Saturday, February 28, 2009

5 Achievements That India Really Needs

Piggy-back Oscars and Beauty crowns ... is this India's claim to fame.?

You may disagree, but I think this is a shame (Wow! Poetry: Fame ... Shame!)

Now here's what I would like to see India /Indians to achieve...

Pot full of Olympic golds in every Olympics till it ceases to be front page news any more.

At least one Fields Medal in the next 5 years. (I could even settle for a Millennium Prize or two)

A Nobel prize in any one of the sciences every few years till it becomes a habit.

An Oscar for a Mainstream Bollywood masala movie.

At least one world class software product or application. Just to make myself clear here ... No! Infosys is not a software product! I am looking for something like MS Office, SAP, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Linux, ... I could go on and on. Let's say something like Hotmail.

A technology company that rivals Apple or Intel in innovation.

I think I will be satisfied with 5 :-)

Would you like to add to this list? Name your country and go right ahead.

Picture courtesy: Svilen Mushkatov

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Solve This Puzzle - Part 2

solve the puzzle
I thank all those who participated in part 1 of the psychology experiment. (If you have just chanced upon this blog, please feel free to try out part 1)

This is part 2.

Solve this puzzle now ...

Suppose 4 people are drinking in the bar.
One is drinking coke,
One is sixteen,
One is drinking beer, and
one is twenty-five.

Given the rule that no one under twenty-one is allowed to drink beer, which of the person's ID do we have to check to make sure the law is being observed?

Picture Courtesy: Steve Woods

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Enrich the gene pool

This is dangerous territory.

First, because I am no sociologist or biologist. So, what I type out is pure conjecture.

Second, in today's India, anything goes in the name of jingoism. With low tolerance at rock bottom for any idea that is remotely anti-Indian-culture, there is a danger of this post being labelled anti-India. And then there are instances of bloggers being sent notices to withdraw entries and being sued for libel (which actually goes to show that blogs are becoming more and more powerful.)

But here goes nevertheless ...

A rich gene pool comes only when in a given territory the best mate. In the non-human animal world "best" is generally defined as the fittest that is likely to survive. In lions this is taken to an extreme. The victorious lion kills lion cubs sired by the defeated lion. On death of her cubs the lioness becomes receptive again and this ensures that the gene pool is enriched by the strongest lion's gene. Cruel it might seem but terribly effective.

This works in the plant world too. Take fruit bearing trees. Only the trees that survive to flower get pollinated.

A biologist may be able to able to give numerous examples supporting the above facts.

Now let us turn to human beings. (I am now stepping into domain that I have no deep knowledge of). Humans have postponed death. Marvels of medical science ensures that both the strong and the weak reach maturity. Raw existence in nature would ensure the survival of the fittest. But "fittest" among human is no longer means the strongest. Among humans, it is perhaps no longer the survival of the fittest individual. Rather it is the survival of the strongest group. And this means the entire humanity, in a way. (The marvels of medical science is accessible, more or less, to all humans). Survival of the fittest group is found among non-humans also. Like Chimpanzees. But such groups have an Alpha male. Mating rights in non-human groups reside with the Alpha male. With humans mating right resides with all.

Fortunately among humans, in many societies the female has the right to decide. (Before, I go ahead, please note that among non-human animals too the female decides. And she generally chooses to mate with the strongest). In such societies hopefully the female will make a choice based on what could only be defined as "attractiveness factor". The female will choose the best as she sees it fit. So although the human gene pool is not composed of only the "fittest", this choice by the female of the human species may result in a hopefully evolved progeny. (I have simplified the things a bit here. But this is what happens, more or less.) Note that all progeny will be super-humans. Only that the chances of an evolved beings (by a tiny bit; for evolution progresses in series of tiny mutations).

A question comes to mind immediately. Are the fruits of modern medical science actually hindering evolution? A not-so-satisfactory response could be: Relax! Genetic engineering is the solution. (Genetic engineering is not as 'non-natural' as it seems. After all natural selection put evolved brain in early humans in the first place. So the logic goes as follows: Natural Selection => Human Brain => Genetic Engineering => Evolution).

To go forward with my thesis (:-)) we will assume selection by human females works wonderfully.

We finally come to India and other such countries where female does not choose her mate. Before, I hear howl of protest from the ladies who are reading this blog, I hasten to add that even today in India a majority of marriages are arranged by family. Some choose. But the majority don't.

The idea behind arranged marriage is obvious: that the best gene pool resides in good families. And so since ages there are arranged marriages in India. Whether the assumption of good family = good genes holds good, I do not know? But seems to me that by depriving the Indian female of their choice of selecting their husband - for generations - may have left the Indian gene pool a little depleted. Arranged marriages may actually be a benign form of selective (but unnatural) breeding.

So the solution to a future-is-bright India may actually lie in liberating Indian female from the clutches of arranged marriage. No?

Now, if some social scientist (is that an oxymoron?) comes forward and refutes my arguments by reeling of data, it would be great. As I type this I wonder if the Industrial Revolution in England and Renaissance in Europe started when arranged marriages (yes, Europe too had arranged marriages for a very long time) gave way to marriage by choice.

Picture courtesy: Sri Vatsa

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Future with Kindle; Just Imagine

amazon kindle 2.0
By now my regular readers are familiar with my obsession for Kindle (see here). But I see the use of Kindle or any other similar e-ink based reader far beyond the ordinary.

Can you imagine this ...

The teacher calls out attendance. All students are present. No. Not all. One boy is absent. Not well. Oh! Ok. The teacher asks all students to turn to page 24 of their English reader and asks Naveen to read out the first line and explain the meaning. Naveen, quick as a flash, takes out his Kindle - yes, Kindle - turns to page 24, holds the Kindle in his left hand and starts reading. Other students too turn on their Kindle, highlight some lines and make necessary notes on the margin. At one point Naveen fumbles. He needs to look up the Wiki. Click of a button and Wiki is accessible. So is a dictionary if he wants to refer to it.

In the next class, the maths teacher wants to start geometry. Unfortunately, she was absent for the whole of last week and she could not convey to the students that they need to buy a new book on Geometry. No sweat. The new book is wirelessly delivered to all the Kindle users. Kindle to the rescue.

In the third class, the geography teacher wants to know if everyone has submitted their homework. Students nod their heads. All of them have e-mailed the homework to the teacher that she can now read on her Kindle. She picks up a homework and starts discussing it in the class.

At the end of the day, when your son or daughter gets down from the bus, s/he sees you waiting at the gate and comes bouncing to meet you. No heavy bag to drag on the tired shoulders.

Can you imagine all that?

That is future for you.
A future where the early morning / late night ritual of 'packing the bag' is history.
A future where thousands of trees are not cut down for producing text books.
A future where young shoulders do not bend down carrying mountain of books to school.


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

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Calling professional games programmers

I would have done one good turn if in some not so distant future a professional programmer of the gaming world reads this blog and responds to Richard Dawkins's call. I do not believe many gaming programmers would have read The Blind Watchmaker. So, if you are that chosen one read on and figure out if this interest you ...

Read it even if you are not into gaming. This makes for a good reading.

To simulate natural selection in an interesting way in the computer ... we should concentrate ... upon simulating non-random deaths. Biomorphs [computer generated animal-like graphics following a defined logic of 'evolution'] should interact, in the computer, with a simulation of hostile environment. Something about their shape should determine whether or not they survive in that environment. Ideally, the hostile environment should include other evolving biomorphs: 'predators', 'prey', 'parasites' 'competitors'. The particular shape of a prey biomorph should determine its vulnerability to being caught, for example, by particular shapes of predator biomorphs. Such criteria of vulnerability should not be built in by the programmer. They should emerge in the same way as the shape themselves emerge. Evolution in the computer would then really take off.

If anybody is clever enough to do it, it would be the programmers who develop those noisy and vulgar arcade games - Space Invaders' derivatives. ... But these programs are small-fry compared to the program that would be written to simulate an emerging arms race between predators and prey, embedded in a complete, counterfeit ecosystem. ... If there is a professional programmer out there who feels like collaborating on the challenge, I should like to hear from him or her.

So, are you up to the challenge? Or has this already been done?

Picture courtesy: Davide Guglielmo

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Defending Darwin

Most of us claim that we understand Darwin's theory. Many amongst us understand it so well that they are ready with their arguments against it. The fact remains that most of us do not have the slightest idea beyond what is very superficially taught in schools.

It is with this background that I never picked up any book that was remotely connected to evolution. I thought I understood the concept of evolution and, in my mind, any book on evolution would be variation of what is shown on National Geographic or Discovery Channel. Until now that is.

(I am not taking into account the one other occasion where I was forced to read Survival Of the Sickest (see here) though I am glad I did.)

The book in my hand right now is The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins. It is of 1986 vintage (reissued in 2006 - so perhaps it is not that old).

In his 2006 preface, Dawkins says:

Aside from some vague nonsense about 'monkeys', they simply did not know what Darwinism was.

In his 1986 preface he says:

It is almost as if the human brain were specifically designed to misunderstand Darwinism, and to find it hard to believe. Take, for instance, the issue of 'chance', often dramatized as blind chance. The great majority of people that attack Darwinism leap with almost unseemly eagerness to the mistaken idea that there is nothing other than random chance in it. ... One of my tasks will be to destroy this eagerly believed myth that Darwinism is a theory of 'chance'.

I think I am going to enjoy this book.

Picture courtesy: Carsten Issels

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Making kids eat their vegetables

It takes a great patience to see my kids eat. Especially, when they have something totally unpalatable - to them, at least - like vegetables. They go real sloooow. It is easy to lose your cool when you suddenly remember that you did the same when you were their age. Parenthood teaches you patience.

To encourage my kids to eat their vegetables, I tell them what one of my professor told our class all those years ago. It was a free period and we were a noisy bunch. This professor was passing the class and peeped in to see what was all the noise was about. He then gave us a small but stern lecture the gist of which I will never forget in my life. He said, "if you abhor study why don't you complete your studies as soon as possible and get it out of the way?"

I tell my kids something similar:

You like ice-cream, don't you? How do you like to eat it? One lick at a time. You savor every lick before returning for the next. Why do you eat ice-cream that way? Because you want it to last forever. You hate vegetables, don't you? So what should you do? You want it to last forever? So? Eat it as fast as possible, so that you can get it out of your sight as quickly as possible. Do what you like for as long as possible. Complete what you do not like as quickly as possible. Especially when not doing (or eating) is not an option.

They seem to understand. Putting it into practice will take time, I know.

Actually, this lesson is applicable to us grown-ups also. How many times have you found an excuse of not doing something that is required to be done but you dislike the act? Like taking down the curtains for a wash. Or standing in the queue to pay the water bill (if you are not using the direct debut, that is)? You would rather do something that you enjoy. Watching your favourite sport being aired live, for instance. This despite the knowledge that issues do not go away or get resolved on their own and will keep gnawing at you till done.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

The Top 25 Blogs as per Time

Ancient Indian wisdom has always passed from one generation to another by the way of what is called the Guru-Shishya parampara (Guru = teacher, Shishya = pupil, parampara = tradition). The renaissance period also saw something similar. Young artists would take up apprenticeship under a master. In fact art can only be learned by sitting at the feet of the guru.

Now, if you consider Blogging to be an art, and you wish to look for a guru, look no further than the list of 25 top blogs published by Time.
My advise: Read each one of these blogs and internalise.

My question: Do you agree with the list?

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Camel at the door steps

"Camel," screamed my wife. My kids and I went rushing out of the house. Rs 40/- for two kids for a 10 minute ride. Nuff said ... have a look at the photos

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How do you execute?

It helps when you have a process to follow.

Let's take a simple example. Let's assume I have to pick up milk. Before I take off I play the entire scenario in my mind. It goes like this ...

I will ask the milk vendor to give me [how much do we need?] milk.
She will put the sachets in my bag [I need to take a cloth bag with me] and then I need to give her money [She may not have change that early in the morning, so check if I have the exact change].

There! This simple act of playing the whole scenario once in my mind ensures that I have all that is required to execute flawlessly.

That was a simple example and what's more a repetitive activity. Ok. Let's take something a little more involved.

Assume you are traveling by car to an out of city location. You have your family with you. Won't you do the same? Only this time you might want to have a pencil and paper handy.

We'll start early [set the alarm]. The kids will be sleepy [ensure their clothes are packed; they can go straight from bed to the car - we will change when they wake up in the car]. Once they get up they will need to eat [aim to reach an eatery - with toilet - by 7 OR pack some food] ... this can go on and on. I find this very effective.

In complicated scenarios, I also simulate what-if scenarios. For example, what if fuel finishes on the way [check if the tank has sufficient fuel]. What if there is a break down [have I taken the help line number?] What of the tyre blows up [Check where the jack is? Can it be easily located? Does the spare have full air?] So on and so forth.

How do you plan? Much the same? Or do you go by your gut feel? I know some people who just make a list randomly and manage just as well. How do you do it?

Photo courtesy: Yaroslav B

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Wonder that is nature

You think you know the wonders of nature. They have ceased to amaze you. You greet every new bit of the working of nature with a "same old ... same old". Take for example the bat. Even the kids know that they use a radar (actually a sonar) to fly at night and detect prey. No big deal about it.

Sorry to break your bubble but you have not yet scratched the surface.

Here are some amazing facts ...

While cruising some bats emit an ultrasound pulse of about 10 per second. As soon as it detects a prey, the frequency increases to 200 pulses per second. This is done largely to conserve energy.

The intensity of any sound decays at square of the distance. This is because an emitted sound will spread out as if on the surface of a sphere. The echo again will spread out likewise. So the bats ears are extremely sensitive. It needs to pick up the very low intensity reflected back from its prey. However, to ensure that the reflected sound does not die down completely, the bat has to emit sound at a very high intensity. Imagine what happens when such loud intensity sound falls on super-sensitive ears. Instant deafness! The solution. When the bat emits a high intensity, high frequency sound the "microphone" (the three bones - hammer, anvil and stirrup, same as in human ears) is muffled - for that tiny fraction - by the surrounding muscles. So it is like switch on / switch off function.

Bats are known to use both Frequency Modulation and Doppler Shift to explore the world around.

Possibly the most difficult problem of all that bats face is the danger of inadvertent 'jamming' by the cries of other bats. Human experimenters have found it surprisingly difficult to put bats off their stride by playing loud artificial ultrasound at them.  ... Many species of bats roost in enormous aggregations, in caves that must be a deafening babel of ultrasound and echos, yet the bats can still fly rapidly about the cave, avoiding the walls and each other in total darkness. How does a bat keep track of of its own echoes, and avoid being misled by others? ... [E]ach bat might have its own private frequency, just like separate radio stations. To some extent this may happen, but it is by no means the whole story. ... It seems that bats may be using something that we could call 'strangeness filter'. ... The bat's brain relies upon the the assumption that the world portrayed by any one echo pulse will be either the same as the world portrayed by the previous pulses, or only slightly different.

Now I don't know about you, but I never thought beyond 'bats use radar to fly at night'.  Amazing isn't it?

[The American zoologist] Donald Griffin tells a story of what happened when he and his colleague Robert Galambos first reported to an astonished conference of zoologists in 1940 their new discovery of the facts of bat echolocation. One distinguished scientist was so indignantly incredulous that

he seized  Galambos by the shoulders and shook him while complaining that we could not have possibly mean such an outrageous suggestion. Radar and sonar were still higgly classified developments in military technology, and the notion that bats might do anything even remotely analogous to the latest triumphs of electronic engineering struck most people as not only implausible but emotionally repugnant.
The above information and extract is taken from The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins.

Hmmm.... So humans developed Radar technology independently and before they got to know about bats. That human brain can develop such technology and also find if something else in nature does something similar is in itself another marvel of nature, won't you say?

Picture courtesy:

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Solve this puzzle

solve the puzzle
A psychologist claims that human beings do not handle abstract concepts very well. Which is a bit surprising since the people I interact with deal with abstraction all the time. Show me a good software engineer and I will show you a person who is good at grasping abstract concepts. (Note the other way round is not true. One may be great at grasping abstract concepts but may choose not to be a software engineer.) In fact, I think people are incredibly good at abstract concepts.

On the other hand, to draw conclusion based on a homogeneous group of people is totally incorrect.

So, I reproduce here the test. I hope this will reach a more diverse group of people and we will be able to draw a conclusion.

I intend to handle this in three parts:

This post will contain the first puzzle. Once I adequate response (we all live in hope) I will post the next part of the test and finally the third post I will reveal the name of the psychologist, the book from which I took this test and the conclusions drawn by the psychologist and whether we reach the same conclusions. In the third post I will also explain why I think people are good at abstracting.

To minimize influencing each other, I would request you not to explain the answer. Just the answer will suffice.

Alternatively, if you feel the urge to explain your answer, you may send in your answer to my e-mail id

Ready? Ok here goes ...

There are four cards on the table, each with an alphabet on one side and a number on the other.

The side that is visible to you shows the following:

A       D       3      6

The rule is as follows: The card with a vowel on one side will always have an even number on the other side.

Q1. What is the minimum number of cards that you will pick up to verify that the rule has been applied to the cards on the table?

1 card
2 cards
3 cards
all the 4 cards

Q2. Which one(s) will you pick up?

Meanwhile I will administer this test on the people I know and report results to check my hypothesis (good software engineer = good abstraction power)

Picture Courtesy: Steve Woods

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Clever Children

clever, thinking child
The inquiring mind is one step removed from the inquisitive mind. Inquiry requires one to follow up. Apples must have fallen on many heads but Newton followed it up. (I know! I know! No apple fell on Newton's head. The story is probably apocryphal! But my point is made.)

I am sure you observe so many things every day and are intrigued with a few of them. But do you follow up?

You must have heard children speaking to themselves. Even if you do not have one yourself, you must have heard your niece or nephews talking to themselves. Have you tried to listen in? Sometimes? Did you figure out anything special? No? 

Sample this.

"Narratives from the crib" ... was critical in changing the views of many child experts. The project centered on a two-year old girl from New Haven called Emily, whose parents - both university professors - began to notice that before their daughter went to sleep at night she talked to herself. Curious, they put a small microcassette recorder in her crib and, several nights a week, for the next fifteen months, recorded both the conversations they had with Emily as they put her to bed and the conversations she had with herself before she fell asleep. The transcripts - 122 in all - were then analyzed by a group of linguists and psychologists led by Katherine Nelson of Harvard University. What they found was that Emily's conversations with herself were more advanced than her conversations with her parents. In fact, they were significantly advanced.

The above is an extract from The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

Hmmm... I think I can draw a conclusion here.
I think children of that age take their parents to be dolts. Hence they simplify their speech so that we can understand them. 

Picture courtesy:
Cynthia Turek

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Are you still carrying her?

beast of burden
Today I will tell you a lovely Zen story. An old friend of mine, Ashish Balaya, narrated this to me long ago. I forget the context - must be something I told him or commented upon - but the story stayed with me. And it has remained a guiding factor in my life ever since.

A zen master and his disciple had to cross a shallow rivulet. They saw a b-e-a-t-i-f-u-l young lady standing by the shore wanting to go to the other side but not doing so for the fear of spoiling her dress. The zen master picks her up and crosses the river. The disciple is horrified. The master touched a woman! Though he suppressed his desire to ask the master his mind was in turmoil. However, after about two he could not contain himself. He begged for the master's permission to speak freely and asked him why he had carried a young lady when the master had taken a vow of celibacy. The master looked at him, smiled and responded, "Are you still carrying the young lady?" and continued on his journey.

Now you know why I go to sleep the moment my head hits the pillow!

Picture courtesy: Nara Vieira da Silva Osga

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

This Day in History - redux

Amitabh was born today!
Yup! Me!

Picture courtesy: Eduardo Schäfer

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Infecting You With Happiness

happy is contagious
A great way of making anything - anything - interesting is to see it from a different angle. The interpretation may not be correct; one may not agree with it; but you will not be able to ignore the view.

Consider this extract from The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell ...

In their brilliant 1994 book Emotional Contagion, the psychologists Elaine Hatfield and John Cacioppo and the historian Richard Rapson [argue that mimicry] is one of the means of by which we infect each other with emotions. In other words, if I smile and you see me and smile in response - even a microsmile that takes no more than several milliseconds - it's not just you imitating me or empathizing with me. It may also be a way that I can pass on my happiness to you. Emotion is contagious. In a way, this is perfectly intuitive. All of us have had our spirits picked up by being around somebody in a good mood. If you think about it closely, though, it's quite a radical notion. We normally think of the expressions on our face as the reflection of an inner state. I feel happy, so I smile. I feel sad, so I frown. Emotion goes inside-out. Emotional contagion, though, suggests that the opposite is also true. If I can make you smile, I can make you happy. If I can make you frown, I can make you sad. Emotion, in this sense, goes outside-in.

There you go. You do not have to think original. All you need is to twist and turn existing ideas around and give it a heavy-sounding name, such as emotional contagion.

I know I am being a bit unfair here. I haven't read Emotional Contagion yet. Perhaps it really is a brilliant book.

PS: I just had a big guilt lifted off me. Many - actually most - of my posts quote the book I am reading at that point of time. Though I always refer the source there was a twinge of guilt somewhere. I just realized that most of the non-fiction authors do the same. They quote other authors to bolster their core ideas. I think it works somewhat like name-dropping.

Picture courtesy: Sigurd Decroos

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Lens on Blogs


I have been toying with a cross-over idea: to combine the convenience of a lens on Squidoo and the blog world. At first I thought I would use the high search rank of Squidoo to promote my lens but then I was stuck by the selfishness of it all. So I decided to do something for other bloggers.

I have launched two new lens. One is called the Best of Indian Blogs. This is an attempt to build the list of best blogs by Indians. Indian bloggers can submit their blogs and vote for the blogs, their own and those of others. I am hoping that this will give Indian blogs a high-visibility platform. Squidoo is in the top 500 most visited sites in the world, and in the top 250 most viewed in the United States. So far about 50 blogs have been submitted. So, that is going well. So if you are an Indian blogger who has stumbled upon this blog, please feel free to submit your blog on this lens. Let's have fun.

As I scan the blogosphere I come across some fantastic blogs. Those that I am not capable of dreaming of. They are so good that I have spent hours browsing these blogs. So the second lens is a list of blogs that I find spectacular. This is my private lens and I do not allow others to add any blog on their own. But if you come across a blog that you think is worth including in the lens please feel free to leave a comment on the lens and I promise to look it up. The lens is called Spectacular Blogs (very original name!) Check out the blogs on this lens. Let me know if you too find these spectacular.

I haven't seen any other Squidoo lens quite like these. I am wondering if I can take a copyright on this idea :-)

Photo courtesy: Jaylopez

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Problem And Solution

the problem and the solution

"It is getting hotter by the day. It is all that global warming."

"The traffic condition is worsening by the day. Why doesn't someone do anything about it?"

"Nothing works without paying bribe. These guys are all corrupt."

"Politicians are all corrupt."

"Why should I pay taxes. I do not see any of my money being used properly. It only lines someones pocket."

"Things are so expensive."

"The police does not do anything to the rich."

"The finance minister only taxes the working class. The rich only get richer. And they do not pay any taxes."

"The condition of roads is so bad."

I hear this all the time ...

My response: "Are you part of the problem or part of the solution? If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. You cannot be just an observer."

Picture Courtesy: Steve Woods

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Slow down!

Slow down traffic signal

No, seriously, just slow down.

Learn to expand life the way

Hindustani Classical Music is expounded by masters. Now most of you would balk at the thought. Nothing can be boring than a Classical Music concert, right? Wrong! It may seem long drawn and boring vocalization but it holds within itself treasure.

It may seem anachronistic in this fast moving life but classical music has a lot to offer. The fundamental thesis of classical music is perfection of each note. The singer or the musician dwells on each note and moves on to the next only after reaching perfection. The full rendition of a piece of music is therefore long and deliberate. The idea is too reach perfection. What is bad about that?

Ok! A completely different subject. Have you seen a fast paced thriller movie twice? I bet you have. Notice how much you missed out when you saw it the first time. Many details escaped your notice. These tiny details made the movie much more enjoyable. So much so that you might have seen it again.

What about books? The pace is slower than a movie but definitely faster than classical music. Why then do you find details in the second reading that escaped you in the first?

How many times have to regretted taking a decision in double quick time? If only you had paused and given it a thought.

Take life slow. It is much too precious to be counted in minutes rushing past. If you like ice-cream you will know what I mean. Enjoy life one lick at a time and before taking the second lick savour the moment.

Picture Courtesy: Kriss Szkurlatowski

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Black Swan Tipping Over

twin trees reaching for the sky
It is fascinating to see how ideas germinate, take shape and blossom. But what is even more fascinating is how authors use each others ideas as stepping stones to push their own.

What follows is entirely speculation. I am not insinuating plagiarism here.

Malcolm Gladwell brought out his international best seller The Tipping Point in the year 2000. The book is about how trends reach a critical mass and tip over to become an avalanche. Simple example from the book, some young kids start wearing Hush Puppies and suddenly the near-dead brand is a rage.

Fooled By Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (NNT) is published in 2001. He follows it up with The Black Swan in 2007. The idea of black swan is introduced in Fooled By Randomness and formalised in The Black Swan. NNT rejects Normal Curve as the basis for describing all random activities. He claims and proves that Normal Curve can be used for describing events that are associated with tossing of coins and other similar random phenomena, such as, weight of randomly picked sample of human beings. Power law rules the social and financial world. Thus, events that tip over are basically black swans. NNT also makes the statistical concept, outlier, popular ... but only among those who have read the book.

In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell publishes a book called, guess what, Outliers.

It is as if the two authors draw energy from each other to expand their thesis. Unless they are the same author writing under pseudonyms, in one avatar the author establishes a formal basis of an idea and in another avatar he comes up with a popular version of the idea. (Yes! I have seen their photographs, they look different :-))

If I remember it correctly, NNT makes a one line mention of The Tipping Point in The Black Swan.

The approach and styles vary widely but they both talk of the same thing.

Picture courtesy: Nicole Shackelford

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Attracting Traffic To Your Blog - What Works and What Does Not

Continuing my experiments with Blogging ... and Traffic ...

Commenting on blogs by others works. The most effective mechanism of guaranteeing at least one visitor. However, to truly use the power of commenting, try and add value in your comment. The best method I found was to leave a comment and indicating that my blog has more on this. This ensures all those who comment will look up your blog. Commenting on blogs that are on Technorati increases your authority rating on Technorati. So watch out for blogs that appear on Technorati.
But ... commenting on blogs that already has 100+ comments does not. Your comment just vanishes in the crowd. Unless the blogger responds to every single comments. Also commenting on blogs that has no similarity whatsoever with your blog also doesn't help.

Joining forum helps. Ensure that you do not only push your blog. Contribute to the threads in a meaningful way. People will look you up.
But ... joining any forum does not help. You need to join forum of like-minded bloggers. I generally read existing threads to check out if I like what I see.

Becoming a follower or subscribing to posts of interesting blogs help. It is likely that the blogger will return the gesture. Get a good avatar of yourself. Or use your photographs. Blank silhouette is no good.
But ... subscribing to or following a blog that already has hundreds of admirers does not help.

Blog surfing applications (for lack of better name) helps. Two that I know of: and (Alpha gives you more traffic). You are assured of traffic.
But ... you need a great heading and relevant and good content to grab attention. Otherwise you will get huge traffic - each of less than a fraction of a second.

Photographs, pictures, cartoons, images, etc. help grab attention. Guaranteed. Stock.Xchng is an excellent source of free stock pictures. Subscribe to Stock.Xchng and you won't regret. Their search utility is excellent.
But ... the image should match the content of the blog. Otherwise it is a turn-off. It is better not to have any pictures than having something that is a total mismatch.

Blogging about blogging helps. Most of the bloggers are hungry for ideas. So I expect a good traffic here :-)
But ... repeating what is available on 1000's of blog does not. You need to be genuine. Hopefully this one is.

Blogging about "how to earn by blogging" helps.
Huge number of hits is assured. Bloggers flock to such blogs.
But ... there is no quick way to riches.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Alphainventions - an update on paid subscription

Quite some time ago I blogged about Alpha Inventions. It is manna from heaven for bloggers. You get traffic and you get to see many blogs - both highly desirable.

Traffic in 100's is a given. However, if you want an explosion in traffic then you must try out the paid subscription of Alpha Inventions.

I used the AIID (Stands for Alpha Inventions IDentification, I think) subscription for two months.

Here’s what it does to you and your blog.

1) You are down by $10 per month.

2) Your blog witnesses an explosion of traffic. On days, I managed to get 2000+ visits with corresponding increased advertisement clicks (that sort of neutralizes point 1 above)

3) It reduces your effort to increase hits. Submit your blog once along with your AIID# and go do other jobs.

The Alphainventions team is prompt with dispatching your AIID#.

I benefited from the paid subscription. So this is something I would recommend trying out if HUGE traffic is your goal.

Caution: To capture the fickle bloggers' attention is entirely up to your content and attractiveness of your presentation. Most of the views on your blog actually represent a short term exposure of your blog to the numerous viewers who are viewing Alpha Inventions at any given time.

For those who are wondering if I will continue using AIID subscription ... I would have loved to continue but what I wish to promote using AIID subscription currently blocks the reading cycle. So till the Alpha Inventions finds a solution, I am off AIID subscription and back to normal free submission.

And yes, I do miss the 1000’s of visits already.

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Early Morning Liberation

It is not yet morning.
It is still dark outside.
You have two choices: close your eyes and roll back to sleep or get into action.
Her body is warm beside you and you do not want to wake her up.
But optimum heart rate is just what the doctor ordered.
You gather your gear and move slowly. You do not want to wake up the children.
And then you dive straight into action.
There is chill in the air.
Somewhere far away a dog is barking. Unmindful, you focus.
You notice the light from halogen street lamp bouncing off your skin.
You huff and you puff and sweat breaks out on your forehead.
The sweat feels nice in the cold morning.
You can feel the cold air rushing past your ears.
As sweat dribbles down your cheeks, you know you are just about there.

And before the children wake up, you have sweated, cooled down and showered. It has been a liberating experience. You are now ready for yet another day.

Early morning cycling is wonderful.

Um... what were you thinking?

Picture courtesy: Asif Akbar

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Kindle 2.0 Review

A few days ago, I had blogged about the impending launch of Kindle 2.0. Well it is out. But not yet here. In fact it is still not available outside of America. What a pity!

Click here to catch one of the first reviews.

As I said in my previous blog - Laptop, iPod and Kindle: a complete entertainment package.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Good Thing Bad Thing

I have given my car for servicing. The mechanic said he cannot give the car until Monday evening. How do I go to office? I would love to use this opportunity to cycle to office, there is a customer visit. Bad thing.

Fortunately, we have another car at home. Good thing.

The other car breaks down. Kids are with me. They need to reach the school on time. Bad thing.
Fortunately, the car breaks down in front of the school. Good thing.

I search for the road emergency service offered by my friendly neighbourhood service station. Can't find it. My wife must have misplaced it. I have the number at home. How do I reach it? Bad thing.
Fortunately, my wife is at home today. She teaches and her school is closed today. I ask her to hunt for the number and ask the service station to help me out. Good thing.

She calls me back saying that it will take them at least half an hour to reach me. What a waste of time. Bad thing.
Fortunately I always carry a book in the car. Perfect time to gobble away those chapters. Good thing.

I suddenly realize - customer at office. Panic! I should have been there. What a mess! Bad thing.
The customer calls me on my mobile. He will be a couple of hours late. I tell him to take his own time and not to hurry. Good thing.

The service vehicle finally reaches me. The wires are disconnected. Rubbed against the belt. Bad thing.
He fixes the problem in a jiffy. Good thing.

He wants to be paid in cash. And I am credit card person. I rarely carry cash in my wallet. Bad thing.
I had popped some cash in my wallet last evening but did not get to spend it. I pay him thanking him profusely. Good thing.

I think I know exactly how life tastes ... sweet and sour

Picture courtesy: Kriss Szkurlatowski

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Friday, February 6, 2009

The Three Wise Men of Satyam

past, future, present, Satyam
The three wise men AKA Government-appointed Board of Directors for Satyam, have painstakingly interviewed around 50 candidates and after much delay finally landed up with a new CEO of Satyam Computers, Mr. A. S. Murthy (ASM). I do not wish to go into ASM's capability or discuss at length the implication of having a CEO who dumped his shares just before the Maytas episode.

Instead let us investigate something more terrible.

What is greatest threat that Satyam faces today? It is not paucity of funds; they are not exactly bankrupt, are they? The employees are more or less still with Satyam - by choice or otherwise. The threat is from the customers. Some of them have cut off relationship with Satyam; while others are on a watch mode. So the prudent decision would have been to take on board someone who could instill confidence in the customer. Someone who could signal a fresh start - a clean break from the past.

ASM is not a clean break from the past. He is a Raju man. He may have worked with Satyam for the last 15 years and he may know all the customers; but that does not qualify him to become a CEO.

Satyam may survive. It may prosper once again. But only if the customers do not desert Satyam. A dynamic, known outsider would have been a much better choice. ASM may be capable, but he is not the man of the hour. If Satyam regains its lost glory, it would be in spite of and not because of ASM.

A thought pops up: Is this a political appointment designed to control damage?
I hope it is.
The alternative is even more distressing. If this is not a political appointment, then it shows a deeper problem that perhaps pervades the whole of corporate India.

Companies exist only for customer (Yeah! Yeah! I am aware of a certain CEO who thinks employees come before customer. He is wrong - I will explain this some other day, why he is wrong. The same CEO also goes around using "Blue Ocean" for every strategic(??) move. The only Blue Ocean created by an Indian, that I know of, is by Sabir Bhatia, creator of Hotmail.) Each and every action taken by the company should be focused only at the customer. This is something that no one needs to learn from a humble blogger. By not thinking about the customer while choosing the new Satyam CEO, the three wise-men have clearly signaled that corporate India thinks otherwise.

It is impossible to judge now the impact of this appointment. The implications lie in the future and is not visible to us. The best I can hope that it turns out inconsequential. At stake is the future of 40,000+ Satyam employees.

Picture courtesy: enimal

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Scorpion and the Sage

This is a remarkable fable. I heard this when I was very small (... and that means a very long ago) from my uncle. I am not sure of the source of the story. Could be the Mahabharata, the great Indian epic.

Once upon a time ... I love this beginning. "Once upon a time" takes me straight to my childhood days. Ok I am digressing.

Once upon a time, there was a sage who lived next to a river. He was known for his kindness to one and all. Every morning before he started his day he would go for a dip in the river. On one such morning as he emerged from his dip he say a scorpion floating by, struggling for life. The sage scooped the scorpion up with the intention to take it ashore and save its life. The scorpion stung the sage on his palm and the sage dropped the scorpion in the river. But quickly scooped it up again and put it ashore.

His disciple was watching all this. He felt the sage was being stupid. Why help someone who kicks you?

The sage's reply was classic, "If the scorpion cannot forget its nature, how can I?"

Hmmm.... good fable.

Fables are meant to pass on a moral.

What moral do you get from this fable?

I take a lesson from the scorpion. Not the sage. Surprised?

The scorpion obviously was reacting instinctively. The sage was not.
In modern times, when couldn't-care-less attitude dominates, it is good to have people who have good intentions. And there are people who go out of their way to help others. And at times this could lead to irritation, depending upon the context ("Mind your own business, man!" is a normal reaction). It could also lead to snafu. But what I need to do is suppress instinctive reactions.

The stupid scorpion could have lost its life.

Picture courtesy: Andrea Simonato

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Thinking Like Leonardo da Vinci

I promised in one of my earlier posts, So You Think Einstein Was A Genius, that I will be discussing the best "How To" book I have read so far, How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci.
I found that Squidoo is a better platform for a book review. So, please visit my lens on this book, here.
I hope you enjoy reading the book review as much as I enjoyed developing it.

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Taking Decisions with a Twist in the Tale

Light dispelling darkness through the trees
I am context man! I find solace in setting up events in their context. And though The Black Swan has done its best to destroy my confidence in context ("narrative fallacies"), I still find taking decisions easier when context is clearer.

Let me try to explain what I mean by context. This is my favourite.

Suppose you have just arrived at a village and you hear that a boy has been killed by a wild animal. The most horrific thing is that none of the villagers rushed to rescue of the boy. What would be your reaction? Outrage? Small boy done to death because of apathy on part of the villagers. But then you rationalize. Perhaps the animal was big, leopard or tiger. It wouldn't have helped even if the villagers had tried. But then you hear it was just a wolf. Now you are angry. This is not on. You curse the villagers silently.

But being a "contextual person" you dig deeper. You find that the boy was naughty and like to play pranks. Just to entertain himself, he used to cry out wolf. The villagers would rush to his rescue every time just to see him laughing his head off and their consternation when they would find there was no wolf.  He had done so twice before and this time the villagers thought he was pulling a fast one once again.

Yes, dear readers, this is the old "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" story. Twisted around. You begin to understand more when the context is clear.

The problem with our education is that we are presented with narration that flow naturally - from the beginning to the end. As a result we are not trained to see beyond. What is presented is fact. And that's that. It is a helpful device to teach morals to a child, but awful device to teach us to think.

Unfortunately life is much more complicated and in many cases the reverse trace leads to a beginning that suits the narrator the most. In fact, you could end up with more than one narration depending on who is telling you the story.

Decisions based on context could be wrong or right. But decisions based on snapshots can never be right (Now don't quote me Blink!)

Picture courtesy: Patrice Dufour

“Collection of Best Posts: Indian Blog Ring

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Squidoo Activities Beginning February

Check out my lens
Created three new Squidoo pages. They are basically rehash of my entries in the blog.

Evidence-Based Management
The Black Swan
News, Views & Serendipity

The last one actually points back to this blog. Link back from Squidoo is said to do wonders to your page rank and good for SEO. I will report on this if I see any movement on that front.

In addition to the above I added one more bad management habit I follow in I am a Bad Manager and a dancing Shiva's Picture in Sculptures of South Indian Temples.

Please do visit these pages and leave a blurb of appreciation or criticism.

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