Archives mensuelles : janvier 2006

$64 million for the NSA to mine through social networks of terrorists (and US citizens ?)

It seems like the NSA is conducting a 3,5 years long $64 million worth research program on data mining maybe based on the eavesdropping of domestic and foreign phone calls and email exchanges. This program is called NIMD which stands for Novel Intelligence from Massive Data. Their approach is said to be based on the analysis of the social networks of people communicating one with another.

Burglarized by our baby-sitter and her 8 accomplices

Saturday night, my wife and I were having our first cinema since weeks. We had decided to let the 17 years teen-ager who lives next door keep an eye on our 3 babies while they are sleeping. Our apartment was burglarized by her and 8 “friends” of her.

“I was alone, everything went well”

23:15, Saturday night. We are back from the movie. She tells us the evening went well. The babies slept constantly and she had no problems. She hardly stays a couple of minutes with us and flees back to her home.

“Darling, did you notice the kitchen table is covered with water? I ask my wife
– Yes, she must have let some glass fall.
– Darling, where is all the stuff that usually lies on the top of the settee?
– Oh, I don’t know. That’s strange. And did you notice how much air perfume she sprayed in the bathroom?
– Maybe she smoked there. Hey, she must not have been here alone: there are two alien teeth brushes in the bathroom!
– Gosh, she must have hosted her boyfriend!”

“We were two but except that everything were OK.”

23:30, Saturday night. We ring her door bell. She comes back to our apartment for some explanation.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I admit a friend of mine came for helping me with some math exercise.
– Please don’t lie! You left two teeth brushes in our bathroom! You did not do math with teeth brushes! You must have enjoyed your night in our home with your boyfriend.
– … Yes… I did. But everything went fine for your babies. They are sleeping well and deeply.”
My wife gets her back to her door and explains to the father of the babysitter what happened. He is furious. The teen-ager almost looks like she is sorry.

“In fact, we were six.”

23:45, Saturday night. I get back to our apartment meanwhile in case the babies wake up with our noise. They are quietly sleeping. But I suddenly notice something else…

“Hey, Darling! Look at that! There’s tobacco spread over the ground in the office room! And the computer: It’s been shut down and its screen must have fallen on the ground or something because it’s not at its usual place. And the network won’t start up! And our room! Our bed has been moved and my books have disappeared… They are now in the living room!”

We get back to our neighbour’s apartment and ask for more truth, with anger.

“I could not let them go away! They were five friends of mine. But I had not planned they would come.
– Write down their names immediately, her parents ask.
– No, I can’t. I don’t have a pencil…
– Are you kidding or what?!?
– OK. Here are the names. But I promise my boyfriend was not there, please don’t blame him! We were only 6.”

“Yes, we were seven.”

00:20, Sunday morning.

“Your boy friend WAS here. You said it.
– He was not.
– He was.
– He was not!
– He was!
– He was not!
– (Her parents are shouting at her) He was!
– … Yes… He was… she cries.”

She cries and explains: “They forced the entrance. I did not ask them to come. I could not let them go. They brought some chaos so that you would be upset about me. And your babies just cried once but I managed to get them asleep quickly. And it’s neither my boyfriend’s fault nor mine…”

Meanwhile, I investigate through the apartment and notice that several cakes have been stolen from the fridge and cupboards. One pizza has been eaten near the piano: there is still some ham on the floor. The cover of the radiator in the living room has been broken: they must have tried to sit on it. The medicines we store in the office have been partially moved to the bathroom cupboard. Our bedroom furniture has also been visited.

We let her parents and her have an argument and maybe some sleep.

1:30, Sunday morning. Back to our apartment, we go through a comprehensive inventory of what happened there. I notice that the computer was shut down at 21:06. They must have confused the light switch of the room with the general switch of the power outlets. And the computer must have been abruptly shut down. They then switched it back on but could probably not access it because they don’t know the password. And the network router did not appreciate being rebooted so violently. I fix the network to get things back in order. I notice that the computer was shut down once again at 22:07. She must have tried to cover their tracks.

More importantly, some pieces of jewellery have been stolen from our bedroom. A pearl necklace, a gold bracelet and several medallions are missing from our small “treasure chest”.

“As a matter of fact, we were nine.”

8:30, Sunday morning. We bring notice to our neighbours that several jewels were stolen and we’re heading to the police station. Her mother and her come with us: her mother had been working for 15 years there! She looks half furious half despaired about what her daughter did. The police men start doing their job.

13:00, Sunday afternoon. We ask the neighbours on the floor above if they heard anything unusual during this night and they tell us how angry they are about the noise we did: people were shouting so loud in our apartment! Our TV was three times as loud as usually! And our babies were loudly talking in their bedroom until late in the evening! Things went not so well indeed. Yet another lie from the baby sitter.

14:30, Sunday afternoon. Two policemen visit our apartment for investigation. We notify them that we found the medallions: they had been moved to the piece of furniture where we store our clothes. Gods only knows why. With shock and despair ;-), we then discover yet another horrific crime: they stole the TV remote!

(They could have killed our babies and destroyed our house but they should not have stolen the remote! What can an honest family become without the TV remote!?!)

18:00, Sunday afternoon. The mother comes back to us with fresh information from her former police colleagues: they listened to the 6 accomplices and their parents. The teen-agers declared they were invited by our baby sitter for a birthday party and did not do anything wrong. They said it’s all the baby-sitter’s fault. They did not even go to any room other than the living room (the baby sitter says the contrary). But they also mention 2 other guys who they also invited and who wandered with suspect intents through the other rooms. We eventually learn the party gathered 9 teen-agers in our apartment.

22:30, Sunday afternoon. Hopefully, the day ends with relief and joy: we found the TV remote. It had been hidden between the settee and its cover.

The other partiers will be heard by the police tomorrow. We are still hoping our jewels will be given back but at least, we’ve got the remote. ;-) And hopefully the babies seem not to have suffered too much from this.

Que penser de l’entrepreneuriat social ?

Le « social entrepreneurship » (entrepreneuriat social/entreprenariat social) est un concept d’origine anglo-saxonne qui a bien du mal à prendre racine en France. L’idée est d’utiliser les forces du marché pour rendre le monde meilleur, de créer des entreprises lucratives dont l’activité économique a été conçue de manière à résoudre une problématique sociale voire humanitaire. Faire de l’entreprise un outil pour changer le monde. Sympa, non ?

L’exemple le plus connu est celui des entreprises de microcrédit, à l’image de la Grameen Bank de Mohamed Yunus, pionnier en la matière depuis les années 1970. La Grameen Bank s’est développée en offrant des prêts de quelques dollars à des paysans du Bangladesh pour qu’ils investissent dans une charette pour vendre à meilleur prix leurs légumes au marché du gros village voisin plutôt que d’être coincé dans leur petit bled où les « bons clients » ne se rendent pas. (Excusez le raccourci un peu caricatural !) Jusqu’alors, les banques refusaient de gérer des prêts aussi petits (trop de coûts administratifs) et des emprunteurs aussi peu fiables (comment gérer le risque de non-remboursement). Aujourd’hui, l’entreprenariat social est bien loin de se limiter aux activités bancaires en milieu rural mais touche tous les secteurs économiques, de la santé aux télécommunications en passant par l’énergie et le traitement de l’eau. De nombreux sites, livres et podcasts témoignent de l’aventure des entrepreneurs sociaux.

Le principe économique de base qui permet ce genre d’activités me semble être celui des innovations de rupture visant des non-consommateurs. Telle que présentée par Clayton Christensen, le principe est le suivant. Sur un marché donné, il y a des barrières à l’entrée pour les consommateurs : le produit est trop compliqué à consommer, le prix d’entrée de gamme est trop élevée pour le pouvoir d’achat, etc. Un innovateur introduit un nouveau produit qui lève cette barrière à l’entrée. Il propose par exemple une offre « à bas coût » qui repose par exemple sur une forte informatisation des process administratifs sous-jacents. Ce faisant, il permet à des (ex-) non-consommateurs d’accéder à ce marché. Il élargit donc considérablement celui-ci et vient concurrencer « par le bas » les sociétés déjà établies sur ce marché. Celles-ci rechignent souvent à lutter contre cette nouvelle concurrence car elle se font plus de marge sur le haut de gamme (auprès de leurs « bons clients »). Ce faisant, elles laissent se développer l’innovateur sans s’en préoccuper outre mesure. Pourtant, c’est bien souvent ce genre d’innovation qui peut ensuite conquérir l’ensemble du marché en question. Elle accule alors les offreurs classiques dans un haut de gamme dont la qualité dépasse déjà largement les attentes du marché alors que le produit innovant a progressé au point d’être « sufisamment bon » pour la plus grosse part de ce marché (« le mieux est l’ennemi du bien »).

Plus simplement, comme me le résumait le dirigeant d’un cabinet de conseil humaniste (ou était-ce le dirigeant humaniste d’un cabinet de conseil ?), il s’agirait de vendre à des pauvres des petits pois à l’unité plutôt qu’en boîte de 1 kg. Il y a un peu de ça. Et il est vrai qu’un livre de référence sur le sujet s’intitule « The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid« . L’idée est que notre société est une pyramide à la base de laquelle vit une très large masse de personnes n’ayant qu’un pouvoir d’achat extrêmement faible mais dont la masse totale représente une source de revenus non négligeable pour les entreprises.

Alors, que faut-il penser de cela ? S’agit-il :

  • d’un alibi cynique pour une nouvelle forme de consommation de masse ?
  • d’un concept « à l’américaine » qui n’a pas de validité en Europe ?
  • d’une forme d’entreprenariat réservée aux pays du Tiers Monde ?
  • d’un phénomène économique récurrent que l’on veut faire passer pour une révolution de nos sociétés ?
  • d’un non-phénomène capturé par des journalistes en mal d’effet de mode ?
  • d’une nouvelle manière de profiter de la pauvreté sous couvert d’oeuvre caritative ?
  • d’un levier capitaliste pour changer le monde (en mieux) là où les utopies politiques ont échoué ?

Il y a sans doute un peu de tout cela, mais un peu seulement.

De mon point de vue, il s’agit d’un phénomène économique connu (les innovations ouvrant de nouveaux marchés de consommation de masse) mais qui prend un caractère nouveau lorsqu’il atteint des populations extrêmement nombreuses et extrêmement pauvres. Ce phénomène est alors exploité par des pionniers humanistes qui profitent des forces du marché pour satisfaire leurs idéaux de changement social (ce qui me semble une chose extrêmement bonne !).

Les choses deviendront peut-être plus discutables lorsque l’ère des pionniers sera dépassée et que « les grandes entreprises » seront les premières à investir sur « la vente de petits pois à l’unité ». Elles se présenteront sans doute alors comme motivées par la même volonté de changement humaniste et cette motivation sera justement mise en doute. Mais ce sera sans doute très bien d’en être arrivés là car cela signifiera que le monde économique a dans l’idée que « les pauvres » ont de la valeur… ne serait-ce que dans leur petit portefeuille ! Et vaut-il mieux manger un petit pois vendu à l’unité par une multinationale ou bien mourir de faim car la boîte de petit pois est hors de prix ?

Bref, ce que j’en retiens, c’est que celui qui veut rendre le monde meilleur dispose d’un moyen efficace pour le faire : innover « par le bas » et entreprendre pour vendre à bas coût des produits et services aux plus pauvres qui n’y avaient jusque là pas accès. Bien sûr, l’entrepreneur social peut aller encore plus loin. Il peut par exemple adopter les principes de l’économie de communion pour rendre son entreprise plus résiliente, plus résistante aux crises économiques car ancrée dans une forte solidarité avec ses clients, fournisseurs, employés et investisseurs.

Et chez nous ? La première question qui me vient à l’esprit c’est que, en France, nous n’avons peut-être pas assez de pauvres pour que l’entreprenariat social soit encore vraiment rentable. (Ceux d’entre vous qui n’avaient pas encore vomi en lisant les paragraphes ci-dessus s’y sont peut-être mis ou bien se contentent de s’arracher les cheveux en lisant la phrase précédente. Vous me direz. Mais bon, franchement, si ce n’est pas cela…) Ou peut-être est-ce plutôt notre déficit d’esprit entreprenarial ? Ou le « retard français » en matière de nouvelles technologies ? Ou les effets de Tchernobyl ?… Ou parce que le chapitre français d’Ashoka n’a pas fini de lever son budget d’1,5 millions d’Euros pour identifier les entrepreneurs sociaux français ? La vaste majorité des entrepreneurs sociaux cités en exemple par les fondations et auteurs spécialisés viennent des pays du tiers monde. Certes, il y a bien quelques entrepreneurs sociaux américains… Mais rien en Europe de l’Ouest. Et peut-on encore parler d’entreprenariat social lorsqu’il s’agit simplement d’appliquer au monde associatif un mode de gestion issu de l’entreprise, à la manière du management associatif moderne ?

Qu’en pensez-vous ? Séduits par le concept ? Méfiants ? Enthousiastes ? Critiques ?


Remember the (written-in-French) post where I described this idea of getting an indian yogi consultant shipped to you in a box by UPS for some low-budget mission? The indian colleague who inspired me this joke just pointed me to his blog. And it appears that while writing about his experience in France, he didn’t describe himself as a yogi shipped to the counrty of frog-eaters but as an indian werewolf in Paris. There’s no doubt that I have some progress to do in understanding the indian culture (even though I already know that Kannada is not Canada), including the reason why he is referring to himself as a werewolf. But anyway, his article is a great source of fun for starting this new year with much positive energy.

Being a vegetarian was quite a challenge in the office cafeteria.

Before Pramod and his colleague came to France, we had been warned by Pivolis that they would have some difficulties with our food. Unfortunately, we could not find the ideal daily solution to fix that as no vegeterian restaurant seemed to ship vegeterian meals at an acceptable cost in Paris La Défense. Business opportunity for some franco-indian entrepreneur? I love reading Pramod’s adventures in Paris restaurants (but who on Earth is Shammi Kapoor ???). It’s funny to know that Indian people also have some crêpes-like dishes (dosas). But do they also drink cider with them? Probably not. They don’t know what they miss. ;-)

On the subject of food, one thing that really surprised me is the bread. It usually gets served on your table when you walk into a restaurant, with some cheese gratings on the side. In one Italian restaurant off Ave de Champs Élysées (where I spotted Leander Paes, that being the French Open tennis season), I was given this incredibly hard bread – I really needed a chisel and a hammer to make some progress with it. Who eats this stuff?!

Errr… Well, you’re right for the bread being served (for free) in French restaurants. But these cheese gratings are really not that common. In fact, when French people go to some Indian-cuisine restaurants in Paris, they often ask for some cheese naan. French bloggers even post their personal recipes for some Frenchy cheese naan imitation.

By the way, never heard about Leander Paes before. My tennis culture is as under-developed as my indian culture.

Regarding Italian hard bread, you ask « who eats this stuff? ». The answer must be « indian tourists »? Just kidding… Italian restaurant usually serve some very good tasting crispy pieces of bread called grissini.

I said, dude, just give me plain water – I don’t want any of this fancy l’eau minerale stuff. Well, I didn’t exactly say dude, but I was pretty exasperated at the thought of having to pay for water!

The trick is to ask for a « carafe d’eau ». This means you will get plain water (for free). Eau minerale is only good for tourists restaurants. :)

In the last few days of my stay there, it got really warm – to the lower 30s, and it became very pleasant. It was interesting to see how the people’s work attire changed with the weather. The women here normally have greater variety in what they wear to work. When the temperature rose, they suddenly switched to their « summer » wear, like flowers blooming in spring. The men continued to wear their standard suits and ties, but the women, ummm let’s say, got liberated :)

Now, you understand why French men love summer in their country. :)

There was this cartoon stuck to the window of the coffee area at my client’s office. It’s this boss telling his cleaning lady at work « Vous vous rendez compte que vous me coûtez plus cher que mes informaticiens de New-Delhi » translated as « You realize that you are to me more expensive than my programmers in New-Delhi »! Now, I don’t think they anticipated an Indian seeing that in their office… :)


OK. Now Pramod, keep writing some more Hosur Road stories. You’ve got me hoping that I will have the opportunity to go to Bangalore before the Akshaya tree gets cut.