I resolve …

I used to feel very proud that I never broke my new year resolution. Yeah! I know your reaction “He is kidding!” but the honest to god truth is I never broke a new year resolution because I NEVER MADE ONE. Yes ain’t that a cop out!!

I have been wondering how to make things better in my life and after much introspection have found out a few things about myself – I am lazy – not the virtuous lazy as enumerated by Larry Wall but the lazy we all dislike. To add insult to injury I am a serious procrastinator. I live by the adage – anything that can be done now will be done tomorrow and anything that needed to be done tomorrow – well I will come around to doing it … sometime.

I don’t have to look too far at to demonstrate my laziness. My blog is a very good example. I started a writing challenge for myself but after a point let that fall by the wayside. I simply stopped writing for long stretches of time. I could give myself a 100 nay a 1000 reasaons … but for one fact – busier and more successful people than I maintain a blog because they have made writing a habit.

Did you cringe when I said habit? I cringe, shudder and in the past have objected vociferously that habits chain free will, rein in choice because creatures of habit subjugate their will to their habits.

Unfortunately the opposite is true -if you want to excel at anything make that your habit. You wish to write, code, or paint then put in enough practice to master your fundamentals. Don’t you need to practice your scales to become a better musician, don’t you need to practice running to get faster or build endurance.

My goal this year is to bring about a fundamental change in my life. My plan to do so is simple – shed old bad habits and acquire new good ones. Will I be successful – I don’t know but this is the first step.


Janala – a new window

Knowledge of english has become a key differentiator enabling one person to score over another – especially in developing economies. In Bangladesh all schooling and knowledge is imparted in Bangla only and very few people know english well.

Research showed that while mobiles have penetrated to the farthest hinterland in Bangladesh, that has not been the case with internet technologies. Hence BBC World Service Trust has leveraged the ubiquity of mobile phones to disseminate lessons to teach English. They have launched a program called Janala (which means window).

This program has been immensely successful and has about 300,000 people signed up for english lessons. They have been successful because –
a) All mobile operators in Bangladesh offer access to this service
b) All mobile operators offer this service at a steep discount

This program is an amazing idea. It is the coming together of some distinct elements that garuntee success – viz. quality content, universal availability all at an unbelievably low price.

My takeaway from this  – whenever I  design a service, I will strive to provide access from a mobile phone either as voice or through SMS and provide access to a significantly larger population. What do you think? Please share your feedback.


Boyhood heroes

This sunday I was at the Eloor Library @ Chennai. As I was wandering through the rows of shelves I came across a book “Around the world in 80 Trades” by Conor Woodman and picked it up. It was one of my best random picks ever.

Was Conor Woodman a boyhood hero of mine? No. But he would have fit the bill – being a modern day Marco Polo.

My first boyhood hero who I desperately wanted to emulate was Amundsen. We had a english rapid reader lesson on how he dreamed of being the first man to go to the North Pole. When he was beaten to the North Pole he decided to go South instead. However this chapter was on how he trained himself as a boy to be tolerant to low temperatures – he kept his window open during winters when he slept. Try as I might – I could never simulate that wintery condition back home in Mumbai.

My next hero was Thor Heyerdahl – the author of The Kon Tiki Expedition and a few others after that. Thor is there high up in my list of mad cap adventurors. Unfortunately I have just read one of his journey’s and am dying to read about his other two expeditions. And in that light KonTiki is important. It was his first such expedition. He had a theory that the Polynesian/South Pacific Islands were populated by a race that was driven out of Peru by the Incas. Nobody bought this theory. However, it was his conviction that allowed him to sell this idea to 5 other swede/norwegian adventurors and the 6 of them braved the mighty Pacific Ocean in a 30′ X 30′ Balsa raft. While I don’t know how long this journey did take – reading his notes about this journey drove home one point – one cannot be a squemish eater if one has to undertake such journeys. I am vegetarian – well an experimentative one but still I am not sure I would have managed to survive 4 months or so in a all sea environment living on fish alone.

And to this list of people I am now adding Conor Woodman.

What is common to them? A conviction that they are onto something and the courage to see this task that is so much larger than them to its logical conclusion.

Do you have any childhood heroes? Do suggest a name and a memoir that I could read about their efforts and I will surely mention them in future posts.


Myth = Mithya

Dr Devdutt Pattanaik wrote a lovely book titled Myth=Mithya An anthology of Hindu mythology. It was a simple book that took the myth and peeled of layers below the story to share insight with the reader.

There were a couple of themes that ran through the book.

— Nature v/s culture
— Destiny v/s desire

The key forms of God – Brahma – the creator; Vishnu – the preserver; Shiva – the destroyer and the feminine form Shakti.

Shakti represents nature – raw, unbridled energy. The masculine forms represents external order imposed on nature – domesticating it.

In the beginning, Brahma emerged seated on a lotus from Vishnu’s navel and floated on the sea of consciousness. He opens his eyes – sees nature all around him, interacts with it and begins the creative process.
Thus we are the sum of our interactions with the world around us. We can either choose to effect some change in the world or react to the changes in the world around us. Thus either our desires effect change or we submit to what we could loosely call our destiny.

I also liked this book as it helped me understand my unhappiness with some aspects of my life. I was not fighting for what I desired and nor was I accepting what could be called my destiny and hence plagued by a simmering frustration with myself. Reading the book was partly therapeutic and brings me to a inflection point – what am I going to do?

I have not decided and hopefully when I do – I will blog about it.


A $60M gift or bonus?

In this current business environment where bonuses are a bad word – this is a wonderful story.

Leonard Abess, CEO of Miami based City National Bank sold a minority stake in his bank and shared 60M of the proceeds with employees from City National. In total this $60M was distributed among 399 current employees and 72 past employees. That is one hell of a gesture. I would have doffed my proverbial hat right here but then Leonard, in an interview on ABC News references this event and says “I prefer to live in a world where this is ordinary.” WOW!

I have been left speechless.

This is the link to an interview given by Leonard Abess to Knowledge@Wharton. Please read it if this article caught your fancy too.

I wish employers in India read about Leonard and evaluate how their attitudes towards existing employees.



Low tech Engg – III – the $6 solution to reducing green house gas emissions

The Kyoto box just won a prize worth $75000 for the most innovative solution to reduce green house gas emissions.

It is a solar powered cooker that can cook rice, boil water and so on and it costs only $6 or less to make.

It uses 2 cardboard boxes – one inside the other. The insides of the inner box are painted black to absorb solar radiation better. The space between the two boxes is filled with shredded paper / saw dust or similar insulating agent.
The lapels (for lack of a better word) of the outer box are covered with silver foil and the inner box is covered with a transperant acrylic lid which keeps the insides warm and manages to raise the temperature within this cooking box to upto 80 deg.

Thank you Jon Bohmer for this innovative device that is affordable and hence more likely to replace firewood for cooking.

In truly Rehmanesque fashion – Jai Ho!


The biggest show on Earth – Elections 2009

The national elections are on us. The schedule has been declared and the political parties have begun their jousting. This is a good time to get share statistics and other nuggets of information.

The process is simple – The Lok Sabha or the lower house of parliament has 543 seats. The President of India invites the leader of the party that has the single largest majority to form the government. If that party has a simple majority of 272 seats the process is simple – otherwise you see the unseemly sport of horse-trading where backroom deals are cut, money exchanged and ministerial portfolios traded to cobble together a alliance or a coalition.

But for the last two governments – coalitions have had a sordid parliamentary history. However the NDA & the UPA have changed that … and we are gearing up to expect one more coalition. Whic will be the party around which this coalition will be made? This will unfold as the elections progress. While we observe & study the process I shall try to put together facts that would usually not be found in one place. Keep watching this space.

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