Monday, July 28, 2014

Story of the Day

A giant ship engine failed. The ship’s owners tried one expert after another, but none of them could figure but how to fix the engine.
Then they brought in an old man who had been fixing ships since he was a young [boy]. He carried a large bag of tools with him, and when he arrived, he immediately went to work. He inspected the engine very carefully, top to bottom.
Two of the ship’s owners were there, watching this man, hoping he would know what to do. After looking things over, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer. He gently tapped something. Instantly, the engine lurched into life. He carefully put his hammer away. The engine was fixed!
A week later, the owners received a bill from the old man for ten thousand dollars.
“What?!” the owners exclaimed. “He hardly did anything!” So they wrote the old man a note saying, “Please send us an itemized bill.”
The man sent a bill that read:
Tapping with a hammer………………….. $ 2.00
Knowing where to tap…………………….. $ 9,998.00
*Effort is important, but knowing where to make an effort makes all the difference!*

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sheepification of Pakistan

When we were small, there was a month and it used to be called Ramzan. It was Ramzan on television, it was Ramzan in the newspaper with the sehr-o-iftar timings and while nobody had a cell phone or Facebook to wish anyone, it would have been Ramzan Mubarik nonetheless. Sometimes if one was being quite linguistically adventurous it would be Ramazan, but nobody seemed to mind.
And then, insidiously, The Arabs crept up on us. It wasn’t like the return of Muhammad Bin Qasim, but somehow Ramzan became Ramadan. Nobody knew exactly how it happened, but almost overnight our crisp z’uad sound became a lisping Arab burr, and we—a nation of language speakers with no apparent consonant pronunciation difficulties—were flung into the downward spiral of an affectation obsession. Now it was cool to sound Arab, and soon enough it began to be increasingly desirable to look it. Cue Al Huda, cue our streets being lined with gangly palm trees that do nothing, either in terms of beauty or shade, cue the availability of the most bling Islamic cover-up gear you’ll see this side of Dubai.
Still, as a nation we were still fairly open-minded about this, so we fasted year after year and didn’t really pay attention to the semantics of it. We were busy trying to live our lives and be regular Pakistanis, but The Arabs kept making inroads onto our cultural minds. One year ‘khuda-hafiz’, that old and comfortable way of saying goodbye and Godspeed, became ‘Allah hafiz’ with the dubious reason of having to specify which deity to whose protection one was recommending you. Because here in multi-religious, multi-cultural and secular Pakistan there was actual leeway where one would wonder who exactly Khuda is, and perhaps not want to be entrusted to a pagan god. Some people resisted, and continue to resist Allah hafiz and keep saying khuda-hafiz with the logic and hope that whatever His name, He will still protect and love them. Also if it was good enough for one’s grandfather and great-grandfather, it was just fine for them too.
Allah-hafiz then progressed, as the average virus does, and soon many misguided drivers were seen on roads with license plates that read ‘Al Bakistan’. The only language problem we used to face as Urdu speaking people was the difficulties of saying ray and rray properly, and the difference between a gol qaaf and danday wala kaaf. Suddenly our proud and inherent ability to say ‘pay’ was expected to evaporate, and the land of the Pak became the land of the Bak. Allah (or Khuda) alone knows what Bak means. Maybe a variant of buk-buk, or maybe the sound a sheep makes as it blindly follows its herd on the way to the qasai. By this time evidently the people who sport these number plates have been so thoroughly infected by The Saudi Virus they didn’t even notice the Bakistan, probably because their keffiyeh got into their eyes while they were busy searching for cans of imported Bebsi and singing a camel herding song.
The last straw—a camel-less one still, thankfully—was this year’s Ramzan, bringing with it suhoor. As a friend quipped, who is this suhoor and where did she come from? Suhoor is trying to boot our beloved sehri out the window to join the words and lifestyles that have already been inched out, and really enough is enough. This is Pakistan, formerly of the Indian Subcontinent. This is still the place where people knew Farsi and had read the Baburnama in the original. This the land of kings and warriors, a civilization as old as the Indus. Where does Saudi Arabia, that land of the crazed Bedouins so uncivilized and jangli that they needed the best of our Prophets to come save them, get off on telling us how to be Muslims? Saudi Arabia, the place where the royal family is as debauched and louche as they come, the country that treats you like a criminal when you’re a pilgrim, the place where random strangers scream and slap your hands down for wanting to say a Fatiha at your beloved Prophet’s grave. This is the country that is razing the landmarks of Muslim history and building toilets in their stead. How dare they come and tell us how to worship? It is the greatest pity of our time that the people to whom we entrust our government are the biggest panderers to the Saudi agenda, so we have little control over the palm trees and whatever authority it is that lets Al-Bakistan license plates even exist. But we can, as a people, take our culture back.
Historically we have enjoyed a cultured, ethnically and religiously diverse past. We speak a whole spectrum of beautiful languages, but Arabic is not one of them. Like many other Muslim countries, that doesn’t make us any less Muslim, and the beauty of religion is that there is no one way to practice it as long as one’s intention is good and knowledge of the basic ways and means is intact. Least important is the semantics of it all—waking up to have sehri or sehr or sargi (in Punjabi) is all the same; the long and short of it is that you are awake and eating because you’re fasting, and will be for the next twelve to twenty hours. Calling it suhoor won’t earn you any brownie points with God, but it will make you sound pretentious. Lacking a centrally defining Pakistani culture doesn’t mean that we have to go looking to others for one. The Quran and Sunnat (see, a T, not an H) exist to guide us, and Allah is there to be prayed to for all other concerns and queries. The rest is dross; no need to be sheep.

 The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Technology and English Language

I love english in its ability to adapt. Looking at some fun additions in the last 20 years and see how much of the new additions to the OED to be driven by technology:

Attention Deficit Disorder
Civil Union
Friend with benefits
Helicopter parents
Nascar dad
Person of interest
Snail mail
Soccer Mom
Swift boated
Text (verb form)
Viral Video

Monday, August 19, 2013

Decoding India's Telangana conundrum By Mayurika Chakravorty

This week, India's ruling United Progressive Alliance coalition decided to create Telangana - a new state that will be formed out of the existing state of Andhra Pradesh. National and social media have been abuzz with the issue, keeping the country "informed" of parliamentary developments through minute-by-minute live feeds. 

The media frenzy reached a crescendo with the announcement by the central government (led by the Congress party) had endorsed the formation of the state. But why such commotion? The last time new states (three) were carved out of larger states in 2000, there was not such a hue and cry. 

To many the issue is really about Hyderabad - the city that since the information technology boom of the 1990s has been a thriving economic center. It recent years it has also been the haven of a real estate mafia who rode on the wings of that boom and an unholy nexus between caste and regional politics. 

Also palpable in the tirade of the people unhappy with the formation of Telangana is a sense of injustice as they claim that the success of Hyderabad was somehow the joint work of the people from both Telangana and coastal Andhra regions, and hence both should have a piece of the cake (or jewel!). Such views can only be understood as a rather short-sighted and historically challenged perspective on the issue. 

A shared 'jewel'?

First, not many people outside the region know that Hyderabad's success is not a modern phenomenon - it did not start with the 1990s IT boom. 

Ruled by the Qutubshahis and then the Nizam, it was one of the most developed cities in medieval times, with enviable urban infrastructure unparalleled anywhere else in the country. It retained its autonomy throughout British rule (the history of the complex negotiations between the Nizam, his knighted deputee Sir Salar Jung and the Imperial crown is in itself an engaging topic), and after independence the Telangana region with Hyderabad as its capital remained one of the richest revenue-generating zones in southern India. 

Following independence, the Indian government annexed the Telangana region, then known as Hyderabad state, and the first democratic elections were held in 1952 with Burugula Ramakrishna Rao (Congress Party) becoming its first elected chief minister. 

It needs to be noted that the coastal Andhra and Rayalseema regions were not a part of this state and were in fact a part of the newly formed Andhra state carved out of the Madras Presidency. Andhra state was formed in 1953 with Kurnool as its capital. So when, why, and how did these two separate regions - Andhra and Telangana (or Hyderabad state) come together? The answers to these questions are the key to understanding the formation (or rather re-formation) of Telangana state today. 

An unholy matrimony

Telangana (Hyderabad state) and Andhra states were merged on November 1, 1956, with this merger termed by prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru as a "matrimonial alliance having provisions for divorce" - and there have been petitions for divorce right from the day the alliance was formed, culminating in yesterday's declaration of a "separation". 

The State Reorganization Report of 1955, on the basis of which this merger was effected, stated the following:

The existing Andhra State has faced a financial problem of some magnitude ever since it was created and in comparison with Telangana the existing Andhra State has a low per capita revenue. Telangana, on the other hand, is much less likely to be faced with financial embarrassment.

The report also strongly notes the dissent of the people of Telangana region and their unwillingness to form the larger Andhra Pradesh (it is called Vishalandhra in the report). It states "Telangana claims to be progressive and from an administrative point of view, unification, it is contended, is not likely to confer any benefits on this area." 

It further voices the anxieties of the Telangana people:

One of the principal causes of opposition of Vishalandhra also seems to be the apprehension felt by the educationally backward people of Telangana that they may be swamped and exploited by the more advanced people of the coastal areas. In the Telangana districts outside the city of Hyderabad, education is woefully backward. The result is that a lower qualification than in Andhra is accepted for public services. The real fear of the people of Telangana is that if they join Andhra they will be unequally placed in relation to the people of Andhra and in this partnership the major partner will derive all the advantages immediately, while Telangana itself may be converted into a colony by the enterprising coastal Andhra. (para 377)

While the report points out the "obvious advantages" - mainly economic concerns as well as control of the river basins - of the merger, it stops short of actually recommending it and instead says:

After taking all these factors into consideration we have come to the conclusions that it will be in the interests of Andhra as well as Telangana, if for the present, the Telangana area is to constitute into a separate State, which may be known as the Hyderabad State with provision for its unification with Andhra after the general elections likely to be held in or about 1961 if by a two-thirds majority the legislature of the residency Hyderabad State expresses itself in favor of such unification. (para 386)

It ends with a hope that the people of Telangana may be eventually persuaded to agree on the merger, while also recognizing the need to respect their wishes if they do not:

Andhra and Telangana have common interests and we hope these interests will tend to bring the people closer to each other. If, however, our hopes for the development of the environment and conditions congenial to the unification of the two areas do not materialize and if public sentiment in Telangana crystallizes itself against the unification of the two states, Telangana will have to continue as a separate unit. (para 388)
However, eventually, the central government, with its visions of large-scale industrialization in the region including the unified Krishna and Godavery river projects - as well the cost-effectiveness of a shared administration - took the decision in favor of the merger. 

To allay the anxieties of the people of Telangana, it was decided that there would be certain provisions or "safeguards" for the people of Telangana and a gentleman's agreement was drafted to this effect. Among other things, it assured reservation for the local people (of Telangana) in government jobs as well as certain domicile conditions besides safeguarding the interests of Muslims and Urdu in public sphere. 

However, there were strong suspicions about these so-called safeguards even then and the Congress PCC Chief J V Narasing Rao stated that "constitutionally speaking, these safeguards had no meaning". 

Significantly the chief minister of Hyderabad state, Burugula Ramakrishna Rao, too was against the merger of Hyderabad state and the Andhra state. He wrote in a letter to the president of the Indian National Congress: "If Telangana is compulsorily merged with Andhra there will be considerable bitterness in Telangana with no adequate advantage on the other side." 

He also expressed apprehension about the relative lack of modern education in Telangana:

Educationally Telangana is very backward as compared to Andhra. They are particularly backward in the study of English for which there are either no facilities or very poor facilities. They are, therefore, afraid that in the matter of service in a bigger province, they will be at a terrific disadvantage. While there are thousands of graduates and MA's in Andhra, there are not even a few hundreds in Hyderabad. No guarantees can level up this great deficiency. Services, therefore, are afraid of an adverse effect of the merger.

Pertinently, Rao also pointed out that in spite of the common Telugu language (thus challenging the linguistic justification of reorganization of states) there were irreconcilable cultural and social differences between the people of the two regions:

Telanganites feel that apart from being Telugus they have built up their own way of life during the last 175 years. This way of life is in many respects different from the way of life of the Telugus in Andhra. The merger, they fear, will destroy this way of life. That is why they are worried.
Besides Telugu, Urdu too was an integral part of the social, cultural and political sphere in the Telangana region and he points out that:

Quite a large number of Telanganites are Urdu-knowing and Urdu-speaking people. For more than a hundred years Urdu has had its place in the life of the people. The administration is carried on in Urdu, records are maintained in Urdu, courts conduct their proceedings in Urdu, lawyers and other professionals carry on their work in Urdu. They are, naturally afraid that the merger would take away the importance of Urdu in their life. They do not like this prospect.

It is indeed significant because the influence of Urdu in the language of the Telanagana region is so prominent that in the thriving film industry in present day Hyderabad dominated by coastal Andhra tycoons, the Urdu-laden Telugu is often ridiculed on screen in the dialogue of comedians. 

Instead of the harmony hoped for by the State Reorganization Committee Report, Rao's letter reveals a dissonance that has unfortunately survived until today. He wrote:

Although the language is common, there are instances that there is no love lost between the Telugus in both the states. The classical example of this mutual dislike can be found in the attitude of Andhra officers during the Razakar agitation and immediately after the accession of Hyderabad [the annexation of Hyderabad state, code named Operation Polo]. While, they say, the Marathi, Kannads and other officers were comparatively kind to the people of Hyderabad, Andhra officers were particularly harsh and unrelenting. There are bad memories left. These memories are so fresh in the minds of the Telanganites that they do not want to be at the mercy of their brethren in Andhra.

Chief minister Burugula Ramakrishna Rao, in spite of opposing the merger, however conceded to the decision taken by the Congress High Command and did not oppose the merger of Andhra and Telangana. Is it not a classic happenstance that the same Andhra and Telangana are being separated now through another difficult decision of the Congress High Command in spite of the misgivings of present Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy? 

Thus, as predicted by several leaders of the time, the alliance of Andhra and Telangana remained a union marked by distrust and aggression and as the coastal Andhra influx over the years inundated and overpowered the social, cultural and political fabric of Telangana, there were periodic pro-Telangana agitation in favor of separating. 

The most damaging in terms of casualties was perhaps the 1969 movement, when more than 300 people died for the Telangana cause; and the most recent one, which most of us know of, was in 2009, spearheaded by the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). Although it was TRS that was at the forefront of the latest movement, it is noteworthy that the final decision to de-merge Andhra and Telangana was taken by the Congress Party, which in the first place, several decades ago, had played the matchmaker to this unholy matrimony. 

What now?
While the separation of Andhra and Telangana may make more sense in the light of the history of the region, it is questionable if historical retribution was the sole impetus behind the demerger initiated by Congress. 

People have pointed out political exigencies with the elections coming up and the Congress Party not otherwise faring too well in the southern state. This might provide a boost to the prospects of the ailing party at least in the Telangana region. 

Congress leaders from the other regions (coastal Andhra and Rayalseema), many of them with real estate and other lucrative business interests in Hyderabad, have strongly lobbied against a separate Telangana. They will no doubt continue to lobby for keeping the state united or at least keep the shared status of Hyderabad for longer (now it is proposed to be a shared capital for the next 10 years). 

It is also significant in this context that while the educated, rich and upper-caste voices from Seema Andhra regions have expressed their dissent against the separation of Telanagana, there are supporters of Telangana in the region from among the Dalits and other marginal communities, one example being the scholar activist Kati Padma Rao from Guntur (coastal Andhra). 

The Telanganaites, meanwhile, will strive to point out the centrality of the historical, cultural and geopolitical significance of Hyderabad city to their movement. For the ordinary people of Hyderabad city though - including the multitudes of young professionals from other states in India - life will go on as usual, probably even with the hope of better prospects if the absurdly inflated real-estate prices crash in the near future, as predicted by the pundits.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

When I was a tadpole and you were a fish

When I was a tadpole and you were a fish 
In the Paleozoic time,
And side by side on the ebbing tide,
We sprawled through the ooze and slime,
Or skittered with many a caudal flip,
Through the depths of the Cambrian fen,
My heart was rife with the joy of life,
For I loved you even then.
Mindless we lived and mindless we loved,
And mindless at last we died,
And deep in a rift of the caradoc drift,
We slumbered side by side,
The world turned on in the lathe of time,
The hot lands heaved amain,
Till we caught our breath from the womb of death,
And crept into light again.
We were amphibians, scaled and tailed,
And drab as a dead man's hand,
We coiled at ease 'neath the dripping trees,
Or trailed through the mud and sand,
Croaking and blind with our three clawed feet,
Writing a language dumb,
With never a spark in the empty dark ,
To hint at a life to come.
Yet happy we lived and happy we loved,
And happy we died once more,
Our forms were rolled in the clinging mould,
Of a Neocomian shore,
The aeons came and the aeons fled,
And the sleep that wrapped us fast,
Was riven away with a newer day,
And the night of death was past.
When light and swift through the jungle trees,
We swung on our airy flights,
Or breathed in the balms of the fronded palms,
In the hush of the moonless nights,
And Oh! what beautiful years were these,
When our hearts clung each to each,
When life was filled, and our senses thrilled,
In the first faint dawn of speech.
Thus life by life and love by love,
We passed through the cycles strange,
And breath by breath and death by death,
We followed the chain of change,
Till there came a time in the law of life,
When over the nursing sod,
The shadows broke and the soul awoke,
In a strange dim dream of God.
God wrought our souls from the Tremadoc beds,
And furnished them wings to fly,
He sowed our spawn in the world's dim dawn,
And I know that it shall not die,
Though cities have sprung above the graves,
Where the crook-boned men made war,
And the ox-wain creaks o'er the buried caves,
Where the mummied mammoths are.
Then as we linger at luncheon here,
O'er many a dainty dish,
Let us drink anew to the time when I,
Was a tadpole and you were a fish. 
Langdon Smith, 1895

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Monday, April 15, 2013

Quite a Commencement Speech

 If you find yourself in such a place, I would ask you to consider a rule I learned as a physician: First, do no harm.

Besides, life is not that short. Life is well and long enough for you to come to regret any activity or habit
involving an exchange of long-term risk for short-term benefit. This is what many if not most Americans
did during the refinancing and consumption boom of the last decade, and it was what our government did
in egging on the boom. This is also the gospel of drunk drivers and cheating spouses.

Of course, when you encounter the opposite—the short-term risk exchanged for long-term benefit—
consider hitting that button again and again and again.

Past may be prologue, but this is not true for the individual. The individual can think different

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Latticework of Mental Models

Psychology (misjudgments)
Biases emanating from the Availability Heuristic:
1. Ease of Recall
2. Retrievability
Biases emanating from the Representativeness Heuristic
3. Bias from insensitivity to base rates
4. Bias from insensitivity to sample size
5. Misconceptions of chance
6. Regression to the mean
7. Bias from conjunction fallacy
Biases emanating from the Confirmation Heuristic
8. Confirmation bias
9. Bias from anchoring
10. Conjunctive and disjunctive-events bias
11. Bias from over-confidence
12. Hindsight Bias
13. Bias from incentives and reinforcement
14. Bias from self-interest — self deception and denial to reduce pain or increase pleasure; regret avoidance.
15. Bias from association
16. Bias from liking/loving
17. Bias from disliking/hating
18. Commitment and Consistency Bias
19. Bias from excessive fairness
20. Bias from envy and jealousy
21. Reciprocation bias
22. Over-influence from authority
23. Tendency to super-react to deprival; strong reacting when something we have or almost have is (or threatens to be) taken away. Loss aversion?
24. Bias from contrast
25. Bias from stress-influence (introduction | posts)
26. Bias from emotional arousal
27. Bias from physical or psychological pain
28. Bias from mis-reading people; character
29. Attribution Error; underestimating situation factors (including roles) when explaining reasons; one to one versus one to many relationships
30. Bias from the status quo
31. Do something tendency
32. Do nothing tendency
33. Over-influence from precision/models
34. Simplicity Bias
35. Uncertainty avoidance
36. Ideological bias
37. Not invented here bias — thinking that our own ideas are the best ones
38. Bias from over-weighting the short-term
39. Tendency to avoid extremes
40. Tendency to solve problems using only the field we know best / favored ideas. (Man with a hammer.)
41. Bias from social proof
42. Over-influence from framing effects
43. Lollapalooza
Other Mental Models:
- Asymmetric Information
Occam’s Razor
Deduction and Induction
Basic Decision Making Process
Scientific Method
- Process versus Outcome
- And then what?
- The Agency Problem
- 7 Deadly Sins
- Network Effect
Gresham’s Law 
The Red Queen Effect
- Ability to raise prices
- Scale
- Distribution
- Cost
- Brand
- Improving returns
- Porters 5 forces
- Decision trees
- Diminishing Returns
- Mr. Market
- Margin of Safety
- Circle of competence
- Complex adaptive systems
- Systems Thinking
- Utility
- Diminishing Utility
Supply and Demand
- Opportunity Cost
- Marginal Cost
Comparative Advantage
- Trade-offs
- Price Discrimination
- Positive and Negative Externalities
- Sunk Costs
- Moral Hazard
Game Theory
Prisoners’ Dilemma
Tragedy of the Commons 
- Bottlenecks
- Time value of Money
Feedback loops
- Tight coupling
- Breakpoints
Bayes Theorem
- Power Law
- Law of large numbers
- Compounding
- Permutations
- Combinations
- Variability
- Trend
- Inversion
- Outliers and self fulfilling prophecy
- Correlation versus Causation
- Mean, Median, Mode
- Distribution
- Thermodynamics
- Kinetics
- Autocatalytic reactions
- Newton’s Laws
- Momentum
- Quantum Mechanics
Critical Mass
- Evolution

Saturday, April 06, 2013

What I tell my Daughter when she cries

Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave (wave) is stringing us along
Just know you're not alone
Cause I'm gonna make this place your home

Settle down, it'll all be clear
Don't pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you're not alone
Cause I'm gonna make this place your home

Friday, April 05, 2013

DFW on Certainty

Part of our emergency is that it's so tempting to do this sort of thing now, to retreat to narrow arrogance, pre-formed positions, rigid filters, the “moral clarity” of the immature.

The alternative is dealing with massive, high-entropy amounts of info and ambiguity and conflict and flux; it’s continually discovering new areas of personal ignorance and delusion. In sum, to really try to be informed and literate today is to feel stupid nearly all the time and to need help.

That's about as clearly as I can put it ... That last one's of especial value, I think. As exquisite verbal art, yes, but also as a model for what free, informed adulthood might look like in the context of Total Noise: not just the intelligence to discern one's own error or stupidity, but the humility to address it, absorb it, and move on and out therefrom, bravely, toward the next revealed error.

This is probably the sincerest, most biased account of “best” your decider can give: these pieces are models — not templates, but models — of ways I wish I could think and live in what seems to me this world.
— David Foster Wallace