Tuesday, July 28, 2015

APJ Abdul Kalam - Leadership Template

It is not often that the world agrees with my choice of a hero. But the outpouring of condolences for the late APJ Abdul Kalam was indeed proof positive that the country and I were finally in sync about a common hero.

However, even in all this I did wonder why exactly APJ was so popular. I believe deconstructing his public persona would give us an indication of a Leadership Template that would go beyond the world of technocrats and presidents.

For one, his phenomenal popularity began from his tenure as the ‘Missile Man’ of India. I guess the India of the 90s was looking for some heroes, we had liberalized less than a decade before that and probably were short of a robust hero. And we got that in the persona of the very likeable and unconventional APJ.

So a muscular image, metaphorically speaking, combined with the sense of learning and accomplishment that he undoubtedly had led him to have a very good image at the beginning of the Presidency. Added to that was the sense of simplicity that he truly showed and we were awed. Especially since it was in stark contrast to the way of the politicians. And no whiff of corruption either before or after his role in DRDO and also during his presidency. Does anyone even know of Kalam’s family members? Not really. That was another thing, in an India increasingly irritated with scams etc he was squeaky clean financially.

That he did not vanish from public memory is probably because he has kept himself occupied. And occupied in saying all the right things. All the motivational things. He was the ultimate feel good guy.
And he spoke to the children and the educated youth. And he was erudite. There was no doubt about that. So this erudition taken along with his accomplishments and his simplicity and also his focus on Gen-Next along with his clean financial image paved the way to this gratifying spectacle of hosannas for the ex-prez. And ever smiling.

But there is also a speck of doubt in my mind, is he being toasted universally especially on social media, because he was totally apolitical?

In an alternative scenario where he expressed his views on Modi versus the congress for example would there have been only positive things said about him. Whatever he might have said would and definitely would have been used by the other side. I have no doubt that in my mind. So is the last point in the leadership template that one must not be political or express ones political thoughts especially in a polarized environment? Seems a safe template to hand over not just to Gen-Next but also to myself.

Friday, July 17, 2015

GK - Business

  1. What is the "Dunbar's number"?
  2. Chris Hughes served as the Head of online organizing for President Obama's presidential campaign. He holds a bachelors degree in history and literature from Harvard University. Which brand did he help co-found?
  3. The two founders of this brand insist that they selected its name because of its definition: "rude, unsophisticated, uncouth." What a name to give a brand! Which brand are we talking about?
  4. This brand was founded by Kevin Rose and launched in November 2004. It was, at one time, one of the most popular sources of information on the Web and probably the first social news site. Identify it.
  5. BVP is a VC firm based in the US, one of its Partners was once asked by his friend to meet two entrepreneurs who had hired his, the friend’s, garage. The Partner’s response? “How can I get out of this house without going anywhere near your garage?” Which two entrepreneurs did he refuse to meet in this way?

Scroll down for the answers . . . 

  1. "Dunbar's number" Dunbar's number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. Beyond this, proponents believe, the relationships would generally require more restricted rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar's number, but a commonly cited number is 150.
  2. Chris Hughes co-founded Facebook. Chris Hughes is also a founder of Jumo, a startup that aims to use the social web to create relationships between individuals and organizations working to change the world. Prior to founding Jumo, Chris worked as an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) at General Catalyst Partners in 2009.
  3. Yahoo! Yahoo was founded in 1994 by Stanford Ph.D. students David Filo and Jerry Yang. The Web site started out as "Jerry and David's Guide to the World Wide Web" but eventually received a new moniker with the help of a dictionary. The name Yahoo! is an acronym for "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle," but Filo and Yang insist they selected the name because they liked the general definition of a yahoo: "rude, unsophisticated, uncouth." Yahoo! itself first resided on Yang's student workstation, "Akebono," while the software was lodged on Filo's computer, "Konishiki" - both named after legendary sumo wrestlers.
  4. Digg.com Digg is a user driven social content website. Everything on Digg is user-submitted. After you submit content, other people read your submission and “Digg” what they like best. If your story receives enough Diggs, it’s promoted to the front page for other visitors to see. Kevin Rose launched it in December of 2004. In February of 2005, Paris Hilton’s cell phone was hacked. Images and phone numbers from the phone were posted online and it didn’t take long for a user to post the link on Digg. There was no looking back after that. ;-) It ultimately lost out to Reddit which itself has had some bad press in June and July this year. Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, Zynga are some of the Kevin’s Angel Investments.
  5. Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google fame.

Vocabulary - Gallicisms

Gallicism is the term that refers to a French idiom or expression used in another language. As all of you know there are a lot of words in English that are of French origin. This post is on a few of these Gallicisms. I have also put in the pronunciation for these words, let me know if that helps or you guys think it is not required.

au fait (o FAY)
Being well-informed or skillful in something. An expert.
Literally "to the fact".

hors d'oeuvre (ohr DERV)
An appetizer or an extra little dish outside of and smaller than the main course. It is usually served before or as the first course of a meal.
hors (outside of) + oeuvre (job or work).

carte blanche (kart blansh)
Unrestricted authority.
carte blanche (blank card or blank document).

qui vive (kee VEEV)
Alert, lookout. (It is usually used in the form "on the qui vive").
Literally "(Long) live who?"
It was used by soldiers at the entrance to forts etc. to challenge someone approaching the gate. A proper response might be "Vive le roi!" (Long Live the King) or "La France!"

mot juste (moh zhyst)
The exact, appropriate word.
mot (word) + juste (right).

Vocabulary - Commonly Confused Words

Vocabulary is not just about learning ‘big’ words. It is also about knowing the difference between words that are similar in spelling or pronunciation or are similar in any other way. Let’s look at some commonly confused words. These would be  useful especially while dealing with the questions on  FIB

The ability, right, or permission to approach, enter, speak with, or use; admittance
The fact of exceeding something else in amount or degree.
Going beyond what is regarded as customary or proper. 
The act of coming into the possession of a right, title, office, etc.: accession to the throne.
An increase by something added: an accession of territory. 

A person who produces works in any of the arts that are primarily subject to aesthetic criteria.
Artiste (ahr-teest)
An artist, esp. an actor, singer, dancer, or other public performer.
A person skilled in an applied art; a craftsperson. E.g. a carpenter. 

A passing or casual reference; an incidental mention of something, either directly or by implication
Something that deceives by producing a false or misleading impression of reality.

To act on; produce a change in. 
Something that is produced by an agency or cause; result; consequence
To produce as an effect; bring about; accomplish; make happen: 

An elevated place like a platform, at which religious rites are performed.
To make different in some way. 

Create sentences using these words. 

Vocabulary - Bad Words

In the Vocab workshop last week I was talking about the root word "cac" which means bad. As usual I set about troubling people by asking for words that originate from "cac" and one of the words that was suggested was cactus. This is not the first time that cactus has been suggested in response to the this root word. Cactus, however, does not originate from 'cac'. It actually originates from the Greek Kaktos which means cardoon (a kind of an artichoke, cultivated for its edible leafstalks and roots)

But then I thought this is a perfect root word to look at. So here are a few "Bad words" ... I am sure you will enjoy them .... :-)

Erroneous doctrine; heresy; heterodoxy.
Etymology: cac(o) + doxa = bad + opinion

Bad handwriting; poor penmanship.
Incorrect spelling.
Etymology: cac(o) + graphos = bad + (something) drawn or written, one who draws or writes

An irresistible urge; mania.
Etymology: cac(o) + ethos = bad + character
In other words: of bad character

Defectively produced speech; socially unacceptable diction.
Etymology: cac(o) + -logy = bad + word, speech

A name, esp. a taxonomic name, that is considered linguistically undesirable.
Etymology: cac(o) + -onym = bad + name

Create a list of 8-10 words with 'cac' as the root word.

Reading Comprehension - Governance & Development

No. of words: 819
Reading time:
Time to beat: 2.50
2.30 minutes – Very Good
2.30-3.30 minutes – Good
3.30-4.30 minutes – Fair
Difficulty Level (5 point scale)

This post has been taken from a speech on Governance Institutions and Development by Avinash Dixit of Princeton University.  It is a looooong speech and therefore I am posting only a small section of the same. I am sure a lot of you would definitely want to read the entire speech ;) ;)

Governance Institutions and Development

Economic governance comprises many organizations and actions essential for good functioning of markets, most notably protection of property rights, enforcement of contracts, and provision of physical and informational infrastructure. In most modern economies, governments provide these services more or less efficiently, and modern economics used to take them for granted. But the difficulties encountered by market-oriented reforms in less-developed countries and former socialist countries have led economists to take a fresh look at the problems and institutions of governance. In this lecture I offer a brief and selective look at this research, and attempt to draw a couple of conclusions that may be relevant to India today. 

The importance of secure property rights can hardly be overstated. Without them, people will not create or improve the assets, physical and intellectual, that are essential for economic progress. De Soto (2000) builds the argument and marshals the evidence in a thorough and compelling book. Security of rights improves the incentives to save and invest. Land and capital can be rented out to others if they can use it more efficiently, so inefficient internal uses are avoided. And the assets can be used as collateral to borrow and expand one’s business. Field (2006) has taken the case even further. Security of property rights not only increases the supply of capital and efficiency in its allocation; it also increases labor supply. When titles to land and capital are official and secure, people need not spend time and effort to guard their rights, so they can put the labor and time to productive uses. Field’s empirical research on the titling program in Peru finds large and significant effects: “For the average squatter household, property titles are associated with a 14% increase in household work hours, a 28% decrease in the probability of working inside the home, and a 7.5% reduction in the probability of child labor among single-parent households. Panel estimates … support the cross-section results: between 1997 and 2000 household labor supply increased an additional 13 hours per week for squatters in neighborhoods reached by the program. 

In the Indian context, security of land titles may be the most important issue of property rights. The controversy regarding land sales in the context of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) is a case in point. The merits of the SEZ policy can and should be debated, but if the debaters raise fears of revocation of rights and benefits that have been granted through a proper policy process, this uncertainty will deter investors and merely ensure that the potential benefits will not materialize. At a more micro level, insecurity of land rights and fragmentation of land arising from disputes in extended families constitute serious constraints on agricultural growth. 

The relevance of security of contracts may not seem so obvious, but it is equally important. In most economic transactions that can create economic gains for all parties, some or all of them can gain an extra private benefit while hurting the others, by violating the terms of their explicit or implicit agreement. The fear of such exploitation by the other party may deter each from entering into the agreement in the first place. This was brilliantly illustrated by Diego Gambetta in his ethnographic sociological study of the Sicilian Mafia (1993, p. 15). In the course of his interviews, a cattle breeder told him: “When the butcher comes to buy an animal, he knows that I want to cheat him [by supplying a low-quality animal]. But I know that he wants to cheat me [by reneging on payment]. Thus we need … Peppe [the Mafioso] to make us agree. And we both pay Peppe a commission.” By providing a mechanism of contract enforcement, Peppe makes it possible for the two to enter into a mutually beneficial transaction. And he does this with a profit motive, exactly as would any businessperson providing any service for which others are willing to pay. 

This example also demonstrates something else that is an important theme for me: governance does not have to be provided by the government as a part of its public services; private parties may do so with other motives. In most countries, even advanced ones, we find a mixture of the formal legal system and a rich and complex array of informal social institutions of governance. These mixtures reflect the country’s level of economic development, and in turn help determine its economic prospects. 

The issue is not the old-style one of “market versus government.” Rather, it is one of how different kinds of institutions (governmental and non-governmental, formal and informal, industry-based or community based, singly or in combination) provide the support that is required for successful economic activity (exchange, production, asset accumulation, innovation, and so on), and the activity may or may not take place in conventional markets. I cannot emphasize too strongly the need to get beyond the old sterile debates and on to issues that really matter. 

  1. Write the summary of the article. 
  2. What is the meaning of the three sentences that have been italicized and given in bold?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Reading Comprehension - Cloud Seeding

This post has been taken from Freakonomics. This is a popular blog which looks at economics from a totally different angle. I would definitely recommend that you guys read it. This particular article is on the environment and the possible consequences of cloud seeding. Interesting. This was also tried in India many years back in Chennai. Was a damp squib then. The idea is floating around once again this year :-(

No. of words: 539
Reading time:
Less than 2 minutes – Very Good
2-3 minutes – Good
3-4 minutes – Fair
Difficulty Level (5 point scale)

With Geoengineering Outlawed, Will Only Outlaws Have Geoengineering?

For the second time this month, the Chinese government has reportedly induced a snowstorm in Beijing by seeding clouds with silver iodide. This form of geoengineering has been around for quite a while. The second storm in Beijing was the heaviest snowfall the city had seen in 54 years. The government’s apparent motivation for forcing precipitation was to relieve a long-standing drought. Beyond creating the various kinds of havoc that such big storms create, there are unintended consequences as well: for instance, the chloride used to rid the streets of snow after the storm is thought to lead to environmental and perhaps even structural damage.

What is the appropriate response to this news?

It probably depends on your view of the world — of politics, the environment, and human nature. Should one ignore the snowstorms and chalk them up to the Chinese simply being Chinese? Or should one think about these small-scale geoengineering exercises as a potential threat to the world’s geopolitical balance? It isn’t hard to imagine the trouble that might result if governmental snow- and rain-making became commonplace: one drought-ridden country declares war on its neighbor after the neighbor “steals” its rainfall.

There are some geoengineering schemes that scientists are considering to cool the earth if global warming becomes dangerous. One involves increasing the reflectivity of oceanic clouds; another suggests mimicking the effect of large volcanoes by spraying sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to diminish solar radiation. These ideas are extremely unpopular in environmentalist circles.

Many environmentalists who argue that intensive carbon mitigation is the sole route to address global warming seem to feel that too many of the world’s citizens (including some political leaders) have their heads stuck in the sand, denying the reality of global warming.

But the point is that those who argue for carbon mitigation as the sole route to address global warming may have their heads stuck in a different pile of sand, and these Chinese snowstorms show why. Here’s what we write in the book:

As of this writing, there is no regulatory framework to prohibit anyone — a government, a private institution, even an individual — from putting sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere. … But of course this depends on the individual. If it were Al Gore, he might snag a second Nobel Peace Prize. If it were Hugo Chávez, he’d probably get a prompt visit from some U.S. fighter jets.

So while environmentalists may find the very notion of geoengineering repugnant, the fact is that geoengineering is already with us, and will likely be put to use whether we like it or not.

This leads to the very important matter of governance. While some environmental activists might like to hope that geoengineering is just science fiction that neither will nor should ever come into play (much as one might have liked to hope the same of atomic weapons), the facts on the ground (and in the Chinese clouds) do not support this view. Government leaders are getting together in Copenhagen next month to discuss collective carbon mitigation. It is becoming increasingly clear that they should be discussing the rules going forward for collective geoengineering as well, whether it is small-scale schemes like the Beijing snowstorms or large-scale ideas that address global warming.

The original article can be found here

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Against the Order of Nature

First there was Sadanand Gowda the Union Law minister saying, “India could abolish Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises gay liaisons and the legalisation of same-sex marriages could be considered.” Then there was Sadanand Gowda saying that he had said no such thing and that he had been misquoted.

Then came my favourite gadfly Subramanian Swamy with his statement that Gowda was obviously misquoted because the party position is that “homosexuality is a genetic disorder”.

All this left me scratching my head in some degree of confusion, did the Union Law minister say it or not? The; did he, didn’t he; question was resolved easily. No, in spite of people spewing venom at him, he did not explicitly say that. What he said was “The mood appears to be in favour of it. But it can be done only after widespread consultations and taking all views into account,” which is quite different from saying the government is about to abolish Section 377.  

So, while I am no longer confused about Sadanand Gowda’s statement I am still confused about why Section 377 still exists.

IPC Section 377 states: "Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with 1[imprisonment for life], or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine".

All this is very nice and cute, but what on earth is this carnal act that is against the order of nature? How do you define ‘Order of Nature’? My understanding is that when you call an act ‘against the Order of Nature’ you are stating that nowhere in nature does this kind of act take place.  

If that is the thought then let’s take a look at the Birds and the Bees and everything in between because nature does seem to have some really interesting ways to have sex.

The male Argentine lake duck measures about 17 inches in all. Now that also happens to be the length of its penis. Yeah, quite the stud boy, the Lake Duck. Though, one must say, humans wanting to attain this kind of body proportion might be better off not managing said body proportion. So what does the dude do with his 17-inch dick? He uses it to brush away sperms deposited by a previous suitor. And, almost forgot mentioning this . . . The drake also uses it to “lasso" a female who tries to escape from it.

Want to try insects? Let’s take the busiest of the lot, the Honey Bee. We have proverbs about them, don’t we? Maybe it is time we have proverbs about the Queen’s sex life. Here is what happens. A select few drones are chosen go on a mating flight with the Virgin Queen. During the mating session, their genitals explode and snap off inside the queen. Ouch and more ouch.

Want to dive into the ocean and see how they lead their ‘natural life’? Cichlid fish eggs are fertilized by the male … Yeah, I know, all of us know that. We are very knowledgeable. But, hey they fertilise the egg while the eggs are being carried in the female's mouth. Aah!
Homosexuality is quite common among dolphins and killer whales. Who knew?

The Dwarf chimpanzee is one of humanity's closest relatives. I hope there is no controversy regarding that, is there? Guess what, the entire species is bisexual.

Homosexuality has also been observed in the poster boys of manhood – Lions. Male lions usually band together with their brothers to lead the pride. And how do the brothers strengthen their bonds? They strengthen the bonds by having sex with each other.

Now that we are done with looking at the Birds & Bees, let’s get back to defining ‘Against the Order of Nature’, shall we?

I am sure not too many men (and definitely not in India) have lassoed their women using their dick, since this does happen in nature, by not doing this are we going against nature?

How about the explosive sex life of the drone? NO one is particularly fond of exploding any part of his anatomy. Let alone --- you know what. So does that make men guilty of NOT following the order of nature?

There is bi-sexuality and homosexuality in the animal kingdom. The King of Jungle does it with pride. So, in reality, by NOT engaging in homosexual and bi-sexual activity are we guilty of going against the order of Nature?

I seek enlightenment because the entire IPC Section 377 is based on sexual activities that are ‘Against the Order of Nature’ and that Order of Nature itself is so very difficult to define. This just doesn’t make sense to me and seems grossly unfair.

And while my search for enlightenment continues how about just leaving the LGBT community to live and love as they like to? How does a person’s sexual orientation impact society so long as its expression is behind closed doors and is consensual? I certainly do not believe that society can be perverted because of homosexual or bi-sexual acts by consenting individuals. Let the LGBT community lead their lives in peace and with dignity and be treated as equals in society in all aspects of their lives. That is the least that an India of today can do.