Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Black Swan Predicted Financial Collapse

coin tower ready to collapse

If I had pots of money, I would buy a copy of The Black Swan and distribute a copy of The Black Swan to every banker, economist and policy maker and all those hanging out at Davos.

Now, you have to remember that this book was published in 2007 and I am assuming the book would have taken about 15 months to complete (or more!) Read this extract ...

A similar effect is taking place in economic life. [G]lobalization; it is here, but it is not all for good: it creates interlocking fragility, while reducing volatility and giving the appearance of stability. In other words it creates devastating Black Swans. We have never lived before under the threat of a global collapse. Financial institutions have been merging into a smaller number of very large banks. Almost all banks are now interrelated. So the financial ecology is swelling into gigantic, incestuous, bureaucratic banks ... - when one falls, they all fall. The increased concentration among banks seems to have the effect of making financial crisis less likely, but when they happen they are more global in scale and hit us very hard.

And then in the footnote, Nassim Nicholas Taleb goes on to say ...

As if we did not have enough problems, banks are now more vulnerable to the Black Swan and ludic fallacy than ever before with "scientists" among their staff taking care of exposures. ... [T]he government sponsored institution Fanny Mae, when I look at their risks, seems to be sitting on a barrel of synamite, vulnerable to the slightest hiccup. But not to worry: their staff of scientists deemed those events "unlikely."

Spooky or what?

Just one clarification.
The Black Swan is not about prediction. It is about the unpredictable. The above extract is an example of how one should anticipate the unpredictable.

Picture Courtesy: 'Rolve'

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Mathematics in India


All of you know that zero was invented in India. Right? What else do you know about Indian mathematics? Vedic mathematics, any one? Ah! I see lots of hands raised. Actually Vedic mathematics has been presented as a series of simple formula to solve mathematical problems and does a great injustice to ancient Indian mathematics. In any case it is a misnomer. It is ancient but not only from the Vedas.

It is apparent that ancient India had a great body of mathematical work. Zero cannot be a chance invention. Zero is not a number. It is a concept. And to use it along side natural number requires a well-established mathematical system in place. Not any disjointed, scattered mathematical recipes. The importance of zero is self-evident. I wouldn't be typing out this blog, but for zero. (The computer works on '0' and '1'.)

Now, for the first time, an effort has been made to collate all aspects of ancient Indian Mathematics. Kim Plofker is the author of the book called Mathematics In India. The book covers, among many other aspects, the following:

  • Mathematical Thoughts in Vedic India
  • Numbers and Numerals
  • Mathematics in Jain and Buddhist Texts
  • Mathematics and Astronomy in ancient India
  • Ancient Mathematicians such as Bhaskara, Narayana Pandit
  • Mathematics of Kerala
and so much more.

For a glimpse of the book you may visit the Princeton Website. You may also order the book from Amazon, by clicking here => Mathematics In India

Picture Courtesy: Jenny Rollo

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Barkha Dutt Does Not Understand How Internet Works

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil
She and NDTV lawyers have forced a blogger to withdraw his criticism and render an unconditional apology. Until now I had never heard of the blogger, named Chyetanya Kunte (he is of Indian origin based in Netherlands). Now the whole world knows him.

And the joke is on Barkha. Someone has gone ahead and updated Wikipedia. Click on this link and scroll down to the section, criticism.

So, now what do I know:

a) There are two facebook groups that are anti-Barkha Dutt.
b) She has been criticized by Newswatch, a media watchdog based in Delhi, for being the worst anchor in terms of sensationalizing the Mumbai Terror Strikes.

c) She has been criticized for her coverage of Kargil war, something that her famous in the first place.

The TV news coverage was criticized by many. In fact, I have posted a blog comparing the Terror Coverage to Cricket Live. These are my views. Why should I be suppressed from expressing my views?

To be fair to Ms. Barkha Dutt, I have not seen the original text of the blog. There might have been something offensive in there. We wouldn't know. It has since been withdrawn and an apology has been published. But what is she going to do about the hate groups on facebook. Or for that matter Wiki or bloggers all around the world who at this very moment must be blogging away to glory.

So, here's my advise to Ms. Barkha Dutt:

Internet cannot be controlled. It is the voice of many. There is some good stuff there and a whole lot of trash. If you are a public figure, you take it all in your stride. If someone is criticizing you, then be assured that you have arrived. If something personal has been written about you - your family, your personal life - please take action; you have every right. But sending a pack of lawyers after a blogger who has quoted wiki is not the way of going about it. You, of all people associated with media, should know this. Unless, of course, you do not know the difference between personal and professional, criticism and libel, libel and slander. I will look forward to the next episode of We The People where you will discuss this issue. I am assuming you have the guts to do so. Meanwhile, go and hunt the entire Internet to find out all bloggers who criticise you. Happy hunting.

Picture courtesy: Billy Alexander

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Obama sending out the right signals

Obama is making all the right moves. So far ...

If what Guardian says is correct and Obama is actually in the process of drafting a letter to open up direct contact with Iran, he is sending out two important signals:

a) A majority of terrorists are Muslims, but all Muslims are not terrorists.

b) The world needs all help to neutralize terrorism.

Pakistan and Afghanistan is the hub of most terror attacks now (and by many accounts, of all future ones too). Iran provides a good access route to Afghanistan. Though I do not believe that Iran will open up access routes into Afghanistan the way Pakistan did, a friendly Iran is better than an hostile one.

My other posts on terrorism:

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Kindle 2.0

amazon kindle 2.0
There are rumours that Kindle 2.0 will be released shortly. It might have colour display - right now it is only black & white - and may remove certain design defects (read below).

Just before I hear, Kindle ... what?, let me give a two line overview.

Kindleis a light-weight e-reader that is easy on the eye because of the e-paper technology. There are other e-readers in the market, and cheaper, such as Sony, but Kindle scores because of its content.

After all it is an Amazon product and there are more titles available on Kindle when compared to others. However, Kindle has a proprietary format and it is difficult to use with PDF format. There are several other design issues but the content rules. Besides, one can purchase and download (e)books, (e)magazines, blogs, etc. wirelessly on to Kindle. One could also download content over Internet.

What are the design issues?

First it is no apple product. If you expect an ubercool design, forget it.

Second, if you have ever "looked into" a book on Amazon, you would notice that the extract has two long side bars to move forward and backward. That makes it quite easy to use on a computer because you can point the mouse to any point on the side bar and move pages. Unfortunately, Kindle has duplicated this concept in a product that is held in hand. So you could accidentally depress the forward/backward key while reading.

Some people have cribbed about the lack of backlight (they are missing the point - the Kindle is supposed to replace paper and paper does not come backlit) and also about the fact that the Kindle cover does not stay (a most trivial point).

Do I have it?
Unfortunately no. It is not sold outside US.

Why do I speak of it?
Because I have spent most of my leisure hours lusting after it. I must have spent hours visiting Amazon, reading reviews and deriving vicarious pleasure from comments of those who possess Kindle.

I find it surprising that Amazon does not sell Kindle world-wide. There is such a huge market for Kindle that lies outside America. Whispernet may not be available outside of America. I do not want my newspaper delivered every morning on Kindle by wireless. but the convenience of buying and downloading books over Internet is a big plus. Just imagine having all my books on Kindle. 

Laptop ... iPod ... Kindle
Kindle will make my e-life complete.

Note: I have taken the picture of Kindle from the Amazon website.

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Of Books And Movies

Snow Owl Eye
"The book is better than the movie."
How many times have you heard this from bibliophiles?
I have heard this from so many people that I am not sure if it is a genuine statement or just a pseudo-intellectual posturing.

I generally stick to non-fiction. So I do not get much chance to show off the book-is-better-than-the-movie. Besides I do not get to see that many movies ...

I am massive fan of the Harry Potter series. When reading non-fiction gets a bit boring, what do I turn to? Right! Harry Potter. I must have read all the seven books at least 3-4 times, if not more. I think J K Rowling is a genius and richly deserves all the accolades and rewards.

I started reading Harry Potter after the Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban, the 3rd in the series, after Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone, and Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets. Or was it after the 2nd in the series? Never mind. I was introduced to it kind of late. Very late.

At first I was a little skeptic of the marketing hoo-haa that surrounded the series. Then my son dragged me to the movie Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone (for some reason the name is slightly changed, must be a Hollywood thing). I was simply blown away by the magic.

The very next day, I purchased all the three (two?) books that were available.

Today, I have all the books of the Harry Potter series (pre-ordered, mind you) and DVD's of all the movies released till date. And I am eagerly waiting for the movie version of Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince. I read somewhere that there will be two movies based on the final book, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. So the magic continues for some more time.

So what do I think of the Harry Potter movies now that I have read the books?

I think both are great. The books are fantastic. The movie are great too. It is like having two stories with the same name.

Any one - and I know there are millions - who has read Harry Potter as thoroughly as I have, will acknowledge that the beauty of the book is in the tiny details that Rowling has so skilfully woven in the story. It is almost like serendipity. You read a bit in, say, the 4th book and you suddenly remember that the thread actually starts in the first one. Or, you start re-reading the first book and you realize that something that you did not pay much attention to in your first reading starts making sense now, as the thread continues in the 5th book. There are several such.

The movie obviously cannot reproduce the nuances in the book, but they are mind blowing nonetheless. It is fun to see your imagination come alive on the screen.

I love them both ... the books and the movies. Both are magic. And this is applies to all well made movies and well written books.

And I hope Rowling returns soon with something else. I really miss Harry Potter.

I read long ago that she was working on some crime novel. With her intelligence and knack of springing surprises, I cannot wait for that to be published.

Picture courtesy: Herman Brinkman

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Honesty by the road side

She sells tender coconut on the road side in Bangalore. Unable to determine her exact age but definitely beyond 40. And she can teach a lesson or two in honesty to all known and still to be known corporate fraudsters.

Tender coconut is a commodity - unless you package the milk and see as a brand name. But the majority in south India just stop by at one of the many sellers that road the road side in Bangalore. The sellers make a killing at tourist spots but the price never goes beyond Rs 15. In Bangalore it varies from Rs. 10 to 12. One tender coconut seller is as good as the next. So, people stop at whim and on instinct or when convenient.

Last Saturday I needed to take my sons on a long drive to the British Library and then to the Science Museum. So I stop at this lady's so that we are well hydrated. I give her a 50 rupee note but has only Rs 12 so I waived the remainder sum of Rs 2. As I focus on the sweet milk and my children (one of them does not like the taste and I need to goad him into drinking it), I feel a tap on my shoulder. This lady has rummaged her belongings and found a Rs. 2 coin and she wanted to give it to me. As I indicate that this was not necessary, she points to the sky and indicates that God is there and that she cannot take the Rs. 2 that does not belong to her.

Pity! People, like the disgraced former chairman of Satyam Computers, Ramalinga Raju, never stop by to drink the sweet milk of tender coconut on the road side.

Picture courtesy: Manu M

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Astrology & Free Will

signs of zodiac
I never had any faith in Astrology.

Let's take the zodiac, for instance. Now, can one take this seriously? I mean, how could 1/12th of humanity fall under one category? And on top of that the predictions are so generic. One could swap around the predictions that appear in the dailies and you wouldn't know the difference.

But what about horoscope? That does not divide mankind into 12 parts. Each horoscope is unique and depends on the latitude and longitude and the time of birth. Can planets and stars have any impact on human actions?

Hmmm... let us investigate.

The multiplicative difficulty leading to the need of greater and greater precision in assumptions can be illustrated with the following simple exercise concerning the prediction of the movements of billiard balls on the table. I use the example as computed by the mathematician Michael Berry. If you know a set of basic parameters concerning the ball at rest, can compute the resistance of the table (quite elementary), and can gauge the strength of the impact, then it is rather easy to predict what would happen at the first hit. The second impact becomes more complicated, but possible; you need to be more careful about your knowledge of the initial states, and more precision is called for. The problem is that to compute the ninth impact, you need to take into account the gravitational pull of someone standing next to the table (modestly, Berry's computations use a weight of less than 150 pounds). And to compute the fifty-sixth impact, every single particle of the universe needs to be present in your assumptions! An electron at the edge of the universe, separated from us by 10 billion light-years, must figure in the calculations, since it exerts a meaningful effect on the outcome.

This information is mind-blowing, and I will assume it to be correct. So perhaps ancient Indian astrology did have a point. The planets do have an influence on us.

But does it make us puppets of a deterministic system? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I wouldn't be able to say. I have friends who swear by astrology. But then they have at least one friend (me!) who does not believe in astrology at all.

However, just because there is no scientific proof does not mean it is incorrect. If there is enough evidence of something, we need to take that into cognisance.

But what about free will? Human beings are not bound by past or future. We can think and make a difference. That has been my stand.

On the other hand, I  could take the above extract from The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to its limit. If every person on earth can be influenced by a set of planet, then what appears to be free will is actually a pre-determined action influenced by the universe.

Perhaps, it doesn't matter. As long as we do the right things and get the right results whether it is being done under the influence of some planet or a result of chaotic interaction of free will does not matter.

However, I have been taught a lesson. Just because a bizarre idea does not fit my existing thought framework, it need not be incorrect. I may not accept it; at the same time, I cannot reject the idea.

I still do not believe in astrology. But at least I will not make fun of those who do.

Picture courtesy: ADMANE Samir

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Revisiting Your Oldest Fear

Check out my lens

Yeah! Remember the cold sweat you used to break into whenever you encountered maths; in any form. Well. Fear no more. You and your children do not have to be afraid of mathematics. Visit my Squidoo and banish those fears for ever.

I realized that Squidoo is an excellent platform for lists. It has ready made template for listing books and the like. You just need to pick and choose. It is nice fun and I am starting to enjoy it.

Visit Are You Afraid of Mathematics to see what I mean

This also means that I am still hooked on to Squidooing the weekends away.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

I Don't Care About Slumdog Millionaire

musical notes

All I care about is Gulzar.
Not about Slumdog Millionaire.
Not about AR Rahman.
Only about Gulzar.
He should get the Oscar.

Not that he needs recognition from Hollywood. Rather the whole world needs to be introduced to wonderful poetry and lyrics of Gulzar.

In the crazy, madcap world of Mumbai masala movies, Gulzar has been the sole voice of reason. His lyrics are the bright spot of any movie, whether the movie itself is a hit or a flop. The sheer poetry of his lyrics can shred your heart to bits and then at the next moment make you smile with the drop of tear still clinging to your eyes.

I first heard Gulzar when I was small. Aandhi was the movie and the songs were captivating. The music of RD Burman and Gulzar mesmerized a nation.

I could go on and on about Gulzar but then there is lot more information on Gulzar on Internet.
Instead go to Youtube and just immerse yourself in what can only be termed as ecstasy.
Go here and here. Even if you do not understand Hindi, you will love the song. (By the way, the movie is directed by Gulzar)

Given a choice I would only listen to Gulzar songs. Here is one more of my favourite. And oh yes, Lata Mangeskar - the Nightingale of India - lends her voice to all three songs. Let me know if you liked the songs.

And you know what?
If Gulzar wins the Oscars, AR Rahman will win too. And so will Slumdog Millionaire.

Picture Courtesy: Ilker

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Squidoo Updates - I am a bad manager

Check out my lens
I am slowly getting the hang of this squidoo thingy.

Managed to get another one up. Not sure what kind if reception this will get.  It is called I am bad manager. Not sure how many would like to be a bad manager :-)

Meanwhile the rest of my lens are doing brilliantly.

Leadership Hype and How It Affects You is at number 131 in Business category.

Photographs of intricately carved sculptures of Hoysala Temples has exceed all my expevtations and stands at number 97 in Travel category

That is primarily because of the response I got from my forum-mates on Indiblogger.

Do visit my lens and let me know what you feel about it.

Meanwhile I am off to make another lens - just got an idea. Lets see how this idea pans out.


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Friday, January 23, 2009

Marketing Killed Imagining India

Strata Center MIT
It did, at least for me.
But before than ... a preface.

Imagining India is a book containing series of essays by Mr. Nandan Nilekani, the co-chairman of the India's software power house, Infosys. It is published by Penguin India. Now, for some reason Penguin and Mr. Nilekani decided to bring out a "nano" booklet in association with the magazine, Outlook. The booklet has two essays that are "exclusive excerpts" from the book.
The first page of the booklet, as a way of introduction, reads ...

Our excerpts are from two of the most thought-provoking and insightful chapters in his book.

I am reading the "exclusive excerpts" right now. To me it sounds as if once I am done reading the two essays, it is all downhill from then on. So instead of whetting my appetite for more, I am no longer inclined to buy the book.

The essays are not terribly insightful. In fact at one point in time I was wondering, "This is what I do in my blog. I read books and quote from them." To me an insightful essay would be something that interprets a known fact in a way that has not been done before, or better still, brings to our collective notice something that is beyond our current thought process.

My second problem with the essays I am reading is that it uses statistics to prove a point but does not reveal much (but that is what bikini and statistics are supposed to be, in the first place).

Let me quickly explain what I mean. Median age has been used to determine if a country's population is old or young. A single metrics to support a point. Perhaps, this is a standard measure used by sociologists. I would prefer average and range or standard deviation (if the population could be taken as a Normal distribution) also.

Ok, what is the median of the following numbers

1, 1, 1, 10, 10?

It is 1. And if these were ages, then a median would mean that 50% of the people are above the age of 1 year and 50% below. And what is the average, 4.6 years. And the range is 1 to 10. Which gives you more information, just the median or the median, average and range?

But wait there is more. Nilekani quotes David Bloom:
... particular kinds of population growth could dramatically drive the country's growth ...

to prove the point why India's population is an asset and not an hindrance (which I agree but because of different reasons). However, he could really be insightful if he could have extended the logic to show how this very particular kinds of population growth carries within itself seeds of self-destruction (now, wouldn't you like to know that? In some other post in this blog, I promise)

You see, Niekani has fallen into two traps that Nassim Nicholas Taleb brings out so wonderfully in his book, The Black Swan (now that is a book that is thought provoking and insightful). Taleb calls these (a) the error of confirmation and (b) narrative fallacy.

We focus on preselecting segments of the seen and generalize from it to the unseen: the error of confirmation.

We fool ourselves with stories that cater to our platonic thirst for distinctive pattern: the narrative fallacy.

In any case, the excerpts have nothing new to offer. Any one who read newspapers and magazines in India would know most of what is in there - more or less. There are many references but the one that is brilliant for stating the obvious is ...

The economist Abhijit Benerjee, who works at the Poverty Action Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has emphasised that educating women is a very effective means of improving our social indicators ... as Abhijit notes, "when you educate a woman, you typically educate a family.

Wow! That is enlightening. I am not surprised at the platitude. Poverty Action Lab at MIT? Ivory tower any one?

To be fair I think the economist may have been quoted out of context. Or not.

Now, why am I being so critical? After all Nilekani has achieved much more than I have (yet!). Hmmm... I guess I am pissed off by the fact that the "exclusive excepts" is a marketing blunder. I may or may not agree with what Nilekani has to say. But to do so I prefer reading the complete book.

Perhaps, the book does have insights that these excerpts do not. But the Outlook exclusive has spoiled that for me. Outlook may have sold a few extra copies of its magazine. Penguin India may also have received some money from Outlook - I am not sure how this works. But Nilekani missed out on selling his complete ideas to at least one person - me. You think he cares a damn about that?

In any case, I would have preferred insights into Infosys.

Picture courtesy: Y C

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Secret Solution To Success

driving in darkness

As a philosophy I reject what The Secret stands for. The esoteric that this book advances as a theory is based on false notion that dreams manifest mainly because we ask for it with our hearts; while actually the opposite is often true. Dreams are fulfilled because of hard work and perseverance. And sometimes even that is not sufficient. No one can put his / her finger on one thing or a set of things and declare that this gives you what you want. Here's where the philosophy of The Secret steps in - the gap is apparently fulfilled by: ask and the universe will bestow upon you unimaginable gifts; with lots of pseudo-science thrown in.

However, diamonds are found in deep, dark mines. Here's one such diamond that The Secret hold with in its folds. It is a statement that is so very true that it stands apart from the rest of the book, but you wouldn't even know. This quote is by Jack Canfield, the co-author of Chicken Soup For The Soul:

Think of a car driving through the night. The headlights only go a hundred to two hundred feet forward, and you can make it all the way from California to New York driving through the dark, because all you have to see is the next two hundred feet. And that's how life tends to unfold before us. If we just trust that the next two hundred feet feet will unfold after that, and the next two hundred feet will unfold after that, your life will keep unfolding. And it will eventually get you to the destination of whatever it is you truly want, because you want it.

A most practical solution. Won't you agree?

On a complete different issue, I think this is how the world economy will recover: 200 ft by 200 ft, give or take an Obama or a Manmohan Singh.

Picture Courtesy: Kristian Rasmussen

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Let's Learn German Together - Lesson 13

At the Hotel Atlantic.

The hotel is bang opposite the Bremen Airport. Your car waits for the tram to pass and stops in front of the hotel. You enter the building lobby. The hotel is to your left through the lobby.

At the reception, you find a smart gentleman, greeting you with a ...

Receptionist: "Guten Tag! Willkommen im Hotel Atlantic." (Good day! Welcome to Hotal Atlantic. Gooten Takh.Wil-com-men eem ho-tail Atlaantic.)
You: "Guten Tag! Ich heiße Rahul X. Ich habe eine reservierung." (Good Day.My name is Rahul X. I have a reservation. Gooten Takh. Issh hye-say Rahul X. Ish haabay eye-ney reser-veer-ung.))

I had to use some name! I know that Shah Rukh Khan is extremely popular in Germany. Hence Rahul :-)

R: "Ja! Herr X. Von heute bis Freitag." (Yes. My. X. From today till Friday. Ya. Hair X. Fon hoy-tay bis Fry-takh)
You: "Das ist Korrect. Was kostet das Zimmer?" (That is correct. How much does the room cost? Dass isst co-rect. Wass cost-et dass tsimmer?)
R: "Neunzig Euro pro Nacht. Mit Bad und Frühstück." (90 Euros per night. Includes bath and breakfast. Noyn-tsish Oy-row pro naakht. Mit baad oont frueh-stook.)
You: "Danke." (Thank you. Daankay)

The receptionist gives you a form to fill.

You fill up the following ...

Familie Name
Pass Nummer

First Name
Passport Number

R: "Zimmernummer einhundertdreizehn." (Room number 113. Tsimmer nummer eyen-hundert-dry-tsen)
You: "Danke!" (Thank you. Daankay)
R: "Bitte!" (You are welcome. Bittay)

Interesting Points:

1) The receptionist called you by your surname. This is normal in Germany and considered polite.
2) Generally, rooms come with a bath or a shower. But it is better to ask. Breakfast is usually included. Hotel Atlantic has a restaurant at the top of the building.
3) Note the tendency to form bigger words. All numbers are merged to form one big word. (More on bigger number in my next lesson.)
4) Joined words take the gender of the last word. Thus, Zimmer is a neuter word where as Nummer is of feminine gender. Therefore, the word Zimmernummer will be feminine. das Zimmer, die Nummer, therefore, die Zimmernummer.

Translate the following:

a) I would like a room with a bath. (check out the previous lessons for the German word for "would like")
b) I need breakfast. (check out previous lessons for the German word for "need")
c) What is your surname?
d) Where do you come from? (see previous lessons)

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

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Are You Being Fooled By Random Purple Cows?

purple cow I don't know how well Seth Godin takes to criticism. He is a marketing guru, but I think he has fallen into the same trap in Purple Cow as many other management authors: the desire to explain random outcomes as non-random. This is a classic case of survivorship bias (learning from the winners without taking into account the losers who might have done similar stuffs but failed.)

The need to do something remarkable to capture market is a given. In order to dislodge an existing market leader an upstart has to come with something that grabs attention. But what works may not be just a remarkable product or service well marketed. Sometimes success is achieved by being at the right place at the right time. And how does one do that: by trying and trying and trying and hoping for the best.

To be fair to Godin, I am sure he understands this very well. Sample this from his book:

So is there a foolproof way to create a Purple Cow every time? ... Of course not. There is no plan. Looking into our rear-view mirror, we can always say, "Of course that worked." ... When we take off the rear-view mirror, though, creating a Purple Cow suddenly gets a lot more difficult.

Unfortunately, I find the approach too uni-dimensional.

What could have been done to make The Purple Cow more rounded? I wish there were as many case studies of failures as there are of success. An analysis of what did not work - in spite of putting out a fantastic product - may be as important, if not more so, as analysing what went right.

This is my first book by Seth Godin. I am right now following him his blog by e-mail. I will perhaps understand his point of view better. Meanwhile, I will continue analysing The Purple Cow and all other management books I read through the lens of Fooled By Randomness.

Photo courtesy: Natalija Stanivuk

Update as on 01-Apr-2009

Purple Cow continued to haunt me. So I re-read the complete book again (one of the advantages of buying books). I think I will retain my initial impression in this post. It still stands.
Would I recommend this book to others?
I think I will.
It has many positive points that will grab you and force you to think differently.
For a review of the book click on the icon below
Check out my lens

Does this change of heart has anything to do with Seth Godin responding positively to my book review? Not really.
Remember I wrote the review before Godin responded! In the process I discovered that he is a good man. See my post here.

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Big Increase In Page Impressions and Small Increase In Revenue - Blogging Experience

the world of bloggingI have promised myself I will be blogging on my blogging experience as I go along. So here is an update ...

As I type, the page impressions stand at 121,886. Number of visitors are increasing and so are the earnings (no pay offs yet though) - though not at the rate I would like.

This is what I have been doing so far.

1. Blogging regularly. It is becoming a habit now. I have noticed that the more you blog the faster new ideas come tumbling. After a while, you own a style that is distinctive. Hopefully, I have a distinct style of my own by now. I have noticed that my hobbies are feeding off each other. I like to read and I like to blog. My reading gives me ideas for my blogs and my blogging success (?) gives me the push to read further.

2. Spreading my net wider. Basically increasing my catchment area. The idea is to get trickles from a wider area. Towards that I have started Squidoo Lens, which I kind of enjoy. I also am consistently leaving comments on other blogs of interest. This needs to go. I am not very satisfied with the Blog Directories. Not many visitors from these. However, the number of visitors are growing from the IndiBlogger forum, where I love to contribute.

3. I recently started building followers. Right now I have only three. This is on a reciprocal basis, which is a nice arrangement - I get to read some interesting blogs. I think this will give my blog more visibility. The subscription drive through mails continues. My subscribers are my captive audience, sort of.

4. I am paying more attention to catchy titles and attractive pictures. Internet surfers have notoriously short attention plan. Need to grab their attention at first glance. Not sure how successful I am. Will know shortly.

5. I am still reliant a great deal on Alpha Inventions to get me visitors, which it does admirably. There is another similar application on the Internet. It is called Condron. The flow of traffic is much less from here.

I have now decided to do measure the rate of increase of page impressions, rather than just page impressions. So my next update, perhaps next month, will contain better statistics.

The aspect that I am still not very satisfied with is the quality of advertisement. I have a feeling I know why this is so. The topics I write on are varied. This must be throwing the adsense algorithm off. I do not want to compromise on my reading pleasure for advertisements though. But if the visitors do not find relevant advertisements to explore then the success criteria I have set for myself is not met. So it is kind of catch-22.

Adsense offers a few tools to manage adsense advertisements. Need to explore this too.

Picture Courtesy: Ilker

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Monday, January 19, 2009

The Sad Case of Satyam Employees and Warning Bells For Indian IT Companies

Birds flying in formation
Satyam employees must be feeling kicked in the guts. Many of them have put in years of service, worked diligently, and were hoping for a great career ahead in Satyam. So what happened? Is it fair that they be penalized for a bunch of A******S led by running the company?

What I am going to quote below may seem heartless but believe me nothing could be further from truth. No schandenfreude here.

This is from The Purple Cow by Seth Godin.

Why do birds fly in formation? Because the birds that follow the leader have an easier flight. The leader breaks the wind resistance, and the following birds can fly far more efficiently. ...

If you watch the flock closely, though, you'll notice that the flock doesn't really fly in formation. Every few minutes one of the birds from the back of the flock will break away, fly to the front and take over, giving the previous leader a chance to move to the back and take a break.

The problem with people who would avoid a remarkable career is that they never end up as a leader. They decide to work for a big company, intentionally functioning as an anonymous drone, staying way back to avoid risk and criticism. If they make a mistake and choose a wrong bird to follow, they lose.

So the employees of Satyam make a mistake and chose a wrong leader. But what of the rest of the company. Seth Godin further continues ...

A lot of risk-averse businesspeople believe that they can follow a similar strategy. They think they can wait until a leader demonstrates a breakthrough idea, and then rush to copy it, enjoying the break in wind resistance from the leader ... In the long run of course they will fail.

Now why am I quoting this? Collect the annual reports of the following companies, Infosys, Wipro, HCL, Satyam, ... Ask your friend to look away and read out aloud the annual report. Ask him/her to guess the company. I bet you will get a confused answer. Every single biggie has the same genetic configuration. The first big wave that turns the apple cart will serve as a death knell for all of these companies.

You still don't agree? Answer this question?

Which Indian company has a product to its name? Hmmm.... you don't remember.

Alright I will make it easier.

Name me a software product comparable to Windows, SAP, Oracle, or any of the hundreds of software / freeware that are in your machine right now, that is developed by an Indian company.

With the sole exception of Tally, put it down to my ignorance, I am not aware of any India developed software product that is burning up the market. Feel free to enlighten me.

I predict that this will come from one of the smaller companies. Entrepreneurs who are hungry to become the leader of tomorrow. There is a tremendous talent available in India, coming out of our IITs and Regional Engineering colleges. Could be a bright spark from there. I hope that company (could be the one I work in!!) does it soon, before India is hit by gale forces of change.

Watch this space!


Picture courtesy: Asif Akbar

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9 Blurbs For 9 Books

stack of old books
Movies have them, so do comics. Why not books?

The one movie blurb that has stuck at the top of my mind goes like this:

Once in a lifetime comes a movie that makes you feel like falling in love all over again. This is not that movie.
This is from The War Of The Roses, a dark comedy. (You haven't see it yet; get a DVD today!)

Or consider Spiderman - I tell this to myself, every time I start My SUV:
With great power comes great responsibility.
So here are 9 blurbs for 9 books:

1) The Black Swan:
All you need is a one single black bird

2) The Purple Cow:
Safe is risky

3) Survival of the sickest:
Somewhere in your genetic code is the tale of every plague, every predator, every parasite, and every planetary upheaval your ancestors managed to survive
Don't turn away from possible futures before you're certain you don't have anything to learn from them. You're always free to change your mind and choose a different future, or a different past.
5) The Goal:
Management, Schmanagement. It is all about constraints
6) Fooled By Randomness:
You can't explore your future. Or your past. It is completely random.
7) The Harry Potter series:
That scar on your forehead could be magic
8) The DaVinci Code:
The blood of Jesus is alive and amongst you
9) The Long Tail:
You know it is modern economy when the tail wags the dog

10) This is for you. Come up with something.

But books do not have blurbs. Just as well. I would hate to read a book with a blurb.

Picture courtesy: Ana Labate

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

In Search Of Sarah Flannery

digital world

Those days I was still harbouring a desire to become a mathematician. The discipline and dedication required to become one was sorely lacking. That was when I read the book In Code: A Mathematical Journey by Sarah Flannery. I then wished I had read this book 10 years ago.

In Code is an autobiography of a 16 year old girl who went on to win The European Young Scientist Of The Year award in 1999 for her work on cryptography using what is called the Cayley-Purser algorithm. The autobiography is her mathematical journey to fame. Very well written and reads like a novel with an unexpected twist at the end (the algorithm was broken after all.)

In my experience such people shine for a while before disappearing among the unknown millions. I tucked away "follow Sarah Flannery" in my mental checklist. This was some 8 years ago. My children grew up. I gave them the book to read. They obviously liked it because even though my elder son, Arunabh, has read this book some time ago, he made a mention about In Code the other day.

Time to tick off the mental checklist.

So I googled for Sarah Flannery. Took about half an hour to sort out the details.

Turns out that she is now working as Chief Scientist in a company called Tirnua. Before this she worked as software engineer for Electronics Art. If you are a computer games fanatic, you must have heard of Need For Speed, The Sims - the most successful game of all times. Well, both these are EA products. Before that she worked for Wolfram Research, which is not surprising. Sarah loves, or used to love, working on Mathematica.

So she turned out to be a software engineer after all.

I hope this is not seen as passing judgment, but some part of me is a little disappointed. Reason: I dislike the trend in India that all engineers and scientists are ending up as software engineers. I think this is a tragedy for India. Long term growth of any country suffers when basic science and mathematics is neglected.

In any case, I am sure Sarah still loves doing mathematics and is involved in some mathematical pursuit. At least I hope so.
If you are a friend of Sarah or you are Sarah Flannery herself, please do drop a note confirming my hunch.

Sarah, here's wishing you lots of success in future.

The picture used here belongs to jaylopez (see gallery)

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Time Heals, But Not Always

lag and delay

Time heals.
But can it also result in a disaster?

Next time two kids fight, observe.
"He started it."
"No, he started it."
The funny thing is both could be right.

Most interactions are not instantaneous. It involves an element of time.

When I do something and you react and then I react and then you ... you get the idea ... these don't happen immediately.

More often than not the sequence goes as follows:
I do something ... time gap ... then you react ... time gap ... then I react ... time gap ... then you react ...

These time gaps make it seem like linear causal effects resulting in statement such as, "I did this because you did that."
The truth actually could be: "I did this because you did that because I did something else because you did yet another thing ..." So it is actually cyclic. Human brains can only trace the loop back to a few spirals.

This is a classic case of things spiraling out of control. One action feedback into the next and so on. This becomes even more pernicious because we are not even aware that we are reacting in a cycle. This could become disastrous when his cyclic interaction involves parties with lethal weapons.

We can safely say that most of the conflicts and wars begin from accusations and counter-accusations that are made from a linear perspective either because the elements (read, politicians, military, hawks, etc.) involved either do not understand or deliberately choose to ignore the cyclic aspects of interaction.

By the way, this is also true of all dysfunctional families. Also true of all divorces.

So are we condemned to live in a continuous downward spiral. The answer is a reassuring no. The same cyclic interaction can also turn positive. And once that is done things improve at rapid speed. One good turn begets other and so on till things never seem better.

What is required is to break the cycle.

Here's how it works:

You: You told lies.
She: You make me tell lies. If I tell you the truth you jump to conclusions.
You: That is because you never tell the full truth.
She: The last time I told you the full truth you could not take it.
You: That is because you have a history of cheating.
She: Actually it you who first cheated.

Wait! Hold on. Break the cycle.

You: Can we make a new beginning? Now onwards, whenever you see me jumping to conclusion, remind me of this conversation.
She: Sure. And I will tell you the complete fact as it happens.
You: This relationship is important to me and I will do whatever it takes.
She: You know that I love you more than you do.
You: That is not true. I love you more.

The above dialog is contrived but you get the idea.

The lesson: Always look out for the vicious cycle. And break it.

I wish I could claim that the above is my original contribution human understanding. It is apparent but I first got to understand when I read The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice Of The Learning Organization by Peter M. Senge. This simple impact of time lag resulting in a vicious cycle is one of the many brilliant take-aways of this book. The Fifth Discipline gives you tools to analyze any situation and these tools provide you with simple solutions to produce maximum impact.

Strongly recommended.

Note: The picture used belongs to Carlo Scherer (see gallery)

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Squidooing The Weekends

Check out my lens

I discovered Squidoo a few days ago. Entirely by accident.
I purchased a Seth Godin book, The Purple Cow (Yeah! I still buy books!) and was intrigued enough to check out his blog.
There I noticed the strange set combination of characters S-Q-U-I-D-O-O.
So, I explored further and today I am a lens master.

I took me some time to understand how to get a hang of this Squidoo animal. Every time I thought of an idea for a lens on Squidoo, I found it more suitable for my blog here.

Since I do not give up on a possible future without giving it a shot, I have now decided to dedicate one day, either a Saturday or a Sunday, to making a lens. My repertoire of lens is slowly building up. I realize that the lens serves as a repository of my blog. And it works like this ...

I scan my blog for a common thread between different blogs and when I find one, I convert that into a lens.

Though the blurb says create a lens in 60 seconds (or something similar), I take at least 2-3 hours coming up with a suitable idea and executing it.

Have a look at the lens I created today: Photographs of intricately carved sculptures of Hoysala Temples

Let me know what you think of it.

And should you want to become a lens master yourself, click on my referral link here (You can become a lens master directly too; it is just that this would be your way to thank me ;-))

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Internal Dynamics Of Criticising

How often do we question ourselves?
We go by impressions.
We judge others.

Just this after noon someone told me that a person was corrupt. Why? Because he is rich? Because he is an aggressive sales person? Because he is in the real estate business?  

Want to know how our mind works? I quote from my favourite book The Black Swan.

We use reference points in our heads ... and start building beliefs around them because less mental effort is required to compare an idea to a reference point than to evaluate it in absolute.

So when we judge others, what is the reference point?
Be very careful when criticizing others. You might well be projecting yourself on to that person.

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iPod is a Life Saver

Picture this ...

Traffic moving at a snail's pace ... motor cycles trying to weave their way through ... drivers honking their heart out ... all of a sudden someone turns on his music system and all you can hear is a dull thump hammering against your brain ... and just when the traffic starts moving the vehicle ahead of you stops dead.


Enough to give you road rage. Good thing India doesn't have gun laws like America has. The roads would be bloody.

In all this chaos if you see some one driving with an angelic smile, two white wires sticking out of his ears, giving way to others as they cut sharply across, and actually enjoying traffic jams ... you can be sure that he is on an Apple iPod (or something similar).

iPod can be a life saver in such cases. I have loaded all those wonderful German podcasts available at Deutsche Welle on my iPod. These german lessons are woven around interesting stories.

Here's how my iPod helps me ...

a) Since driving with attention diverted to podcasts could be dangerous, I slow down and that makes my driving safer.

b) It keeps away noise from the traffic surrounding me.

c) Since I am more interested to listen to one complete episode that reaching office, a traffic jam does not bother me. In fact I welcome it at times.

d) I learn German the best way possible - by complete immersion.

e) And most importantly, I don't get involved in road rage crimes.

I wish every one on the road was on an iPod trip. It saves life.

Note: The picture used belongs to Nathaniel Dodson (see gallery)

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It Is Not Luck!

If you have spent a whole life time cursing your luck for all the bad things that happen to you or around you; or if you have lost faith in the system; or if you have no idea why your projects get delayed - you have come to the right place.

I will not be able to set things right, not give you a solution, but I can sure explain why things go wrong even when you are doing everything right.

But before that let us consider an entirely different scenario. Take a cup of water and drop a blob of ink (or any other dye). The ink disperses and soon the whole water is blue (or red or whatever). Of course you know why that happens. Diffusion. And that happens because of random motion of the molecules. So much is clear. But why diffuse? Randomness could also cause the ink to re-concentrate (imagine seeing the diffusion in a film that is run backwards - can you picture that?). But commonsense tells us that the ink will diffuse it will not come back together again. But that is not entirely correct. The probability of the ink 'un-diffusing' in not zero - except that it is so small that it never ever happens.

So it is with affairs around you. The probability of everything going smooth all the time and as you wish it to happen is not zero. It just so happens that the probability is so tiny that, left on its own, things will go wrong. But there is an essential difference between you and ink.

You can act. You can act to modify the probability in your favour.

Getting late to office because of the random occurrence of vehicles in your path and causing delay? Start earlier. You will still get delayed, but you will reach on time.

Projects get delayed no matter how well you plan? Some random occurrence of an event that you did not take into account manifested? Learn from this. Watch out for such random events. They will still happen. But if you are on a look out, you will be able to take appropriate action.

So it is not about luck. It is all about you trying to consciously modifying probability in your favour.

So next time you wish some one luck, try saying, "Wish you favourable probability." If nothing else I guarantee you raised eye brows.

Oh come on! What is life without such a bit of Idiosyncrasy?

Note: The picture used belongs to Steve Woods (See gallery)

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Blogging - 7 Things That Work For Me And 1 That Doesn't

Having blogged almost continuously for about 4 months now, I am getting a feel of what works for me. I haven't yet figured one that doesn't.

Here's the list of what works ...

1. Using a neat template ... Too much clutter is a no-no. The attention span of a visitor is short. Need to capture and keep the visitor for a long time.

2. Using pictures ... Pictures capture attention. Not too many of these. But definitely above the fold-line. And the best place to get royalty free pictures is Stock Xchng. Remember to leave a message for the photographer thanking him/her - that also ensures that one extra person will visit your blog. Also remember to credit the photographer in your blog.

3. Blogging My Mind ... I know it is good to focus, great for traffic, etc. I have other blogs which are extremely focused. But you got to have one for fun. Where you can blog your heart out. So that even when no one is visiting your blog, you are driven to blog continuously.

4. Being a Good Citizen of The Blogosphere ... It is fun to make virtual friends. It also means that people in whose blog I have left a comment visit mine. I make it a point to leave comments in at least 5 blogs per day.

5. Welcome Text ... I think my hit rate increased after I introduced a welcome note for my visitors. In any case, it is nice to greet strangers. I read somewhere long ago in Reader's Digest:

A stranger is just a friend you haven't met before
6. Non-linear narrative ... I get more visitors to the posts that do not follow a plain, straight line narrative.

7. Asking For Feedback ... Asking for feedback of like minded friends you met on a forum is a great help.

Here's the list of what I still need to figure out ...

1. How do I ensure quality advertisements on my blog that interests my visitors? Blogging is in my control. But how do I get my visitors to become interested in the ads.  I wish I had the creative control on the advertisement on my blog. Meaning, I wish I could design them.

But then that would mean that the advertisements would look exactly like my blog!!  Is that a good thing or a bad thing? You decide.

Note: The picture used belongs to jaylopez (See gallery)

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Are We Programmed To Die?

mourning angel
I read this delightful little book called Survival Of The Sickest by Dr. Sharon Moalem a few weeks ago (I have blogged on survival ... here and here.)

I fall back on this book yet again to continue with my latest obsession with death (here and here).

Ok! Question time ...

Why would you do something really stupid that will result in death in the long run?
Why do people resort to excessive drinking or substance abuse when they know that this will result in a painful death later?

Answer: Perhaps, to forget the pain of the moment.

This is hardly a trade off. You give up your future for the present. Really stupid right?

Surprise! Surprise! Turns out that your body does this all the time or rather evolution does this all the time.

We are diabetic because evolution chose diabetes over painful instant death if our blood were to freeze in cold weather - the sugar in the blood reduces the freezing temperature. (You really need to read the book if you want to understand this!)

Coming back to the original question.

The cells in our body are programmed to divide and grow only about 50-60 times. After that kaput! The cell dies. If the cell had no limit to reproduce we would not age nor die. Why would evolution choose such an end?

The answer: to prevent cancer.

What is cancer?

It is an uncontrolled growth of cells.

If the cell had no limit of reproduction, cancer would spread at the slightest pretext, as there would be nothing to prevent it from doing so (there are other inbuilt prevention mechanism but a limit to endless growth is the final defence against cancer.)

So yes we are programmed to die but it is for our own good. What a weird concept!

Note: The picture used belongs to Joachim Bär (See gallery)

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Taste The Living Language

Geoffery Chaucer is known as father of English. He wrote in the 14th century. Within a few hundred years the language was already changing.

I have extracted below from Wikipedia the language Chaucer used. Below that is the translation. The language used by Chaucer could be a bit ribald. So watch out before you read the translation aloud to your kids.


This frere bosteth that he knoweth helle,

And God it woot, that it is litel wonder;

Freres and feendes been but lyte asonder.

For, pardee, ye han ofte tyme herd telle

How that a frere ravyshed was to helle

In spirit ones by a visioun;

And as an angel ladde hym up and doun,

To shewen hym the peynes that the were,

In al the place saugh he nat a frere;

Of oother folk he saugh ynowe in wo.

Unto this angel spak the frere tho:

Now, sire, quod he, han freres swich a grace

That noon of hem shal come to this place?

Yis, quod this aungel, many a millioun!

And unto sathanas he ladde hym doun.

--And now hath sathanas,--seith he,--a tayl

Brodder than of a carryk is the sayl.

Hold up thy tayl, thou sathanas!--quod he;

--shewe forth thyn ers, and lat the frere se

Where is the nest of freres in this place!--

And er that half a furlong wey of space,

Right so as bees out swarmen from an hyve,

Out of the develes ers ther gonne dryve

Twenty thousand freres on a route,

And thurghout helle swarmed al aboute,

And comen agayn as faste as they may gon,

And in his ers they crepten everychon.

He clapte his tayl agayn and lay ful stille.

This friar boasts that he knows hell,
And God knows that it is little wonder;
Friars and fiends are seldom far apart.
For, by God, you have ofttimes heard tell
How a friar was taken to hell
In spirit, once by a vision;
And as an angel led him up and down,
To show him the pains that were there,
In the whole place he saw not one friar;
He saw enough of other folk in woe.
To the angel spoke the friar thus:
"Now sir", said he, "Do friars have such a grace
That none of them come to this place?"
"Yes", said the angel, "many a million!"
And the angel led him down to Satan.
He said, "And Satan has a tail,
Broader than a large ship's sail.
Hold up your tail, Satan!" said he.
"Show forth your arse, and let the friar see
Where the nest of friars is in this place!"
And before half a furlong of space,
Just as bees swarm from a hive,
Out of the devil's arse there were driven
Twenty thousand friars on a rout,
And throughout hell swarmed all about,
And came again as fast as they could go,
And every one crept back into his arse.
He shut his tail again and lay very still.

The original language has a delightful rhythm to it, won't you say?

Now sample this:
goin 2 gr8 moov 2moro r u comin pos g2g txt bck. <3

It took me some time to figure out what this means:

Going to a great movie tomorrow. Are you coming? Parents Over Shoulder. Got to go. Text Back.Love.

Do you think 100 years from now, people will look back at today's English with the same amusement that most of us feel when we read Chaucer's English?

I think I should start blogging in textese for posterity.

Note: The image used belongs to 'miamiamia' (see gallery)

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Present and Immediate Danger

penguin standing on a melting block of ice

It took me a long time to figure this out but I have got it in the end.
I think.

Ok! Here's a question for you: Assume you know someone obese and he has a 80% chance of getting an heart attack in the next 10 years; and he is offered a medical insurance. Which insurance should he take?

a) Insurance that covers all his heart related disease.
b) Insurance that covers diabetes.
c) Insurance that covers all diseases.

If you have answered (a), then you are like the rest of us. Absolutely logical. But like most of us, wrong.
You see, (c) is a super set of (a) and (b) - (c) automatically covers (a) and (b).

What do you think the insurance man agent is going to push for?
You are right. (a). He may not even mention (c). Nor will the insuree - is that the word - ask about it.
The chances are that the premium for (a) is higher because the demand for (a) is higher.

We, humans, are wired to take into account present and immediate threat. That has saved us as a race for the last few million years. 'Present and Immediate' means we can see these threats coming. But this can also makes us vulnerable to hype. We can be made to see things that would otherwise not be apparent to us.

We can 'see' Global Warming coming, can we not?

We can see factories bellowing thick, black smoke.
We can see white, harmful smoke from the cars.
Our eyes sting when we stop at traffic lights and vehicles are idling.
We feel warmer every summer.

The obvious conclusion as repeated ad nauseum by magazines and newspapers is that the green house gas will cause global warming. And we are concerned.

We should be. Or should we be?

What about the good old concern about pollution?

In all this hype(?) about Global Warming, I rarely read any more about the impact of air pollution on our health.
What about the polluted rivers?
They don't cause Global Warming (or perhaps they do - I am sure some causal relationship can be figured out if you try hard enough) so you don't get to hear about that any more.

Tell me frankly. When was the last time you read an article in newspaper or a magazine the number of deaths due to pollution? Think hard.

Hmmm... sometimes, it is good to react to the 'present and immediate'.
I am all for systemic analysis (more on that in my blog, shortly) and take into account "in the long run" but for that we need to be alive in the long run.

Now consider the impact of taking away the present and immediate threat (pollution) and replacing this with a bigger picture (Gloal Warming).
Because pollution is no longer in our mind, we click our disapproval at all those people (always the other people) causing Global Warming when we read the newspapers, but do nothing about it.
We continue to air our disapproval but do not think twice while driving down to the nearest departmental store.

What do you think will affect us more?
a) A daily headline in the newspaper screaming number of hospitalisation and deaths due to pollution
b) A daily headline in the newspaper telling us about the possibilities of Global Warming in 20 years.

If you have answered (a), then you are like the rest of us. Absolutely logical. And correct.

Note: The picture used belongs to "jaylopez" (see gallery)

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

9 Things To Do Before I Die

I am reminded of Ghalib's couplet as I type out this blog ...

Hazaron khwaishein aisi ki har khwaish par dum niklay
Bahut niklay merein armaan lekin phir bhi kam niklay.

Almost impossible to translate but here goes a very loose one ...

There are a thousand wishes, each worth dying for.
Many such of mine have been fulfilled but they are a few in number.

Urdu poetry lovers will crucify me for such a rotten translation, but the meaning is conveyed.

In my case, there are 9 such worth-dying-for wishes.

Before I die I would love to ...

1. Visit Manasarovar

2. Scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef

3. Visit Machu Picchu in Peru

4. Write a book - even if only one copy is published

5. See our Earth from the space

6. Swim with the Dolphins in open ocean

7. See a Cheetah hunting for food

8. Fly in a Hot Air Balloon

9. See Penguins in Antarctica

Why only 9?
The 10th one is for you to suggest :-)

Note: 1) The picture of the lake (not Manasarovar) belongs to Chiaan Yang (see gallery)
2) The picture of the Great Barrier Reef belongs to Lachlan Taylor (see gallery)
3) The picture of Machu Picchu belongs to Caetano Lacerda (see gallery)
4) The image of earth from space belongs to Dimitri Castrique (see gallery)
5) The picture of the Dolphins belong to Rachel Gilmore (see gallery)
6) The photograph of the bronze animals belong to Outrequin JC (see gallery)
7) The photograph of the hot air balloon belongs to Kriss Szkurlatowski (see gallery)
8) The photograph of the penguins belong to Jan Will (see gallery)

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Buddhism And Psychology

Serendipity can't get better than this.

I naturally skeptical of travelogues. I find the genre pretty boring. I picked up Himalaya by Michael Palin because there was nothing better at a small book shop at St. Pancras (before it became the home of the Eurostar) while waiting for a train. This must have been two years ago.

Advertisement obviously works. The cover says "The No. 1 Bestseller".
Or perhaps it was the title of the book Himalaya.
I mean, ask any Indian - any - about Himalaya he would go all misty eye - even if 99% of the population has never visited the Himalayas. We feel that it belongs to us.

After all we created it!
(I would rather not go into a detailed geography lesson on the Continental Drift Theory, The Indian Shelf and Tethys Sea.)

The book lay in my shelf for the last two years. I started reading it a few days ago. And I haven't stopped giggling since. My sons keep looking at me as if I have gone nuts.

Michael Palin has a way with his words. His humour is infectious. And his style of writing reminds me Of Yes Prime Minister. The book is actually a diary in print (are all Travelogues written this way?) and entries are short and crisp.

This book is about the BBC crew journey from one end of Himalaya (Pakistan) to the other (Assam, India) - but it is not a mountaineering expedition.

I have just reached his meeting with Dalai Lama in McLeodganj, India, and then I discovered something that I was totally unaware of.

Buddhism is far from being an irrelevant, unchanging religion. Buddhists and scientists have much in common, while in the field of psychology the Buddhists are well ahead. He [meaning Dalai Lama] grins. By 2000 years.

This is new fish! I google it up and of course, if it is not present in Google, it does not exist! And if it is not in Wikipedia, it cannot be considered authentic!

You get 10,600 results on googling "Buddhism and Psychology". There is a full length article on Buddhism and psychology in Wikipedia.

I reproduce this from the Wiki:

Since the time of Gautama Buddha in the fifth century BC, an analysis of the mind and its workings has been central to the practices of his followers. This analysis was codified during the first millennium after his death within the system called, in the Pali language of Buddha's day, Abhidhamma (or Abhidharma in Sanskrit), which means 'ultimate doctrine'.... Every branch of Buddhism today has a version of these basic psychological teachings on the mind, as well as its own refinements" (Goleman, 2004, pp. 72-73).

This is certainly a new field to explore.
Buddhist Prayer Wheels

Note: Both the pictures used belong to Pål Anders Martinussen (See gallery)

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Monday, January 12, 2009

5 Toys To Jiggle Your Brain

I am obviously on a toy trip. Over the years I have purchased plenty of toys for my children. For some (obvious?) reason, I seem to play with these more than them. I prefer the puzzle toys more. I like to think of these as my brain aids. Guaranteed to keep Parkinson's away - I hope.

Here's my list of favorites from the ones I my sons have ...

1) Tangram - If you need to go for only one puzzle, then this is it. this is an ancient Chinese puzzle made of 7 blocks of regular size. The trick is to make a shape using all the 7 blocks. These are available in various material, such as cardboard cutouts, thick plastic sheet, etc. I prefer Tangram made of wooden blocks.

2) Rubik's Cube - Read my take on Rubik's cube in the previous post. But good quality one. Cheaper quality cubes come apart pretty soon. So unless you want to study the internal details of the Cube (which, by the way is quite interesting), go for the more expensive ones.

3) Kaleidoscope - This consists of small plastic cuboids - shaped like Tetris pieces, black or red on one side, various colours on the other. It comes with a booklet that has many patterns. Beware of cheese holes in the patterns you make.

4) Gordians Knot - Interlocked pieces of plastic blocks. They pieces slide in an out. I am still working on it. The solution is given in the box that came with it. I do not wish to check the solution yet. At times it is extremely frustrating ... feel like using Alexander's method of solving it - break / cut it open.

5) Bent Nail Puzzles - These consist of two sets of bent nails (in various shape) that are interlocked. At first glance you would think that the only way to take them apart is to force them open. But there is a way. This one is the easiest to solve.

Have you tried any of these?
What do you think? Fun aren't they?
Do you have a list of your own?

1) The picture of Tangram used belongs to Julia R. (visit the photographer's gallery)
2) The picture of Rubik's Cube used belongs to Maxime Perron Caissy (Visit the photographer's gallery)

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Toys and Personality Types

This is a great new way of discovering your personality type. And if I had any brains I would take a patent on it, but then ...

The process

Take a Rubik's Cube.
Give it some random twists and make it a mess of colours.
Then try to solve it

a) If you could not be bothered, then you have lost your childlike quality. This is not so bad as it seems. But then you could do better. Playing with toys can be educational you know. You are RC Type #1.

b) If you try to solve the Cube, Try it for some time and then give up. You are RC Type #2. You give up too soon.

c) If you have managed to get one side to have one colour, you are obviously thrilled. You then try to solve the complete puzzle. It is becoming more and more frustrating. You give up, satisfied that you could manage at least one side. And if you had some more time you could definitely manage the full cube. You are RC Type #3. You start off well but lack the killer instinct to see a solution through. Also, you are satisfied with local solutions and do not global solutions.

d) If you have been trying to solve the cube for the last so many years. It has eluded all your attempts. Irrespective of that you keep trying (whenever you have time, that is), you are great tryer. You are RC Type #4. You have the patience and perseverance that is so important to attain success in real life too.

e) You have cracked the puzzle. You must be good. It took you some time and needed some help, but you did it in the end. Congratulations! You are a natural problem solver. Success comes to you naturally. Or you are a mathematician! In any case you are RC Type #5. Go on to Kaleidoscope now.

You have never tried a Rubik's Cube?
Go running to the nearest toy shop or order it on the Amazon.
And if you have kids, remember to get one for yourself!

Use the above categorization at your risk :-)

The picture used here belongs to Sarah Williams. Please visit her gallery to see more such pictures.

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