Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Foreign universities, counterpoint

This is a superb counterpoint to the opening up of the education to the foreign universities. Professor Vaidyanathan in DNA argues that this is a bailout. And while he is on the money, I still am not convinced that this is entirely a waste of effort. Indian education needs more opportunities - equal opportunity as opposed to equality of outcome. So, in that context creating more opportunities is certainly welcome.

And having good foreign universities is better than universities that operate out of a shed (remember the deemed universities). And it is better that we create good career opportunities for professors like we did for software engineers, quite inadvertently.

And then again, the real dudes will still prefer to go to the real phoren university than study in Atlanta university in Andhra Pradesh (or wherever) - this really is good for a lot of others who would otherwise be stuck in some random college. And also, I hope that the mix of courses offered abroad will happen here - plus opening up opportunities in sectors and courses we can only dream about.

So, overall, I still think it is a good thing...

Write me a song

According to some statistics, the Hindi film industry creates over a 1000 movies each year. And each movie on an average has about 4 songs. That's about 4000 odd songs that hit the market each year. And in the industry that has existed for the last 100 odd years now, imagine the number of songs in circulation. And it competes with the many other song creators. Starting from all the pop, rap and the US and European music industry - not to say Indias own album industry and the traditional Carnatic and Hindustani music sectors - plus any other song at random that might capture the imagination of anybody at any point. There is also the regional films - Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam - which have their own audiences directly competing with each other.

Now imagine that you are a song writer or lyricist or composer or music director. See what you are up against?

And yet each year, each month, some new song or songs takes the top billing. And of course, a thousand others bite the dust. How difficult can it be? And yet the music industry churns out song after song in the hope that one of their songs is a hit.

Most industries are like that. There is competition everywhere. If there is a Tendulkar in cricket, there is a Rehman in music or some established name in every field you pick. So, how do you compete? The odds are everywhere. Competition is daunting everywhere. And yet, in all these places some name, known or unknown makes a name for himself or herself against the odds.

What can one do except try?

One of these

A superb cartoon by Kirk Anderson.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Google China, China Google

This is a superb post on the spat in China with Google. Do read. China attempts to erase Google away itself from peoples memories, the internet and so on. Now that will take some doing.

You can take Google out of China, can you take Google out of Chinese? And then again can you take China out of Google?

Whatever! As the FT blog says, it reminds me of the Ministry of Truth.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Showing the mirror

Via @acorn, a great example of how twitter and blogs (though part of a magazine) report something that would otherwise have stayed under the hood. It is still under the hood for the great many denizens, but atleast this way if you want to know there is a report out there...

If it were not for these individual tweets, it would be impossible to know what each of the concerned parties think - because the reporting would not report all sides. And that is what makes twitter and blogs so important. It is your voice.

More power to the web. Will this result in more media reporting about media as Acorn hopes it will? I hope it does, or else, you have us...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

By Order, Management

That is the title of my new blog at the TOI site. I thought long and hard about having 2 blogs and the ability to manage it all, considering there are no financials in it - but then there are no financials here also.

But the pro is that there is potentially a bigger audience at the TOI website and it is also an avenue to find an audience for my writings and eventually a publisher for my book too. And I thought, perhaps it is not such a bad idea after all.

So, I will be there at both at the blogs. This blog is the superset and I will publish what I put up at TOI a while later here too.

Feedback, here or there as usual always welcome...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vacation ahoy

Its vacation time for the little one. And like the genie unleashed out of the bottle, he roams free in search of more entertainment, more play and more fun.

In the story that I read when I was a kid, the genie is let out of the bottle and asks for more work each time from the farmer who lets him out, rather inadvertently. Unless he is given work he says, he will devour the farmer. So the farmer searches high and low for suitable work to be given to the genie without much success. Until a learned man suggests the genie straighten the tail of a dog and thus the genie is occupied for ever...

But no dog and no tail for kids out on vacation. They want to make the most of every moment. Even while he falls asleep, he is focussed on whether he is sleeping too early...

It is enjoyable to see him attack his vacation with much gusto like a hungry person served a 7 course meal. He was up earlier than usual, no tantrums at all, all brushing and cleaning happens with the ease of a touch screen control (earlier, it took the effort of moving a train) and ready to go out to play. If only kids went to school with so much energy, so much gusto. Why can it not be the same?

Seeing this fellow in action, to me, it looks like the natural state of kids and human beings is enjoyment, not mundane work. Unless you convert work in a way that it becomes play or enjoyment. Whatever that means. Cannot think too much more - I would rather focus on the joys that a vacation brings to the little ones eyes!

Monday, March 22, 2010

FU Bill

No it stands for the Foreign University Bill, but if you read what DNAs Jagannathan has to say, then, it can stand for pretty much whatever you think it stands for...

It will be a sorry state of affairs (call it the present state of stunted affairs) if this comes true.

We do know that given a level playing field, Indian entities can do very well as seen in quite a few private sector companies, but if the others are given a head start, what he says is not too difficult to imagine...

As they say, watch this space...

How to use

your competitors obsolete platform as an advertising opportunity!

Diet thoughts

First up a couple of disclaimers. This may nor may not work for you. I am not a qualified anybody or anything related to health to diet. This is purely my experience. Your mileage may vary. Follow this advice at your own discretion.

The key to healthy living during your late 30s (the earlier you begin, the better) is a moderate level of activity and healthy eating. Say, you walk each day for about 30-40 minutes, brisk pace - meaning you cover about 4 kms. And on top of that include one other activity, like sports or yoga or gym for an hour each day - you can get away with eating almost anything. And if you control what you eat, even moderately, the gains are tremendous.

After reading Michael Pollans landmark piece, we are turning leaf eaters - Palak, Methi and a few others. We have experimented with water convolvulus. Drumstick leaves are not available here, otherwise that would be on our list too. Leaves twice or thrice a week, not overcooked has worked very well.

Ditch the chocolate. Right now our current favourite is Pure Jaggery which works well as a post meal sweetener.

Ditch junk. This is not exactly successful, but reduced. Microwave roasted salted groundnuts is a current favourite.

Stock up on dry fruits at home. Macadamia nuts, Figs, Dates, Apricot are great foods to have - than any equivalent junk and almost cheaper.

Ditch juices - eat the fruit instead. Eat a couple of helpings of fruit each day.

Cut down on coffee, tea. We have some herbal tea that we use often with honey which we use a couple of days a week.

If possible, cut down on white rice and switch to red rice or unpolished rice (this is tough). Cut down items like bread and go back to your traditional meals. If you go back to traditional meals, ensure that you go back to traditional activity levels too - which is usually way above 21st century levels.

What happens to a lot of people is that they never make these minor adjustments to their diet and then when the doctor finally advises you have to change your diet, it seems like a radical transformation that seems like too much. So, small changes in your diet go a long way.

Second, leave some space. If you totally cut yourself off salt and sugar right now, there is no more space to make more adjustments. Keep cutting down slowly when there is no need to do so. So that, if and when the need arises, it is just one more minor adjustment.

Third, variety. Don't eat the same thing again and again. Add variety, even in your diet. The human mind is naturally tuned to look at possibilities and choices. Give yourself that.

Fourth celebrate. If you feel like eating junk or oily food once in a while, do it. Eat it on a day that you are going to be reasonably active - not driving around the whole day or while you are travelling...

What we have not been able to do. Eat more salads - I somehow prefer cooked food. Cut down junk completely. But we have been able to make these adjustments and it is like the first few steps taken in a long long journey...

Friday, March 19, 2010


I happened to search for something related to water convolvulus and did not get the last word right and ended up getting results for water. And heres what I found.

Karachi water mafia leaves Pakistan dry

China is in the middle of a drought

So I did a search on water in google news.

Furore in AP assembly over water

Elephants affected in Rajasthan

I know for a fact that in Bangalore water shortages are a reality. It does seem like that it is true in most other parts of the world as well. Here in Bangalore, we are up for a prospect of a hot summer. Are you tapping rain water or conserving the water you have?

Are you a part of the solution or do you leave the tap open while you brush your teeth?

The great global warming scandal

Does it matter where there is a truth in it or not? The argument can continue. As far as I see it it is an irrelevant argument. With or without global warming, some realities and actionables wont change.

Fresh water reserves are going down - the sooner we tap into rainwater harvesting, check dams, conserving existing lakes and water systems the better. How can you help? Ensure that you install an RWH system at your place of residence, campaign for it at your place of work. Conserve water. Don't waste it. Use grey water to water your plants. Do not wash your front yard with a million buckets of water. Collect rain water and use it...

Pollution is on the way up - anything you do reduce it - from cycling to recycling will help. Every trip you take in public transport will help. How can you help? Use public transport. Walk short distances rather than take your car out. Use less plastic. And these are just examples...

Oil is unsustainable in the long run. The sooner this reality hits our heads, the better. Green technologies are imperative for survival in the long run. How can you help? Invest in green technology. Invest in the shares of green companies as well if you believe in them so much. Buy the Toyota Prius, if you can. Apart from green, it increases your cool quotient. If you have too much money, gift me one!

Every bit one can do to reduce our footprint is a smart one. If that means composting instead of throwing stuff in trash, so be it. If that means, giving away old clothes so that it can be used, so be it. If that means, using grey water for washing or watering purposes, so be it. Whatever works for you.

All I can say is that every drop makes a difference. It doesn't matter whether the other person is doing it or not, the question is are you doing it - this is a principle we apply in a lot of things in our life, why not here?

Turn off that TV

I am a big fan of Seth Godins anti TV posts and heres one more. Actually it rhymes in very well with what I think. TV is a one way download model - you watch it, soak in all the advertisements, listen to the prefiltered rants of people who are paid to tell you stuff and then go to sleep as a couch potato feeling bad that you did not achieve anything in a day.

The internet on the other hand, if you so wish (it can be used for worse purposes than the TV) can help you watch you want to watch, read what you want to read, read what people passionate about things are putting up and then write your own blog or something and feel good that you contributed to the mess that is already out there. Sure, nobody may read your site and it is entirely possible that your site is nowhere near racking a million hits and a million dollars in ad revenue, but you have put it out there and some search engine could bring people there and your voice could be heard. Or if you try, circulate what you do to all in your facebook group or email group or somewhere and build an audience for yourself.

In any case, better than watching TV or surfing pron eh?

Its been a long long time since I watched TV. The last big thing I watched was 26/11 with ranting reporters. Prior to that I watched IPL1, a bit of IPL2. Have not yet watched IPL3. Not bad at all. 3 years of my life saved from being deluged in junk? Perhaps. And I have a blog to show as well...

And this piece by Clay Shirky, an old one linked by Seth above too is a priceless piece...

Yahoo cricket chat

Yahoo announces a live cricket chat with none other than Prem Panicker (Smoke Signals). Now, I don't know how much traffic yahoo attracts in India, but nonetheless a regular chat is a smart idea. A cricket chat with someone with the knowledge of the game for about an hour is a nice idea. I would think fans would make a beeline to this one. It will be interesting to see if the model sustains in the future if PP does not host it. Whatever be the model, I think this is yet another avenue for ex-cricketers to pitch in other than commentary. Yahoo please note :)

The reason being, it is tough to build a personal connect on a website unless you do it with a person and if that person is a personality, why not. So, if you follow someones twitter stream that allows for one level of connection by RTing them and so on, it is entirely another thing to be able to chat with a well known person. This is interesting in the way that Yahoo is trying to use content to drive traffic to its India site. I would think other sites are doing similar things too, but I don't know...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

42 it is...

My grandmother claimed her age was "42" for a long time and as far as I know it, she had never read Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy.

And it appears that the magical number has made its appearance once again, here

42 it is, indeed..Can we start with 1? Before we talk of 42?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Heres to a flood of opportunity

Foreign universities have been allowed to set up campuses in India. This is a welcome move without doubt. Now, I also hope that the reverse will be allowed. The IITs and IIM can be allowed to set up campuses abroad. Now that would be something, would it not?

One of the problems in India is an artificial shortage of seats in various courses which we address by the "superb" system of reservation. If there is enough opportunity, there is no reason to reserve.

I dont know when and how the actual legislation will happen and what all it will entail, but as far as the thought goes it is a great one. The more we allow the growth of legitimate foreign universities in India, the lesser risk we will face from so called universities, fake universities, stupidity masquerading as universities and money machines of politicians in the garb of universities and so on and so forth. It should also hopefully spur some industry-academia collaboration and lead to more research and development and discoveries and innovation across subjects in India. Some more meaningful research into India itself should happen, create more think tanks and so on.

Hopefully more smart guys (and bloggers) can become professors and create a good learning culture here. And who knows, recreate the glory of Takshashila and Nalanda here at some point.

On the point of brain drain, I am not so concerned - it is good for students to go abroad and learn, for any country.

Licence to dream eh?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Farm miracle, Gujarat

Found this tucked away in a corner of DNA. Is this like a step by step guide to how to rejuvenate the agri economy?

It has worked in Gujarat. Oh, then there must be something wrong. But, the fact is that, there isnt. Some thought has gone into it. Read it for yourself and ask why is it so difficult for some of the other states to figure this out...

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Passenger Drone anybody?

In the future there will be no planes...only drones. Sounds impossible? Think about this. Metros already have driverless trains, so why not pilotless planes? It may or may not be something you would see right away, but it is definitely a possibility - actually a certainity.

Drone technology and its ubiquitousness has been going up over the years (thanks to the non war on something previously known as terrorism?). Here are some notes (via Muladhara) on the drone fleet of US, Israel and the like. Think of this, all land operations can be supported by drones. Even a regular terrorist encounter can be very well supported by an eye in the sky.

And to take my hypothesis a little further, in the future, anti terrorism operations need not involve a loss of soldiers lives.No, before you think that the Indian Government has figured out a superb way to create drones and soldierless units to take on terror - this has nothing to do with India. We will continue to lose soldiers and human lives, knowingly and unknowingly, with or without intelligence lapses and bumble our way through life, but the world is progressing, as always...

Friday, March 05, 2010

Railways will build a museum

I went through the railway budget recently - I was not really interested in knowing that West Bengal railways has finally allowed its trains to ply the rest of India. But they did and that's a big concession. Congrats everybody.

But, I was looking for something on toilets (I will let you know why soon). And during that search, I found that the railways would build not one, but two museums to commemorate Rabindranath Tagores 125th anniversary. Rabindranath Tagore - yes, surely, a visionary. But the whats he got to do with railways? I demand a museum on top of every railway station. Anyway most of the coaches are museums in themselves. For some reason the railway is also building a cultural academy - a Shambu Mitra academy - perhaps for some cultural awareness in trains?

I have no idea what is the railways doing building museums and cultural academies when they really, really should be focussing on getting their train services faster which are almost unchanged since the last many years...

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Think one step ahead

If I were to summarise the secret of getting ahead in your career (in job or in business or for your venture), this would be it. Think one step ahead. It could very well apply in your role as an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, indeed it could apply anywhere in your life, even at a traffic signal where you are trying to butt ahead.

But from a career perspective in any given firm that you land - right at the bottom of the heap as perhaps a management trainee, this will be the most invaluable advice that you get and you will never get it in as many words. Now that I have used up the main message of my piece right at the outset, what is the value that I will add? Well, read on. Perhaps I have thought one step ahead too.

Typically most MBAs join a firm as a management trainee. The management trainee has a set of tasks assigned to him. If you are in a firm that has a corporate management trainee program, you will be working with one department and have a dotted line to the corporate group as well. Which means both the groups will have you work on specific initiatives or
projects and you will have a bunch of regular day to day work that you are responsible for. In both of these, you can keep thinking a step ahead over whats expected of you.

One of the invaluable pieces of advice that I received at the start of my career from a high flying Finance Executive was "Our hiring process is good enough for us to get people who will do what they are told. What we need is people who will do more than just what they are told". Again, think one step ahead, put in a different form.

What is it that a company wants out of an MBA? Even at the lowest rung? Think about it. The companys basic need is to thrive (not survive) in the market. And every little thing that the company does is to meet this objective. The MBA (or any new hire for that matter) is expected to do this. So, one of your first perspectives to the firm that you are hired
is to give an "outside-in" perspective. Think one step ahead in the group you are in and give them a presentation on your observations in that group after a month or so. (If it seems funny that a one month old in a company can give a recommendation, please stop your MBA preparation before you finish reading this.) As perhaps the lowest fish in the foodchain, you are expected to have your ear to the ground and a voice at places where that sound can be heard. Use it. As a newbie in the department or on the field, you can see the action out there and you can share this with those who matter. Who knows? You might contribute in your company coming up with a new product or a blockbuster service.

Set up meetings with group heads and department heads either individually or as a group (this is better). Picking their brains gives you insight into the way they think, the way the company thinks and overall gives you a better feel of the ecosystem. And the added benefit, is that they will recall your name. (How important is that, take a guess.)

If you have a peer group as management trainees, ensure that you meet and share the knowledge about different parts of the firm - do this as an initiative nobody told you about. Why? Once a firm is established with departments guarded like forts, each department outdoes the other in "keeping things secret". This is one of the relics of our stone age
mentality when people hid food in order to keep predators away. This attitude is reflected in the 'secret' mentality. As a group of management trainees, by doing this initiative you will be a step ahead in connecting the company across their departments and many time you
will make them aware of how work gets done. Of course, I need not tell you how beneficial it will be in case some of you continue to work with the firm for a longish spell. How that for thinking ahead?

When your boss (and you will have one, unless you are starting off on your own with your own money) asks you for a deliverable, think in his shoes. And ask her questions. Why does she want what she wants? Whats the target audience? What is the level of detail expected? If you are asked for data, give a bit of your analysis as well. If you are asked for high level information, put the detail in the appendix. If you asked for some numbers supply the work out method as well. This may sound simple, even obvious, but many a time, what you give will be very apparent to you since you would seen it through a few iterations. But
for someone who sees it for the first time and without the luxury of you nearby to explain, everything that you put together would be Greek and Latin. So, take that extra step and make everything you do self explanatory. Add analysis, footnotes and all of this is doing a little more than what is asked. Are these must to have, perhaps not, but they are nice to have and your work will be appreciated if you understand what exactly is required and deliver that.

If something is expected to be delivered on regular basis, try to get to it earlier on, a step ahead, so that you spend time with the data, analyzing it, not running after it. When you know your boss is working on something, help her get there. Ultimately if your boss doesn't reach her goal, you don't. And how is this one step ahead? Well, you are thinking from your bosses shoes, aren't you? And this is the exact thing you need to do. While you will have your own job description, the best and fastest way to learn what goes on at the next level is to, help your boss by being one step ahead of your job description.

A lot of what is required to succeed at your job is all about thinkng one step ahead. It is not as easy as it sounds though...

(An edited version of this piece was published in Advancedge in Mar09)

Inspiring moments

This is the story of someone who influenced us a bit during our growing up years. Raghavan or Kichanna Chittappa was what he was known as. The image I have of him is in a white dhoti, a towel on top, smeared with ashes and a big kumkum on his forehead. His manner of speaking was full of irreverence. Nothing was sacred. And this, from a priest, who venerated
traditional beliefs but injected a dose of modernity into all of his ideas. Another enduring image I have of him is that during a strike and he decided he would walk from Bhandup where he stayed to Chembur where he had to come to do a pooja.

He started life working as a labourer in a road building contractor for Sabarimala. He impressed his boss enough to be promoted to supervisor soon. The story goes that he was asked to blast a side of the mountain so that the road could pass. He was given some time to do it. He took a look at the explosives he had and the mountain and decided that he could
take a shot of all of it at one go. He cleared the area in no time and was promoted to supervisor.

From then on, he did a variety of jobs. He was a cook briefly, then took to driving BEST buses in Bombay, drove a taxi post retirement - all throughout his knowledge of mantras intact. In both the taxi driver phase and the bus driver he was known as Swamiji - he drove in full regalia. And post this he became a full time priest.

His favourite activity was to challenge people who do rituals without any meaning or do it as a cargo cult science. And he did this often.

A lot of people often fell at his feet - since he looked like a swami with white flowing beard and staff and spatika necklace and forehead smeared with ashes. And he would not allow people to do that - because of his belief that humans cannot be god. A lot of people often treat other people - as god. And his point was to keep people at a guru/teacher level - respect them, admire them, be inspired by them, but do not put a picture of them and worship - because ultimately they are human. And no human being can ever be elevated to god level...And of course, not too many who he met liked his thoughts and beliefs - but his arguments were crystal clear so not too many challenged him. They just avoided him and getting into an argument with him.

He is no more, having left for his heavenly abode a few years back while in his seventies. Apart from his flexibility in multiple roles, ability to have a passion all through what he did, he inspired me to think about beliefs that are entrenched into peoples minds and why we do what without a thought about the reason...