Jack of All Trades!

Jack of all trades and Master of none is a figure of speech that has been very famous for a long time. Since I am not an Etymologist, I had to work hard to understand how this figure of speech came up. 

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The shortened version “a jack of all trades” is often a compliment for a person who is good at fixing things, and has a very good broad knowledge. A “Jack of all trades” may be a master of integration, as such an individual who knows enough from many learned trades and skills to be able to bring the individual’s disciplines together in a practical manner. This person is a generalist rather than a specialist.  

There is also a longer version “Jack of all trades, master of none, but oftentimes better than master of one” which refers to a person who is not the best at all skills, but is better than someone who is only a master of one.  

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The “master of none” element appears to have been added later; which made the statement less flattering to the person receiving. Today, the phrase used in its entirety generally describes a person whose knowledge, while covering a number of areas, is superficial in all of them. When abbreviated as simply “jack of all trades”, it is an ambiguous statement; the user’s intention is then dependent on context. However, when “master of none” is added this is unflattering and sometimes added in jest. 

Over the last fifty years, things are going in the direction of specialization. I am told that in the medical field this specialization is quite deep. General Surgeons, Orthopedic Surgeons was the initial norm. Now we have Surgeons for different Organs. We have Spline Surgeon or maybe a Spleen Surgeon. We have Knee Surgeons and we have Shoulder specialists. In dentistry now we have a Pediatric dentist and Implant Dentist. We have experts for our 7th tooth and so on. What happened was that these experts got themselves trained in specialities and later they became such experts that they continued to work only in their specialized areas. Don’t be surprised if you have an expert surgeon who works only middle finger of the left hand!  

But all this is likely to change over a period. At the same time in the times of super specialities, there have been generalists who have done well. There are certain areas in life which need the human being to have knowledge of many things. Super specialization occurs when humans work with their own hands, or they do research in a very specific area e.g. molecular biology. But there are many general-purpose work areas which need cross-functional knowledge, leadership, understanding of commercial aspects. (I have just mentioned a few disciplines.) A superb knee surgeon may not be able to run a hospital. A nerdy computer expert like Steve Jobs came up with fantastic products. But Apple as an organization was way beyond him, though he was one of the founder members.  It requires deep knowledge of the area in which you are an expert, but you need to get the ideas on paper, converted into reality. The specialist may not be an expert in getting these ideas to become a commercial success or be able to convert it into a publicly usable product.  

A new concept is already on the horizon for knowledge of those like you and me, but it is existence since last 10 to 15. But now it is discussed more openly. It is an idea of making use of Supercomputing power, Data Sciences as powerful tools which will help humans to cross new boundaries. How will this happen? In which area could this happen? What are the views of experts?  

Human biology is one area where the impact could be the maximum. We have had great thinkers, great designers in history but to me, HE is the greatest of them all by miles. Human body is a real complex design made by HIM! We have now started understanding many things about humans, the functioning of the human body, diseases, repairs and so on. Ageing of the human body is one area where a lot of work is being done. Why does a human die other than by diseases, accidents? The main reason is old age. Though ultimately the death could be because of heart failure, kidney failure, liver failure; but generally, the reason for death can be described as multiple organ failure. As we grow in age, things start going wrong.

Let us understand how the word “Age” is used. As a noun, it means “the length of time that a person has lived or a thing has existed.” As a verb, it means “grow old or older.” So, when we Age, as in the verb, our body also ages, its functions slowly start diminishing. One area where humans have always been fascinated is overcoming death. Immortality with aged organs, bent back, poor digestion, joints creaking, not able to see and hear properly will be meaningless. Hence there is a lot of research going on in the area of overcoming death and consequent research in the area of reversing ageing of our organs. We already know that knee joint and hip joint replacements are reasonably common surgeries. Some heart replacements are taking place but are not very common.  

Imagine the new Ashwathama who never dies,  having a weak heart. I am sure that there is research going on somewhere to make an artificial heart at a reasonable price. Will this be made by a heart surgeon? Will this be made by a hydraulics engineer? Will it be designed by an electrical engineer, as heart gets electrical impulses to keep pumping on and on! To me, this person will be a generalist or a jack of many (if not all) trades but may be master of none. That entity has to understand hydraulics for a heart pumping, medical knowledge to understand the concept of what heart does and an electrical engineer to understand impulses. (I have considered only a few areas for the purpose of discussion) This generalist will also need to have good computer programming knowledge required for simulating the concept of an artificial heart. 

Jack of all trades term said in jest can become history. You need a jack of all trades. The knowledge of how the huge collected data can be processed using data science will also be useful! Are we talking of a Superman? Are we talking of a “Super specialist Generalist”? Is it already getting complicated? But to overcome the Yamaraj (the god of death) humans need to work hard, work smarter. It is definitely not a job of a super specialist but a super generalist!  

In the medical field, results of the Jack of All trade concept has become commonly known to us. Knee joints, Hip joints, putting stainless rods in place of bones, words like Stainless Steel and Titanium have become common. This is a language of a mechanical engineer and a metallurgist! Then there are teeth implants! Use of Gold in dentistry is quite common for years! Scattered usage of such combination of expert generalist has been happening for quite some time. 

But AI and supercomputing are going to give a real boost to such efforts as these are powerful tools. AI is self-learning as it can learn from historical data generated, as the project progresses. What will Immortality project involve? To start with, stop ageing of your skin, a 150-year-old person would also like to have young looking skin. Then stop the ageing of joints! Revive heart function, revive brain function and so on. This means the whole-body function will need revival. This will involve more generalists than having super specialists! Combination cross functional knowledge comes into picture. 

So, stop calling “Jack of All Trades” to someone in jest! That is going to be the need of the hour! Do you know who can replace the super specialist? It can be Robot made by Super generalists! Amen!

To me the best example of Jack of All Trades:

JACK OF ALL TRADES

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MASTER OF ALL

 

 

 

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Every Why Has A Reply!

Every why has no reply because the sky is very high! The saying means that for every question there may not be a reply or an answer because there are no answers, because the sky is very high! No answer, period. But in life you come across many different situations, events, incidents all the time. There are number of papers, documents, treaties, books, articles suggesting how to handle them. But if you handle the situation with a question “Why”, you will get a better understanding of the advice, suggestion given to you! Our life is always full of interpersonal relationship sometimes mute, many times verbal and active. The question why, will make you understand the real reason for reacting to it.

Yesterday, I was joining the traffic from our condo and had given an indicator to show where I was going to turn. There was a vehicle on the main road and was having difficulty in getting inside a condo next to ours. A person from that vehicle was making excited gestures indicating that he was facing a minor difficulty. I had not questioned him at all by honking, blinking my headlights, I did nothing. Then I thought why was he so excited? I felt that maybe I did not understand his difficulty and he thought I may make an issue. But he was not aware that I am generally in conflict resolution mode in the traffic. I communicated mutely by not doing anything hence ended up without any conflict. If I had made my own wild gestures or indication there could have been a minor skirmish!

I will share some examples from work place environment. Think of conflict resolution in the work place. Again, the why is going to help. Two people have a conflict about a work-related issue and if they are mature enough, they will resolve it by simply understanding that whether they like it or not, as colleagues they will have to work together. If the same issue goes to the boss, the boss will ask the same question “why” to both independently and try to understand their sides. Then the decision will be taken to satisfy the need of the organization rather than need to stoke egos. While explaining the resolution the boss must call both parties and explain why it has been resolved in a certain manner! But same will not be applicable to issues which are between two departments or cross-functional work! In this case the goals, requirements and priorities of each department are different; at least initially it may look as if all sides are right but the conflict is still there. This issue can get escalated to very senior level with a person who has the birds eye view of the company’s goals, requirements and priorities. But this authority must also explain why resolution was done in a certain way.

In working environment, it makes sense to understand what your boss is thinking, why he is thinking that way. Your reasons, priorities, goals will be subset of boss’s goals. On personal levels those may be different. There is big a project at the final dash level! Suddenly, you find that your boss is distracted, looking to go home as early as possible. Ask about the reasons for distraction. Ask if the boss is having some personal difficulty, someone unwell at home, maybe critical exam time of children! Show empathy to the boss; maybe the boss will open out and share a way of doing things as efficiently in his absence! Because the boss is distracted the priorities have not changed but a small gesture is needed indicating full support to the boss!

In the work environment, there are organization-wide internal services. These are built up to make life easier for everyone. When people put in a demand, ask them why they need these things? Don’t be a judge to what they want. Find out a method why and how they will become your good customers, you are going to create internal services for them, is it not?  Ask them their pain areas. There will be some services across the departments. Make sure that ALL agree to different viewpoints, keep on asking why they want certain service? It’s all the time why, why and why!

Another important situation where why is important is when someone leaves an organization. Why is the person leaving? Better opportunity or poor atmosphere? Better pay elsewhere or too much work in the current job? Is the person key person? Was the person’s manager unreasonable? It is not about a person, it is about a situation. Why such a situation came up? Could a company have done something differently? Could that person have done something differently? It is always said that the company is more important not the person but sometimes it is not so. Steve Jobs is a classic case (though such cases are very rare) Apple computers struggled for 20/25 years. In the initial phase, Jobs was trying to push his thinking all the time but it was not working. Then he was asked to go though he was a founder member. Later on, he joined back but again did the same things pushed his ideas and his own agenda!  Rest as they say is history. Apple is the most successful company, ever! So, don’t forget there may be a Jobs lurking somewhere!

It’s equally important when you are negotiating something in the workplace. Negotiations are needed because some conflicts come up where there are two sides involved. This resolution cannot be zero-sum game. Zero sum game means during resolution, the final conclusion will be such that one side will gain something and other will lose something; the sum of gain and loss will be zero in such case. But this does not resolve issues. To me it is a temporary resolution. This is achieved in the interest of the organization. Side which has lost will remember all the time about the loss. It will look for opportunity to strike back. Negotiations should be such that both sides feel that they have gained something. Negotiator should expertly make people understand that both sides have to take a step back to reach an amicable solution.

But friends work place and our life are fully intermingled, they run in parallel. Work place environment is part of our day to day life. There are compulsions of the work place, similarly try to look for compulsion in our life, most important thing is to throw away our ego in both places. My granddaughter has rule that she cannot watch YouTube while eating food. For the person feeding her, it is very simple to put on YouTube, feeding is completed before you say zip. She asked me what is the meaning of the rule. So, I told her that while eating if we concentrate on eating, the gastric juices are produced in correct proportion for good digestion and absorption. Similarly, let positive juices, positive thought process be there in our mind, all the time. It will help us feel good and we can absorb enjoyment better! Now don’t ask me “WHY” this is necessary!

Do we have it in us?

Historically, in the last two hundred years at least, we have seen nations moving from Agro Based economies to Manufacturing economies to Service based Economies. The latest classic example of this is China. From 7th decade in the last century, till today they have shown fascinating growth and China has become the manufacturing hub of the world. India was late in this transformation and we were forced into liberalization by the precipice we reached in 1992. India had no money to pay for foreign goods/debts and had to move their “family gold” (it is the gold stock that nations hold for such situations) abroad to borrow the money. Rest as they say is history. 

We reached a growth rate between six and eight % and the effect of that growth is seen all over India, in the last 25 years. But there is a twist in the story here. India has not exactly skipped the manufacturing phase of the growth but it appears that we are jumping more towards the Service based economy. I was wondering why this is happening and as usual, found that this is very complex to understand and even more complex to explain but still I am venturing into trying to explain.  

First and foremost, I feel that with the internet around and excellent connectivity world over, we all know what is happening anywhere in the world. What new products are available, what better gadgets are available is known the world over,  very fast. So, aspirations of the people change very rapidly. But the generations don’t become rich in such small durations. With 8% kind of growth and the speed of growth, this change is even more lopsided than in olden days. Rich are becoming richer faster and by leaps and bound. The disparity between the rich and the poor is galloping rapidly.  This is where the comparison between China and India always comes into the picture. There is no question that China has done much better than India during this period but at the same time, there are certain human aspects that need to be understood. 

China still has a lot of poverty but with the authoritarian government, they make sure to hide this fact. If required, they block websites which try to display such things. Beijing does have a large poor area, well hidden from prying reporters. If any reporter tries to break the government diktat, the reporters get thrown into jail. China simply crushes uprisings or behaviours they don’t like. In India, we are opposite to that. We have people in our society who love the display and discuss India’s poverty by making an argument about freedom of speech but the main reasons are always political. We have this history. In the olden days, 60’s in the last century, we had people like Satyajit Ray who took pride in producing films which advertised India’s poverty. By no means I am saying not to discuss our poverty, in fact, we as a nation should accept facts of life then only we can improve, denial mode is not going to help anyone. But pride in showing poverty is a bit too much.  

With an authoritarian government, it was very easy for China to declare one-child policy. This has brought down population growth rate drastically from 90’s of last decade. This helped China improve per capita income. In India, we tried family planning but it did not succeed as it was done half-heartedly. In poor strata of the society the family planning was a disaster and hence our per capita income showed an increase but not to the extent China could show!  

Government policies about manufacturing, imports and exports have changed very slowly over a period. With this, there was not much incentive for global giants to be in India. By the time they started coming in the bigger way, we see the reversal of trend due to other reasons. Electric Vehicles! EV’s are changing world scenario rapidly, though we may not see many EV’s on road for next five years, the development and investment patterns of these giants are now changing and trying to adapt to their new global strategies based on EV’s. India is not a priority for them! For their own reasons GM and MAN trucks have withdrawn from India and some more are expected to do so. But what happens in China? India’ pride and numero uno, Suzuki has completely withdrawn from China. In India, its share is more than 50% but in China, it was less than 1% of the market! This indicates that Chinese and Indian market requirements are poles apart. Hence, bigger and larger want to be in China and not India!

Another thing that happened in between was Y2K. I am not still sure if it was a real problem! Not a single failure of any system was declared in the world when on 01/01/2001, the Sun rose in the sky! To me, it was more of hype than the real problem. Indian service company giants made a real killing out of it! There came up new industry czars and they popularized the culture of white-collar subcontractors. It was good for the country that finally we started making big money. We started to have a society of young millionaires initially in Rupee terms, then in dollar terms too! Life has been Roses all the way. So, why bother to disturb the bandwagon.

There were some hopes in the industry when small companies like Quick Heal and Tally started making software products but this trend never caught up for the fear that we will lose on easy money. Yes, there appeared to be the trend which showed some changes a couple of years back. But these were due to one Mr Trump who started changing visa rules for our service giants. Not because the Giants wanted to change their ways and go up the value chain! What’s in a name? As long as hot dollars keep coming in the kitty nobody is bothered. Even in the IT industry where we supposedly have thousands of trained manpower, we have missed on things like IOT, AI, the Virtual reality which are already on the way. Are we ready for this? Using these new things company’s world over are creating “products”. Do our glorified contractors have the gumption to take up the challenge? Do they have will to fight it out with Silicon Valleys of the US, Israel? Or do we want to remain service providers to these new product companies? I am hearing the names like Tally and Quick Heal of the new era but I am honestly doubtful that big shots will take it up. Probably, it is better to be the doyen of the industry with billions in the pocket, giving talks blah blah blah. Why bother about being a struggling product creator?  

I am always positive about everything, but I am really not sure of service providers switching to a new avatar of products manufacturer. There are always very few Steve Jobs and Bill Gates! India has already jumped to service industry in the transition!  

When things get tough…

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Pramod somehow caught hold of Genie, managed to make Genie run at the high speed that was expected of him. Genie as usual started narrating a story. He started with a question, “Pramod, how do you feel is the life of an artist? What do you think keeps the artist going? What drives the artists to pursue their art?” Pramod knew that if he uttered a word, Genie would slip out of his control and system will hang! So Pramod did not give any reply to the question asked.

As usual, Genie kept on talking. Pramod, you must be wondering why I am asking you about artists! Ok let us be honest, you are not one, but you are now a closet blogger and blogging is like what artists do. You write your blogs as an individual, publish them and hope that your readers will like them, readers criticize them, disagree with you. When you started writing, you had only three readers, your family. Slowly your frequency of writing increased, you started getting a few more readers. Then during last few months, the “hits” started increasing because your frequency of writing increased, and the blog spread also increased. It took you about 4 years of consistent writing, to reach reasonable hits. Pramod, your livelihood is not dependent on this activity, so it hardly mattered to you whether people read your blog or not! You will continue writing blogs as and when you want as there are no deadlines.

But what about new singers, painters, sculptors and many such people who start their careers and hope that their art reaches a lot of people. How many of these people even reasonably succeed as full timers? They struggle every day not only with success but in making money! Doctors and engineers who work independently also have similar issues, but they can take up some job. But they don’t have to struggle on day to day basis! Where will artists get jobs? Musicians may get but singers, dancers, sculptors they must be on their own. Their work gets tested every day, criticized every day, and they are sure not whether their effort will be commercially succeed! The group of people who can use their talent is quite limited and competition these days is tough. Pramod, I heard that a Picasso painting got sold for US $ 450/ million. What did Picasso earn in his life time?

Hindi film industry music now is a big business. But with so many artists are trying their luck, there is tremendous competition. Top singers like Sonu Nigam, Shaan, Abhijeet have formally said that they are currently not being offered many songs. Same is the case with Kumar Sanu! There are many singers who are one or two film wonders and they are inexpensive! Pramod, you will be shocked when you hear this story. One artist was almost begging to a music director to allow him to sing in a movie and somehow managed to handover his cd. When the music director heard the song later, he found out that the singer was award winning singer for best song, the previous year. After that song, singer did not get any assignments.

There is one more shocking story, Pramod, about lack of control of artists on their earnings! Famous Hindi song “कजरा रेwas sold by a cell phone company for download as caller tune. The total business for this one song was Rs.16000/ crores, almost 2.8/ Billion US $! They shared the money 50:50 with music company. How much did the lyricist, singers, music directors get? Zilch! This one song could have made many artists millionaires! This movie was released in 2005, now it 2017! There is legal action going on. Pramod, I am not sure if they will get their money in their life time.

But what keeps these artists going? Passion! And secondly “No Option”! Pramod, in their passion I am sure, artists did not get trained to do anything else, other than their art! There are few people like M F Hussain and Lata/Asha sisters who were commercially successful ; there must have many equally good artists who did not become commercially successful. The artists mentioned above have also been successful but at a very young age they are “out marketed” by competition!

Pramod, I want your reply on this as I know you have strong views!! Pramod just could not keep quiet. He said, “Genie, there is no substitute to passion! I get a feeling that many great things in this world are done purely due to passion. If Steve Jobs did not have passion there would not have been Apple. Without passion there would be no Federer or a Tendulkar. Passion has driven social workers like Baba Amte and Maharshi Karve. Artists and individuals who work only with passion are the real creators in this world! This inherent toughness in them keeps them going in tough times. ”

With this statement Pramod broke the golden rule of silence that Genie had locked him in.  At that instant Genie slipped out of Pramod’s grasp, Genie’s speed became equivalent of 2 G and system hung!  Genie could not help but make a passing remark before escaping. “Pramod, I agree with you. But what is the reason in you to have this passion for blogging?

Only Paranoid Survive- Andy Grove

Born András István Gróf on (1936-09-02) September 2, 1936 in Budapest Hungary, Andy Grove was an enigma. He died on 21st March 2016. For records purpose Andy retired as Chairman of Intel in 2002. His book Only Paranoids Survive is a land mark book. I have read the book sometime back and I am sure going to read it again.

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I have always thought that when He creates people, you and I are created in assembly line process but Groves of this world are created in a designer studio meant for special people. I am writing this piece to understand Grove’s thinking and how it can be applied to life in general.

Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore founded Intel in 1968 and Grove was the first employee to join though he was not a founder. Till 1985 Intel was a DRAM (Dynamic Memory Chips) manufacturer. But since late 70’s Japanese started winning the business from all and dumping their products at a very low price in US market. This was a big problem for Intel.

There are many quotes attributed to Grove and some are real Gems; quotes tell us the thought process in creating Silicon Valley and its unique culture. It is said that “Probably no person has had greater influence in shaping Intel, Silicon Valley and all we think about today in technology world than Andy Grove.” Some of Andy’s quotes can also be applied to our personal lives.

He first used the term Point of Inflection to describe how industries change. Inflection Point is defined mathematically as “a point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs.” In business “it is a time of significant change in situation or turning point”.  The smooth bend in curve is the inflection point.

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Intel the DRAM manufacturer was ahead of the pack in technology terms in 70’s. But Japanese competitors were good at manufacturing processes and efficiencies and this is where Intel was lacking. Advantages of new technology are available for a small period but what sustains business is manufacturing. In this race Japanese started catching up with Intel and a stage reached where Intel was pushed to the corner. Intel market share had gone down from 80% to 10 % in a few years. This was the point of inflection. At this stage Andy Grove guided Intel to shift from DRAMS to Microprocessors. They not only shifted but just stopped making DRAMs. Rest as they say is history!

This was the point of inflection which Andy caught perfectly. He visualized the change in direction where business was moving. He managed to minimize all the errors that Intel had made in DRAM business. From open technology he moved towards patented technology. He made sure that Intel had top class manufacturing facilities and efficiencies. This helped Intel in keeping competitors at bay! He also made sure that Intel had a long term contracts with first IBM and then Compaq for supplying Intel Microprocessors to manufacture PC’s. There was so called error in Pentium chip. This was deftly handled by Intel and they replaced all the chips whoever wanted them to be replaced, no questions asked! This so called error would not have affected regular users of PC. This business savyyness helped Intel. Then the famous partnership of Windows and Intel called Wintel happened in the market. But Intel were open to Linux, when it was required later.

Many of us have this inflection point in our lives. Sometimes it is opportunity to go into business, moving to a different country, changing your line all together. On personal front it can be meeting the right spouse, making new friends, opportunity to go for great education, and meeting a great mentor! How many of really know that an inflection point is looming around? I think not many of us have the vision to know what is happening around us. If we knew there would been large number of success stories. Inflection Points can make you or break you!

In Indian context, a commercial vehicle manufacturer took a decision to get into car business. Was it the inflection point for this company? This decision is dragging the company over a period and now with all international players around, the drag is going to be heavier and heavier! Almost at the same time another Indian company manufacturing two wheelers took a decision to stay out of car market! (Though they were attempting to enter) Second company probably understood the inflection point better and stayed its course. But this company also missed inflection point! They thought that scooter market in India is declining fast hence they withdrew from scooter market. But there was big market demand for fancy scooters with no gears. Currently half a million scooters are made every month!

Then there is Nokia. They missed the inflection point indicated by Smart Phones! From number one to number no one was a very fast downward journey for them.

Paranoia is a thought process believed to be heavily influenced by fear and anxiety. Andy’s book Only Paranoids Survive is a thought process created due to his experience during Intel’s DRAM manufacturing phase. It is possible that the anxiety and fear of getting wiped out of business by the competition created Paranoia in Andy. He was probably always thinking what he should do next, so that he could  remain ahead of others. This thought and correct application of technology took Intel, to today’s pinnacle position.

But we must understand that we cannot apply the same thought process of paranoia in our personal lives. Personal life is not about profits, competition and money. It is much more. I am sure Andy was not paranoid in his personal life. His simple and frugal life style indicated that he was a normal human. He had no fascination for big houses, big cars and all such so called success indicators. How many real successful persons can stay away from this the glamour of success?

“In technology whatever can be done will be done” is another of his famous quotes. Many things which we probably imagined in childhood are actually available today. 50 years back the world as we know was “biiiiiiig”, with technology it has become a village. Support services and functions are handled by persons sitting in any part of the world, thanks to technology. As late as early 80’s getting telephone line in India was a big deal. Now there are 800 million subscribers of phone companies in India, again thanks to technology. To purchase things one had to go to shops or super markets, now we can do these things sitting at home.

I am sure till his death Andy had “Intel Inside” him. But I am sure that “Person Inside” was far different than the thought process of “Intel Inside”! There is an incident that shows the real Andy. During 1995 launch of an Intel product, the launch opened with Intel bunny people; at the end of the dance people expected Andy to come on stage and start the proceedings. To every body’s surprise, one of the bunnies removed the face mask and behind the mask was Andy! Who would have thought that the CEO of the largest company in the world would swing hips with Broadway dancers? That probably was real Andy!

Andy this is my salute to you! I am sure you are planning next tech revolution along with Steve Jobs over there!