22 December 2009

Get ready to face the revenge!

A very strange thing happened today. I haven’t seen such an aggressive cow in my life. Is the effect of climate change working on cows too? Don’t know. But this one really went over the top.
Someone from down below shouted, “Your scooter has fallen down. Just see if everything is alright.” I rushed down to see what the matter was. I had parked my scooter outside the house. I found my scooter lying on the ground, the rear wheel still spinning on its axis. This meant that the scooter had just fallen down. I looked up and down the street. Nothing. Not a soul; no one who could have overturned my vehicle wittingly or unwittingly. I was beginning to suspect that probably the scooter was parked on uneven ground and had toppled on its own.
Then I saw this cow. A pretty well fed cow it was. It had raised its forelegs over a motorcycle that was parked about 30 yards ahead of where I was standing. It my astonishment, it had raised its legs well over the parked motorcycle. And then it caught the motorcycle with its forelegs in a grasp that could well be the envy of a wrestler and pushed it down to earth. It was instantly clear to me who had overturned my scooter.
But why would a cow overturn two wheelers standing on the roadside? And how! Normally, one thinks of a bovine to be a creature that during afternoons staidly regurgitates its breakfast and fans away the flies with its tail; never the one to get excited. So what came over it? Why did it become aggressive? Was it out to take revenge against humanity because it was the cause of global warming? Was it out to protest the reporting in the press about cattle being a major cause for global warming? Or was it showing its anger at me and my neighbors for using up the sidewalk as a parking place?
I really don’t know. All I can say is that I haven’t seen a more aggressive and athletic cow in my life. Maybe global warming is changing things forever. Get ready to face the revenge of the animals.

29 November 2009

I went off the edge

I was living on the Internet,
On the very edge.
I tweeted at the stroke of the hour,
I Facebooked 30 minutes past the hour,
I Myspaced and linkedIn,
I did Orkut and I blogged.

Then one day I went off the edge.

All the neural networks collapsed,
Darkness all over,
It was as if a thick fog had settled down
On the Delhi airport on a wintry morning.
The info tunnel highway became a black anaconda.
But slowly I could make out some shapes in that darkness.
Some silhouettes started morphing into real people.
That is Mr Satish, the charming man who lives next door.
That is Mr Naresh who catches the 9 o’ clock train.
That is …
Oh my God !
That is my world!

04 November 2009

30 October 2009

A Single Time Zone for the entire World

I have often wondered why we can’t have a single time zone for the entire world. We can then all follow the same 24 hour clock. Think of all the benefits it would accrue.

No missed connecting flights. This sometimes happens, when, having landed in a new country, you forget to synchronise your watch to the new time zone. Another benefit would be that when you land in a foreign country, you are sure what the current local (?) time is. Therefore, you are less likely to miss that important business meeting. Think also how the artificial date line would go up in a wisp. No gaining or losing days as you take transpacific flights. Had this time zone rule been promulgated before his time, Jules Verne would have had to write the climax of ‘Around the world in eighty days’ differently.

The biggest advantage would however be the saving in software development and deployment. Time zone conversion software keeps piling up like some garbage in a landfill. Any software, that services or triggers anything that is cross border, and has something to do with real time or near real time, has always been a nightmare to maintain. What with daylight saving hours in some countries, the complexity just keeps growing exponentially. Multinational companies come to a grinding halt whenever a software that has anything to do with time stamp and time-zone gets messed up. Operations halt, business is lost and generally chaos reigns all over.

The argument against a single time zone is essentially the psychological impact leading to a physiological distress. We have grown with our times, metaphorically and physically. We have breakfast at a particular time, go to office at a particular time, whether in Bangalore or in Rio De Janeiro. But with a same time zone all across the world, some may have breakfast at 1200 hours while others may take breakfast at 2300 hours. I say, so what? Such psychological barriers can be overcome. Think of the people in the poles; often times, for them, there is no correlation with what they are doing and where the sun is in the sky. Think also of the blind. Time is just a number for the blind. I think the psychological barrier is not a big deal.

The real problem obviously is to make all countries agree on a common clock. It is not a trivial task. Look at where the universal language Esperanto is today. Even after one and a quarter century after its invention, no country has adopted it. Language obviously evokes more emotion than time zone, but to get all countries to a single time zone will take a while.

Even so, I think it is worth engaging in that direction. Perhaps, someday you would place a transatlantic call and not ask this question: What time is it over there?

23 October 2009

Categories in the Games

Disclaimer: The following is a work of fiction.

A high official in charge of making the Games happen had called a press conference. It was meant to be a PR exercise. It was to let the world know that the facilities and infrastructure were coming up according to plan. But, till now the press conference had been a disaster. In fact, the conference had taken off at a tangent. One of the media persons was veering the conference away to seemingly non issues. He had been asking some weird questions. Why are there only two categories of participants? Male and Female? What about the third sex? Isn’t this discrimination on the basis of sex? What happens to the lofty ideals of Olympics? After all, there are about five million of the third sex in India alone. Aren’t they human beings, he demanded.

This media person was threatening to hijack the carefully orchestrated press conference. Try as he may, our high official could not convince him that it was not in his hands to change the charter of the Games. Indeed, it was not even in the hands of our country. The mandate came from International Olympic Association. What was more irritating was the way this media person pronounced some words. His ‘w’ sounded like ‘g’, especially, if the ‘w’ came in the beginning of the word. For example, when he wanted to say ‘where’, he would pronounce it as ‘ghere’. And when he wanted to say ‘what’, he would say ‘ghat’. It was so jarring to hear! But, Mr Gill, our high official, could ill afford to antagonize the media. He kept on pleading that such change as the media person was wanting, was really not within his purview. Could they please get on with more important things on the agenda?

But as the conference wore on, our friend from the media was getting more and more strident and restive. He was now demanding that there should be separate categories in the competition for people with different sexual orientations. He wanted a fourth and a fifth category for the gay. The more our official tried to ignore him, the shriller his voice became. But our high official had had enough. Sexual orientation thing was the last straw. He shouted at the media person, “Sir, it is not possible to do what you are suggesting! Now, will you please shut up?”
This seemed to incense this media person. He flew from his seat and shouted, “There is will, there is way!”

At least, that is what he wanted to say. What came out of his mouth very closely sounded like:
“There is gill, there is gay!”

Even as our official went red all over his face, pandemonium broke out in the press room.

13 October 2009

Why do the traffic police lie in wait?

Why do the traffic police lie in wait? Why do they wait till you jump the light and then pounce on you?

I haven't understood the logic of this, ever. I am not an legal eagle, but I do know that it is job of the police to prevent crimes from happening. How is it that in the case of a traffic offense they wait for it to occur and then pounce on the perpetrator?

I mean, how come they lurk behind the lights at the intersections and catch the guys jumping the lights after the latter have committed the offense. Why don't they stand in front of the traffic lights and prevent the crime from happening in the first place? How is this offense different from any other offense?

Am I missing something?

06 October 2009

Counter Intuitiveness is in Fashion, at least in Memory Recall

When I first read about doodling doing wonders to your memory recall in the Time’s February 2009 issue, it struck a little odd to me. However, I let it pass. But when I read about good memory recall after nodding off in meetings in Harvard Business Review’s issue of October 2009, I could not help but wonder : Was there more to it than met the eye?
What Time was essentially saying in its Feb 2009 issue is that if you doodled and fidgeted while attending lectures or classes, you are more likely to recall what was being taught than a ‘non doodler’ . To prove the point, Time quoted a bizarre experiment. Jackie Andrade of University of Plymouth fashioned an experiment to prove this hypothesis. What beats me is how the idea ever occurred to her in the first place. It is not everyday that you wake up with the idea that doodling is good for memory recall and then go along and design an experiment to prove the point. Was it that anything you prove that is counter intuitive will get you noticed? Here is an excerpt from that article which described the experiment:


Afterward, the papers were removed and the 40 volunteers were asked to recall, orally, the place names and the names of the people coming to the party. The doodlers creamed the nondoodlers: those who doodled during the tape recalled 7.5 pieces of information (out of 16 total) on average, 29% more than the average of 5.8 recalled by the control group.


Looks like one can prove anything under the sun. One only needs 40 volunteers.

Now, for the article in Oct 2009 issue of Harvard Business Review. The article is titled: The Simplest Way to Reboot Your Brain. Let me quote from it:


On a day off, taking a nap is a small but heavenly pleasure. Dozing at your desk isn’t—especially if a colleague walks in on you—but sometimes exhaustion just takes over. The 2008 Sleep in America poll, conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, found that nearly one-third of adults who work at least 30 hours a week have fallen asleep or become extremely drowsy on the job—behavior that employers often frown upon. Should they lighten up? Perhaps. In a knowledge-based economy that depends on sharp minds, a few minutes of shut-eye could be good for business.


Here is another counter intuitive memory recall phenomena at work. You doze off, yet you are better off for memory. Again, an experiment is quoted to buttress the claim. It says that a report in June 2009 Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences showed that a nap with REM sleep improves people’s ability to integrate unassociated information for creative problem solving. Touche!

If we combine the gist of these two articles, the summary makes interesting reading. You must nod off during lectures. Between your slumber -when you are awake and yawning- be sure to doodle and fidget for memory’s sake. Your memory recall will be second to none.

09 September 2009

A short neurological test with a lateral thinking twist

I downloaded this test from a forward I received. May not be accurate but just for fun take the four tests if you have the time.

After you have taken the test contemplate on this:

Some of the test takers may not agree with the answer to the last question if this test is administered to a global audience. Why? No, I am not talking about lack of general knowledge. I am assuming that the instructions for taking the test will be given to the global participants in the language they understand and the test takers do know who the 44th President of US is.

(Hint1: Some people read from left to right others from right to left;some even from top to bottom.
Hint2: In view of Hint1, are we really looking for the 44th President?)

1- Find the C in this maze below. Please do not use any cursor help.


2- If you already found the C, now find the 6 below.


3 - Now find the N below. It's a little more difficult.



Oh. One more test....
Find the 44th USA President.

Well, congratulations, you're spot on!

03 September 2009

A pair of new eyes

By the time she reached the hospital, Ryan had breathed his last. But, she remained in control. Ryan would have wanted her this way, always in control. It was different when he was around. There wasn’t much to worry about. He did everything that there was to do. She just went out to practice law. The kids, the homestead and Ryan’s own office were in Ryan’s domain. He did everything.
Now on things would be different, very different. She had to take charge now. What would Ryan have done now? He would have been totally in control. He would have settled the disposal of organs. Oh! My God! I have to move fast else Ryan’s wish to donate his organs after death would never get fulfilled.
Vidisha made herself to calm down and mulled over with a detachment that wasn’t quite the role of a just widowed woman. She called up concerned people and told them that Ryan had wanted that his organs should be donated after death. Doctors and paramedics moved in fast to save the organs for some lucky recipients.
My God! They are going to take his eyes away! His eyes! Please God! Let his eyes be. I love them so much!
Now, often on a Sunday, Vidisha goes to visit this person eking out an ordinary city dweller’s life. And he looks at Vidisha with a smile. The smile reaches his eyes. And Vidisha smiles back. She wonders if there is a connect beyond the eyes to the ether world yonder, wherever Ryan is. But a glimpse of those lovely eyes is enough. God has let Ryan’s eyes be.

24 August 2009

And healthcare for all?

The Corporate world likes to use military phrases profusely, if callously. There is the Project Manager who will tell you how she is always in the firing line; there is the team lead who will tell you how he is always with the troops in the trenches; there is the manager who will tell you how he hit the ground running in his new job. But you will never hear the Indian Military Academy’s motto from any corporate honcho’s mouth:

"The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time."

The reason is simple. Substitute company for country in this motto and the honchos’ belief will manifest in a bizarre, juggled order:

“Your own ease, comfort and safety comes first, always and every time. The honour of your company comes next. The safety, honour and welfare of the employees you manage comes last, always and every time.”

Anthony L. Komaroff’s writes on Executive Physicals in the Sep09 issue of Harvard Business Review about how companies can save money in Executive Physicals and I quote:

It makes good sense for companies to protect their top talent. Sometimes those who run the show can’t find the time to mind their health. That’s where executive physicals come in. With an eye toward prevention, these one- or two day examinations attempt to accommodate busy schedules while supporting the long-term wellness and productivity of a firm’s key players.

‘Executive physicals’ is an example where honchos are put ahead of lesser mortals. It reminds me of a scene from the movie Titanic in which as the ship starts listing after colliding with an iceberg, the women and children are first put on lifeboats and so to safety. A man appears on the scene and demands that the first class ticket holders be first put on lifeboats since they have paid more. The implicit argument is that the first class passengers’ lives are more important because they have paid more.

We are talking about saving lives through healthcare not about esoteric perks of private jets or mansions on hilltops. Isn’t everyone equal where lives are concerned? And in any case what key players are we talking about? These precious people are keys to which gate? We have seen how in the current recession, the so-called key players opened the gates of greed, avarice and mendacity and left their companies tottering on bankruptcy.

There are more things to learn from the military than fancy phrases. The way the military looks after the health of all its men and women is one thing companies can do well to emulate.

06 August 2009

My e-Independence Day Celebrations

This year, on 15th August, it will be an e-Independence Day Celebrations for me.

Thankfully the clamour of the corporate world to reduce the number of holidays hasn’t affected this holiday. 15th August is going to be a real holiday for me since I have decided to go the e-celebrations way.

I will wake up late after the pre-independence day late night party and probably will not be able to catch the live coverage of flag hoisting from the Red Fort. Sipping my cup of coffee, I will catch up with the flag hoisting at the Red Fort by the Honourable Prime Minister on MDTV online. Given India’s improved stature in the league of nations, perhaps DBC will show the hoisting on their website as well. DBC’s showing will surely be a ringside view.

I will e-go ( e-go not as in Freud’s id, ego and super-ego, but e-go as in ‘virtual going’ ) to the local Independence Day Celebrations venue and watch the impressive march past of the military , police and the school children on the local channel. It doesn’t make sense to actually go to the venue with this horrendous traffic on the roads. What about swineflu? Better not go to a public place in these viral days. One never knows.

I will watch Abhishek Bachhan’s day out with the troops on the Siachen Glacier on MDTV in the afternoon. A similar programme should be there on DNN-IBN too and I should be able to switch channels to get the best of both virtual worlds.

Oh, I forgot. My own flag hoisting will be @ home as well. That day the tricolor (See Note 1 below) will be the wallpaper on my Laptop and my Iphone.

In the evening, I will hear patriotic songs on TV. There may even be a special Independence Day programme on Sa Re Ga Ma (See Note 2 below). On hearing these songs I am sure my eyes will well up. Where have all those martyrs gone, I shall probably muse. At dusk I will light a virtual candle on my PC. (Remember, my laptop is already preoccupied with the tricolour wallpaper)

Concurrently, throughout the day, I will send happy Independence day SMS and MMS to all my friends and relatives (especially, to my NRI relatives). That should really keep me occupied. Talk of a holiday!

Late into the night I will order pizza and watch a debate on TV on the real meaning of Independence Day. Probably, I will take part on the SMS poll conducted by one of the TV channels (at Rs 5/- per SMS).

‘The Question we are asking today is’, the anchor would ask:

‘Can we have virtual Independence?’

‘Yes, we can’, I would answer.

Note1: The Indian flag is called the Tricolour
Note2: Sa Re Ga Ma is a popular song competition hosted on one of the Indian TV channels

30 July 2009

Romancing the Letters 2

In my post about letters I was a little wistful. I exhorted people to send real letters across to friends. I now realize, I was far removed from reality.

To wish that folks would romance about letters is to be caught in a time warp. The days of real letters are over. Your eyes may cloud remembering all the letters that you had received, but you are not going to get letters anymore. I learnt from a teacher what we know about letters today.

There is a short story of RK Narayan titled ‘The Missing Mail’. The story is part of the curriculum in certain schools in India. The story revolves around a postcard that was wittingly not delivered to the recipient by the postman.

First a little bit of that story:

The story is set in the sixties or seventies in Malgudi, a fictitious small town of Southern India. A marriage has been arranged for a girl after a lot of trials and tribulations. The marriage must be solemnized before a certain date else the prospective groom will only be able to marry three years later. In comes a postcard for the would-be bride’s father with the tidings of a death in their family. This, before the marriage has been solemnized. One couldn’t go ahead with the marriage in those days if there was a death in the family. The postman knew that. He also knew the amount of trouble the family had gone through to get the marriage to happen. Any delay now and the marriage may well never take place. In his wisdom, he decided not to deliver the postcard. The marriage was solemnized with the father and others oblivious about the news of the death in the family.

Now about what I learnt from the teacher:

The teacher said that the students kept asking her as to how did the postman came to know what was written in the letter. She told them that the letter was written on a postcard.
“So?” they asked in a chorus. The children apparently hadn’t seen a postcard ever and had no conception of open letters. The teacher went to the post office bought a postcard and then showed it to the class.

Students hadn’t seen a postcard. I am betting that they hadn’t seen an inland letter either. Envelope was something that one received through FedEx or Blue Dart. And these carried official documents or bills. So what is the future of letters? Very bleak, I would say.

Letters are slowly withering on the vine. But let’s move on and not romance about letters.

20 July 2009

Who is entitled to road rage ?

I downloaded this image from a forward. The image went with the caption 'Speed Breaker'

These are the quintessential questions of our times:

Who is breaking whose speed?
Who is entitled to road rage here?

16 July 2009

Neo Protectionism: The World is not Flat

Sometime between the years 275 and 195 BC, Eratosthenes of Cyrene found out a reasonably accurate diameter of the earth. As a corollary, we can assume that human beings from that time knew that the earth is round.

Till Mr Thomas Friedman intervened and said, “No, the world is flat”.

Looks like we have come a full circle (or a full square, if you are in Mr Friedman’s camp). The denizens of the first world are now saying that the world is not flat; that some pockets are more equal than others.

When Mr Friedman said that the earth is flat he was talking about democratization of knowledge. He said that the world was moving towards an open source era. Through the optical fibers beneath the oceans knowledge was pouring into the third world. The first world was letting go of their knowledge not because of altruistic reasons but because it made economic sense. Outsource and get a cost advantage.

The pundits at Harvard Business Review are now saying that Americans had got it wrong. Outsourcing in the long run does not give cost advantage. For outsourcing not only ships out jobs it also ships out knowledge. And in the latter case, fear the pundits, it does not return either. The first world (read United States) is slowly becoming bereft of real knowledge. Look at the bizarre justification of the first world pundits for holding on to knowledge, for autocratization of knowledge. Gary P. Pisano and Willy C. Shih have a theory of ‘geographically rooted commons’. In their article titled ‘Restoring American Competitiveness’ in July 09 issue of Harvard Business Review, Mr Pisano and Mr Shih write and I quote:

The World Is Not Flat
Centuries ago, “the commons” referred to the land where animals belonging to people in the community would graze. As the name implies, the commons did not belong to any one farmer. All were better off for having access to it. Industries also have commons. A foundation for innovation and competitiveness, a commons can include R&D know-how, advanced process development and engineering skills, and manufacturing competencies related to a specific technology.
More often than not, a particular industrial commons will be geographically rooted.
What about the popular notion that distance and location no longer matter, or, as Thomas Friedman put it, “The world is flat”? While we agree with the general idea that geographic boundaries to trade are falling and that the global economy is more intertwined than ever, the evidence suggests that when it comes to knowledge, distance does matter. Detailed empirical work on knowledge flows among inventors by our HBS colleague Lee Fleming shows that proximity is crucial. An engineer in Silicon Valley, for instance, is more likely to exchange ideas with other engineers in Silicon Valley than with engineers in Boston. When you think about it, this is not surprising, given that much technical knowledge, even in hard sciences, is highly tacit and therefore far more effectively transmitted face-to-face. Other studies show that the main way knowledge spreads from company to company is when people switch jobs. And even in America’s relatively mobile society, it turns out that the vast majority of job hopping is local.

Can there be a more twisted argument than this? Research can prove anything, it seems. For example, take face-to-face knowledge transition itself. A recent research done on behalf of the Government of United States says that there is compelling evidence to prove that online learning is better than face-to-face learning. So, where does this theory of ‘geographically rooted commons’ go? Out of the window, I would say. The actual motivation of this article comes later when the authors talk about how the outsourcing did not stop at low end activity. Initially printed circuit boards were outsourced by the PC industry in the United States but gradually the Asian original design manufacturers ‘ended up designing and manufacturing virtually all Windows notebook PCs’. And that hurt!

Democratization of knowledge is hurting the United States. A shrill chorus is already building up there to ensure that the world isn’t flattened anymore.

13 July 2009

The Afghan Lady

Barbara Walters of Television's 20/20 did a story on gender roles in Kabul, Afghanistan , several years before the Afghan conflict. She noted that women customarily walked 5 paces behind their husbands.She recently returned to Kabul and observed that women still walk behind their husbands. From Ms Walter's vantage point, despite the overthrow of the oppressive Taliban regime, the women now seem to walk even further back behind their husbands and are happy to maintain the old custom.

Ms Walters approached one of the Afghani women and asked, "Why do you now seem happy with the old custom that you once tried so desperately to change?"

The woman looked Ms. Walters straight in the eyes, and without hesitation,Said, "---------"

The answer made Ms Walters wince and look like a real dummy.

Figure out what the Kabuliwali (See Note 1 below) said to the liberated Ms Walters. Figure out from the English transliteration of the song from the old Bollywood movie Kabuliwallah (See Note 2 below):

The song:

Aye mere pyare watan, aye mere bichhere chaman.

English transliteration:

O lovely land of mine, O lost garden of mine.


Note1: 'Kabuliwallah' in North India, would mean a man from Kabul. As a corollary, Kabuliwali would mean a woman from Kabul.

Note2: Kabuliwallah, the movie, is based on Nobel Laureate R Tagore's story by the same name.

08 July 2009

Who will inherit your blog?

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”, said Franklin. The exception list keeps growing. We had Mitchell adding childbirth to the list in Gone with the Wind. And I, humbly want to add blogs (or tweets, if you will), to this list.

We know that there will be no death to taxes but what will happen to blogs after death? Have you ever wondered? I was searching for counter arguments against Health Industry Standard “HL 7” and I got it in a blog; specifically, in Barry Smith’s blog. This got me thinking. How much of knowledge and information is locked up in blogs? Do we know? Does anyone know?

Who gets the key to a blog when a person is no more?

We know your rich aunt’s property, copyright, toothbrush and soap can be her bequest to you. But is there a legal framework for bequeathing blogs? For example, I am sure Michael Jackson must have had a blog going. What happens to it now? There must be huge amount of public interest and other information locked up in his blog. What happens to it now? Will it be gone from the face of the earth or will it be claimed by Project Gutenberg and added to its voluminous data?
Enterprises are doing eDiscovery to leverage out information from loose files and emails. I am not sure people will give a handle to their blogs. Forrester in its Jan2009 issue says that electronically stored information, or ESI, will be relevant to eDiscovery and I quote:

Although a wide variety of electronically stored information (ESI) can be relevant to eDiscovery under the revised US FRCP, most litigation to date has focused on email, loose files, and employee desktops. In 2009, other content types will become increasingly important for eDiscovery.

Yet, will libraries and individuals be able to unlock blogs and have a look see after a blogger’s demise? Who will inherit a blogger’s legacy?

Who knows, many years later, it may well be possible for a blogger to log in from up there and continue blogging. But till then will a blogger please write her will?

30 June 2009

Killing me softly: soft skills, anyone?

In the June09 issue of Harvard Business Review, Mr Robert I. Sutton writes about How to Be a Good Boss in a Bad Economy. His remedies for the Boss were predictability, understanding, control and compassion. He gives examples to further his argument about his remedies. While his explanation followed his remedy - it was predictable – his example on compassion had me bristled.

First, a little digression on compassion. These days we are bandying around compassion as a skill. As if it were something that one learns at the blacksmith’s or at the carpenter’s. It is our very innate nature, for God’s sake. It has nothing to do with managers or employees or with royalty; it is mine because of being a human being. It is our seventh sense. Don’t ever call it a soft skill. Compassion is not a good thing to have. It is the right thing to have.

Now, for that example on compassion. Let me quote Mr Sutton:


Jerald Greenberg, a management professor at The Ohio State University, provides compelling evidence that compassion affects the bottom line in tough times. Greenberg studied three nearly identical manufacturing plants in the Midwest that were all part of the same company; two of them (which management chose at random) instituted a temporary 10-week pay cut of 15% after the firm had lost a major contract. At one of the two, the executive who conveyed the news did so curtly, announcing, “I’ll answer one or two questions, but then I have to catch a plane for another meeting.” At the other one, the executive who broke the news gave a detailed and compassionate explanation, along with apologies and multiple expressions of remorse. He also spent a full hour answering questions about why the cost cutting was necessary, who would be affected, and what steps workers could take to help themselves and the plant. Greenberg found fascinating effects on employee theft rates. At the plant where the curt explanation was given, the rate rose to more than 9%. But at the plant where management’s explanation was detailed and compassionate, it rose only to 6%. (At the third plant, where no pay cuts were made, the rate held steady at about 4% during the 10-week period.)


It is unfortunate that he gives thieving of employees as an example to buttress his idea about compassion for employees. It would appear that researchers such as Mr Greenberg - as quoted by Mr Sutton - think that employees by nature are prone to thieving. Why else would one do such a gratuitous research?
I would imagine that Mr Greenberg's research hypothesis read:
This research establishes a correlation between increase of theft by employees and the abruptness of language used by CEOs conveying salary reduction news.
And from this research Mr Sutton got compelling evidence that compassion begets less thieving!
I think this is absolutely unfair to employees.

29 June 2009

Romancing the Letters

Some of you may remember a scene from the Bollywood movie ‘Border’. A satchel-full of letters arrives at a remote border outpost and all hell breaks loose. There is a mad scramble for the letters. What joy on the faces of those who receive a letter! It’s like getting a little bit of one’s home there in the frontline. You can also see the despair on the faces of those who did not receive a letter. Letters, not long ago, use to change our worlds.
But things have changed a bit since emails, Facebook and Orkut.
Letters may have been romantic but Facebook is faster and tighter. You know who is doing what and how in real time. It takes 7 seconds instead of 7 days for a ‘Kodak Moment’ to reach you.
Still, I long for letters. Not so long ago, we got real birthday cards through real post. What joy to know that your long lost friend remembers your birthday! She could send you a virtual card as well. But will never be the same. It appears all so plastic when you receive a virtual card.
In the yesteryears a whole network spawned with penpals, a hobby grew with stamp taken off from the letters received from penpals. We called it philately then. It is still called philately but the romance has gone. Mails were central to some of our lives’ idioms. We would cross our fingers when a red mail van went past and would uncross them whenever a black car followed. We felt the pain of someone who never got a letter. There was a corner in each literature where love abounded in letters; where hidden flowers lay withered in such letters. We have heard the ballads of the Runners who ran with our mail through rough country, day in and day out, never pausing to catch a breath.
These days, my eyes cloud whenever I hear the song, ‘Please, Mr Postman’. It was a song which pleaded with the postman to get a letter; sooner the better. I do know that those heady days of hundreds of letters on New Years have gone forever. We only get bills and bank statements in our letter boxes these days.
We had a limerick that told us what would happen if we sighted the bird Mynah in ones, twos, threes or fours. It went like this:
One for sorrow, two for joy
Three for letter, four for toy.
Probably due to eco degradation, it has been a while since I saw three Mynahs together. Is it a wonder that I haven’t received a real letter in a while!
Let us start the magic of real letters all over again. Write a real letter to your best friend. See the joy on her face.

22 June 2009

Lateral sinking (thinking?), starboard first

I downloaded this video clip from a forward that I got a few days ago. It is absolutely hilarious, a great ad to coax you to improve your English.
(Please switch on your speakers)

Yet,to me there is something odd about this video...

The ad is asking the helper to change. Wouldn’t it be easier for the person who is asking for help to change, specially, when his life depends on the change?
Wouldn’t it be easier for the English speaking Captain of the ship to shout into his microphone, ‘Mayday, we are sinking’ in German (Mayday, wir sinken) than to get the German Coast Guard learn the nuances of spoken English? It is safe to assume, in these GPS times, that the English speaking Captain knew that his ship was near the German coast.
That way the German Coast Guard would definitely know what the English Captain was thinking.

19 June 2009


Some words have been abused so much in the Corporate World that they have become a joke. They just don’t mean anything anymore. Again, there is corporatese (here I go again, trying to mimic a pattern to invent a word; if there can be legalese why can’t there be coporatese?) where words are masqueraded as metaphors and idioms of life by tweaking (tweaking is another ugh!) their usage. But with overuse these notional words have degenerated to jargon. Here is a list compiled by David Silverman of Harvard Business Review. He gives the primordial meanings of these words. My own favorite, which did not make to David’s list, is ‘proactive’. I have added proactive in the end

Solution v. = put something in salty water
Skill set n. = tools for carving wood
Workshop v. = the using of skill sets in a room where you keep power tools
Build n. = a presentation’s physique, i.e. “Look at the build on that PowerPoint slide”
Deck n. = The thing that keeps you from falling into the boat
Opportunity n. = blind luck
Thought leader n. = the thing that comes before a thought, i.e. a blank expression
Best of breed n. = A very fast horse
Action item n. = An item with a racing stripe
Out of the box adj. = Referring to a place on the counter where you put things after you take them out of the box
Off the grid n. = Incautious crayon use
Lessons learned n. = Lessons where the student was awake as opposed to unconscious
On the other hand conj. = Where there are warts
Going forward v. = To drive a car. “I will be going forward to home this afternoon.”
Bandwidth n. = A stage or other performance area.
Silo n. = A place for grain.
Functional Silo n. = A working place for grain.
Win-win n. = Sign on an extra-large slot machine
Branding n. = Letters on cows
Dialogue v. = Shakespeare rotating underground
Look v. = to look at something and wonder what is there, but there isn’t anything at all
Resources n. = bits of metal in rocks
Roundtable v. = Serve food on a disc
Offline n. = Another crayon error
Impacted v. = Hit very, very hard.
Let me be clear, conj = An attempt to confuse
Diversity n. = Two versities (or one large versity cut in half)
Low-hanging fruit n. = Fruit about to go rotten
Mashup n. = A way to serve potatoes
Meme n. = A catchphrase of Ms. Piggy. (technically, “memememememe”)
Current status n. = Availability of electricity
Stakeholder n. = A hand that shakes in relation to who’s holder the hammer.
Utilize v. = no one knows
Up shot n. = Whiskey, completed
Preapproval n. = A time machine that can go back before logic existed.
State of Preparedness n. = Kentucky
Lifecycle n. = A bicycle that saves your life, i.e. by running into a building on fire
Proactive adj. = of a tendency where activeness is professional

09 June 2009

Why I chose to be a teacher

Today, (9June2009) there was a news item that said that 'police and teachers are back in demand'. Pretty amusing, if a cynical caption. Are we coming a full circle then? To the days when both the good - like the Pandavas - and the not so good - like the Kauravas - revered their guru equally? I think not. I think, this is a case of supply and demand. Someone out there is cutting his losses.

But even in the heydays of software and finance, there were still those who would not change their teacher's way of life for anything in the world. Here is an essay from one such teacher. It was written about six years ago. This got an award in a essay competition organised by Scholastic India. It was titled 'Why I chose to be a teacher'.

It was an age of doctors, engineers, civil servants and architects. Software engineers had not been invented – and there was no space for teachers: neither in environment nor in the advertisement columns. School teachers were convenient appendages in the system. They just happened. Teachers, especially school teachers, were taken for granted. Schools needed them. Indeed, society needed them. But why one would become a teacher was nobody’s case. One aspired to be a doctor, civil servant even a movie star but never a teacher. A teacher was never a celebrity, never a pin up material – barring our quintessential teacher, Dr S Radhakrishnan. Most times teachers were not in the news, not even for the wrong reasons; like striking work before examinations, like taking tuition on the sly. Why then did I choose to be a teacher? Let me explain.

I never aspired to be one who would leave her footprints on the sands of time. But I did want to stand tall. I did want to go that extra mile. When I passed my X class, some choices had to be made. I chose the humanities stream. This choice closed three options. I could never become a doctor, engineer or an architect. I still had the option to become a civil servant and I set my sights on becoming an IAS officer.

When I finished graduation, however, I walked up to a school and asked the Principal if there was any opening in the school for a teacher. What was my motivation? I really don’t know. Perhaps, I had walked in just to test the waters. Or, perhaps, encouragement from my family had egged me on. My family held the teaching profession in high esteem. The family thought teaching to be the most respectable profession for a young girl.

I got the job. Even for a moment I did not doubt that this was only a stop gap arrangement. I was convinced that teaching was really not my forte. Even as I taught, I got myself enrolled for post graduate studies to keep the windows of my dreams open.

But something inexplicable was happening to me. As I taught, I got inexorably drawn towards the students. It was incredible how students reposed implicit faith in the teacher. It was impossible not to respond. But, instinctively, I fought back. This was not what I wanted to do? Teaching nursery rhymes to kindergarten children? No way!

In the meanwhile, I graduated from teaching kindergarten children to teaching primary school children. I also finished my post graduation

An idea was germinating in my mind. Would this acorn become an oak? One had to wait and see. This small idea persuaded me to enrol myself for a B Ed course.
I was doing a little bit of country trotting after my marriage owing to my husband’s transferable job. In a different town in a different environment we were watching the ‘Aarti’(See Note1 below) at the Durga Mandap (See Note2 below). Presently, a young boy came up to me and touched my feet. He asked me if I remembered him. He was my student from Kanpur. I was too stunned to reply and vaguely nodded. In this age of ‘hi and bye’ this was a novel yet sobering experience. At that instant something clicked inside me and I crossed my Rubicon. At that moment I said to myself, ‘This is it! I am going to be a teacher and a good one at that! It had taken me some years to cross the threshold, but as things became clearer, I reflected that it was amazing how I had been unconsciously resisting a thing which I enjoyed most. Where can one get such untainted love and affection? Where can one be on the learning curve throughout ones life?

As I took off my blinkers, I realised that this is what I always wanted to be. This is where I belonged. No pushing files and papers for me. Thirty young minds with three hundred ideas; every class was a revelation. No two lectures had similar response. Thirty different answers to one question! My mind and heart grew younger with each passing day. Where was this generation gap that we all talk about? If there was indeed one, I had bridged the gap. Or at least I had become the bridge itself. I felt humbled when parents came up to me to discuss their wards; sometimes with diffidence, sometimes with exasperation. Some parents even wanted me to initiate reconciliation with their wards. They wanted me to be the bridge between them and their children. When I say ‘me’ I humbly believe that I am speaking for the majority of teachers around the globe. Indeed, teachers are expected to bring around recalcitrant teenagers, catch up with a precocious ten year old and even mother a six year old boarder. It is an onerous responsibility and I relish it. The curiosity of the students sends me scampering to the library and the Net and yet I enjoy the learning process like never before. With tingling anticipation I often wait to be stumped by a brilliant question. It is a timeless, open ended challenge and I have been overtaken more than once by it. But it is pure joy to be overwhelmed by a youngster’s incisive question. God bless her for that open mind: my choice has led me to touch tomorrow. Yes, teachers are children of a better God.

There is no disquiet in me now. There is only a firm belief that teaching is the best thing that has happened to me. I would wish the same for me again in another life. No more, no less.

Yet, often I hear this refrain in polite conversations and in smoky-cabin talk, “Who wants to become a teacher, anyway?” To that I am reminded of a nice English song which had these lines tucked away somewhere:
‘… and nice guys get washed away like the snow and the rain.’ To that I say: nice guys don’t get washed away. They become teachers. But yes, nice guys are in short supply.

-Mita Roy

Note1: 'Aarti' is performed in front of Hindu gods and goddesses to pay obeisance. Incense sticks are normally used to perform 'Aarti'.

Note2: 'Durga Mandap' is a community prayer area or hall, often constructed temporarily during a specific time in the year, for offering prayers to goddess Durga, the goddess of Shakti, or power.

01 June 2009

A case for dropping silent letters from the English Language

We know about silent letters in the English language. Silent letters have been there in certain words for centuries and if we do not act quickly will continue to remain likewise. Why are they there? I do think that the silent letters are there because no one bothered to take them off!

What use are they to us? I dare say nothing! On the contrary, they are such impediments to learning for kids! For example,it does take a humongous effort on the part of a teacher to make a first grader understand why ‘honest’ is not spelt as ‘onest’. Not the kids alone, even adults get foxed by letters lurking in shadows of the spellings. Take the example of ‘pteridophyte’. As it is, this one is such a terrifying word to spell. On top of it, we are told that the ‘p’ is silent here! You don’t like this, do you? So let’s get to the bottom of this!
From where have these silent words cropped up in the first place? Wiki says silent letters arise in several ways and I quote:

-Pronunciation changes occurring without a spelling change. The spelling was in Old English pronounced /x/ in such words as light.
-Sound distinctions from foreign languages may be lost, as with the distinction between smooth rho (ρ) and roughly aspirated rho (ῥ) in Ancient Greek, represented by (r) and (rh) in Latin, but merged to the same [r] in English. Similarly with (f) / (ph), the latter from Greek phi.
-Clusters of consonants may be simplified, producing silent letters e.g. silent in asthma, silent (t) in Christmas. Similarly with alien clusters such as Greek initial in psychology and (mn)in mnemonic.
-Occasionally, spurious letters are consciously inserted in spelling. The 'b' in debt and doubt was inserted to reflect Latin cognates like debit and dubitable.

Barring the fourth point, all the above reasons appear to be a burden of legacy.
But, is ‘because they are there’ – a la George Mallory’s famous quote – a good enough reason for the silent letters to stay? How does the language benefit if we spell pneumonia as pneumonia and not as neumonia? (or as a still friendlier, numonia?) Some would argue about purity and etymology. But what good is purity if learning is so traumatic to the children? For argument sake if we were to side with the etymologist theory, an example from in American English should settle matters. We know that in American English most words with a combination of ‘ou’ have been simplified to ‘o’; for example ‘colour’ has been replaced by ‘color’, ‘harbour’ has been replaced by ‘harbor’ etc. The new list of spelling agree with the pronunciation and keeps everyone happy, especially the kids; this, in spite of color’s ‘etymology’. Let us read color’s etymology from Merriam-Webster:

Etymology: Middle English colour , from Anglo-French, from Latin color; akin to Latin celare to conceal

If colour can be happily spelt as color, inspite of its etymology, why can’t mnemonics be spelt as nemonics with as much alacrity? Adam Robinson, in his book, Word Smart says that ‘Graders are taught to remember the spelling of arithmetic by using the following mnemonics: A Rat In The House Might Eat Tom’s Ice Cream’ (author’s italics) What an irony! The spelling of mnemonic would need a special type of mnemonic to get the spelling across to the kids!

Another issue is of Proper nouns with silent letters. Take the case of Ptolemy. We know he was a great Roman mathematician living in ancient Egypt. But does his greatness diminish if we spell his name in the same manner as we pronounce it? Tolemy, for example? I believe, Proper nouns should be spelt the way they are pronounced. In India, Rishikesh is a religious place of the Hindus. And Hrishikesh was an iconic director in Bollywood. Hrishikesh, is pronounced as Rishikesh but is spelt as Hrishikesh. This is in keeping with the word’s Sanskrit origins. But the spelling of Rishikesh does just fine for the holy place and in no way detracts the religiosity of the place. So why not spell director Hrishikesh’s name as Rishikesh?
I think, as a first step we need to drop silent letters from Proper Nouns. That will be a first good step. Later, as the acceptability grows, we can move to other words where there are hidden no-sounds. We would really do our kids a big favour (or favor, if you will?)

I would let the homophones alone, however. It is easier to learn ‘be’ and ‘bee’ as separate words with different spellings than to learn them as separate words with same spellings. (Homophones are two or more words pronounced alike but are different in meaning or spelling, for example, ‘to’, ‘too’ and ‘two’). It may be a good play of words, for example, as in can can , but will be confusing to the kids.

Let’s not be silent anymore on silent letters.

26 May 2009

Does Kumble have Twenty/20 vision?

Does Kumble have Twenty/20 vision?

Looks like he doesn't.

When asked in the IPL-2 post match interview, why his eyes were red, he attributed it to his contacts(contacts, as in contact lenses) and the cold wind blowing.

His remarks does show that he really doesn't have visual acuity of 20/20. As you probably know, 6/6 vision was earlier known as 20/20 vision; now represented in meters earlier in feet.

What Twenty/20 vision were you thinking of?

13 April 2009

Queue Rage

Akin to what we see on the roads today, is another type of rage. Let us call it 'Q Rage'.

I have to admit that I succumb to this rage very often. Whether I am at the BSNL counter trying to pay my telephone dues or at the movie theatre trying to get the first show tickets or at the temple trying to get His blessings, I often feel the rush of blood to my head.

There is this guy, who with utter disregard for the patiently waiting citizenry, shoves his hand inside the ticket counter from the side and gets the tickets he wants. I guess this is perfectly fine with him because of his unstated premise: my time is more precious than thine.

This rage manifests itself when one challenges this premise. Isn't time the most democratic possession of all? If time and tide waits for no man, it follows that time and tide (read high tide) is everyones, and in equal measure.

Already, we have seen a death in a London shopping mall owing to do this Q rage, albeit in a different manner; a lady thought she was being wrongly accused of jumping the queue and went into a fit. She called her boyfriend who came in quickly and punched an innocent bystander to a sudden death. This bystander had not been anywhere in the argument and fell victim to this Q rage.

If you think about it, road rage is actually a variant of Q rage. Often times a person wants to jump a lane and speed off. Here too the same premise applies; my time is more precious than yours. If you dont make way, I will have you make way.

Maybe, Q rage is a good thing after all. Let no one autocratise time!

04 April 2009

Is Left right or is Right right?

Is Left right or is Right right?
Or indeed, is Centre right?

Will polity's gravity be
Centre, left or right?

At the hustings tomorrow
People will exercise that right

If Right is fundamentally right
And Left isn't accidentally left

Never write off Right
Nor think Left is bereft

26 March 2009

Can Can 2

The saga of Mr Obama's can continues. More worms keep tumbling out.

Addressing a congregation of persons who get outsourced business from US of A, he said, "The more you can, the less we can."
Then, beaming with pride he said, "If you can, so we can" and continued with some mischief in his voice, "Sow, you can, reap, we can."
Contemplating the market conditions, someone in the audience murmured, "Hope, we can. Hope, we can".
Obama's sharp ears picked that up and he said magnanimously, "Hope, you can. That you can".

25 March 2009

Can Can

Mr Obama opened up a can of worms.
He said, "yes, we can."
Now, the Tatas, during their Nano launch, said, "now, you can."
With the bailout package not making a dent, I can anticipate, "soon, we can".
If this grimm fairy tale continues we may soon hear, "When, we can, then, we can"

(The second 'm' in 'grim' above, has been auto added by google text editor)

19 March 2009

A lesson in Self Respect

On the day of Holi, I got a lesson in Self Respect.
Here in South India, Holi is not celebrated with the same gusto and vivacity as in North India. But there are revellers that you would find in the streets once in a while. As some of you must have endured, a whole lot of mischief passes off as revelry during Holi.
An old wrinkled hawker was resting under the shade in the street outside my house. His load of bananas was lying by his side as he was catching forty winks. My mother was at the gate watching the world go by in the street in front. A few good men came along the street swaggering and awash in their Holi 'spirit'. In an action that defined their spirit of Holi, they snatched at a bunch of bannanas lying at the old man's head. They made away with a few. My mother who was watching the scene with some trepidation let out a cry.
Before the old man could react, the revelers had disappeared. One could excuse the reactions of the old man, debilitated as he was from the heat and the load that he had been carrying on his head. Hearing my mother's cry I came down running. She let out the whole story between excited gasps. I felt pity on the old man and fetched out fifteen Rupees and offered the old man.
The old man looked straight in my eyes and said, "Fifteen Rupees? That would be three quarters a kilo." Pointing at the load in the wicker basket, he continued, "From which bunch would you like your bananas?"
It would be a while before I caught up this old man's self respect.

17 March 2009

Angel Resource Management in Heaven

I was musing on how God must be managing His HR or whatever it is called up there; probably called AR (Angel Resource) Management.

Must be truly a challenging task.

Say, He needs to motivate people(people?) for retention in heaven. He doesnt seem to have any tools for that. How would you motivate angels who already have whatever there is to have? I mean aren't they in a blissful state of 'No-wants'?

And again, suppose He is looking to hire new talent. How would He advertise? I mean, He cant very well say:
To go to heaven, do good and die fast.

Still again, suppose He wants to cut down on the attrition rate. Trust me, there will always be angels who would want out; too much of a good thing, they would say. I am sure He will be loathe to say, "Stick on in Heaven and I will give you what they give in Hell".

02 March 2009

Rain Dance

For centuries now I am the rain man.
I did my prayers, propitiated the gods
And did the rain dance.
Called in the clouds,
Over parched lands and thirsty sands.
But now they say I have lost my competency based identity
They have another trick now
The clouds go to the seed.
And then it rains and it pours.
In fact it brews a raging storm.
I need unlearning, they say.
They are telling me not to fear this storm.
But to learn to dance in the rain.
And to unlearn my prayers and my rain dance.

23 January 2009

Change has come

The day you had a new chief
Change came over you
Hope jumped out of the horizon,
Unmindful of cold, you huddled together with others
Straining your ears to hear
'Yes, we can!'
You were not disappointed.
The chief said, 'Yes, we will!'
You knew that it was the beginning of the end
Of the nightmare!
'Hold on', he said and you held on steadfast.
A new belief was born.
Change came over me too.
Here in a distant land.
I lost my job
My nightmare had just begun.

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