Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Best Site To Access the Leaked US Embassy Cables

Confused about the leaked US Embassy Cables and wikileaks?
Irritated that newspapers are reporting only a few of the cables and you would like to have your hands on the original cables and come to your own conclusions?
Help is here ...

The best source for accessing the cables - that I find convenient - is the Guardian interactive database. The user interface is wonderful. The database is fronted by a worldmap. All you need to do is point to the country you are interested in and out pops all the cables that are relevant.
For example, as on date there are 18 cables that are linked to India.

Here, have fun: The Guardian Interactive Guide To The Leaked US Embassy Cables.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

People You Meet on Bangalore Bus

Almost everyone on the bus is in his/her own world. You do not hear incessant chatting - ok! sometimes you do, but most of them have those ubquitious earphones plugged in, listening to music or - like me - learning a new language (perhaps!)
Some college students are reading their notes. Perhaps, they have to take some test today. This is no way to prepare! What were you doing last evening?
Oh look there! A lady just flipped open her laptop. She is typing away to glory. I wonder if the news that Bangalore buses will have WiFi installed is correct. I wonder what she is typing. She is typing rathetr furiously.
The young chap who just got into the bus settles down next to me. From my peripheral vision I see him talking out a black notebook. No it is not a notebook! It is a Kindle. I ask him a few details. Yeah! He loves it. He downloads his book at home using the USB cable; doesn't use the WiFi. I let him go back to his reading.
You meet the coolest people on a bus.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Be part of the Solution

Having taken a public bus to office for the last couple of weeks, I am happy I made that decision. It was sort of forced on me - doctor said I cannot drive - but now that I am enjoying my daily bus trip to and from the office, I can say that this is perhaps the best thing that happened to me.
I have never waited more than 5 minute for a bus; I almost always get a seat to sit; some buses are airconditioned, and I do not have to worry about that crazy driver who decided that the best way to drive a car is to drive it as if it were a motorcycle. I arrive at the office fresher. In fact, the only time I need to wait for more than 5 minute has been to cross the road - that tells you the state of traffic in Bangalore.

If you are in Bangalore - or any such busy city / town - and the public bus service is good, it is a crime to commute in a car. We cannot keep carping about the traffic situation and continue driving to our offices. In other words, be a part of the solution, not the part of the problem. And till, dedicated cycle routes are made mandatory in all big towns and cities, please travel by a public transport.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fact Borrowing From Fiction

I am not sure if the Taliban leaders have watched the over-the-top, hilarious movie "Tere Bin Laden". But I am very sure that the MI6 and the NATO commanders should have.

In the movie, a young TV reporter from Pakistan who desparately wishes to go to US and is in need to money, plants a story using a fake Bin Laden. The movie ends with a US intelligence officer, in charge of capturing the fake (he does not know that he is fake at this point in time) Bin Laden, becoming the US Secrtary of State (or Defence - not quite sure) after obtaining a peace offer from the fake (by now he knows) Bin Laden - and the reporter getting an invitation to the US for being the person who managed it all.

All one big tongue in the cheek comedy. Or is it? Have a look at this piece of news on peace talks with fake Taliban leader.

More power to Bollywood movies, I say.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Another Blogger in the Family

When my younger son, Abhinav, requested me for a blog of his own as a present for his 9th birthday last December, I was quite sure it was a passing phase. But even after 6 months when he wouldn't give up, I created one for him. Looks like he loves blogging.

What does he blog on? Mathematics! No I am not joking! Have a look youself - Abhinav's Blog.

Please do visit his blog; leave a comment; he needs all the support he can get.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Art of Saying Nothing

This appears in today's The Times of India. The news item is titled CAG REPORT COMES DOWN HARD ON CORPORATES. I have extracted the following which doesn't convey any information whatsoever - despite appearing on the front page ...

Since a telecom company controlled by the industrialst - who also has interests in energy and entertainment - has a pan-Indian presence, Swan should have been disqualified. Yet, it stayed in the ring and went on to pip several established contenders. The industrialist, one of India's richest, has denied any link with Swan.

Amazing ... since when are newspapers afraid of naming names. Or does the CAG report not mention the industrialist's name? There is no way of telling from the news item. In any case, he has denied the links. So, why not just name that person (notice, the news item does not even mention the gender; I am assuming it is a he).

The only indutsrialist - among the richest, having interest in energy and entertainment, and also having a pan India presence - that I am aware is Anil Ambani.

Hmmmm.... Rich enough to muzzle the press!
Or is The Times of India playing coy?

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Communication Fundas - Part 9

Continuing on the subject of punctuation, I do not think there is a better book than Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. The blurb on the book says it all: "The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation!".

Unlike other books on Grammar, this one is wickedly humourous. It has been on various best seller lists, so you may already possess a copy. If you want to know more, you may want to read a review on Eats, Shoots and Leaves on my Squidoo lens. Enjoy!

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Communication Fundas - Part 8

I read ...
"But Bachelier also ventured into new mathematical territory. Nearly a century before the great French mathematician Jean Baptiste Fourier had devised equations to describe the way heat speads, Bachelier knew the formulae well from his physics lectures."

This cannot be right! So, was Fourier incorrectly credited? I read it again ...

"But Bachelier also ventured into new mathematical territory. Nearly a century before, the great French mathematician Jean Baptiste Fourier had devised equations to describe the way heat speads. Bachelier knew the formulae well from his physics lectures." [Extract from: The {Mis)Behaviour of Markets by Benoit B. Madelbrot]

Ahhh! Now it made sense. When we read we tend to skip the punctuations. All of us know the difference between:

A woman without her man, is nothing


A woman: without her, man is nothing.

And yet we persist in overlooking the importance of punctuation when we write and when we read.

a) Read what you have written before shooting off that email / letter / report.
b) Reread what you read before coming to a conclusion.

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Communication Fundas - Part 7

Communication is as much about conveying information as it is about making an impact. Sometimes it is possible to do so by just placing words at a correct place.

Here's an example I picked up from the Incredible India's West Bengal page ...

The Heritage Trail travels across 350 km and several centuries of Bengal's history. The lay of the land speaks about the golden era of trade and commerce, of a rich culture and a land torn by betrayal, partition, poverty and famine.

Now let us move a few words around

The Heritage Trail travels across several centuries of Bengal's history. The lay of the land that stretches 350 km speaks about the golden era of trade and commerce, of a rich culture and a land torn by betrayal, partition, poverty and famine.

The focus immediately shifts from 350 km to centuries of history. In fact, the '350km' is not even relevant here and could be confined to a minor paragraph down the web page, don't you think?

A few words here and there but a world of difference.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Communication Fundas - Part 6

In my last post I talked about my struggle to refrain from use of 'would' and 'could' in my spoken English in an attempt to form simple sentences that is easy on the ear.

But don't get me wrong. These words should be used as and when necessary. 'Would' and 'Could' are thought to be more polite that 'Will' and 'Can'. And, in some cases these words have deadly impact. Especially as one liners.

Sample these:

A: "Everyone is corrupt. How can I not be influenced? When there is easy money to make, why not? Tell me? Would you still hold on to your stupid principles?"

B: "I would!"

A: "The customer is expecting us to deliver in this crazy schedule! Has he gone bonkers? It is not even worth a try."

B: "If I were you I would."

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Communication Fundas - Part 5

Very early in my career I was fortunate to have friends who spoke their mind. They were open with their views without being offensive. They still are.
That Sunday as my friend, Ashish Balaya, and I walked together I said something that was long winded and an extremely complex sentence. Ashish looked at me for a second and said, "Amitabh, why do you always speak in complex / compound sentences?" I laughed it off. But his comment remained with me.
I had arrived in Bangalore from Gwalior - a town in north India. And though I studied in Central School, an English medium school, Hindi was the defacto lingua franca. Whereas in Central Schools in the south of India students would wish their teachers with a "Good Morning, Sir", a student in Gwalior wishes her teacher with a "Namaste, Sir". As a result, all the English I knew was derived not from spoken English, rather from the English books I devoured (I was an avid reader even then!)

Text books can contain sentences such as ... "Would the economy have fared any better without globalisation? Had it been closed to international flows of goods and capital, could it have adopted those productivity-cutting policies and paid no price at all? The answer is no." When you speak, this clearly is not on.

As a result of reading such books my spoken English was full of would's and could's, even when none was required.

That was some 20 years ago. My struggle to speak simple sentences continues. I am more successful with emails though. Once I have written what I wish to say, I re-read my emails and my final version is much superior to my initial draft. The language flow is smoother and easy to read.

By the way, the text I have given as example, above, is from a book called Economics: Making Sense of the Modern Economy, edited by Simon Cox. It is published by The Economist. More on it some other post.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Communication Fundas - Part 4

Have you noticed, how easy it is to be rude when you are talking to a person on phone?
The next time you get one of those annoying cold calls check out your own reaction, and you will know. This heppens because you can get away with rudeness. You don't get to see the other person's reaction and in any case, the caller can't do anything about your being rude; after all, s/he is the one who is intruding, no?
But guess what? It does not take time for this to become a habit. And in no time you appear rude on phone. Even when you do not intend to.
Great communication skills are acquired with constant practice; being firm but polite when talking to total stangers who can do you no harm is a great way to practice your skills.

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Monday, October 4, 2010

Communications Fundas - Part 3

Communication is all about acknowledgement.
Acknowledgement that the other person is worthy of your attention.
This goes not only when communicating face-to-face, but also for written communication.

Let me prove it to you.
What is your first reaction when you see an email with lots of typos? The best you may come up with is: "A casually written mail!"
And the worst: Delete It!

If someone has taken the effort and time to convey something to you in written form, it becomes your responsibility to put in similar effort and time to understand what is written. That's when good communication happens.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Communication Fundas - Part 2

With Emails and messages making for bulk of business communication, ‘Context’ has become more important of the two components of communication.

You see, context for any communication is set up not only by a preface but also by body language: the tone and volume of the voice, pursed or smiling lips, narrow or smiling eyes, tight or relaxed facial, aggressive or encouraging body posture – communication is not just words exchanged; it is information exchange to achieve a goal.

Because the body is effectively detached from emails, the context that body language sets now has to be performed by written words. And as we all know written words do a miserable job of conveying messages, even though English is a fairly rich language with words that have subtle variation in connotation.

Besides, the issuer and the recipient are separated by space and time. This means that emails can easily be misinterpreted – deliberately or otherwise – to gain time or deflect attention.

I find use of non-verbal cues in emails help (the theory being – non-verbal physical signals can only be replaced by non-verbal characters). Italics, underline, different font, colour and bold letters, are examples of non-verbal cues that can be effectively used.

See the difference.

Please complete the work by today Close of Business.

Please complete the work by today Close of Business.

Emoticons (or smilies) are powerful non-verbal signals that can be conveyed over emails. Smilies have gone beyond figures formed by keystrokes. There are rich varieties available and I find these extremely effective.

Use of emoticons in business mails is generally frowned upon. But do not worry too much about it. Unless, it is proposal or a cold call or a response to a customer complain or such!

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Communication Fundas - Part 1

Communication has two and only two components: Context and Content.
Improving your communication skills require paying attention to both.

In the next few pages you will be introduced to skills that should improve your communication skills with immediate effect.

I need an umbrella” - this is content.
It is raining” – this is context.

You might rearrange the above sentences in any which way that suit your style (more about style later).

It is raining. I need an umbrella.
It is raining, so I need an umbrella.
I need an umbrella, because it is raining.

You can go ahead and embellish the sentences. Like, so …

It is raining heavily. I definitely need an umbrella.
More garnishing?

It is pouring. How do you think I can go out without an umbrella?

Now, check out how change of context modifies the picture in your mind.

The sun is beating down. I need an umbrella.

There! Did you see that?

Change the context and the meaning turns on its head. Even a simple scenario, requiring a couple of sentence requires a context.

Communication breaks down when context is missing or is misinterpreted.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Love Story

I am writing a short story.
This is about a mathematician who cracks one of the Millenium Prize Problems and wins the $1 million offered by the Clay Mathematics Institute while still in College. He goes on to win the Fields Medal too. But money and fame goes to his head and he loses it all. On his death-bed, he is asked if he has any regrets. Turns out that he has one: "I wish I had married the girl I loved."

Do you think you will want to read this story?
I am glad you said yes.
You just finished reading the story, you see!

Thank you and have a great day ahead.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Breaking into Top 100

My Squidoo Lens on Outliers broke into the top 100 in the 'Books' category. It stands at #78 as I type.
Now, that calls for a minor celebration!!!

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Reversible and Irreversible Languages

I have come to categorize languages as continuum between "Reversible" at one end, and "Irreversible" at the other.
Now what do I mean that? Some definitions are in order.

Reversible languages: Those languages that can easily be pronounced as you read. It is sort of "you get what you see". The reversibility comes from the fact that you will be able to write what you hear. That means there are not too many silent letters in a word. That would also mean that vowels are pronounced in one and only one way.
Many of the Indian languages, such as Hindi, Bengali, etc., are completely reversible. German, inspite of umlauts, is primarily a reversible language.

Irreversible languages: Those languages that can be easily pronounced as you read but try writing what you hear and you will hit a wall. These languages have silent letters by the dozen. These also have group of letters that are pronounced in a particular way. I can think of French as an irreversible language. Once you get the hang of the pronunciation scheme it is more or less easy to read out. But since there are too many silent letters, many words sound almost identical, separated only by nuances of nasal tone.

Rest of the languages fall within this spectrum. English is a classic case. The language not only has silent letters it also has non-deterministic pronunciation key, i.e., same set of letters / vowels can have pronunciation is multiple ways, example, but - put - cut. Sometimes different words can have the same pronunciation but can have different spellings. Example, but - butt (sorry, nothing else comes to mind readily), route - root (we will not cosider the American pronunciation of route),. Sometimes, same spelling can give you different pronunciation. Example, "aged" has two pronunciation - aged and ag'ed - both having different meanings.

So how does this classification help us is learning?

Reversible languages can be taught in any way. One could start by hearing the language and then reading it. These can easily be taught using an iPod, for instance.

Irreversible langauges need simultaneous hearing and reading. Like French. Though it is better to start with reading; iPods must be accompanied with reading material.

The languages that fall in-between (confused languages?) are the most difficult to teach. I am glad I am not an English teacher.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Salman Khan - The Real Dabangg

I must confess that the title of this post is to attract as many readers as possible.
Because this post needs to be read by as many people as possible.
Yes, I am talking about Salman Khan but not the actor.
Rather someone who is closer to the subject to my heart - Innovation in Education.
I first read about this other Salman Khan from a Bill Gates' tweet which went like this:

A look at the work of Sal Khan- http://bit.ly/ax82Il - very good online teaching. I’ve been viewing many of his lectures @ khanacademy.org

Following the lead I ended up here - an article in Fortune that starts like this: "Sal Khan, you can count Bill Gates as your newest fan" - sufficient for me to explore the next link: Khan Academy.
The site contains more than 1800 vidoes (on YouTube) on a variety of subjects, like Arithmetic, Algebra, Banking and Money, Brain Teasers, Biology, Calculus, Chemistry and the like. These vidoes are mini-lectures by Salman Khan and I think he does a wonderful job. It is a library on You Tube.

Definitely worth checking out. And following.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

The Future is Here: Goodbye to Heavy School Bags

Remember my post on Future With Kindle? I had imagined a text-book free world for school children. I had hoped that Kindle would lead the way. Looks like someone else has gone ahead and done it. Yes, the iPad. And Inkling. Read all about it here.
Even if you do not have an iPad, the Inkling website is worth visiting. Inkling may turn out to be the next big thing, in education at least. Not that there has been any great revolutions in education lately.

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mother Teresa

While everybody is waiting for another 'confirmed' miracle to make a saint out of Mother Teresa, I am wondering what is the fuss all about. I thought she performed all her miracles while she was still alive.
And in any case, since when is a saint superior to a mother?

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Two Ways To Solve a Problem

There are only two ways - and only two ways - of solving a problem. All other approaches are a modification or a combination of the two.
One - Accept the facts as given and work around them.
Two - Question the facts, demolish them and create new facts to solve the problem.
Both are effective when wisely and appropriately applied.
Wisdom is in knowing when to apply which.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

To be a Leader

Ok here is a question.
Who was the leader of the 1953 Everest Expedition that (perhaps) first conquered the Everest?
Chances are that you do not know the answer.
I do not blame you.
And even if you know that it was John Hunt, most remember Edmund Hillary.
So much for leaders.
And do you think Neil Armstrong would be a household name had he not been the first to step on the Moon? He happened to also be the mission commander. But did you know that? And did you also know that Buzz Aldrin was initially supposed to be the first to step on the Moon?
Leadership is not as cracked up as it is made out to be. Only the very strong can be one. And at times it demands sacrifice. And of all sacrifices the most difficult to make is that which goes by the name of 'ego'.
Do you still want to be a leader?

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

The P versus NP Millenium Problem

Are you a math lover? You don't have to be mathematician to be one, you know?
And if you are one, then I would recommend The Millenium Problems by Keith Devlin.
From time to time someone will solve one of "the seven greatest unsolved mathematical puzzles of our time" and you could quickly pick this book up and refesh your memory.
And you know where I am coming from, don't you? Yeah the news that is doing rounds: P versus NP Problem Solved?

The P vs. NP problem is listed at number 3 of the 7 unsolved problems by the Clay Mathematics Institute. In his introduction to this problem Keith Devlin writes, "Of all the Millenium Problems, the P versus NP puzzle is the one most likely to be solved by an "unknown amateur" - someone largely untrained in mathematics, possibly someone very young, who is unknown to the mathematical community. ... Not only is it relatively easy to understand what the problem says, it is possible that all it will take to solve it is one good idea. And you don't need lots of knowledge to have a good idea, just imagination."

So, is Vinay Deolaliker that "unknown amateur"? We need to wait and see.
But what is this problem? I fall back to the description in the book by Keith Devlin. And it goes something like this ...

"Computer Scientists divide computational tasks into two main categories: Tasks of type P can be tackled effectively on a computer; tasks of type E could take million years to complete. Unfortunately, most of the big computational tasks that arise in industry and commerce fall into the third category, NP, which seems to be intermediate between P and E. But is it? Could NP be just a disguised version of P? Moswt experts believe that NP and P are not the same. ... But after thirty years of effort, no one has been able to prove whether or not NP and P are the same. A positive solution would have significant implications for industry, for commerce, and for electronic communications, including the World Wide Web."

So what does P and NP stand for? Unlike what seems obvious, they do not stand for "Possible" and "Not Possible"; rather P stands for Polynomial Time processes and NP stands for Nondeterminstic Polynomial-Time processes. And E stands for Exponential-Time processes.

This blog does not claim to understand the problem completely. Nor do I wish to reproduce the lucid explanation of the problem by Keith Devlin. Instead I strongly recommend reading the book. Trying to understand the problem by visiting the Clay Mathematics Institute is an option available only to the mathematicians.

In any case, if you are a reader of this blog, it is highly probable that you are not a serious mathematian :( But there is still hope and so I repeat the most important line of this post that applies to ALL of us ...

You don't need lots of knowledge to have a good idea, just imagination.

But if you are indeed a serious mathematician, or aspire to be one, why not check out Vinay Deolaliker's proof here.

And while we are at it, why don't you overcome your fear of mathematics by visiting this lens: Are You Afraid of Mathematics?

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Monday, August 9, 2010

The Wheel of History

Some 13,000 years ago, people from North-East Asia reached and populated North America. The present native American Indians are their descendents.
In 16th century, Euopeans invaded the Americas and all but destroyed the native people and their culture. (I wonder why no one calls it a genocide.)
Present day. China dominates the world economy. Everything that is sold in USA and Europe is made in China. China may actually take over the mantle of the largest economy from USA. The people of North-East Asia take what was originally theirs.
Poetic justice?

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Google versus Bing

I am no marketing guru, but the news of Google copying Bing has a feel of the old marketing classic of Coca-Cola versus Pepsi, when Coke could not understand that brand loyalty goes beyond taste and took decisions that were disasterous.
I may be wrong, but here's an unsolicited advice to Google: Do not let users change the background image of the Google home page. The serene white background, with lego-coloured Google is your identity. Stand out.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Other Sarah Flannery

This comment came to me last evening to a post I had written long, long ago - embedded deep in this blog. It is unlikely that someone may chance upon it any time soon. Hence this post.

This post is dedicated to all strong women out there who make a difference in whichever way they deem fit.

Please go here and read her comment (the second one of the post). And add a few of your own!

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Carry a Museum with You

Do this:
1) Go to the British Museum website
2) Click on the link to "A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 100 OBJECTS" (You may click here too if you feel too lazy, but I recommend you follow the steps.)
3) Click on "Get a podcast - catch up and keep"
4) Download podcast and take the British Museum wherever you go.
5) To enhance experience click here

If you have been to the British Museum before, this is definitely worth it. If you haven't, this podcast + the on-line experience will make you wish you do.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Platform 9 3/4

Ever since someone anonymously left a note (here) that platform 9 3/4 exists at the King's Cross Station in London; it was my desire to take a photograph.
Well here it is.
And no, that is not Hermione.

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Saturday, July 31, 2010

A wish for Bangalore

This is all I wish for in Bangalore. A dedicated cycling track through the heart of the city. You may decide to replace Bangalore with any city you know that is on the verge of a grinding halt because of the indisciplined vehicular traffic.

In case you are wondeing what CS stands for: CS = Cycling Superhighways.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

History on a Bookmark

An advantage of being around for a long, long time is that you have a fair bit of history under your belt. And the Foyles bookshop on the Charing Cross Road can definitely lay a claim on that. But more importantly, it is how you make that history available to others.
Foyles does it in a very unique way. They have these wonderful - nice and thick and not likely to tear in one use - bookmarks that bring out an aspect of their history.

Each bookmark has a photograph of some event that happened at Foyles in the distant past and has a bit of story.
The one I hold right now in my hands has a photograph that dates back to 10 November 1960. The photo shows: 'LADY C SOLD OUT. IN STOCK AGAIN TOMORROW.

Lady C, of course, refers to Lady Chatterley's Lover by D H Lawrence. The bookmark goes on to explain: "Four hundred people queued outside the shop on 10 November 1960 to buy the uncensored 'Lady C'. We sold out in 15 minutes and took orders for 3,000 copies that day."

I bet all of those 400 were men!!!

On my flight back from England, I was sitting next to an middle-aged lady who is from Switzerland. She saw the bookmark and exclaimed, "I used to work for Foyles long ago." So I gave the bookmark (another one - not the Lady C) to her. I bet it brought back to her years of memory.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

An Indian Scientist Contributes

The July 2010 Issue of the Scientific American (India) has its first Indian contributor - at least to my knowledge.
The author of the article Following the Arrow of Time (an article on how String Theory might explain the assymetry of time) is Gautam Mandal. He is a theoretical scientist at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). And though his post doctorate is from Princeton, he did his Phd from TIFR. In other words, a proper home grown Indian scientist.
Pity his article does not appear in the international edition of the Scientific American. Nevertheless, an occassion to celebrate.
Now I am sure, publishing an article in the Scientific American is not the pinnacle of scietific achievement. Nevertheless, it is important to communicate to the lay reader cutting edge science. The last Indian to do so effectively - to my knowledge - is Jayant Narlikar.

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Monday, July 5, 2010

The Nearest Thing to French Class Room

No time for attending French courses at the Alliance Francaise?
No problem!
Welcome to Coffee Break French - the nearest thing to a real life classroom session.
This is actually a podcast. However, the production value is professional. And what's more it is FREE. At least the podcasts are.
You need to pay for the transcripts and the other value added service. But believe me, the way Mark - the teacher - and Anna - the student go about teaching and learning French, you may not need the transcripts.
Each podcast is of 15-20 minutes duration.
You can download the entire set of 80 lessons from iTunes too (podcasts > Education > Language Courses > Radio Lingua Network > Coffee Break French)
Let me know if you enjoy it.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

No Online Courses on Indian Languages

"Why not an Indian Language?" I thought.
I mean, if BBC offers online courses on 36 languages, and RFI offers French courses, surely our Akashvani (aka All India Radio or AIR) would offer online courses on Indian Languages.
That would make sense, surely, in a country that boasts of 15 recognised languages, besides Hindi and English.
But would you believe this?!?
I could not find a link on the the AIR website to any language course.
Extremely disappointing!
What a waste of opportunity!

By the way, and here is a surprise, you can download free language learning software for learning Hindi (here), Bengali (here) and, my favourite, Urdu (here). These are the famous (limited in scope, since these are free) BYKI series by Transparent Langauge. Learning from BYKI can really be fun. Try it. I have.

And if you wish to learn some basic words and phrases in different Indian langaues, then visit here. This site has a list of everyday useful words (no audio!)

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Free French Lessons from RFI

I have been foolish not to check. Especially since I was aware that Radio France International had co-produced the Mission Europe radio programs. Besides, if BBC can claim to teach French, can you imagine Radio France International not to?

Sure enough, the RFI has an excellent page dedicated to teaching French. I am currently listening to L'affaire du Coffret, which is an excellent introduction to the French Language. It is presented as a crime thriller, which should keep you hooked. You can either work through the associated exercises one by one as you listen to the recording from the RFI website. Or, download the complete podcast of 60 episodes from iTunes and work on the worksheets later.

Coming to Mission Europe: I recommend you download all the three - Mission Berlin, Mission Paris and Mission Krakow, and have a listen. These are fashioned after computer games and will be liked by both children (Note: Mission Berlin and Mission Paris have some heavy duty kissing sounds for a short while; not sure about Mission Krakow. I am not being a prude, just noting a fact) and adults.


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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Oil Spill for the Goose, Nuclear Reactors for the Gander and Liability Cap

The unlimited nuclear liability cap (or the lack of it) is a hot topic in India. Interestingly this topic has reared its head in US also, with the BP Oil Leak being labelled as the "Environmental 9/11". Here's a very interesting article by Richard A. Epstein, a professor of law, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

It is instructive to note what he has to say about liability cap:

"The legal system should never allow self-interested parties to keep for themselves all the gains from dangerous activities that unilaterally impose losses on others."


"... we'd all be much better off if there were no statutory liability cap and if operators both big and small were required to purchase insurance—amounting to the tens of billions if necessary—when they operate in dangerous waters or terrains."


"A tough liability system does more than provide compensation for serious harms after the fact. It also sorts out the wheat from the chaff—so that in this case companies with weak safety profiles don't get within a mile of an oil derrick."

Now compare this with what Mr. Prithviraj Chavan has to say about the proposed nuclear liability cap (see here):

"If we don’t keep the caps reasonable, nobody will invest in India."
Oh I see!

Actually, nobody needs to fear. In India one can get away with genocide, if one has to go by the example we have set for ourselves with the 26-year-delayed 'justice' in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy case.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Being Curious

There is an accident.
The metal hitting metal draws your attention.
You stop!
You are curious.
And so are the other 50 people who have already gathered around the accident site.
Perhaps you can help.
But are you really?
Really curious, I mean.

Something happens out of ordinary and you want to find out what happened.
But that is not being curious. Is it?

You are curious when a chance remark that you heard yesterday while talking to a colleague keeps bothering you till you find a solution why.
You are curious when you are unable to bridge the gap between an observation and the cause with your existing knowledge or logic.
You are curious when you when you see a spinning dinner plate and dig deeper to study its dynamics. (Feynman did that and went on to win a Nobel Prize for QED).

Curiousity takes away your sleep. It burns like a fire in your heart and mind.
Any thing else is just a waste of time.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Treasure Trove for European Language Learners

Learning language on your own?
And do not wish to spend a penny?
Look no further than the BBC Languages Page.
Catering to the beginners and intermediate stage, it offers French, Spanish, Italian, German and a few other languages. Multimedia is very effectively used. Very professional.
Try it. You may never have to buy another language course.
And even if you are not into language learning, it is worth a visit. Who knows? You may be tempted to start off on Chinese.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

The Kabbalah Code

I am still wondering why I picked up The Kabbalah Code by James F. Twyman. As I keep digging within, I can think of the following reasons:
a) Madonna
b) Since I am learning French, an adventure in Paris is obviously attractive.
c) The name resembles "The Da-Vinci Code"

Anyways, I am reading this book and I am still not able to decide what to make of this book. Till now this book resembles a spiritual version of a mix of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demon

In fact, I am not even sure if this is fiction or otherwise.
Why? Here are two extracts from this book. One I would categorize as cute and the other down right ludicrous.

Here's the cute extract:

"I've always loved the acronym for ego: Edging God Out," I offered. "It's pretty accurate. The ego is the part of us that wants to be alone and isolated, somehow thinking that it makes us stronger. Obviously that can't be true, but the ego can't be bothered with truth."

So far so good.

But here's something downright nonsensical and pushes this book straight into the the realm of new age mumbojumbo:

"I've always believed that the chanting of Sacred Names creates literal tunnels - wormholes - in the fabric of space-time. And it's through these pathways that the breath of the Holy Spirit, which exists in the world of fantasy and imagination, can be bridged into this world."

Einstein must be spinning in his grave. Meanwhile, I will see where this book leads me to.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Physics Can Be Fun Too

I wish I had this book when I was studying in 5th Standard. The Cartoon Guide to Physics is easily the best 'text book' on physics. The educators will disagree, of course. Education, for some strange reason, has turned out to be not-for-fun activity. Pity!

How deep is the Cartoon Guide?
Counter question: What do you know of Pseudo-forces? The first time when I understood this concept I was well into college. The Cartoon guide explains the concept in 11 sketches. And does a good job of it. The chapter is called "Some Forces are Fictitious".
And by the time you complete the chapters of Electricity and Magnetism, believe me, you will be ready to shred your child's prescribed text books.

This one gets to sit right next to the Feynman Lectures on Physics in my small library. Highly recommended!

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Take out time

I had just landed after a 24+ hour flight. And this chap was eager to show me what he had accomplished. I hope he would understand as I finished my meeting with the customers and headed for the hotel. I could always see and appreciate his work later.
Do you think my colleague understood?
No way!
All he felt was hurt and rejection.
I eventually lost this engineer.
This happened a long while ago.
One valuable lesson learnt, but at a cost.

You see perceptions are realities. It doesn't matter what you thin. What matters is what the other person feels. Always take out time to smile, pat a back and encourage. It doesn't matter how dead you are; how busy you are.

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Does French Help You Count?

Who in their right mind would say, "Just Four-Twenty and Nineteen days left to my wedding"?
Unless you are a mathematician or French!
You see, some clever French decided that giving names to all numbers is such a waste of time. Numbers till sixty are sufficient. All numbers after that can be derived from existing numbers.
So, 70 became soixante-dix (60 & 10);
72 became soixante-douze (60 & 12);
80 became quatre-vingt (four-twenty); and
99 became, your guessed it, quatre-vingt-dix-neuf (four-twenty & nineteen).

I wonder if any study has been conducted to determine if French children are good at arithmetic.

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Excuses, Excuses

It is amazing how pursuit of one thing throws your life completely out of gear.
Once I decided that I should put in more hours to learn European languages, I quickly realized all other activities will have to take back seat. I used to get up early to compose blogs. That time now went into working out the nuances of Spanish, German and French. I love reading - reading anything - that too receded in the background.
"Stop," says a part of my brain. "You are just wasting your time. You will never master languages unless you get to talk to others in these languages. In any case, why are you learning these languages?"
As if I need a reason for doing anything!

Some time ago I managed to combine German and blogging here. Wonder if I pick up the threads again. Also got to start reading again. That's my life blood.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Secret To Success In A Nutshell

Throw away all those self-help books that supply you the secret of success in 10 steps (or something similar).
The following small paragraph should suffice.
Here goes ...

And yes, just as your grandmother always told you, practice does make perfect. But not just willy-nilly practice. Mastery arrives through what [K. Anders] Ericsson [professor of psychology at Florida State University] calls "deliberate practice." This entails more than simply playing a C-minor sclae a hundred times or hitting tennis serves until your shoulder pops our of its socket. Deliberate practice has three key component: setting specific goals; obtaining immediate feedback; and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.

Short and sweet.

I took this from Superfreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner.

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Amusing Science

The most amusing read in the Scientific American is their regular feature called 50, 100 & 150 Years Ago. It is a compilation of what appeared in this very magazine so many years ago. Some of them make a very interesting read, such as this one ... It is called Electric Theory and appeared in the magazine in April 1860.

The results of the experiments instituted by Sir William Grove are exceedingly curious, and must be regarded as all but proving the truth of the modern theory, which assumes that electricity is not, in any sense, a material substance but only an affection (state) or motion of the particles of ordinary matter. If electricity is unable to pass over or through a vacuum, it is probable that all other so-called imponderable forces - light, heat, magnetism, and possibly attraction - obey the same law, and as these agencies freely travel the interplanetary spaces, the supposition of Newton that such spaces may be filled with an ethereal form of matter receives an indirect but powerful support.

Note the flow of 'logic' here: an experiment on the nature of electricity is extrapolated by using "probable" and finally an assertion - "powerful support". Now, it is not clear if this logic was proposed by Sir William Grove or the reported who put together the article, though I have a very good idea about it.

We may laugh about it now. But the fact remains that science progresses by propounding and then challenging hypothesis. One wonders 150 years from today, what will seem so comical. Dark matter, Dark Energy, Environmental debate? Any guesses?

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Friday, April 2, 2010

Greenhouse Gases - Not The Only Force At Work

More Greenhouse gases in atmosphere, more the global warming.
Reduce the production of Greenhouse gases, reduce global warming.
Gives us a sense of control - however little - over climate, doesn't it?
Well if things were that easy.
The April 2010 issue of The Scientific American has news for you.
But first the conclusion in words of geoscientist Jeffery Dorale, "Greenhouse gases are clearly important to climate, but just as clearly they are not the only major forces at work."
Here's the piece of news ...

... [A] team of geologists conclude that, compared to today, sea levels were roughly one meter higher 81,000 years ago, when the world was thought to be experiencing an ice age that should have locked up water in glacial ice, which should have lowered sea level as much as 30 meters. ... What might have caused the sea-level climb remains unclear ... One thing is certain, however: the finding points to how complex the earth's climate is.

Hmmm.... Looks like the Climate Debate is not all shut and sealed up.
Just wondering .. Let's assume we drastically reduce production of the Greenhouse gases, suck out the Greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, stabilize or reverse the apparent global warming. And then discover that we have actually started something else. What if all our actions actually goes to destabilize the climate in ways we have no clue about?

After all the whole rigamarole is about making the climate suitable for human existence. Do you think the Earth give a s**t about whether humans survive or not?

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What The Dog Didn't Tell

I think Malcolm Gladwell slipped up; or whoever in charge of publicity of his latest book What the Dog Saw has.
They only had to leak out the information that one of the essays in the book is on Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
That alone should have ensured a good readership - I am going by his followers on twitter (@nntaleb); they number 9035 at the time of typing (not a huge number but considering the fact that he has people like Tom Peters (@tom_peters) and Rosabeth Moss Kanter (@Rosabethkanter) as followers). Not that Malcolm Gladwell needs to beg for readership. His books always have been best seller. But a little extra always helps.
In his essay, Blowing Up, Gladwell has done a wonderful job of bringing to life Taleb's personality.
If you have read Fooled By Randomness or The Black Swan, and have wondered about the man, then you must read this essay.
By the way, I had blogged about Gladwell's and Taleb's connection some time ago. A lot of it was guesswork. Seems like one has been studying the other more closely that I thought. Check out Black Swan Tipping Over and decide for yourself.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Sachin Tendulkar Defined

The cricketing world is going gaga over Sachin's mastery of the T20 format of the game.
I think they are missing the point.
It is not his cool batting that has fetched him four 50+ scores in 6 matches or the fact that he is running hard between the wickets. That is something that is expected. He has always been a great batsman.
There is something else.
His hunger for excellent was manifest in a failed attempt in yesterday's match with Deccan Chargers.
He was off like a hare after the ball that took an outside edge from a Deccan Chargers' batsman and just near the boundary he went sliding to cut off the four. He couldn't cut it off, but his slide towards the ball was sublime.
This was also seen in the 1st ODI against South Africa when a diving stop from him shaved one run off a sure boundary.
For me, this new drive to fielding excellence defines Sachin Tendulkar.
He is the Arjuna of the modern era - someone who never stops learning and excelling.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

5 Steps to Better Tweeting

This is tiny list on how to be a good tweeter. Am I a good tweeter. You can make that out by following me @Mgmnt_secrets. ;)
Anyways here's what I do.
1) Bothered by the 140 character restriction? Well, do not be. First type out whatever you want to. Then see how to reduce it to the 140 (or less; see next point) characters. The quality of your tweets will go up.

2) If you wish your tweets to be re-tweeted then you do not have 140 characters available with you. What is available to you is (140 - RT @your_tweet_id). In my case, it is 122 characters. I try to stick to this restriction.

3) Do not tweet to tell what you are doing at a mall or what are you eating for dinner. Your close friends may want to know that. But if you wish to build a good number of follower, use tweet-sense. Pick up a domain that interests you and tweet on that. Unless you are a celebrity - then you will have a HUGE following irrespective of what you tweet.

4) No typos. Use good grammar. And oh! avoid those silly acronyms please.

5) This is important: before pressing the send button, just pause. Does the message seem right? Are you proud of it? Yes? Then what are you waiting for? Send!

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Incentives Matter

[A]t a conference dealing with spine surgery, a surgeon presented the case of a female patient with herniated disk in her neck and pain that was caused by a pinched nerve. She had already failed typical conservative treatments such as physical therapy, medication, and waiting it out.
The surgeon asked the audience to vote for a couple of choices for surgery. The first was the newer anterior approach, where the surgeon removes the entire disc, replaces it with a bone plug, and fuses the discs. The vast majority of the hands shot up. The second choice was the older posterior approach, where the surgeon removes only the portion of the disc that is compressing the nerve. No fusion is required because the procedure leaves most of the disc intact. Only a few audience members raised their hands.
The speaker then asked the audience, which was entirely male, "What if this patient is your wife?" The show of hands reversed for the same two choices. The main reason is that the amount surgeons are paid for the newer and complicated procedure is typically several times what they'd receive for the older procedure.

Hmmm... Three points:
1) Incentives matter.
2) The audience in the above anecdote are very honest, I must say.
3) This story has nothing to do with my present condition (see here). It is pure serendipity. The above extract comes from Think Twice by Michael J. Mauboussin.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Genghis Khan and His Daughters

I should have timed this better. The post is apt for The International Women's Day.

This is an excerpt from The Secret History Of The Mongol Queens: How The Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire by Jack Weatherford. This appears in the March 2010 of The Scientific American.

Genghis Khan was certainly ambitious and had much larger desires in the world than merely uniting the warring tribes of the steppe. Yet, in order to expand his empire, he needed someone to rule the newly conquered people. he had to leave someone in charge. ideally, he would have had a stable of talented sons and given each one of them a newly conquered country to govern, but his sons were simply not capable. Without competent sons, he could leave a general in charge, but Genghis Khan had been betrayed too many times by men inside and outside his family. He probably knew well the result of Alexander the Great's overreliance on his generals, who subsequently divided the empire among themselves as soon as their leader died ...

Genghis Khan's mother and wives were too old to take command of these new nations and to enjoy the full benefits of what he had to offer, but he had a new generation of women who seemed as capable as the previous ones.

Women ran the largest empire on earth and that too in the 12th-13th century!
Not bad. Not bad at all.

Actually an Indian would not be surprised. Razia Sultan ascended the Delhi throne around that time. She was the first ever woman to rule in the Muslim world.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Unit of Possible Success

My most favourite tweet till date - absolutely original :D

I have been often asked if there is a unit to measure possibility of success. Actually there is. It is Joule-Seconds (=Energy x Time).

Now, isn't that nice?

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Piracy in 1759

Now this is interesting ...

On 15 and 16 January 1759, Voltaire was furtively sending out copies of his new novel Candide, or Optimism, to Paris, Amsterdam, London and Brussels. Once the copies arrived at these major centres of the European book-trade - in what can only be called a marketing innovation- they were published on the same, predetermined date across Western Europe. The reasons for this secrecy were twofold. On the one hand, Voltaire sought to sell as many copies as possible before they were pirated and he was cut out of the profits; on the other hand. Voltaire sought to bring his revolutionary message to as wide an audience as possible before the authorities realized the dangers posed by his ideas and moved to suppress them.

Intellectual piracy existed as early as the 18th century. Wow! And I didn't know philosophers were interested in profit too - just goes to show they are pragmatic too.

This is an extract from the book with perhaps the longest title. It is called How Rich Countries Got Rich and How Poor Countries Stay Poor written by Erik S. Reinert.

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Friday, March 5, 2010

The Good Survive

My 600th Post ...
On a good note.
When Satyam fell, and when media was focused on juicy details of Raju's downfall, very few bloggers (ahem!) wrote about the NGO that Satyam's Raju founded.
In my post, I had wondered ...
I hope Byrraju Foundation will continue to get funds from some source to continue doing what it claims to be doing.
Or was this a front for fraud too? That would be terribly sad.

Read rest of my post here.
Seems like some innovative steps later the Myrraju Foundation has survived beating all odds.
Read all the details here.
The good survive.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Slip Disc Haiku

My first ever (pseudo)Haiku:

tied to my bed --
through my window I see
an eagle soar

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Leadership Lessons from India

Guess what is featured in the March 2010 HBR? Leadership Lessons from India.

What do you think?

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Monday, March 1, 2010

40 Keys to Creativity

I have twittered about this but then all my blog readers do not follow me on twitter (I won't mind, you know!). Hence this piece.
Ok here goes ...

We are all creative in some ways. That is a fact.
Only we have forgotten.
So once in a while we need a swift kick to get us going.
One such swift but well-meaning kick is delivered here.

It is actually an excerpt from the book Ignore Everybody by Hugh Macleod. I would recommend that you buy this book. Even if you don't, please spend some 5-10 minutes reading 1/40th of that book in his web site: Gaping Void.
You will not regret it.
I promise.
Happy reading.

Also spend some time browsing the web site to see creativity come alive.

And no, I do not get any commission for sending you across to his site.

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

When life gives you lemon

"Ten days of physio-therapy," said one doctor.
"Physio-therapy wont work. I want you to take this very seriously. 3 weeks of complete bed rest," said the next.
"Bed rest does not help. We need to first remove the pain. Take these medicines for a week and then we wil ltake a decision whether to operate or not," said the third doctor.
Two MRI scans and almost a month later I am still confined to bed.
It is supposed to be a small "herniation of L5-S1" (aka slip disc) that is impinging slightly on a nerve that gives me excruciating pain down my leg every time I get up and sit down.
What can you do ... except wait for the doctors to take a decision.

Well, not exactly true. You can do a lot.
With all the time in the world here's a list of things I have done

(i) Aggressively pursue completion of the Spanish Course I have purchased from the US Institute of Languages (Learn Spanish Today)
(ii) I never managed to start of French. Dedicating one hour a day to a French Course (Rapid French). This is my last attempt to learn rudimentary French. If this does not succeed, nothing else will. This one claims that they implant to words in the auditory cortex. Well let's see.
(iii)Re-re-reading The Black Swan.
(iv) Watched Sachin Tendulkar play that gem of an innings at Gwalior (it had to be Gwalior :D). Always knew he would be the one to do it. (Yes I am a die hard fan - I am happy when he makes a century irrespective of the match results)
(v) Started a new twitter dedicated entirely to management, called mgmnt_secrets. Already have some 140+ followers. Active twittering is fun.

So as they say, when life gives you lemon ... yeah right ... throw it right back at her. So says, Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Skewed Research

In the name of testing creativity researchers can go to any extent. Consider this example I picked it from the book :59 Seconds by Professor Richard Wiseman.

Can you add a single line to the following equation to make it correct? ('not equal to' is not a solution):

l0 l0 ll = l0.50

Spend some time here. Then uncover the answer hidden in the gray box below (click and drag):

Place a horizontal line over the second 'l' to get
l0 TO ll = l0.50
(It is time: Ten to Eleven = Ten-Fifty)

Now if you are a normal person, then chances are that you could not solve it. Unless someone has a funny sort of creative mind, this cannot be solve. Why? No one writes Ten-Fifty as 10.50. The convention is to write it as 10:50, right?

What is the purpose of such exercises? Does it really test your creativity? Or perhaps, researchers derive some sadistic pleasure by deliberately misleading.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

The Secret of Successful Marriages Revealed

It's amazing how the best advise on marriages are in management books. It is claimed that many wives read The Goal to understand the goal of marriage. Here's another sweet but crisp pointer to a happy married life in the gem of a book, The Go-Giver.

"I think there is one reason, and only one reason, that we have stayed together so long and are as happy together today as we were forty-eight years ago - more so, in fact. That reason is this: I care more about my wife's happiness than I do about my own. Al I've ever wanted to do since the day I met her is make her happy. And here's the truly remarkable thing - she seems to want the same thing for me."

"Wouldn't some people call that codependent?" ventured Joe.

"Yes, some probably would. Know what I call it?"


Pindar laughed, " Yes certainly that. I was going to say, I'd call that success."

Ok, The Go-Giver is a work of fiction.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Having Fun With Maths

Here's a web site you will fall in love with, even if you did not enjoy maths when you were a kid. Especially if you did not enjoy maths as a kid.
And if you have a child who is studying right now, then please, please, please do that child a favour. Go to this wonderful site and let his/her just spend lots and lots of time here.
Maths can be fun too, you know.
Take a look at murderous maths.
And if your child falls in love with maths and school grades improve drastically, do not forget to thank me.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Secret of Success? Lists!

You know you have it in you.
And you know if you want you can get it.
Somewhere deep inside you, you also know how to get it.
You just have to methodically get to work.
But ...

That "but" is the main problem.
Now here is a simple workbook to help you out.
This workbook does not make any tall claims.
It will help you focus and make you act.
All you have to do is prepare some lists.
Yeah! You read it right: lists.
What's more, it is free.
It has nothing that you do not know yourself already.
It just nudges you towards your dreams.

Do this exercise, and I bet you will not regret it.

Here's link => http://www.yourfreebook.com/
Download both, the Goals Book and the Worksheet Booklet.

Actually there is more to discover with Paul Myers. Here's another fun thing from Paul to learn and grow => http://www.talkbiznews.com/

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Great Indian Tamasha - Annual Budget

Everything in India has to be a big tamasha.
Which is not such a bad thing.
Provides lots of entertainment before, during and for a few days after the event.

Take the annual budget for instance.
It is not that the course of India's economy is going to turn on its head on this one single day.
What India needs huge dollops of investment in infrastructure.
And good governance.
Instead there will be some budgetary allocation (redistribution) to various economy sectors.
Lots of talk about inclusive growth.
Some more tax loads on the most easily targeted income group, the salaried class.
So what is new?

There is a lot of talk about giving impetus to the continued growth of the economy. So does it have to wait for this one day?

But if you see the hype surrounding every budget on TV, one would feel that the whole Indian Economy comes to standstill waiting for some earth-shattering announcement by the Finance Minister.
What rubbish!

It is in the execution, people; not budgeting.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010


What do you feel when you see this picture I received on an email from a reader of this blog ...


Well wait for a few more years and then we can all hold our heads to shame.
Merely replace that dead leopard with the last surviving tiger. And you will know the feeling.
There are only 1411 tigers left out there.
Our stupidity has taken care of all Cheetahs. There are no Cheetahs in India any more.
Now it is the Tiger's turn.
Unless we do something about it.

Aircel has launched an initiative to save our tigers. Please visit the Save Our Tigers site and do whatever you think you can do best.

One question: Why isn't the Government of India leading this campaign?

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Trees Grow Faster

At least one has.
On a lark, I made some predictions on 30 Dec 2008 for 31 Dec 2009. Here is one of those:

Besides, scientists have discovered that the trees - with all the excess carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere - have actually grown taller and bigger. As a result, the excess CO2 has been neutralised by the oxygen produced by these trees. Man must therefore take care not to destroy trees. Governments all over the world have hailed this discovery and have promised to dedicate at least 30% of their country's land to maintain forests.

And guess what? Forests Are Growing Faster, Ecologists Discover; Climate Change Appears to Be Driving Accelerated Growth

Am I thrilled or am I thrilled!!!

Ok so I got lucky.
Read the rest of my predictions here and tell me what you think of these. No they did not come true, but it is fun reading anyway.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Suffering From Back Ache?

This may not come as relief to those who suffer from chronic back pain, slip disc, herniated disc, etc., but at least you know who to blame. (When you are in pain, it is good to curse someone).
So here goes ...
The human spine, for example, is a lousy solution to the problem of supporting the load in an upright, two-legged creature. It would have made a lot more sense to distribute our weight across four equal cross-braced columns. Instead, all our weight is borne by a single column, putting enormous stress on the spine. We managed to survive upright (freeing out hands), but the cost for many people is agonizing back pain. We are struck with this barely adequate solution not because it is the best possible way to support the weight of a biped, but because the spine's structure evolved from that of four-legged creatures, and standing up poorly is (for creatures like us, who use tools) better than not standing up at all.

So you know who to blame.

And no. I have no idea if Gary Marcus, the author of this delightful little book called Kluge, suffers from back pain.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Increasing Number of Organ Donors in India

This is done by market research people all the time, but I wonder if something good can come out of it. This can actually help increase the number of organ donors in India.
Read this ...

Are you in favour of organ donation? Have you consented to be an organ donor? If you are like most people, you answered yes to the first question. But the response to the second question depends a great deal on which country you live in. For instance, take neighboring
countries Germany and Austria. Only 12 percent of Germans have explicitly consented to donate their organs, while virtually 100 percent of Austrians have offered presumed consent. The difference? In Germany, you must opt in to become a donor. In Austria, you must opt out to avoid being a donor. The consent gap has less to do with attitudes about donation than it does with default options. The difference translates into saved lives.

I am an eye donor, but I had to opt in. We need the "opt-out"policy in India. Believe me, India needs a quantum jump in the number of organ donors.

If some day some government official or some Government of India minister happens to see this post and decides to implement this policy, the person to thank would be Michael E. Mauboussin, the author of Think Twice, from where I picked up the above extract.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Priming Experiments

In one of my tweets (see here), I referred to 'priming' and used the simpler Wikipedia definition. I had blogged about priming previously too: here.
Here's is another striking experiment I picked from Think Twice by Mauboussin ...

In this test, the researchers placed the French and German wine next to each other, along with small national flags. Over two weeks, the scientists alternated playing French accordion and German Bierkeller pieces and watched the results. When French music played, French wines represented 77 percent of the sales. When German music played, consumers selected German wines 73 percent of the time.

Amazing, isn't it?
I am assuming, the shoppers were able to make out French music from the German music.

If I were to carry out the experiment, I would do this experiment by alternating French, German and some distinctly non-German, non-French music, say Indian music. Just to see the impact on the sales when Indian music played out.

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Reading Fiction

Yes. I read fiction too.
Here's a list => Just Books Just For You.
The books listed are those that I recommend without hesitation.
You need to scroll right down the list to get to the fiction part.
And No. The Harry Potter series is not in the list.
Ditto Tintin, Asterix, Calvin & Hobbes.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Using Technology

This extract is from Think Twice by Michael J. Mauboussin.

Flooded with candidates and aware of the futility of most interviews, Google decided to create algorithms to identify attractive potential employees. First, the company asked seasoned employees to fill out a three-hundred-question survey, capturing details about their tenure, their behavior, and their personality. The company then compared the survey results to measures of employee performance, seeking connections. Among the findings, Google executives recognized that academic accomplishments did not always correlate with on-the-job performance.

A few observations:

a) Companies tend to fall back upon trusted means to derive solutions: so you know that if it is Google, then it has to be an algorithm.

b) 300-question survey? 300? I will be surprised if any answers after the first 10 questions made any sense.

c) "Academic accomplishments did not always correlate with on-the-job performance". I hope the survey resulted in some other meaningful conclusions also. 'Did not always correlate' is neither here nor there.

d) In his book, Think Twice, Mauboussin seeks to establish "Use Technology When Possible" by referring to this Google exercise. Is this the best example he could get of use of technology to solve organisational problems?

PS: Ok! I could get the original article that Think Twice refers to. It is called Google Answer to Filling Jobs Is an Algorithm.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Change This Manifestos - Worth A Read

Here's an interesting collection of manifestos. They all feature under a common clarion call, Change This. You may or may not agree with their views. But that's exactly the point. Read, let the winds of change flow through you and get ready to chase your own dreams. Click here.

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