Category: Business Intelligence and Data Mining
Mathematics is Fun
I often say that I eat because of my comfort in math. It is my love and comfort with math that makes me confident and successful (sometimes), no matter what role in what organization. I was lucky to have parents who cared about math so much that I practiced and practiced, for funny money, always trying to find faster ways to accomplish my ‘practice load’. I was lucky to have a high-school math teacher who always emphasized starting from first principles, whenever in doubt. I have instilled in both our daughters the love for math.
An anecdote here. My wife was working at a Kumon center in Austin, tutoring 4-6 year old kids in English. I was then happily working at IBM. The live-wire Taiwanese-American lady owner of that Kumon center was bragging one day to her staff that not even CS professors at UT Austin can pass the G-level math test (They go from A to M levels). My wife casually said that I would pass it. Jennifer, the owner, said no way and said she would bet $100 that I won’t be able to pass. So, my wife chose to call me and told me about it. Never shy about such challenges, I drove up to the Kumon center, and took the G-level test. It is a good test that the kids have to score within a couple of errors, in a time frame of about 30 min, to pass. I was able to do it pretty quickly. Blood drained out of her face, as she went through my answers skipping many intermediate steps. She said she had never lost a bet in her life, especially around Kumon activities. We declined the $100, but she insisted on my accepting that crisp $100 note. So we organized a party for all the Kumon students. I later showed her my GRE transcript showing a perfect 800 score in math. I said she messed with the wrong guy, and she laughed.
I wonder if programmatizing anything is a kiss of death. The reason people feel bored in large organizations is because of large programs with rigid structures and limited scope for initiatives. May be the education departments should take note and teach the teachers to teach according to inside-out model, where students learn by expressing what they feel and see. That goes for teaching math, Psychology, Computer Science, Management, and everything else.
My Data Analytics book becomes Best Seller
Today, my first book, Data Analytics Made Accessible, became a top-seller in the data mining category. It reached #2 bestseller status on the Amazon website (see picture below). I hope it will reach #1 soon. The book’s success speaks to its quality. It is an accessible overview of this vast and growing and hot topic. This book only comes in an online (Kindle) version, and is also priced very low compared to other books in the field. Thanks to those who wrote nice reviews on the book on Amazon site. I hope this books helps the readers become successful in their lives.
2014: A Transformational Year
2014 was a transformational year for me. With my first book published (business intelligence and data mining), this new blog (anilmah.com), new travel (South Africa), a new talk (personal development through transcendence), and more, it was a productive year for me. The next year will surely bring its own joys!
Book: I wrote a well-received book on business intelligence and data mining. It was launched as an ebook on Amazon in May. It has consistently sold a couple of copies every day. At the end of the 2014, it was published by Business Expert Press (BEP), a NY-based publisher, in both print and e-book edition. (See the page on My Book).
Blog: This blog started in May of the year. There are quite a few posts on it. The topics range from travel to information technology to enlightenment to Vedas to good old Leadership, and more . My first post was a travelogue of my amazing trip to Kumbh Mela last year, and it was a big hit with the readers. My recent post on leadership lessons from organizing community events brought me more followers than all others previous posts combined. I continue to post from lived experiences.
Travels: I also had two major international travels this year, to South Africa and to India. The main purpose of the South African trip in June was to teach a course as part of an Executive MBA program. However, it also included visits to Gandhian monuments in Johannesburg and Durban. It also included sightseeing including the gorgeous city of Cape Town. (see my blog post on SA visit). The main purpose of my trip to India In November-December was to deliver a talk on personal development through transcendence at a conference in IIT Roorkee. After that I went to Yog gram for a week-long naturopathic detoxing retreat, and to Rajasthan to see my extended family (See my posts on the visits to Yog Gram and Pushkar).
Talks: I have delivered a talk on ‘Personal Development through Transcendental Meditation’ four times during the year 2014, three times in the US and once in India. Each time the talk was very well received. I essentially talk about how Transcendence is an orthogonal dimension to Intellect. For intellectually smart people, transcendence can open up new infinite avenues for creativity and fulfillment. I also share about how transcending using TM and TM-Sidhis over the last 2 years helped release my inner stresses and set me up for writing creatively from the heart and getting a great reception.
In addition, I led our South Asia community at our university into celebrations for six major festivals. Three of the celebrations included large bonfires. (See my blog posts on bonfires, and on leadership lessons from holding these events).
I am sure 2015 will bring its own joys!
Trip to the Big and Beautiful South Africa
A Trip to the Big and Beautiful South Africa
Dr. Anil Maheshwari
I traveled to South Africa with my family (wife Neerja and daughter Nupur) for three weeks in June 2014. It was two parts work and one part vacation. The first two weeks we stayed in Johannesburg where I was mostly working, and the final week was spent sightseeing in two other cities, Durban and Cape Town. This was the first time we had traveled to the country of South Africa, to the continent of Africa, and to the Southern hemisphere. Feeling the winter in the month of June itself was a mind expanding experience for us. We rented a part of a house in an upscale neighborhood not too far from downtown Johannesburg.
Jozi, as Johannesburg is popularly called, feels just like Delhi. From the smell at the airport, to the smell on the roads, and the traffic patterns on the road, to the structure of the houses, it feels just like Delhi. Just like in India, here they drive on the left side of the road. There are swanky new cars, and more than their fair share of the luxury cars of the Audi, Mercedes, and BMW brands. There are some places of squatters alternating with high-valued beautiful housing areas. Weather patterns are similar to Delhi, except that it is winter in June. The big difference is security: houses have tall walls with iron railings, topped by electric fences. Security is an important aspect. The city is generally considered not too secure. Every house and building has layers of security. People lock their doors scrupulously during the day. Entry of cars into the house is carefully managed so the car and house cannot be hijacked. Security is big business, $8B per year. It is also a good source of employment for the South African youth.
There is a ‘Little India’ in Johannesburg. Close to downtown is the market of Fordsburg, where one can buy everything Indian. From vegetarian restaurant and grocery shops to sugarcane juice to ayurvedic doctor to oriental market, there are many reminders of the Indian culture and life style. We visited Fordsburg often to enjoy vegetarian Indian lunch or grocery shopping or just to enjoy the sugarcane juice.
Also in downtown is Gandhi square at the intersection of Rissik Street and Anderson, at the location of the original offices of Mohandas Gandhi, the young barrister who later became Mahatma. There is a statue of Gandhi ji at the square. It was amazing to see this statue of the young Gandhi in full legal attire, which was unlike most Gandhi statues that showed the old Mahatma with round glasses.
My main purpose to come here was to teach for an Executive MBA program run by our university here for the second-biggest telecom operator in South Africa. I taught IT Project Management here three evenings a week, traveling to their head office in a fast-growing Joburg suburb called Midrand. I liked very much the middle-level managers who were students in my course. The office buildings were nice, and I showed up three evenings a week for classes beginning at 5 pm. This happened for the first two weeks of my trip. I also got an opportunity to meet with the CEO of the company, a go-getter person of Indian origin, who is driving the company to rapid growth through investing big in people and infrastructure.
The second part of my work during these two weeks was to work with Maharishi Invincibility Institute (MII), a sister organization of our university, to help improve business processes. MII works out of a big clean donated building in downtown Joburg. Here students take courses at the bachelor’s degree level from my university, in a distance education mode. These are mostly disadvantaged black students who are nonetheless ambitious and want to improve their life and career prospects by getting a valuable education with an American degree. They practice Transcendental Meditation (TM), have glowing faces, and are very well-behaved and responsible individuals. The staff is very committed to the cause of Transcendental Meditation, and of spreading peace and harmony in the world. I worked with the director of MII, along with the other administrators to help them design information systems to improve delivery of distance education, and management of academic records. I really enjoyed working with them, and was glad to be of help.
During the first full weekend in Joburg, we rented a nice Audi car and visited two safari and game parks. Pilanesburg is the 4th largest game reserve in SA, and is located about 2.5 hours away from Joburg. We spent a whole day, leaving house at 7 am and returning around 7 pm. We saw many kinds of animals. We saw two of the big five, the elephants and the rhinos. We could not see lions, leopards and buffaloes. We saw many zebras and giraffes at very close quarters, sometimes worried that they might attack us. But they were all quiet and calm and enjoyed their time in the sun, while we stopped the car and took pictures and videos.
The next day we traveled to and spent the night at Ezemvelo, a huge picturesque and unspoilt nature reserve owned by MII. With no noise whatsoever except the crackle of the wood burning in the fireplace, we slept peacefully as never before.
After the two weeks in Joburg, we rented another Audi car and drove to Durban. We drove down the 6 hour drive on the first day. As an indicator of things to come, we saw a predominantly Indian community at the midway point where we took a lunch break. The second day we went to an incredible Indian market called the Victoria Street market, in downtown Durban. Most of the shops and visitors there looked ethnic Indians. My family picked up all their souvenir jewellery items there. We could negotiate prices to our heart’s content.
In the evening, we went to the beautiful beach on the Indian Ocean. We also enjoyed visiting Ushaka village, a nice shopping area in downtown Durban by the ocean.
The next day went to the Gandhi ashram, in the original Phoenix settlement. Gandhiji’s original structure had been rebuilt including his housing area and the printing press. The area around the settlement was still very poor with just squatters all around. We took pictures and videos, and also bought some momentos.
Later in the day, we visited the Umhlanga beach to the north of Durban, a very nice and clean beach close to our hotel. We played soccer on the beach with a couple of young black people, and it was a lot of fun.
Sightseeing- Cape Town
After three good days in Durban, we flew into Cape Town. This is a gorgeous city that opens up on two oceans, Atlantic and Indian. As soon as we landed at our hotel, we were met with our TM friends Elizabeth and her husband Barry. They took us to Camp’s Bay, and we dined at a very nice Indian restaurant called The Raj, which is frequented by Bollywood stars. The food was one of the best Indian vegetarian foods. The beach in front had white sand. We went on a gorgeous long drive along the coast line on the Atlantic Ocean side. We also visited the wineries and sat down for a cheese cake and rooibos tea.
The next day was sunny, and we decided to make the most of it. In the morning we went to Robben Island, the high security prison where Mandela was imprisoned for more than two decades. In the afternoon we visited Table Mountain, a picturesque high and flat mountain by the sea. We took the ferry to Robben Island from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, which is a nicely done up shopping and entertainment area by the sea. It took almost an hour to be ferried the 11 k distance to the island by the old boat which used to ferry actual prisoners in the years gone by.
Robben Island was clean and nicely done up, evoking the experience of the prison, while not being to too dark and dingy. We were taken around the jail by a former prisoner in the jail. We got to visit the cell #7 in Wing B, the cell occupied by Nelson Mandela, often referred to by the former prisones as Father Mandela. One could see the Table Mountain from the island.
Upon returning to the mainland, we took a cab to quickly go to the Table Mountain cableway. We took the cableway to the top of the mountain. Initially we just sat towards the front and enjoyed lunch at the restaurant on the top of the mountain. However, when we went behind the restaurant, we discovered the huge expanse of the mountain. It was entirely walkable, just a tad more difficult than a garden walk. There were breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and of the city of Cape Town and the Indian Ocean on the other side.
The next day we went to Cape Point, the southernmost tip of Africa. This is the point where the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans meet. The weather was not so good, and it rained off and on. However, our good friends Elizabeth and Barry took up the 65 km ride very nicely. We entered the Cape Point area, and then took a cableway to the top of a mountain. Then we climbed up some more stairs to see a lighthouse. This tall lighthouse stands elegantly as a beacon of hope to those perhaps stranded in ocean. We took pictures on both sides of Cape Point, of Indian and Atlantic Ocean sides. We ate some at the Two Oceans café up there.
The next day, we flew back to Johannesburg. We took the time to visit Soweto, the famous large black colony, like the Dharavi slum of Bombay. This is where Mandela had lived for many years. We visited Mandela house, which is now a museum, and took pictures.
We also visited the Apartheid museum in the southwest side of Joburg. This museum stands as a monument to the dark period of human history in South Africa. The museum shocks the visitor into the experience of apartheid by assigning you to one of two entrances … for whites only, and for the colored. The paths are nice and wide and lighted for one case, and steel-caged, dark and narrow for the other. The museum is nicely done through images and videos from the struggle. There was also a permanent exhibit on the life and work of Nelson Mandela.
We spent the weekend quietly organizing ourselves, and tying up some loose ends. Nupur and I watched a movie at the theater. ‘Miners Shot Down’ is a grim but gripping political documentary about the massacre of miners by the state police in August 2012, the worst massacre since the apartheid era. It spelled out the power of mining companies in South Africa, and how often the state and police apparatus work in collusion with the business interests. I followed it up with a nicer romantic movie, a Woody Allen movie called ‘Fading Gigolos’.
The next evening, we were dropped off at the Johannesburg airport by a friend from MII, and we left South Africa with very fond memories. I also thought that Cape Town might be a nice place to settle in, if the opportunity presented itself.
Your Digital Self
In the digital world you are defined by the data exhaust of your many activities. From your communication and movement activities, to your purchase and sales activities, there is a digital record of your actions that can be put together to collectively constitute your digital self.
The data about you can be analyzed and mined for patterns of behavior. Who you talk to, when you talk, what you talk about, and how you communicate … all these can be deciphered from analyzing the text and time-stamps of your conversations. Your pictures and comments and Likes on FaceBook tells a lot about what you do, what you like, and who you relate to. Your tweets are a veritable record of your many proclamations, jokes, and commentary. Smartphone apps like WhatsApp contain a complete record of much sharing among half-a-billion people across the globe.
For instance, a composite profile of a person was made using only 45 days’s worth of data from WhatsApp. It showed who the person talked to, what she talked about, when she talked most, and how she communicated. Advertising companies can perfectly understand her behavior patterns, and sell her what they can. The analysis showed that the person spoke a lot about food, desserts, and weight loss. And that she was online most often at 8 pm. Thus companies could sell her more food, sugary stuff, and then also sell her dreams and products for weight loss.
Our behaviors are far more patterned, and a lot less spontaneous, than we care to believe. Modeling the data about your activities can show that. How can we be better prepared to counter those who may be using many of our unconscious behavior patterns to fleece us? One way is to understand your own digital self better.
The first step is to be open to understanding yourself in a deep data-driven way. The example above shows the value of being self-aware of our behavior patterns.
The second step will be to obtain data about our digital self. Organizations like FaceBook and Google gather all the data, analyze it and then send targeted ads on behalf of businesses. However is is not very clear right now, how an individual can gather the data from the likes of FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and hundreds of other sites. If large organizations can obtain such data, individuals should also be able to do so. I found an application called http://givememydata.com/ that helps you get back your data from FaceBook.
Data about one’s own activities should be made available free of charge to every individual. The data should be made available in a pre-processed form that is easily understandable and manageable by the individual concerned. This should be similar to how all credit-rating agencies need to offer you annually a free record of all your financial profile.
Once the data has been collected, the third step is to analyze the data, along very simple lines to generate a composite dashboard of oneself. That will be our accessible digital self, seen through the digital mirror.
For more on data mining check out my book available on Amazon.
Business Intelligence and Data Mining Made Accessible
I published my first book, Business Intelligence and Data Mining Made Accessible, on Amazon Kindle, today on the most auspicious Akshay Tratiya (Invincible Third Day) today.
This book fills the need for a concise and accessible book on the topic of Business Intelligence and Data Mining. It is a conversational book that feels easy and informative. This short and lucid book covers everything important, with concrete examples, and invites the reader to join this field.
Business is the act of doing something productive to serve someone’s needs, and thus earn a living, and make the world a better place. Business activities are recorded on paper or electronic media, and then these records become data. There is more data from customers’ responses and from the industry as a whole. All this data can be analyzed and mined using special tools and techniques to generate patterns and intelligence, which reflect how the business is functioning. These ideas can then be fed back into the business so it can evolve to become more effective and efficient in serving customer needs. And the cycle continues. This book essentially expounds of this virtuous cycle.
Data analytics and data-based decision-making are hot topics now. Big Data has entered the common parlance as many kinds of data are generated by business, social media, machines, and more. Organizations have a choice: they can be buried under the avalanche of data, or they can do something with it to increase competitive advantage.
Students across a variety of academic disciplines, including business, computer science, statistics, engineering, and others are attracted to the idea of discovering new insights and ideas from data. This book is designed to provide a student with the intuition behind this evolving area, along with a solid toolset of the major data mining techniques and platforms.
Existing textbooks in this field seem too long, too technical, and too complex. This book has developed from my own class notes, and reflects my many years of IT industry experience, as well as many years of academic teaching experience. The chapters are organized for a typical one-semester graduate course. The book contains many case-lets from real-world stories at the beginning of each chapter. There is a running case study across the chapters as exercises.
This book can also be gainfully used by executives, managers, analysts, professors, doctors, accountants, and other professionals to learn how to make sense of the data coming their way. This is a lucid flowing book that one can even finish in one sitting, or can return to it again and again for insights and techniques.