Sunday, March 23, 2008

Cricket on Outer Ring Road

The Outer Ring Road in Bangalore is probably not as well known for cricket as the Eden Gardens, Lords or the Sydney Cricket Ground, but last Sunday I was watching a game of cricket on a Sunday morning in one of the few patches of land left on the Outer Ring Road in Bangalore.

The kids are surrounded by multi story buildings under construction, land-moving equipment and granite slabs, but nothing beats the joy of playing cricket in the morning.

The lay of the land: the pitch looks bouncy and it might aid bowlers in the morning.

The batsman watches the ball go over the slip cordon

Once in a while the ball gets lost amidst the concrete slabs behind the wickets and the wicketkeeper has to point the location out to the fielder at first slip. An intensive search proceeds.

Retrieval efforts fail and the wicket keeper himself proceeds to find the ball.

When a new batsman comes, the bails are set properly and the game proceeds.

I expect the next time I'm back here, the construction equipment would have taken over the pitch and the kids would be looking for a new patch of land to resume their Sunday games.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Very short stories

I'll be brief: short stories in 6 words or less.

Some of them:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn
- Ernest Hemingway

- Harry Harrison

Tick tock tick tock tick tick.
- Neal Stephenson

Monday, March 17, 2008

Hans Rosling's Data

Data need not be dry as dust.
Hans Rosling's amazing presentation at TED will change your mind regarding how data can be presented and about the growth of the world economy.

If you thought this was amazing, see the followup (all the way till the ending).
The seemingly impossible is possible !

Friday, March 14, 2008

Rural Wireless

I've just spent a week in Bangalore talking and hearing about connectivity for emerging countries. Living in the United States, one takes many things for granted - water, power, transportation and most importantly connectivity which has become an essential utility. Most emerging countries lack the capability or the will to deliver water, power and transportation to their citizens. However, a large number of organizations are coming up with innovative low-cost solutions to provide connectivity in the hope that this digital inclusion will mitigate the effects of lacking the other three utilities.

There have been a number of stories in the local press about Tata Communications launching the world's largest WiMAX network (another company in the group recently launched the world's cheapest car). Inspite of the hype, the state of connectivity is abysmal - there are only 2.9 million broadband connections: a penetration rate of almost 0.25 %

However, hidden behind all this brouhaha, there have been a number of organizations working on developing low-cost long-range wireless connectivity for rural communities. One of the most interesting ones is Airjaldi, headquartered at Dharmashala in Himachal Pradesh, India which has a portfolio of wireless products and solutions to enable digital inclusion. They use or develop low-cost hardware, tweak open source software and have created a wireless networking solution that has been deployed in a number of places.

As has been proven again and again, most spectacularly in the dot-com crash of 2001, technology without a business model is ineffective. Wireless Networking in the Developing World is a free book about designing, implementing, and maintaining low-cost wireless networks. It discusses the basics of the technologies, the economics of the business models and has some excellent case studies.

The challenge with many low-cost technologies is their ability to scale up for larger deployments: the organizations developing these solutions either do not have the capabilities of scaling or do not have an effective go-to-market model. When they do, like Linux did, they become a disruptive force and unleash great changes.

More in the next post on some of the organizations operating in rural areas that have the business models but not the connectivity.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Cosmic Stuff

NASA has released some interesting material on the composition of the Universe - as it is today and as it was 13.7 billion years ago, 1 second after the Big Bang.

Dark Matter, which forms 23% of the Universe, is different from atoms and does not emit or absorb light. It has only been detected indirectly by its gravity.

The bulk of the universe, 72%, is composed of "Dark Energy", that acts as a sort of an anti-gravity. This energy, distinct from dark matter, is responsible for the present-day acceleration of the universal expansion.

Atoms, the building blocks we are made of, comprise of just 4.6% of the Universe.

It's amazing that atoms are so scarce in the Universe and even more amazing how irreverently we treat our Earth and fellow-beings.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Book Review: Are You Ready to Succeed ?

Dr.Srikumar Rao's book Are You Ready To Succeed ? is one of the most unusual books I have read in 2007. I read it on a flight from Bangalore to San Francisco and as soon as I finished the reading it, I went back and started reading it again.

The book is sub-titled "An unconventional guide to personal transformation in work & in life" and it is written in a very direct engaging manner as though Dr.Rao is directly talking to you. This writing style probably emerges from the fact that the book arose from a very successful course conducted by Dr.Rao at Columbia Business School.

As the author states repeatedly in the book, to derive the most benefit out of the book, you have to be committed to doing the exercises in the book. These exercises force you to take a very candid look at your mental models - the lens by which you perceive the universe and your relationship to it. Blaise Pascal wrote, "All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone. " The exercises in this book require you to sit in a quiet room, examine yourself, and then understand what drives your behavior and then recognize these mental models at play as you go about your work.

The breakthrough revelation from the first few chapters is that "It's not REAL !"
No - it's not escapist philosophy but elaboration on the fact that we see the universe through a set of mental models and when we change the mental model, the universe changes. Thus there are multiple sets of "realities" and we can see what we choose to. If we deny this, then that too is a mental model.

The book then goes on to describe how mental models come into place even when we recognize that these are undesirable models which do not benefit us. These arise from our thoughts or "mental chatter" that we are hardly aware of - the characterizations we make about ourselves and others, how lucky somebody else is, how unfortunate I am, what is the secret of success of xyz and so on.

As we realize, it is impossible to shut down this mental chatter and the way to control it is to become aware of the Witness (a Westernized and simplified version of the Atman: the ever pure, immortal, and blissful - which is distinct from, yet immanent in the world of change and process). By being aware of the mental chatter we can decouple it from our mental models. This is similar to what Eckart Tolle describes in his opening chapter of the Power of Now: the feeling that he "could not live with himself" led to the realization that "I" and "myself" were different entities.

Although the Bhagavad Gita is not mentioned in the book, the next few chapters go on the describe the benefits of decoupling your actions from the outcome. This is not an excuse for shoddy work, but frees you from being affected by outcomes you cannot control, beyond doing your best.

The book also talks about moving from a me-centered universe to an "other-centered" universe, and asks us to take the benefits at face value. The Gita (5:18) provides the foundation for this: the enlightened man is one who sees the same Atman in all.

As the author says in the introduction, there's nothing new in the book - it's all based on the experiences, thoughts and wisdom of spiritual luminaries. What makes it different is that it's highly readable, converts the abstract concepts into specific actions and thought exercises that help you internalize these truths.

The books ends with some simple steps that you can do to improve your life. No - I'm not going to list them out here since you would derive a far greater benefit by reading the book for yourself.

The book also has a suggested reading list which covers the gamut of human experience - from the highest spirituality to daily business tactics. It's sure to change your life.