Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Let's Learn German Together - Lesson 11

This is perhaps my last post this year. Unless something else comes to my mind by mid-night.
So, here's wishing all my subscribers and readers



You are now on the Train to Bremen. The train is more or less packed. The seat next to you is vacant. An elderly man comes up to you and says:

He: "Ist das frei?" (Is that free? Isst dass fry?)
You: "Ja!" (Yes. Ya)

He: "Danke." (Thank you. Daankay)
You: "Bitte." (You are welcome. Bittay)

You will get used to this "danke", "bitte" routine.

You smile at each other politely and ...

He: "Wohin fahren Sie? Nach Bremen?" (Where are you going? To Bremen? Vo-hin faah-ren zee? Naakh Bray-men?)

You: "Ja bitte." (Yes please. Ya Bittay.)

He: "Woher kommen Sie?" (Where are you coming from? vo-hair commen zee?)
You: "Aus Indien." (From India. aaos Indi-en)

He: "Aah! Indien. Sind Sie hier in Urlaub?" (Aah! Are you here on holiday? Zint zee here in uur-laaup)

You: "Nein! Geschäftlich." (No. On business. Nine! Gay-shaeft-lish)

He: "Ach so! Was sind Sie von Beruf?" (I see. Was are you by profession? Aakh zo! Wass zint zee fon bay-roof?)

You: "Ich bin Ingineur." (I am an engineer. Issh bin in-gin-ear)

He: "Ist dieses Ihr erste Mal?" (Is this your first time? Isst dee-zes eahr air-st maal?)
You: "Nein! Ich komme nach Deutschland oft. Aber, ich kenne Bremen nicht." (No. I come to Germany often. But, I am not familiar with Bremen.)

He: "Ach so! Bremen ist sehr schön. Kennen Sie die Bremen-Straßensänger? Sie sind noch da." (I see. Bremen is very beautiful. Do you know the Bremen Street Singers? They are there. Aakh zo. Bray-men isst zay-er schoen. Kay-nen zee dee Bray-men-straasen-saynger? Zee zint noch daa.)

You: "Ich besuche sie bestimmt." (I will definitely see them.)

When you have someone to talk to the distance to your destination grows shorter. Even if it is an old man who asks lots of questions?

He: "Wo wohnen Sie?" (Where do you stay? Vo vohnen zee?)
You: "In Bangalore."

He: "Ach so! Software!"
You: "Ja!"

He: "Wie lange bleiben Sie in Bremen?"
You: "Nur drei Tage."

And thus talking to the old gentleman you suddenly realize you are in Bremen.

Interesting Points

1. By now you know that "bitte" can be used just about anywhere. When in doubt use it.

2. "fahren" means "to drive". However, it is used by Germans for a drive, train ride, to ski, cycle ride, to go somewhere, etc.

3. "kennen" and "wissen" both mean "to know". However, the way they are used is different. I find easiest to remember "kennen" as "acquainted with" in  a loose form. "wissen" goes with "I am aware."

For example,

Q: Do you know Germany is a big country?
A: Ich weiß. I am aware or I know.

Q: Do you know that place well?
A: Ich kenne. I am acquainted with that place.

4. "b" at the end of a word is always pronounced "p"

5. You must have heard of the Bremen Street Singers. Here is a photo.

6. "wo" means "where". "wohin" means "where from." "woher" means "where to".



a) Are you on business?
b) Where are you going?
c) Where do you come from?
d) Do you know Mr. X?
e) Do you know that ...?

To see all the german lessons on one page click here => Check out my lens

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Prediction by Experts

tarot cards
I continue to be impressed by what Taleb has to say in The Black Swan and how it can be applied in real life. (One immediate impact on me has been the reduction of TV viewing time. That helps me a great deal in the domestic front too.)

In any case, this is about how good (or poor) are predictions by experts.

[Psychologist Philip] Tetlock studied the business of political and economic "experts." He asked various specialists to judge the likelihood of a number of political, economic, and military events occurring within a specified time frame (about five years ahead). The outcomes represented a total number of around twenty-seven thousand predictions, involving close to three hundred specialists. Economists represented about a quarter of his sample. The study revealed that the expert's error rates were clearly many times what they had estimated. His study exposed an expert problem: there was no difference in results whether one had a PhD or an undergraduate degree. Well-published professors had no advantage over journalists. The only regularity Tetlock found was negative effect of reputation on prediction: those who had a big reputation were worse predictors than those who had none.

Now this is interesting as I have made some predictions for 31st December 2009 and I am no expert.

But what is more important is to check out the predictions made by economists on the present crisis. I have seen in innumerable news reports that the present economic crisis is likely to last throughout the 2009 and most possibly into the first few months of 2010. The good news: these predictions were made by experts. So, they are bound to be wrong. The bad news:, they could err on both sides: perhaps the economic gloom will lift with the next few months ... or last for the next few years.

Ditto with the environmental predictions.

In any case, you can track my predictions by subscribing to it. We shall know by end-2009, how far I was from reality.

Note: The picture used here belongs to Gabriel Bulla. For more such pictures visit his gallery.

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In Support of Slow Blogging Manifesto

I am not exactly a slow blogger. My desire to blog something every day is overwhelming. And I blog like maniac. Recently I posted an Anti-SEO Manifesto. Today I googled 'blog manifesto' to search for like minded bloggers and I came across this amazing Slow Blogging Manifesto.

The focus is on content and rejection of the desire to be on the first page of a Google Search for generating traffic (though ironically, this site due to its relevance appears in the first page!).

Now why is Slow Blogging superior? Because by reacting instantly you are working on noise and not on substance. Have you noticed how an event makes much more sense a couple of weeks, months, or years down the like. It is called hind sight. Everything looks more settled hind sight. By blogging instantly one just adds to the noise and then herd mentality takes over. Substance is lost.

There are instances when instant reaction helps. The outrage and grief post Mumbai is classic case. Bloggers played a part too. And it helped. But does it help every time?

Every thing has a place. Fast food and food that is cooked with time and deliberation.

Blogging in general is seen as fast food. I am glad someone took up cause of slow blogging.

Posts that are deliberately written will have more relevance and be of value even many years after these are written.

Do you agree with the Slow Blogging Manifesto? If yes, you may also agree with the Anti-SEO Manifesto.

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You Are Being Manipulated

Oh no! I am not talking of politicians and bankers and the failed industries who seek bailouts. I am talking of something more insidious. They live in you and manipulate you. And you don't know about it.

We think of our body as the perfect feedback system. You get hurt in your knee, the skin breaks, and the area around the hurt becomes red. That are area is now being protected by the WBC in the blood. The redness comes from excessive blood in that area. The body has reacted. In other words a perfect feedback system.

Take another example. A foreign particle plans to enter your body through your nose. The body detects the intrusion and you sneeze. Wow! The foreign particle is ejected.

You accidentally touch something hot and before you realize your spinal cord has reacted and your hand is withdrawn. That's miracle of nature ... of our body.

So our body reacts to preserve itself. Or so I thought. Till I read Survival Of The Sickest by Dr. Sharon Moalem.

But what if some of our action - which we think as natural - are actually being triggered by germs and parasites.

You sneeze when you have cold. The purpose is to spread the germs to others and thereby ensuring that the cold virus get new hosts to flourish. Your sneezing is being forced by the organism. You scratch your backside sub-consciously. Actually it pinworms at make you do so. They then stick under your finger nails and wait for you to transmit to others as you shake hands. Yuck!

Let's take this further. What if our entire personality is dictated not by our genes but by the billions of germs that infest us? Indians love to eat spicy stuff. Is it because we have germs in our intestine that thrive on such food. A comparison of an Indian intestine with an English (bland food) should reveal this.

Kids like sweets. By the time we are adults some of us hate sweets. Perhaps, the child has germs that crave for sweets and they die by adulthood.

Some people get irascible by nature. Do they have germs that need regular doses of chemicals that gets dumped in our blood when we get angry?

Why do identical twins not have identical personality? Germs?

I could go on and on.

Nobel prize awaits this discovery. Meanwhile read the Survival Of the Sickest. To see another post on Survival of the Sickest, go here.

Note: The photograph used belongs to Jhon Casso. Please go here to see more such photographs

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Monday, December 29, 2008

When Cherished Ideas Crash

Ever had a feeling that your carefully constructed world view is crashing all around you as you read a more potent argument against it. You then scramble to qualify your world view so that it remains intact because you have seen it work before - but you are not so sure. Of course you can always have a fall back option (see Fickle) but not before giving a fight.

My basis for determining the validity of any information has always been to evaluate the information against a context. I keep asking, "what is the context?"  So, if some one says, "such and such HR initiative has worked in, say, Infosys." I would always ask, "Let's first examine the context."

And if the context is similar to mine, I would adopt it. To me context represents the sum of all independent variables that matters.

Similarly, story telling, to me at least, has always been the best way of passing information. But apparently narrating is too simplistic a tool and has the impact of forcing certain post-hoc causality on an event where there might be none or many that escapes detection.

Reading The Black Swan and before that Fooled By Randomness has been an humbling experience.

Context matters, but only up to certain extent. Actually only up to a small extent. Ditto with evidence. Because for every evidence and/or context there are many more that are not obvious or hidden.

No I have not given up on my context based filtering of information, but what does one do to counter this:

I propose that if you want a simple step to a higher form of life, ..., then you may have to denarrate, that is shut down the television set, minimize time spent reading newspapers, ignore the blogs. Train your reasoning abilities to control your decisions ... This insulation from the toxicity of the world will have an additional benefit: it will improve your well-being.

Mr. Taleb, would you reconsider leaving "ignore the blogs" bit out from the above quote? We actually help you detect black swans! How? By presenting counter points. If that does not help detect black swans, nothing will.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Am I an Atheist or Not?

This is in response to a comment left by IndiaPavan in my blog entry The Idea of God.
He asked me if I was an atheist or not? Valid question and the fault obviously lies with me for not having given a clear yes or no answer. So am I going to give a categorical answer now?

Somehow you already know that I wouldn't be going in for a post if the answer were that simple. Right? That's life for you.

On the other hand I am not going to launch into another discourse and justify my stand. Instead, I would chose to tell a parable - the most effective way of conveying a message. The parable comes from Gautam Buddha himself, who I regard as the great human being ever to step on earth. Anyone who can summarize the world's greatest mysteries in 4 simple truths has to be the greatest ever.

Ok here goes ...

Buddhism, as you are aware, is an atheist religion. You knew that right?

So once his disciple asked Buddha, "Do you believe in God?"
Buddha answered. "It doesn't matter."
Disciple: "So, you don't believe in God?"
Buddha: "It doesn't matter."

Buddha true to his nature was measured in his words. (What else do you expect from a man who trigerred a new sect (Zen Buddhism) with a twirl of a flower?)

I too shall follow his way. Or at least try to and instead of trying to find whether God exists and debate on his non-existence, I shall merely repeat "It doesn't matter."

Note: The picture used here belongs to Andrea Kratzenberg. For more such photographs, visit his gallery.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

An Anti-SEO Manifesto

This whole SEO business is getting on my nerves.

Or perhaps I am old-fashioned. But try as I may, I am unable to get into an SEO mode for my blog. When I first started blogging, I methodically searched the Net for tips to increase visibility of my blog. After all, I want others to read what I publish. But most of ideas seem to be bordering on the unethical. Let's see what it is all about ...

As per Wikipedia,

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via "natural" ("organic" or "algorithmic") search results.

The idea is to get you site in the first couple of pages in a search engine results. However, it seems to be that while blogging to get my blog noticed I have to focus more on SEO than the content itself. First get the SEO thingy done, and then the content.

But are the SEO
techniques suggested by blogs natural? Let's take some examples that I find detestable ...

  • Labels: I am supposed to add all the relevant labels so that the search engine can pick them up. Why? Why can't the Search Engines pick up relevant contents.
  • Title: Wordpress helps in generating SE Optimized title. Blogger doesn't. So I saw in a blog a work around. First give all the key words in the title. Then save. And then modify the title to a normal one. Seems like cheating. And why can't I use punctuation marks in the title, if it makes sense?
  • Building links: Since link farming is a bad thing, I am supposed to exchange links with other bloggers. You scratch my back and I will scratch yours. My question: would I do that if Google did not place importance on links? Would I still exchange links. I understand the importance of links. I believe Larry Page got this idea of ascertaining the importance of a website by the number of references to it. Similar to the references in a paper of a scientific journal. His parents are physicists (I need to confirm this, I remember having read this in Google, The True Story). But links should have meaning and relevance. The links should be built in the content of the blog. A list of blogs in the blogroll is no value addition to the content. Again I find reciprocal links bordering on fraud.
  • Keyword Stuffing: Search Engines look down upon Keyword stuffing. In spite of that I saw on one very famous site that pays you for writing articles insisting on using keywords at at least 5 places. It goes on to mention where exactly the keywords should be. This obviously is a good SEO technique. What happens to the content of I have to twist and turn the words to fit keywords at 5 points. Also, if I have to use a keyword multiple times because of what I am writing, and it comes naturally, why should that be rejected as being keyword stuffing.

I could go on and on ...

So here is m
y personal manifesto. For what it is worth.

While blogging my focus will be on content; not search engine optimization.
If the search engines do not find me and list me on the first two pages of a relevant search, it is just too bad - perhaps my contents are not up to the mark. But submitting to the dictates of SEO is akin to man bowing down to machine. Search Engines have to accommodate me. Not vice-versa. The future of search engines is in developing (neural?) algorithms that crawl and analyze contents. This manifesto is in anticipation of that.

So will my blog continue to languish at the bottom of the heap? Perhaps. Perhahs not. But I refuse to sacrifice the joy of unfettered writing. I will be active particiant in blogosphere. Will continue giving outbound links if it makes sense. Will comment on good blog entries and leave my signature behind. Will participate in forum discussions. Will blog regularly and hope for the best.

Content shall be the king.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

The Genius Of Great Pyramid Buiders

If you have always dreamed of seeing the Great Pyramids of Egypt and marveled the genius of the pyramid builders, then surely you will love this YouTube Footage. I stumbled upon this during my random search using Stumble Upon.

The clipping shows how the Pyramid Builders actually hauled those huge stones up the pyramid. Brilliant, I must say!

Once you have seen the short video footage, I bet you will agree that the Pyramid builders rank right at the top with Leonardo da Vinci. See my post on list of all time genius.

Note: The picture used belongs to Mohamed Aly. To see more pictures visit his gallery.

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Use ScribeFire To Post Attractive Blogs

I am typing this blog using ScribeFire. This is an add-on to the Firefox. I am not sure if this is available on other browsers too.

I would recommend this for anyone who finds the editor on their blogging platform inadequate.

Though I am not sure how this will look like when I finally publish it, the editor has some amazing features.

The editor lets you use various fonts, strike true through and font sizes. You can also set the font colour. The editor lets you insert special characters too - brilliant! But not ½ as brilliant as the ability to publish posts to different platforms. I do not have to go to my blogging platform(s). I will be able to publish my posts to different blogs from this one editor.

I am still exploring the various options.

Once I publish this, I will come back to tell you how good or bad this really is. Cleverly used this should improve the attractiveness quotient of posts and hopefully increase traffic.

Try it.

PS: I had to come back to put the labels for the post. But that's about all. It is like using HTML without knowing how to use it.
I would strongly recommend ScribeFire or an equivalent.

PPS: Ok. I figured out how to insert labels. There is a side bar on ScribeFire that lists your categories that you need to select. I am very pleased with this tool.

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Most Popular Blogs

Most of the most popular metrics is based on number of visits or average number of visits over so many days or like Google does, using the page rank. Technorati also uses the number of times a blog has been referred by others (or something similar)

However, what I would like to see, for blogs particularly, is a metrics based on the following additional factors:

a) Time spent by each visitor per visit

b) The ratio of number of comments to number of posts.

Thus, the formula would be

Popularity ranking of blog = function of (no. of hits, duration of stay per visit, ratio of comments to post).

This formula ensures that the content of blog is also made a factor to determine popularity.

What would be your formula?

Note: This post is triggered by a query in the Indiblog forum.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Definition of India

Ever since the Mumbai terror attacks, I have been scanning the newspapers and surfing the Internet and TV channels to watch out for one single news. And dreading it.

Fortunately. Not one. Not one incidence of hate crime.

Post-9/11 there were incidents of hate crimes all over America.

But in India post 26/11 there is not one.

Obviously we have learnt from our mistakes in the past. There was a surge of hate crimes all over India after Indira Gandhi's assassination (which were politically motivated, of course).

But this time there were no such thing.

That, my dear friends, is India.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Joke, Convincing Proof and Pakistan

A man once took out an advertisement in a leading newspaper in which he offered a huge sum of money if anyone can convince him that 2 + 2 = 4. His friends were stunned. What is wrong with him? When told that it can be easily proved, he smiled and said, "You can prove it. Yes. But can you convince me?"

This was one of the silly jokes that I heard when I was a kid. Turns out that it is not that silly after all.

India, America, Britain, Russia (at least 4 countries when I counted last) and people within Pakistan (Kasab's father, Nawaz Sharif) have been pouring evidence that the Mumbai attack was launched from Pakistan's soil. And what does Pakistan day, "Yeah! You can prove it. But you cannot convince me!"

And to deflect the whole situation, there is huge cry of war. Fighter planes are displaying their antics over all major cities in Pakistan. This is a country which was on its knees a few weeks ago with a begging bowl for an IMF assisted bailout. The IMF needs to do an audit to check what is happening to the aid amount. Perhaps, it is being burnt as aviation fuel in the silly aircraft exercise.

Now, this is my prediction:

If this continues, Pakistan will meet the same fate as Iraq. There will come a day when all other countries will get fed up with the terror attacks from Pakistan and hit back hard at the root.

The tragedy: the ordinary people of Pakistan who can't be bothered less will be affected. Iraq's tragedy was avoidable, Pakistan's will not be.

Note: The picture used here belongs to Laura. To see more pictures by her, please visit her gallery.

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Let's Learn Merry Christmas in German Together - Lesson 10

Shortest of all German Classes so far but equally important.

How do you say Merry Christmas in German?
frohe Weihnachten! (Fr-o-hay vine-akh-ten)


Happy New Year
glückliches neues Jahr! (Glyuk-lishes noyes yaar)

And since we are on the subject of greetings, here are some more. (Some you have encountered in my previous lesson)
guten Morgen - Good Morning (gooten morgen)
guten Tag - Good Day (gooten taakh)
guten Abend - Good Evening (gooten aabent)
gute Nacht - Good Night (goo-tay naakht)

Now it gets a little complicated
alles Gute zum Geburtstag - Happy Birthday (aales goo-tay tsoom gay-burts-takh) - since Happy Birthday is simpler most of the Germans will understand a simple happy birthday.

herzlichen Glückwunsch! - Congratulations (hair-ts-lishen glyuk-woonsh)
herzliche Grüße - Best Wishes (hairts-lishay gryusse)
viel Glück - Good luck (feel glyuck)

And finally ...
Viel Spaß! - Have fun (feel spass)

To see all the german lessons on one page click here => Check out my lens

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Curious Coincidence of the Black Swan

Black Swans
This must be pure coincidence ... but more of that later.

In his book, The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb discusses the reasons for our being blind to Black Swans (defined as events that we unable to predict due to our tendency to extrapolate historical data or past events.) I am still reading the book and have reached a very interesting point (from this posts point of views, that is; actually the whole book is extremely interesting) where the author discusses human tendency to simplify data and facts. Humans, rather quickly, simplify a set of facts as per their convenience / upbringing and come to a conclusion. We weave for ourselves a story and assign a cause to an event post-facto. For obvious (or not so obvious) reasons, we cannot assimilate all the data that is available. But worse we do not know that we do not assimilate all the data and pick ad choose as per convenience. This tendency is obviously not limited just to the humans. Even machines would do so (or do so more than humans as machines are built to supply closed form answers.

That got me thinking. What if there were people who take in all information that is made available. Or at least take more information than normal humans do. Then BAM. I realized that I know what would happen. Pure coincidence. I did not realize this when I listed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as a gift in my previous post. The protagonist, a child with 'special needs' takes in all information he gets (has a photographic memory) and does not take a judgment call (takes every information at face value) and is brilliant at Mathematics (perhaps, that's why). He is obviously a social misfit (his character is more complicated that can be described in two lines).

So, is it impossible for a normal human being to predict Black Swan?


I haven't finished reading. Will update after I complete reading The Black Swan.

And then need to re-read The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night-Time after I finish reading The Black Swan. I am glad I buy books.

Note: The picture used here belongs to Claudia Meyer. To see more such pictures, please visit her gallery.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

4 Books To Gift

Here's a selection of 4 not-so-fat books that you would wish to gift yourself. Why have I chosen these?
Because I have read them and liked each of them and would recommend to everyone.
And because it does not take much effort to read them once ... twice ... any number of times.
And because books are the best gifts.

1) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. It is sure to make you laugh and cry simultaneously.

2) Illusions by Richard Bach. Surreal. But in a nice way. I like this better than Jonathan Livingston Seagull. You might actually make this book your bible.

3) Rendezvous with Rama by Authur C Clark - I am no science fiction fan. But this gets a big yes from me. Give this a try and you will not regret.

4) The Goal by E. Goldratt. Now why am I recommending a management book. Because it reads like a novel. Believe me, you will not be disappointed.

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Christmas Gift From A Blogger

It's the season of giving. And what does a blogger needs most? Traffic, with a capital T.
So I have decided to search the web using Stumble Upon and pick up the best, in my opinion, of course, and place the blog in using my AIID#.

This I will do till 25th December, starting today.
I can just image the pleasant surprise on the blogger's face when s/he sees a huge number of hits.

A perfect Christmas gift for bloggers from a blogger! The best thing about the gift - it shall remain anonymous.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Predictions For 31st December 2009

You may call this wishful thinking.
I call it prediction.

By 31st December 2009 ... Yes 31st December 2009 (not 2008)

1) The economic crisis turned out to be a damp squib. It recovered faster than what was predicted by the pundits. It was predicted that the recession will last the whole of 2009 and then some more. By the mid-2009 the things turned around. Economists are now predicting another 4 years of prosperity. So I guess we should look forward to a disaster soon!

2) There are indications that the environmentalists were wrong after all. Turned out that there is no conclusive evidence of a global warming. Looks like this is earth's natural cycle. Besides, scientists have discovered that the trees - with all the excess carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere - have actually grown taller and bigger. As a result, the excess CO2 has been neutralised by the oxygen produced by these trees. Man must therefore take care not to destroy trees. Governments all over the world have hailed this discovery and have promised to dedicate at least 30# of their country's land to maintain forests.

3) Pakistan's latest flirtation with democracy has ended. Midway through 2009, Nawaz Sharif was made the president. He was successful in reining in ISI to a large extent and most of the terrorist camps in Pakistan were being dismantled. However, the Army has now overthrown the civilian government in a coup. Obama and other world leaders have severely criticized the Pakistan Army. The Indian Army has increased its presence on the border.

4) India has been nominated as one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

5) UK has abolished Pound Sterling as its currency and has adopted the Euro. The integration of European Union is now complete.

6) Nadal becomes the first man since Rod Laver to win the Tennis Grand Slam.

I think that much is sufficient. I will revisit this post on 31st December, 2009 to see how much off I am.

7) I almost forgot ... I will get 25,000 visitors a day to my blog. Ok! Ok! This is not a prediction. This is just a dream ;)

If you wish to add your prediction, please leave a comment. I promise to send you a mail on 31st December 2009, if you leave an e-mail. Thanks.

Note: The picture used here belongs to 'CJLUC'. To see more such pictures visit his/her gallery.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Essential Read For Air Travelers

Have you wondered why after exchanging a few words at the check-in counter your entire flight in ruined?

You get a seat next to an over-sized person ... your seat is the nearest to a toilet ... Or the air hostess who is nice and smiling to everyone else doesn't seem to be responding to your needs.

Welcome to the real world of the service industry.

So, if you are a first time traveler or a frequent flier, pick up Air Babylon by Imogen Edwards-Jones & Anonymous on your way to the airport. It will open your eyes to what happens behind the scene of the airline industry.

As per the author, "All of the following is true. ... The anecdotes, stories, situations, highs, lows, scams, drugs, love, death and insanity are all as told to me by Anonymous - a wide and varied collection of people who work at the heart of the airline industry. ... Narrated by Anonymous, the stories have been condensed into twenty-four hours, but everything else is as it should be."

The novel is written in a racy style and is hilarious. There are a lot of swear words thrown in, so be careful before you ask your kids to read it. It is a fun read.

And oh yes! Please be polite at the check-in counter.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

5 Must Read Business Management Books

Old Books
Why am I publishing this list ... because it is winter vacations for the kids. And if you haven't read these yet, now is your time to catch up. 5 should be sufficient for a short winter break.

1. Managing For Results by Peter Drucker. The mother of all Management Books. A book can be written for every paragraph of Managing for Results and I suspect many are.

2. The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. A business novel that will teach you a new way of thinking. I like to read this novel again and again and again.

3. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization by Peter Senge. Welcome to Systems Theory. Learn why time is an essential factor in any causal system. Application of its principles will turn your life and organization around.

4. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. A remarkable book, in my mind, only because the units of analysis are events and not companies. And also because CEO's in India use the term Blue Ocean Strategy to describe all their strategy.

5. Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense by Jeffery Pfeffer & Robery I. Sutton. Read this book last. You might not want to read any other management book ever after.

Note: The photograph used belongs to Zsuzsanna Kilián. Please see her galleryfor more such photographs.

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Animation Movie As Management Tool

This happened some years ago ... when I was Project Manager. This was one of the two out of the box events that I organized for peers.

I had recently (then) watched the delightful animation movie Mulan with my kids. Mulan is a girl. In order to save her old father from joining the Chinese Imperial Army dresses up as a male (female were treated as second class citizens then!) to fight the invading Huns. The movie is brilliant in its conception and execution. I also thought the movie showed how leadership qualities can emerge from ranks. Mulan displays exceptional presence of mind. Mulan goes on to save China from the Huns and bring honour to her family.

I wanted to share Mulan with the other Project Managers, Technical Leaders and other Group Heads.

The first hurdle was of course top management who wanted to know what is the advantage of showing a movie to the middle management. Something like what would be the ROI. ROI?? Anyways. That took a little convincing, but got there in the end.

I set up a meeting for "Discussions on Leadership" and when everyone came in, I first surprised them by handing all of them a packet of potato chips and juice (in tetrapack). I then stated with the usual presentation slide. And then the second slide was the movie.

I could see the senior members of the middle management squirming with unease initially but by the end of the movie they were all spellbound. There was even a recommendation that all members of the company be shown Mulan.

Now I don't believe that the lessons that I absorbed from Mulan was absorbed by all. Or even if anyone retained any. (I am not sure I retain any message.) But it was fun when I did it so many years ago.

Now, what did I achieve?
I was pretty much convinced that I could conceive and execute an idea, however outlandish. That was the first of many other such ideas that followed later.

And for some reason the image of some members squirming in discomfort still remains vivid in my mind. I still an aversion to people who take being grown up very seriously.

It all came back as I saw another China centric animation movie Kung Fu Panda today.

Note: The picture used belongs to Cinzia Nicolini. To see more such photographs visit the gallery.

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Two Definite Ways To Increase Blog Traffic

After having blogged almost continuously for the last couple of months I have settled for two simple methods of increasing blog traffic:

One - Submit blog on AlphaInventions. Once you log in you would see blogs flashing across your screen in rapid succession. So instead of you visiting blogs, they are visiting you. Submit your blog to be in the reading cycle - multiple submissions is recommended (not in rapid succession please - everyone needs a chance). Imagine hundreds of blogger like you logging on to Alphainventions and checking out your blog as it flashes past your screen. Traffic multiplies. You could also pause a blog of your liking and leave a comment, which of course, is a great way of making friends and improving secondary traffic.

Warning: Alphainventions could be quite addictive.

Two - Stumbleupon. This is like surfing the net with a TV remote, except imagine a remote that randomly picks up a channel. What fun! Download the Stumbleupon toolbar and with each click discover a random page on the web. Now, you can constraint the randomness to the domain of your choice. Thus, when you stumble upon a blog of your liking, leave a comment. This increases your visibility on the net and is likely to get you return visits. The trick is in leaving more than just "excellent blog" kind of comment. Ensure that your comment is a value addition. So, whoever reads the comment would like to visit you to see what else you have blogged upon.

Both, Alphainventions and Stumbleupon, are free services.

As long as you keep your blog updated with interesting posts the above two methods will definitely improve your blog traffic. I guarantee it.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Financial Expert

I must have read The Financial Expert by R K Narayan ages ago. It is a delightful little novel set in Malgudi. The 'hero' of the novel Margayya is the financial expert of Malgudi. He hatches a scheme where by he accepts deposits from the town people at a huge interest and manages (for some time at least ) by paying the first set of depositors from the money he gets from the next set and so on. Till time catches up, of course.

It all came rushing back when I read about Madoff and his Ponzi scheme. Only that it is no longer funny.

I suspect more such fraudulent schemes will come tumbling out triggered by the financial crunch. So watch out!

PS: Was R K Narayan inspired by Charles Ponzi?

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Removing Bias

distorted lotus
I am thrilled to bits!
I wish you could see the grin on my face as I type this.
Some time ago, I had proposed a new mechanism of studying companies.
I repeat my conclusions here:

If I were to conduct a scientific study on business strategies, I would report the context and the decisions live, recording the thought process (as revealed by behaviour) as it happens, without drawing any conclusion. Very much like the National Geographic or such similar recordings of wild life.

I might have just hit upon a new field of management study :-))))
Remember, you read it here first!

Now why am I thrilled?

I just started reading The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (those who have been following my blog already know that I have become a big fan of his after reading Fooled By Randomness. I have quoted from Fooled By Randomness here, here and here.)

Anyways, a few pages into the Black Swan and what do I see?

"While we have a highly unstable memory, a diary provides indelible facts recorded more or less immediately; it thus allows the fixation of our unrevised perception and enables us to study later events in their own context."

Taleb is trying to introduce a method of removing what he calls,
"the retrospective distortion, or how we can assess matters only after the fact, as if they were in a rear view mirror (history seems clearer and more organised in history books than in empirical reality."

I am pleased as a punch to know that I am thinking on same lines as Taleb.

Note: The picture used here belongs to Neil Gould. To see more of his pictures visit his gallery.

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Bush Should Consult Hindus

Hindus always had a tradition of leaving shoes outside the house. Then they would wash their hands, feet and face before entering the house. The logic is quite straight forward - keep the dust, grime and germs outside the house.

American security would do well to learn this tradition.
Especially where George Bush is concerned.
I can see big boards outside Bush's press conferences:

Leave Your Shoes Here!

But one must give credit to Bush. His reflexes would make Sachin Tendulkar proud. Cricket any one!

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After years of being accused by my superiors, peers and subordinates of frequently changing mind, I finally received support from Maynard Keynes himself.

"When somebody persuades me that I am wrong I change my mind. What do you do?"

So there!

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Importance Of Being Lazy

You will not find laziness extolled as a virtue. But I am convinced that most, if not all, inventions are done by lazy people. Particularly those that are time and effort saving type inventions. I am sure when the ancient man got sick and tired of lugging his kill around, he came up with the concept of wheel. All this when his wife (mate?) was busy cooking and looking after the kids, herds of animals and the lot. Archimedes was another lazy guy. Why do you think he invented the lever?

Sure. To invent something new and make an idea workable one needs to put in effort. But in the long run the short burst of energy to invent things brings in rewards of prolonged periods of taking things easily.

First came numbers. Adding up too many numbers was difficult and time consuming. So Multiplication Tables. Memorize it once and you do not have to make repeated additions rest of your life. But ask any kid if s/he finds memorising multiplication tables easy. So the next step was an Abacus. From, then on it was a foregone conclusion. Abacus => Calculators => Computers => Super Computers => Chip in the brain (ok! it is not there yet; but it is only a matter of time).

But talk to the inventors. Will they tell you they were lazy? No sir! They are like 99% perspiration kind. No wonder Edison doesn't have a single time or effort saving invention to his name. Or if he has one in the list of more than 1000 patents, then that must have been during that 1% inspiration period.

I see this laziness played out in my day to day handling of software engineers. Software engineers are of two kinds: the diligent kinds - slogging out day and night - and the lazy kinds - trying to find out shortcuts. The lazy kinds are the ones who come up with innovative software tools and reduce efforts drastically. We need both kinds. But I particularly favour the lazy ones. They need careful handling but once they understand that their laziness is being valued, they shine.

Note: The photograph used here belongs to Kymberly Vohsen. Please visit gallery to see more such photographs.

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Amateur Investors

The Wall Street Bull
I had to double check the date Against The Gods was published. In the chapter, 'The Fantastic System Of Side Bets', which I missed the last time I read this book, is a small foot note that I have reproduced below:

"Most individual home mortgages are packaged with other mortgages and sold off in the open market to a wide variety of investors. In effect, the bankers have traded off the risks of prepayment to a market more willing to bear that risk; these mortgage-backed securities are complex, volatile, and much too risky for amateur investors to play around with."

I was under the impression that the present crisis was due to an instrument of a more recent origin. Evidently I was totally wrong. Against the God was published in 1996.

I wonder who Bernstein thinks are "amateur investors".

Note: The photograph used belongs to Myles Davidson. Please go here to see more such photographs

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The Disappointment

Date 05-April-1990 in my diary.
Written shortly after I returned from one of my innumerable trips to the local office to regularize my mother's family pension.


Shyamlal avoided the pan chewing lawyers dressed in dirty black coats vending themselves, "Arre, any work to be done?" He nodded and muttered under his breath, "leeches."

By now he was familiar with these fellows who stood at the entrance to the Treasury Office. He never came across such people when he was in the Army. He retired a couple of months ago and ever since then he had been coming to the treasury office. He had forgotten how many times he had come there to get his pension papers cleared. The lower clerk had condescended to finally clear his papers and now the file was with the senior clerk, Bade Babu. Last time the senior clerk was on leave. The time before he was attending a meeting. Before that ... "Irresponsible!"

He stepped across a small rivulet formed by a leaking tap and entered the office he now knew better than his newly rented house. The office seemed to have frozen in time. The walls could do with a coat of paint. The fans coated with grime never seemed to be moving any air. And the tables? Stacked with files, brown papers, with layers of dust. "Why doesn't any one clear them?" Three of the four chairs were empty, as usual.

Shyamlal asked for the Bade Babu. "Gone for a cup of tea. Sit down,' was the bored reply. There was no place to sit. So he rested against the table. "Today I will get my work done. What di they think of us? Slaves? No discipline. What'll happen to the country. Is this what I deserve after serving the nation for so many years?"

After about half an hour the Bade Babu stepped in. Sat down, looked up at Shyamlal, opened a small pouch, carefully took out some tobacco, dusted it up by beating the palms together and stuffed the tobacco under his lower lips.
"What do you want?"
"Sir, my pension ..."
"What pension?"
"Sir, my pension file is with you and ..."
'What is your number?"

Shyamlal took out an old, folded letter he had received from the head-office and gave the number. As he was putting back the paper in his wallet an old photograph popped out and fell on the table. This was when he was young ... he had just joined the Army. His mother liked this photograph a lot. "You look like a city boy," she used to say.

The Bade Babu picked up the photograph and looked at it carefully.
"Are you from Dhondipur?"
Shyamlal nodded.
The Bade Babu got up from his chair.
"What Bhai Saab? You should have told me you are from Dhondipur. I am Harkishan's son? Didn't you recognise me? And how is everybody at home? How is Chacha? It has been ages since I have met a person from my village. Come. I'll treat you to a cup of tea."
"My pension papers ..."
"Don't worry about yout pension. Your work will be done." Now come."

By now there was small queue of people who had come to meet Bade Babu. Shyamlal looked through them. After all he was with Bade Babu now! They could wait.

As he passed the people he, however, failed to notice the disappointment in their eyes which was until a few moments ago was in his own eyes.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Man In The Mirror

I think this was a scam. I saw an advertisement in the newspaper of a poem contest. I, all excited, picked up the best (as I thought it was then) and submitted my entry. Few days later I received a letter that required me to pay $35 to get my poem published ("Your poem has been shortlisted", they said) and receive a copy of the Anthology (It was called An Anthology of American Poems). I was in a low paying job but still managed to send $35 just to see my poem in print. I still have the Anthology with me. There are hundreds of verifiers whose poems are in there. The publisher must have made a tidy sum of money.

The poem is dated 30.Aug.1989 in my diary


Every morning when I shave,
I stare at a face,
Handsome, Intelligent and brave.

All these years
I thought I was ultimate.
Thus I allowed myself
To rot and stagnate.

Today for the first time
I doubted my image.
And I took my first step
to become the man in the mirror.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Story Easily Forgotten

The poems are particularly awful ... as I see them now. They are more like rhymed sentences. But since these are my own creation and I can no longer write (even) like this, I guess it is worth digitizing it.

I think this story is from the Arabian Nights (or I maybe wrong).

Dated 21.Aug.1989


Once there lived a little boy,
Who had a strange habit;
Never read fairy tales,
or 'the Tortoise and the rabbit'.

He used to lie and dream,
Of people full of cheer,
Slowly he grew up to
Love laughter, hate tear.

One night he slept late.
But oh! what accursed fate.
The room was shining bright.
How can one sleep in so much light?

On the chair sat a fairy,
writing in her diary,
A list , she said, of all on earth,
who loved God since their birth.

He smiled at the list and said, "Oh lady!
My name isn't there, this I've known.
For I never had any time for God,
But I love people as my own.

For when I see a kid,
hungry and sad,
I don't pray to God;
I become his dad.

I get him some food,
And make him smile.
So that he can enjoy life,
For a little while."

The fairy smiled and said,
"God lives in your breast.
And you top the list
Of those whom God loves best."

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Terror Manufactured In Pakistan

manufacturing terror
In the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan is a small town called Darra Adam Khel.

This place is famous for manufacturing fire arms. I am sure this place supplies arms to the terrorists. This place needs to be shut down.

I have extracted this from the best seller Himalaya by Michael Palin (He is English and I do not think is related to Sarah Palin; but I could be wrong). This was written in year 2004.

"Darra High Street, described by Geoffrey Moorhouse as 'the noisiest street in the world', runs for almost a mile and is filled with the roar of horn-blaring, gear-changing trucks punctuated by the cackle of gun-fire. You never quite know where the shots are coming from. As I cross the street a preoccupied figure in white robe pops out of a shop behind me, raises an AK-47, blasts a few rounds into the air, shakes his head and disappears inside again to make adjustments. Seeking relief from the din, I walk into a small arcade running at right angles off the main street. It is, to all intents and purposes, an arms mall, consisting of everything from workshops to carpeted rooms where you can select the weapon of your choice while taking tea with the management. In one establishment an earnest, bespectacled young man sits cross-legged, fashioning a trigger for a mini-Kalashnikov using pliers and a small hammer. Next door to him an older, bearded man scrutinizes a freshly made Mauser like a scholar bent over sacred texts. The equipment may be low-tech but the standard of plagiarism is extremely high. Originally confined to making copies of the British Army's great standby, the Lee Enfield .303, Darra's retailers now offer brand-name pump-action rifles, revolvers, automatics and quite probably rocket-launchers. One man proudly shows me a James Bong pen that can fire real bullets (he proves this to me by stepping out into the street and loosing it off.)"

Can't this be shut down? I mean what kind of country is this where weapons are manufactured and sold openly.

Evidence or no evidence, fire arms can be used for only one purpose - killing people. I am sure the Pakistan Army does not buy their arms from Darra Adam Khel!

So, who are the customers? Do I need to spell that out too?

Note: The picture used here belongs to Renxx Gmdr. To see more of pictures visit his gallery.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Goodbye Woolworths

To me Woolworths was as much a British institution as The Big Ben. The first time I saw a Woolworths, I gave my heart to it. This was in 1993. India was just opening up.

This was also my first time outside India.

We (a colleague and I) had just reached St. Annes-On-The-Sea. We dumped our bags and went out exploring. The receptionist at the hotel gave us the direction. As we turned into the a big wide street, there it stood at the corner, gleaming with all its glory. We had not seen a store like this before. Like excited kids we went inside. I am sure our mouths were open and I suspect we were also drooling. The store had everything. Everything.

It was such a fascinating place.

I subsequently returned to England many times. I have seen bigger and better stores in England and all around the world. But my first love remained Woolworth's. And on every visit I would go to Woolworths even if I didn't have anything to buy. Just to refresh the memory of my first rush of excitement.

So, you can well imagine how sad I feel when I hear that Woolworths are now having a closing sale. I don't know when I will visit England next but I am sure I will definitely miss not having Woolworths around.

We are living in difficult times,aren't we? The closing sales will perhaps attract the kind of crowd that perhaps was required all year round.

Note: The picture used here belongs to Sanja Gjenero. Visit her gallery for more such pictures.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Let's Learn German Together - Lesson 9

Just below Terminal 1 Frankfurt airport is the Long Distance Rail Station. Very convenient.
This is your chance to witness the world famous punctuality of the DB, the Deutsche Bahn.
DB is the German Rail company.
The service is fantastic.
Both Terminals, 1 and 2, have Travel Centres where one can buy tickets.


You said bye-bye to your friend and are now standing, patiently, in a queue to buy tickets to Bremen.
As you approach the ticketing clerk, he greets you with a warm smile and says ...

TC: "Guten Tag!" (Good day! Gooten Takh)
You: "Guten Tag! Ein Ticket nach Bremen bitte. Zweite Klasse." (Good day! A tickt to Bremen please. Gooten Takh. Eye-n ticket naakh Bremen bittay. Ts-why-te classe)

TC: "Einfach oder hin und zurück?" (single or return. eye-n-faakh odour hin oont tsurukh)
You: "Einfach bitte." (single please. eye-n-faakh bittay)

The TC enters the details in the computer and takes out an A-4 size printout with all details of your trip and a ticket.

He explains ...

TC: "Der nächste Zug kommt am vier sechs." (The next train comes on platform 4. Dair nextay tsukh commt um gly-ish fee-er.)

You: "Muss ich umsteigen?" (Do I have to change. Mu-ss issh umsty-gen)
TC: "Ja! In Heidelberg." (Yes at Heidelberg. Ya in Heidelberg)

The instruction on the printouts are absolutely clear. It tells you which platform you will get down, when and which is the connecting train from which platform. All neatly documented. Many a times the two connecting trains are separated by a few minutes, but more often than not you will make it.

TC: "Das macht Neunundsiebzig Euro bitte." (That would be 79 Euros please. Daas maakht noyen-oont-siebtsish ou-row bittay)

You: "Nehmen Sie Kreditkarten?" (Do you take credit cards? Nay-men zee credit-carten)
TC: "Natürlich nehmen wir Kreditkarten!" (Of course we take credit cards. Naatyurlish nay-men we-er credit-carten)

And he points to the display indicating in large bold colours - 'Kreditkarten'.

You pay and walk off towards the platform with a "Danke schön". (Thank you. Daankay schoen)

You hear someone calling out: "Entshuldigung!" (Excuse me. ent-shool-dee-goong)
Now what?
Oh the tickets!
You sheepishly pick up the tickets.
Another "Danke sehr!" (Thank you very much. Daankay Seyer.)

And off you go to catch the train.

Interesting Points:

a) "Guten Tag" or good day can be used any time of the day. Tag is masculine gender. Hence Gut becomes Guten.
b) "hin und zurück: stands for to and back. Hence return journey.
c) Most of the bigger Travel Centres have people who speak good English. But it is a good idea to speak with them in German to get used to their manner of speaking. The small rail stations - even in cities like Frankfurt - may have people who cannot speak a word of German.

d) "Machen" is an universal sort of word. "das macht .." (= that makes ...) means that would cost. "Was machen Sie?" means what are you doing? It could also mean, what are you making? Depends on the context.

e) And now for two digit numbers. Germans speak two digit numbers greater than 20 in the reverse order. Meaning one and twenty (einundzwanzig = ein-und-zwanzig), two and twenty(zwei-und-zwanzig) and so on. Germans love compound words. Always written and spoken without a break.

The numbering system above 20 is as follows:

21 -- einundzwanzig (eye-n-oont-tswan-sish)
22 -- zweinundswanzig (ts-why-oont-tswan-sish)
23 -- dreiundzwanzig (dry-oont-tswan-sish)
29 -- neunundzwanzig (noyen-oont-tswan-sish)
30 -- dreißig (ß=ss) (dry-sish)
31 -- einunddreißig (eye-n-oont-dry-sish)
34 -- vierunddreißig (fee-er-oont-dry-sish)
35 -- fünfunddreißig (fyun-oont-dry-sish)
40 -- vierzig (fee-er-sish)
46 -- sechsundvierzig (zekhs-oont-fee-er-sish)
47 -- siebenundvierzig (zee-ben-oont-fee-er-sish)
48 -- achtundvierzig (aakht-oont-fee-er-sish)
50 -- fünfzig (fyunf-sish)
60 -- sechzig (zekh-sish)
70 -- siebzig (zeeb-sish)
80 -- achtzig (aakht-sish)
90 -- neunzig (noyen-sish)
99 -- neunundnuenzig (noyen-und-noyen-sish)


In the last lesson I asked you to read aloud the numbers in single digit. Now, read the numbers in double digits. Any numnber. Your phone number. The car license plate number driving in front of you. Any number.

To see all the german lessons on one page click here => Check out my lens

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Please Declare War On Hunger

Can any thing be sadder than this?
What use is our all our technological advance if we still have people who go hungry at night? See here.
And it is not as if this is confined to African countries. India is on fast track to development. But we are still worse off as far as hungry people are concerned. See India improves on hunger list.
I am well aware of the feed-the-man versus teach-him-to-fish argument. But come on! First remove his hunger. Then teach him to fish.
RBI and the Indian government are falling of each other doling out rescue packages to keep India on growth path. I don't recollect any major package to remove hunger. Individuals can help. NGOs can help. The impact can only be created by governments.
We need to declare war on hunger.
Is anyone listening?

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Influencing Thought Process

Rarely does one get an opportunity to experiment on self.
This is how the brain works ...

I do not consider myself superstitious. But some two years ago, I realized that I am becoming mildly superstitious. I caught myself thinking negatively about the number 13 .. like "Oh! the number is 13. Let's see what happens" kind of thing. This obviously was a superstition as I would not even think of what is going to happen on seeing any other number. So, I resolved to get rid of this nonsense.

I remembered that my room number during my post graduation was 113. I also realized that my house number is 1314, which is on the 7th cross. I decided that both the numbers 7 and 13 are lucky for me. Then on seeing a number combination of 1, 3 and 7, I would tell myself, "ah! there is my lucky number."

This went on for many days ... this gradually became a habit. I would look up numbers and instinctively check out the combination. 137 ... 317 ... 1137 ..7413...9713 on and on and on.

About two days ago I realized that I am back to square one. I had started believing that the combination of 1,3 and 7 is actually lucky for me. This was ridiculous. I had cleaned jumped from one superstition to another.

I am now trying detoxify myself ...

So, is this how the brain works. I had known that repeating something over and over again moves short term memory to long term memory.
But this is different.
It is as if I can influence my thought process itself. Now, this is great. The thought process is actually in my control. Only I need to decide the way I need to think about an aspect of life and by continuously and actively thinking that way, I should be able to internalise the thought process.

Definitely worth a try.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Self Restraint By TV Channels

I have made my displeasure of the Mumbai Terror TV coverage previously in my blog. I must confess the danger presented to the security forces due to live coverage escaped my notice. Looks like the politicians have now got into action. They now have a chance to hit back. The TV channels themselves are to blame.

However, we need to be aware that such curbs could actually backfire. Freedom of press, naturally, is critical to our democracy. I come from the era of no TV and so to see TV exposing the loop holes in Indian system gives me thrills. So, before the politicians get their act together, the TV channels should come together - forgetting their rivalry, which is pretty apparent; after all they were colleagues not so long ago - and come up with a charter of self-restraint. And please would you address the following in your charter too:

a) Not allowing others to speak, particularly the politicians (we would like to hear them too; we are quite capable of coming to a conclusion).
b) Screaming at the top of your voice during discussions
c) Breaking news only when the news is worth breaking

See here for my major crib with one of the TV News presenter.

It is getting extremely irritating. Switching channels does not help. All of you do it.

To be fair, I still find Prannoy Roy to be very dignified. On a couple of occassion, I found the reporting by a channel called News X (or something similar) pretty restrained.

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pele, not Maradona, Is The God Of Football

Since when is Maradona the God of Football? He was gifted and very good. But my God of Football was, is and shall always remain Pele.

His performance in the Mexico World Cup in 1970 was superlative. No other footballer has reached that level.

And when Maradona says, "I think he has another 10 years in front of him to improve. He'll be doing fine in 2010, he'll [Messi] be somewhat like me", you know that he is full of himself.

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Does India View Economy Using American Lens?

Being a non-economist trying to understand the complexity of economics, I guess I have certain advantages. Like asking stupid questions and getting away with it.

In any case, I am unable to understand how India is really affected by the economic crisis. We all know that none of the Indian Banks (except as rumoured ICICI) are hit by the sub-prime crisis directly. The MNC banks do not dominate the Indian market yet. And it is not as if the industrial growth in India is heavily dependent on exports (we still have a negative balance of payment). So how come there is a sudden drop in risk appetite in the financial sector?

Why is there a credit crunch in India? How do I know? For the last two months there has been no pestering calls from bank representatives offering loans! Have you noticed? Some days ago there was news that Ratan Tata has recommended setting up of a separate fund so that the flow of fund to established companies don't dry up. So even they are not getting funds.

Some say the fall in the Sensex value is an indication of how closely we are linked to the world economy. May be. The fall in Sensex is not because Indian companies suddenly started doing badly; rather because of withdrawl of funds by Foreign Investors to book profits and pump cash back to the parent. Sensex is not the Indian economy. Or is it? It is an indicator of investors assessment of the state of econmomy under normal circumstances. Not when there is a flight of capital due to external factors.

The Indian economy is not longer as isolated as it once was. But it not closely coupled as yet. Export is only about a quarter of India's GDP. This is bound to drop as the world enters recession. As per the news item in Financial Times: "India’s exports, which have been hammered by a sharp fall in demand and liquidity, have declined 12.1 per cent in October from a year earlier to $12.8bn, the first drop in absolute terms in seven years, according to the RBI."

On the other hand, this could be an opportunity for India too. To survive the west may shed (outsource) even more aggressively what they see as non-core elements of their business.

Besides, the steel prices are falling ... oil prices are falling ... inflation is down and does not look like deflationary right now. So shouldn't this actually boost domestic consumption? For the size of India the growth should be ideally sustained by internal consumption alone. Exports should only be considered binus. At least that is what common sense dictates.

Or do our Harward and Stanford educated bankers and industrialists view Indian economy through an American lens? No? Then why is the recent announcement by RBI termed emergency measures (are we in trouble?) and why does India Inc feel that the measures are not sufficient?

There I am done. I have asked lots of dumb questions that should infuriate the economists. Now if only they read this post and think it important enough to react.

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Is Washington DC The New Chinese Capital?

The pattern I see is as follows ...

First, US sinks into a financial mess.

Second, US looks at China for help -- see here

Then, US begs China not to devalue their currency -- see here.

Thereafter, China lectures US on how to manage their economy. China also tell US that Chinese assets and investments in US should be protected. See here.

Then comes the news that Chinese property hunters are planning to pick up property in US on a large scale. See here.

So are we seeing a Chinese take over of US? This could be a great story for a Hollywood blockbuster. I am just conducting a thought experiment here and the conclusion (and the title) is just fiction. Or is it?

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Friday, December 5, 2008

China Lectures US On Economy

When I first blogged on the communists helping out the capitalists, I was pretty amused by the idea. What will the economists come up with next.

Apparently they were not that wrong.

And although the content of the reference in the previous blog and the news in Financial Times, "China Lectures US On Economy" is quite different, one can't help getting the feeling that the world order is shifting. I won't at all be surprised if in some-not-so-distant-future the headlines scream "China Lectures US On Economics."

I wonder if we can come to the following conclusion ... Communism did not win - poor leadership broke its back. But nor did Capitalism - greed of a few broke its back. Today US is the biggest socialist country in the world. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of families will suffer because of greed of a few.

Ultimately the winner will be the Middle Path - a judicious mix of capitalism with sufficient safeguards to prevent runaway greed. The Buddha smiles.

Note: The photograph used belongs to Ilker. Please visit here to see more such photographs.

PS: Did you enjoy this post? Then why don;t you stay a bit longer and see other related posts here.

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Let's Learn German Together - Lesson 8

The story so far ...

You are chatting with your pen friend in a cafe at the Frankfurt airport. You have just learnt that she is meeting up with a 'friend of hers'. In any case you have a busy week ahead. So you call for the waiter to pay up and ...

You: "Herr Ober!" (Mr. waiter! Hair obeyer)
Ober: "Ja Bitte." (Yes please. Ya bittay)
You: "Ich möchte bezahlen.” (I would like to pay. Issh moe-sh-tay bay-tshaal-en)
Ober: “Neun Euro zwanzig bitte” (9 Euros and 20 Cents please. Noyen oyrow, swn-sish bittey)
You: "Zehn Euro." (Ten Euros. Tsane Oyrow.)
Ober: "Und achtzig Euro zurück." (And 80 Euros back. Oont aaktish oyrow tsurook)
You: "Hier. Ein Euro für Sie." (Here. 1 Euro for you. Here. Eye-n oyrow fuer zee.)
Ober: "Danke sehr! Und haben Sie noch ein schöner Tag." ( Thanks very much. And have a nice day. Daankay seyer. Oont haaben zee nokh eye-n schoen-air takh)

You & She: "Auf wiedersehen!" (Bye. Aauf weeder-seyhen)
Ober: "Auf wiedersehen!" (Bye. Aauf weeder-seyhen)


Now It is time to go on with your business. Go on! Say good bye to your pen friend with a promise to meet soon.

You: "Also denn! Bis später denn." (Alright! See you later. Aalzo den. Bis shpaeter)
She: "Rufst du mich huete Abend an. ok?" (call me this evening. ok? "roofst doo mish hoytay aabent un. Ok?) - you heart gives a small jump.

You: "Ok!"
She: "Bis Samstag denn! Tschüss!" (Till Saturday then. Bye-bye. Bis zaamstakh den. Chuss)
You: "Tschüss!" (Chuss)

And then with a quick handshake she is gone. You turn towards the rail station.

Interesting Points:

a) "Euro" does not change for plural. Ein Euro ... Drei Euro

b) Any German word with "sp" is pronounced with a "shp" - for example, for später (meaning, later) we would say shpaeter! not spaeter.

c) In Germany, one tips by handing over the money to the waiter in person. Not just leaving some change on the table. Hence, "Ein Euro für Sie."

d) "Tschüss" is an informal way of saying bye. "Auf Wiedersehen" is formal: "wieder" means "again", "sehen" means "to see". Translated, auf wiedersehen means to see you again.

e) German has many verbs that separate (called separable verbs). If the sentence has an auxiliary verb (like, haben (have), muss (have to), etc.) separable verbs stay together. If separable verb is the only verb in the sentence, it splits and the prefix goes to the end of the sentence. In the sentence, "Rufst du mich huete Abend an", "anrufen", meaning "to call", is a separable verb. You can see than "an" has been pushed to the end of the sentence. This is very similar, but not exactly, to words like "pick up" in English. Thus, "I will pick you up". In English such phrases are not strictly governed by rules of grammar. In German very strict grammar rules apply.

Ok! Some episodes ago I had promised an introduction to numbers. Here goes ...

eins - one (eye-ns)
zwei - two (tsw-eye)
drei - three (dryii)
vier - four (fee-er)
fünf - five (fuenf)
sechs - six (zeks) - be careful with the pronunciation here!
sieben - seven (zeeben)
acht - eight (aakht)
neun - nine (noyen) - not "nine" - that is how you would pronounce "nein", meaning "no".
zehn - ten (ts-ain)
elf - eleven (elf) - that is easy
zwölf - twelve (ts-vohlf)
dreizhen - thirteen (dryii-ts-ain) - starts getting easier now! dreizehn = drei + zehn! Simple.
vierzehn - fourteen - easy
fünfzehn - fifteen - easy
sechzehn - sixteen - easy
siebzehn - seventeen - easy
achtzehn - eighteen - easy
neunzehn - nineteen - easy
zwanzig - twenty (swan-sish)


1) Memorize the above numbers.

2) As you travel to work, read the registration numbers on the car in German. Read the numbers in single digits for now. Do the same with the telephone numbers you know. Here's what I mean. For the first few days read the number 2574, for example, as zwei-fünf-sieben-vier. We will move to double and higher digits soon.

To see all the german lessons on one page click here => Check out my lens

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Tales Of Beetle The Bard

The Tales Of Beetle The Bard by J K Rowling: I have been waiting and waiting and waiting since morning. I finally got my hands on this. Just now.

I also purchased Quidditch Through The Ages, and Fantastic Beast And Where To Find Them

Unfortunately I cannot start reading straight away as I have got them all gift wrapped for my son whose birthday falls tomorrow.

Yeah! Yeah! They are for my son.
But you know who gets to read these first, don't you? :D

My wife wants me to grow up.

Aw! Come on! I am just 43.

And oh! You want to know what I think of J K Rowling, click here.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

His Name Is Tukaram Ombele

First I would like to thank all those who commented and send me e-mails for the list of martyrs I published here.
If you notice I have listed the names in alphabetical order. That was deliberate as they all went down saving lives. Ranks don't matter here - in death foot soldiers and officers are the same.

As I drew up the list I just could not get Assistant Sub Inspector, Ombele's first name. That irked me a lot. I finally got the name in today's Times Of India (but not their web page at the time of this posting). Turns out that he was the bravest of them all. The sole terrorist who got arrested is courtesy Tukaram Ombele. He hung on to the terrorist's AK47 even after taking the bullets. That provided enough time for the other policemen to nab the terrorist.

But did you get to see the state funeral of Tukaram or any of the 14 martyrs on the TV. Except the officers, of course? A shame that. I have nothing against the officers but every one of those who died took the bullets in their chest, not in their back. All went beyond the call of duty and yet the TV news channel focused on a few state funerals. I don't even know if the others got a state funeral. If that is not evidence of a TRP-hungry clan, then what is?

Note: The picture used here belongs to Ilker. To see more such pictures please visit the gallery.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Lessons From Hotels In Belfast

About 6 years ago, I had an occassion to visit Belfast. We were staying at a hotel not very far from Hotel Europa. We were told during our stay that the hotel was target of many a terrorist strike.

What amused us most was we had to press a calling bell to gain entry into our hotel. The receptionist would pop up from within, take a good look at us and then press a button releasing the lock to let us in.

The situation at work was no different. Even during normal hours the front door of the offices were all shut. The same press-the-calling-bell routine had to be repeated there too.

We used to find this quite funny then. And at times frustrating when the door would not promptly open. The IRA threat had more or less been nuetralised by then. Why are the people so paranoid? We use to wonder.

I can now put my amusement down to my insensitivity to the plight of the Belfast citizens. Today that comes back to haunt me. It is time similar security measures are applied to our hotels.

Our hotels work on the ancient principle of "Atithi Devo Bhava" (Guest is God). Time to tone down the hospitality a bit. Be polite but be vigilant. I am sure no one will mind.

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Present Financial Crisis Is For the Wimps

Downwards graph
The following passage from Against The Gods by Peter L. Bernstein. (The beginning almost reads like Harry Potter)

"This was a dark time, one marked by a series of ominous events: Watergate, skyrocketing oil prices, the emergence of persistence inflationary forces, the breakdown of the Bretton Woods Agreements, and an assault on dollar so fierce that its foreign exchange value fell by 50%.

The destruction of wealth in the bear markets of 1973-1974 was awesome ... After adjustment for inflation, the loss in equity values from peak to trough amounted to 50%, the worst performance in history other than the decline from 1929 to 1931. Worse, while bond-holders in the 1930s actually gained in wealth, long-term Treasury bonds lost 28% in price from 1972 to the bottom in 1974 while inflation was running at 11% a year."

The effects of the 1973-1974 crash was felt world-wide and the impact lasted some 20 years. See here.

Why is everyone panicking now? It is not as if the world has not seen this before.

What do we have now?
Oil prices are down ... dollar is holding (actually going up - see here) ... The World Bank and the IMF are going strong ... inflation is actually falling (oh I see! deflation!)

Or are we condemned to repeat history for ever?

Note: the picture used here belongs to "duchesssa". To see more of her photographs visit her gallery.

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Monday, December 1, 2008


Two of the oldest 'technologies' and they have still not standardized it.

I am of course talking of electrical power sockets.
Every traveler knows this.
Why on earth should the sockets in different countries be of different sizes and shapes?
Can't it be standardized?

Purchasing shoes for my family if I happen to see a good one while traveling out of India is another pain.
Take for example, my shoe size.
It is 7 in UK, 8 in US, and 40.5 in Europe.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Countering Terrorism - Simple Solution

Not surprisingly the solution to countering terrorism lies with the the ordinary citizens. The Army, the NSG, The Marine, The Police are what we could be termed as corrective measures. They are the cure. The prevention lies with us and in this simple question:

How well do you know your neighbours?

When a new neighbour moves in do you go and meet them? How many times have you invited them for a cup of tea? Have they responded likewise? Do you know your neighbours by name? Those bunch of college students who have recently moved in, are they the normal boisterous kind or do they keep to themselves? Has your neighbour suddenly turned the quiet type?

You see, before a strike, the terrorists will need to recce the area. Invariably, one a group of them will move into a neighbourhood and stay there for at least a month if not more. So, the solution lies there. Deny these terrorists a platform to launch their mission.

It is not possible for the police or the security forces to keep an eye on every one of us. We need to help ourselves. Neighbourhood watch is an excellent way of countering terrorism.

Note: The photo used here belongs to Laura Shreck. To see more of her photographs visit her gallery.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai Martyrs - We Salute You

Those who died in their line of duty saving lives of others. I salute you. Your death will not go in vain.

Ambados Pawar, Constable
Ashok Kamte, Deputy Inspector General
Chander, Commando, NSG*
Dudgude, Sub Inspector
Gajendra Singh Bisht, Hawaldar, NSG
Jaywant Patil, Constable
Hemant Karkare, Inspector General of Police
M.C. Chaudhary, Constable
Nanasaheb Bhonsle, Assistant Sub Inspector
Ombele, Assistant Sub Inspector
Prakash More, Sub Inspector
Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Major, NSG
Sushant Shinde, Police Inspector
Vijay Khandekar, Constable
Vijay Salaskar, Police Inspector
Yogesh Patil, Constable

* Commando Chander's death during the operation was indicated in the news on Friday, but I cannot find any more reference thereafter. The newspapers and news channels talk about 2 NSG deaths. Could someone please confirm my list. It has 3 NSG commandos.

Note: The photo used belongs to Michal Zacharzewski. To see his pictures go to his gallery here.

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Next Terror Strike - Is Bangalore Ready?

The terrorists have managed to do what they set out to do. Spread terror AND grab world attention. Their strategy has changed. No longer will they hit public places only. You grab world attention by hitting the elite. Like they did in Mumbai.

So what is next? It does not take a genius to predict that there will be copy cat terror strikes. And Bangalore could be the next target. Just as Mumbai is the financial capital of India, Bangalore/Bengaluru is the IT hub. Imagine the impact on India's image in the world if Vidhan Souda, Infosys, Wipro, Leela Palace, Taj, etc., are hit. And what publicity? This is exactly what a terrorist organisation seeks. See here.

I am not sure how well coordinated the terror organisations are. A copy cat strike could be initiated in a haste. If so that will be quickly countered. Or they would wait till it settles down and then hit. In either case we need to be vigilant. As I drove down from my office to home last night I could not see a single police person on the street - unless they are well hidden. Not a single barricade at the entry points to Bangalore (in the past I have seen a kind of traffic blockade near where I live; I could not see that last evening.) I am not sure if Bangalore is prepared. We could also see such copy cat strikes at all other state capitals. Are they ready?

So this is my plan ...
As soon as I complete writing this blog, I am going to send e-mails to the newspapers, chief minister (I think there is a public domain e-mail somewhere) and whoever I can find. Bangalore needs to get ready. And this cannot be a few months of vigilance. It will be for ever. If this is the price we have to pay for prosperity then so be it.

I request all those who read my blog. If you have the clout, please send it to the concerned authorities. If you do no, then forward this message or link to everybody you know. Let us play our part in defending India and saving innocent lives.

Someone asked me what we can do to counter the terrorists. It took me the whole of last night to come up with this answer: we can out think them.

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