Change Makers, Spiritual Capitalist

Rainmakers set up social enterprises which generate revenues. However profit generation is not their primary motive.
Featured in this section are:
  • Bindeshwar Phatak , the  founder of  Sulabh International which brought a revolution in toilets and a rightful place in society for  those who once cleaned them.
  • Anita Ahuja whose program Conserve India  employs ragpickers to collect plastic waste, which is then recycled to create export quality handbags.
  • Vineet Rai who has set up a micro-venture fund called Aavishkaar for rural entrepreneurs.
  • Sumita Ghose who runs Rangasutra, a for-profit venture which sources crafts and textiles from villages and retails through Fabindia.
  • Saloni Malhotra who brought technology and business to rural India in form of DesiCrew our country's first rural BPO.
  • Ishita Khanna who through Spiti Ecosphere promotes eco-tourism and berry processing in Spiti.
  • Harish Hande whose company Selco makes appropriate and affordable solar lighting system for villages.
  • Santosh Parulekar who runs a unique social enterprise Pipal Tree, which transforms poorly educated rural youth to highly skilled construction workers.
  • Dinabandhu Sahoo who through Project Chilika has trained villagers in Orissa in a profitable sea weed farming technique.
  • Anand Kumar of Super 30 who tutors poor but meritorious students for IIT JEEE.
  • Dhruv Lakra who invested in a courier service Mirakle Couriers which employs deaf people.

Changemakers are. the ones who instead of complaining about a bad social situation take a small step towards making it good.
Featured in this section are:
  • Madhav Chavan who has made 'education' his life's mission by setting up Pratham,  which works for better education of millions of children across India.
  • Anshu Gupta whose organization Goonj ensures that donated old clothes are systematically collected, sorted and mended  to ensure that the clothes distributed are the most approriate ones for the persons in need.
  • Trilochan Shastry of Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) whose courageous act of filing a PIL led to a landmark judgement from Supreme Court which requires from the politicians standing in elections to declare their assets and criminal records.
  • Shaheen Mistri whose project Akansha is doing a yeoman service in educating 3500 slum children through 58 centers and 6 schools.
  • Arvind Kejriwal whose campaign Parivartan pioneered the use of RTI (Right to Information Act) to empower citizens of our country. Now very much known as the right-hand man of social crusader Anna Hazare.
  • Bhusan Punani who has tirelessly worked for Blind Person's Association (BPA) to transform it from a single, small school and vocational center for the blind to a multi-campus, multi-purpose movement to bring dignity to the life of the disabled.

Spiritual Capitalists are the individuals who choose to live by the ideal of service because they believe purity of purpose and selflessness of spirit can transcend every limitation
This section features:
  • Madhu Pandit Dasa who as head of ISKCON Bangalore initiated the Akshaya Patra movement which combines missionary zeal and modern management to feed 1 million hungry children every day.
  • Vinayak Lohani who has established and runs Parivaar Ashram a residential facility for orphans, tribals and daughters of prostitutes.
  • Shreesh Jadhav who chose the path of renunciation to become a monk at Belur Math where he works as a registrar of Vivekananda University and also teaches .
Each and every story is an inspiration written in a very simple language which all of us can connect to. It is very touching to note that these entrepreneurs  are highly educated and could have earned lots of money in the corporate world either as an employee or as business entrepreneurs. Yet they choose social entrepreneurship because they strongly believed in serving others. After each story there is a section called "Advice to the Young Entrepreneurs" which summarizes the philosophy and message of the featured entrepreneur.  

Another useful section is  "Start up Resources" at the end of the book. This provides us the email ids of each entrepreneur and the links to the website of their respective organization (except those of  Dhruv Lakra & Madhav Chavan). This will enable the readers who are inspired by their stories to contact them easily for any advice or to contribute to their cause.

This book does have certain limitations though...
  • Story of Shreesh Jadhav somehow does not fit in this book. While it is a very remarkable and courageous decision of  an IIT graduate to lead a life of a monk, and work as a registrar and faculty member in an institution run by Belur Math, the entrepreneurial aspect of this venture is not evident.
  • While it is the author's prerogative to decide whom to feature in this book, I can't help observing that only two entrepreneurs featured in this book are from South India. This lead me  to question - Does  South India lacks such social entrepreneurs worth featuring in this book or whether the author is not aware of their initiatives. A balanced selection of social entrepreneurs drawn from all over India would have avoided such question.
  • Liberal doses of  Hindi sentences are sprinkled in this book without translations. As far as I am concerned, since I know Hindi well, I could enjoy the punch ,humor and authenticity generated by these sentences. However such a writing style alienates readers who don't understand Hindi. Author should not presume that the readers know Hindi well and provide translated text wherever long sentences in Hindi are employed.
  • The URL of the book's website is wrongly mentioned on the back cover as The correct URL  is 
Apart from the above mentioned limitations which will be hopefully get corrected in forthcoming editions, the stories of the people featured in this book are a very inspiring read for anyone (and not just  for the aspiring entrepreneurs.!)  who at times gets overwhelmed by difficult circumstances.

Useful Links:
[This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!]

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Doctor, The Detective & Arthur Conan Doyle

Author:         Martin Booth
Published:   1997
Publisher:    Hodder and Stoughton
Hardcover:  384 pages

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A fascinating biography of  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle  who got overshadowed by his fictional yet very realistic creation the ace detective Sherlock Holmes.
The author Martin Booth brings out the multifaceted personality  and talent of Conan Doyle in a very convincing manner.  
He enlightens us on several little-known facts about Conan Doyle -  how  apart from being the author of Sherlock Holmes stories, Conan Doyle was an author of several books of different genres - historical novels, war stories, sports, science fiction (The Lost World),  a military doctor, a war correspondent, a spiritualist, boxer, a first-class cricket player  (see his first-class record at Cricinfo ) who played against the legendary W.G. Grace, and a worker for social justice. 
Of course the background behind the plots and characters of several Sherlock Holmes stories is also dealt with at length.
All these make this book a very interesting read.
The book also has a fairly good selection of photographs of  Conan Doyle, his family and friends, the places associated with him. We also have a photograph of Dr. Joseph Bell who was the main inspiration behind the creation of Sherlock Holmes.
However the book lacks a complete consolidated list of all the works of Conan Doyle. That would have been very useful.
However on the whole I enjoyed reading this book  that  awakened in me a desire to re-read Sherlock Holmes stories and other books by Conan Doyle.

An audio recording of Conan Doyle's voice - Here he describes about the origins of Sherlock Holmes and  his interest in Spiritualism.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Madhouse: True Stories of the Inmates of Hostel 4 IITB

Editors:       Urmilla Deshpande, Bakul Desai
Published:    2010
Publisher:    Westland Ltd.
Paperback: 358 pages

Almost everybody  who has lived in a college hostel  will say that those were the best years in his/her life. We nostalgically remember those days and talk about it when we happen to meet our hostel mates after a long time. But the inmates of Hostel 4 IITB (Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai) have gone beyond just remembering and talking about their tenure in the hostel. They have collaborated to collect their reminiscences and create a book out of it. And they managed to convince a professional author Urmilla Deshpande who happens to be one of the inmate's wife, to edit the book.

The result is a book that is authentic, hilarious and takes you back to the good old days in a student's hostel. The anecdotes in this book are roughly from the period 1975-85, when the life was not gadget driven like the present times. They strike a chord with any hosteler since they touch upon areas like - Ragging, Inter-hostel competitions, Smoking & Boozing sessions, friendly pranks and fights, Hostel Mess, Movies (Clean & Pornos), Music, Girls & Games - which one can easily relate too. I can vouch for it because I myself had been a hostelite (though not in IIT-B) during that era.

There are some unusual and unique stories also - for e.g. a Arun Kaul  riding a horse to go to attend lectures; another one is about  Bakul Desai meeting   the don Vardarajan Mudaliar to organize an elephant for an inter-hostel competition.

Manohar Parriker (ex- CM of Goa), Madhu Pandit Dasa (President, ISKCON-Bangalore) and Subrah Iyar (Founder  & CEO - Webex) are some of the distinguished inmates of the Hostel 4 IITB.  Reading about  their exploits during their hostel life makes an interesting reading, especially the one about Madhu Pandit Dasa's travel in a suburban train.

It would have been better if this book had a short title for every anecdote (some anecdotes do have them) and an index of  names of the persons mentioned in the anecdotes. This would have made locating the portions you want to read much easier. And believe me many of the stories are worth a re-read !

Maybe some enterprising guy can make a movie out of this book too. It might give the blockbuster 3 Idiots a tough competition.

Overall a MUST READ book for anyone who had lived in a student's hostel ! I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

P.S. I only wish I and my batchmates from KREC 1984 batch also get together to write such a book. Surely we will also have lots of similar interesting tales to tell !

  • Madhouse Musings - This blog has some stories which did not make it to the book, but nevertheless gives a you a feel of what to expect in the book

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Succeeding with Agile

Author:        Mike Cohn
Published:    2010
Publisher:     Dorling  Kindersley India Pvt. Ltd.
Paperback: 504 pages

Scrum is a deceptively simple agile framework for developing software products in a complex and dynamically changing environment. Theoretically understanding the framework is easy but successfully implementing and reaping the benefits is not.
This book by Mike Cohn aims to provide you the know-how to "Succeed with Agile" (or to be more precise "with Scrum") based on his 15-years experience in implementing Scrum.
This is not an introductory book on Agile or Scrum. It assumes that the reader already knows the fundamentals of Scrum and tried his hands in implementing the same.

The book is organized in Five Parts as follows:

Part I : Getting Started - advice on whether to start small or take a big bang approach; how to create awareness and sense of need for implementing Scrum and subsequently developing the ability to do it; and how to select initial projects and teams, establishing improvement communities and improvement backlogs. 

Part II: Individuals - the changes  that each individual needs to make as part of the process of adopting Scrum; the type of resistance some individuals may exhibit;  thinking about why someone is resistant; guidance on how to help the person get past the resistance; the new roles that exist on a Scrum project and the changes necessary in the traditional roles; some of the technical practices (continuous integration, pair programming, test-driven development, and so on) that should be piloted and introduced to change for better the day-to-day work approach of the individuals. 

Part III:  Teams -  how to structure teams to best achieve the benefits of Scrum; nature of teamwork on a Scrum project; what it means to lead a self- organizing Scrum team; specific advice for what ScrumMasters, functional  managers, and other leaders can do to help a team self-organize for success; changes teams should make to work effectively with a product backlog; need for the whole team to work together to ensure that a sprint's goals are met; planning challenges faced by the teams; advice on separating estimates created by a team from the commitments the team makes.

Part IV: The Organization -  what is necessary to scale Scrum up to work on large, multi-team projects; dealing with complexities of distributed teams; how to make Scrum work when part of the project uses a sequential process or when there are compliance or governance requirements; special considerations of the impact of Scrum on an organization’s human resources, facilities, and project management office groups.

Part V: Next Steps - various approaches to measure how far an organization has progressed in becoming agile; need for continuous improvement to maintain agility.

In most of the twenty-two chapters of this book Cohn organizes his advice on overcoming some universally common problems faced during Agile/Scrum journey  as "Things to Try Now" and "Objection".

Things to Try Now - Recreates the pieces of advice which the author found himself giving most often to his clients or that was most helpful in particular situations. Over 100 Things to Try Out !

Objection - Reproduces  typical objections (around 60 ! )  raised on Scrum/Agile   during author's  training/consulting sessions and author's counter arguments.

Each chapter has a section on Additional Reading which goes beyond just citing the references. Against most of the cited reference  Cohn provides a succinct 2-3 summary of the reference. This helps the reader in choosing the appropriate reference for further reading.

On the whole a very useful and handy guide book for Agile/Scrum implementers at all levels in an organization.  I was lucky enough to get it as a complimentary copy during the Certified ScrumMaster training I attended last month ! Have started reading it all over again !