Monday, February 18, 2019

#ClosedEyeGiraffe

The interwebs sometimes throw up interesting items amidst its regular supply of hate-mongering and fake news. Recently was scrolling through my Instagram feed. Stopped at what looked like a doodle. Read through the description. Somebody had decided to post a drawing of a giraffe. Nothing unusual, except that the drawing had been done with closed eyes! 

Now this seemed a fun activity. 
  • So, work was paused. [It was already on pause]
  • A single-sided printed A4 paper was taken [Aside – use single sided printed sheets for scribbling along in office, doing my little bit to save the environment]. 
  • Paper folded in half. 
  • A giraffe drawn with eyes open [Or what can pass off as a giraffe]
  • Paper flipped over. 
  • Eyes closed and a giraffe drawn [trying to be as similar to first one]
  • And the result is… 
Conclusions 
  1. This was fun! 
  2. My drawing skills are terrible!! 
  3. Sense of scale and position all gone haywire when eyes were closed. 
  4. Enhance respect for blindfold chess players!!!
Fun experiment at the end of a working day!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Road to Tokyo: Episode 5

My Road to Tokyo series hit a speed bump. Not unexpected. But being a hobby blogger, doesn’t really affect the larger picture. Hopefully, where it actually matters, the athletes, it is all smooth sailing. Anyway, back after a 4-month hiatus with Episode 5. 

So, what has changed in the interim since the Asian Games? Well, we had the first quotas booked and some action at the Summer Youth Olympics.

Qualifiers
Anjum Moudgil & Apurvi Chandela have earned the Indian Shooting contingent 2 Quotas in the Womens 10m Air Rifle Event. However, it is the prerogative of the NRAI to decide which two shooters to award the Quota to. It depends on the form going into the Olympic year. However, well begun and we have the next set of Qualifiers for Shooting in New Delhi in February. Hopefully, home conditions will help India earn rich dividends.

Summer Youth Olympics
In the third edition Youth Olympics, India won its first Gold medal, and then added two more. To add to the sheen, these were all earned in proper Olympics events. Manu Bhaker & Saurabh Chaudhary winning Golds in respective 10m Air Pistol events while Jeremy Lalrinnunga lifted the Gold in 62 KG boys category. The young shooters’ continued golden run certainly augurs well for the future. We also got medals in Judo, Archery, Badminton and Wrestling. There were modified events in Athletics which earned medals but nothing to be read in them.

Team Sports
We are effectively out of running in Handball & Volleyball events, while the Womens Football team has made it to the next stage of the Qualifiers. 

Overall, still early days but its 2019 and jostling for Quota places will certainly hot up.

Links

Monday, January 14, 2019

BookMarks #49: How to Invent Everything

Title: How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler 
Author: Ryan North 
Genre: Fiction, Pop History, Science 
Setting: Throughout Human History 
Published: 2018 

Summary 
What if you are trapped back in time with no foreseeable way to return to your timeline? How do you build the things you are used to? Or basically how do you invent things before they were invented? 

BookMarks 
The book presents an interesting premise. In the future, a time machine takes you back in time. But like any other machine, it can develop problems, but being stuck back in time, you can’t really call for “road side assistance”. While unable to repair the machine itself, you have this handy guide to help you figure out which era you are in, how to survive in that, and how to “invent” things you already know, so that the contemporary civilization gets a jumpstart to the modern age. 

The concept of time travel – while it is central to our story, the author has given a big caveat. Any alterations caused by your presence in the past leads to alternate timelines going forward in parallel, and does not disturb the space-time continuum as it exists in your original timeline. So there are multiple universes existing. 

The book is brilliant in teaching the basic guidelines for the major inventions/discoveries, and how one can build them from scratch. From inventing the wheel to building primitive computers, this book has it all. Depending on when you in the past, it can also act as a survival guide. Wondering what our friend Robinson Crusoe would have done with such a guide, when he was stranded on that island! 

Of all discoveries, writing is the most important one as it provides a medium to share information to the future generations, without which knowledge can get lost in time, as has been the case with many such discoveries, which had to be re-discovered multiple times! Probably one of the reasons why Europe thrived after the invention of the printing press while the likes of China, India, Egypt, Iran etc. became laggards in the technological race (my key takeaway from the book). 

Combining a bit of history, geology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, logic, with humour this book is an interesting take on the major inventions and discoveries which happened to bring humankind to its current shape. Overall, a fun read, although some of the details do get a bit tedious but you can always skim through those! 

Previously on BookMarks: Chanakya’s Chant

Monday, January 07, 2019

Goodbye 2018

End of year MMXVIII AD. Time to reflect back on having completed another revolution around the Sun. 

From a chaotic beginning, being stuck at the airport due to a fog delayed flight to a calm ending, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, it was a year of busyness where while not much happened, yet a lot actually did. 

This was a year of small trips, including some with same day return. The travel map expanded into the neighbourhood (Pune) and to middle of the country (Shahdol). The daily commutes kept getting longer and amongst other things even involved a helicopter ride! The 4G connection helped overcome the ennui of the daily routine though. However due to the occasional madness which collectively grips our cities, spent a couple of days with mobile data not available, which was somehow also a very liberating feeling. 

There was a 10 year college reunion. Frankly speaking, 10 years can change a place a lot, if there is desire to do so. There were many other WhatsApp groups planning a multitude of reunions. Waiting to see how many of them come to fruition. 

Book count increased but there is always scope for growth. Movie theatre visits may have dropped but were replaced by experiences like a play (and not just any play but The Mousetrap) and a couple of games of Kabbadi. 

But most importantly, 2018 was spent preparing for 2019! 

Wishing all readers a very Happy, healthy & prosperous 2019.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

2018: The Year Gone By

The year 2018 AD is coming to a close leaving behind random memories – some fleeting and some of a little more permanent nature. Here is a personal compilation of events/non-events to remember the year gone by. 

1. Social Movement - #MeToo 
The #MeToo movement finally reached India. The entertainment industry as expected was where the biggest scandals lay but Corporate India was no less culpable. And to think it all began with a comedian’s tweet on the Pan Masala company’s antics on a cruise liner abroad! 

2. The Identified Flying Object 
Elon Musk launched a car in space with a mannequin in the driver’s seat listening to music. We finally have our own hitchhiker moving through the galaxy. 

3. Sporting Caption of the Year 
It was the year of the Football World Cup. We Indians chose our favorite teams rooting behind the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Spain, Croatia and France. Meanwhile our neighbours on the West sent out this tweet “Dear World, thank you for playing with our balls” to announce the fact that Telstar 18, the balls were manufactured in Pakistan. 

4. The Rescue 
A bunch of Thai boys, from a local football team, stuck inside a flooded cave for many days without food and water and in the dark and finally getting rescued. Gripping drama in the age of 24x7 media and social media coverage. And pretty sure there is a movie in the works as well. Yet much closer home, in Meghalaya, 13 miners were missing and barely a mention anywhere. 

5. The Political Reality TV 
Rahul Gandhi hugging PM Modi in Lok Sabha, to a shell-shocked House and then following up with a wink. The moment when Lok Sabha TV provided more drama than all soap operas combined! And with elections approaching expect more such drama. 

6. The Battle of the Jokers 
Trump vs Kim Jong-Un - after bouts of some childish name-calling (Dotage, Little Rocket man were some of the affectionate terms used), they indulged in a discussion on the size of their respective nuclear buttons and then ended up meeting as if nothing happened. Unfortunately these jokers are also controlling nuclear arsenal. 

7. Data Privacy discussions 
Widespread debates & discussions on how user data is being mined from social media to influence political outcomes and possibly cause targeted individual harm as well. This also led to hilarious outcomes where tech honchos like Zuckerberg & Sundar Pichai patiently explained to Congressional committees how internet and social media worked or that iPhones were made by Apple and not Google. In India, we had our own issues with Aadhaar database and its access, leading to the TRAI Chairman publicly giving out his Aadhaar number and asking all to hack him. (Well, a bit like Mad-Eye Moody teaching the Unforgivable spells to a bunch of teenage wizards) Never got to know the results of this challenge though. 

8. Newton’s Law of Gravity – things which go up have to fall down 
Bitcoins and the multiple crypto-currencies which had spawned all over the place, was the bubble which pricked just enough for many to lose out (and the smart ones to make money) while the underlying blockchain technology kept going places.

9. Headline of the Year 
Seal slaps man with an octopus - Wonder what the poor octopus would have felt and what outraged the seal so much!


10. The 15 seconds of Fame 
Priya Prakash Varrier - the winking girl, or Sanjeev Srivastava - the dancing uncle. All but forgotten by the end of the year. 

So that was 2018 events wise. Lets see what 2019 has in store. After all 2019 brings in the Lok Sabha elections, and the epic culminations of events in Westeros and the Avengers finale! 

Wishing all readers a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2019.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

BookMarks #48: Chanakya’s Chant

Title: Chanakya’s Chant 
Author: Ashwin Sanghi 
Genre: Historical Fiction 
Setting: Mauryan Empire & Modern India 
Published: 2010 

Summary 
In the 4th century BC Chanakya plots to overthrown the Nanda dynasty from Magadh and install his protégé Chandragupta Maurya on the throne. In the 20th century, Gangadhar Mishra attempts to put Chandini Gupta as the Prime Minister of India. 

BookMarks 
An interesting way to tell a story. There are actually two stories running here in parallel, separated by a timeline of two and a half millennia. One is a fictionalized take of the ascendancy of Chandragupta Maurya to the Magadh throne and the other a modernized version of the same, set in 20th century India. 

Key message of the book is while settings may change, the basic politics remains the same. Use every means to pin down your opponent while moving up the ladder yourself. And it is the backroom players who play the key role in propping up their candidates. 

Overall quite an engrossing account! 

Previously on BookMarks: The Time Machine 

Monday, October 29, 2018

BookMarks #47: The Time Machine

Title: The Time Machine
Author: HG Wells
Genre: Science Fiction
Setting: Late 19th Century Britain & way ahead in the future
Published: 1895

Summary
An inventor builds a Time Machine and travels into the future and gets a glimpse of what has become of the intelligent life on Earth.

BookMarks
We do not learn of any character names except Weena, who becomes the time traveler’s companion in the future. Even in the text, when a character addresses another by name, that part is left blank. Almost as if all names have been redacted from the text.

Had read the book at a much younger age, and did not get the many nuances the story has. It isn’t just a tale of an inventor building a Time Machine, finding things different from what he imagined, landing in trouble and managing to get back to his own time after a great adventure. It is also a tale of how even species can diverge if the differences between the haves and the have-nots keeps on rising. The increasing gap here leads to evolution of two radically different species, one of whom even feeds on the other. 

Is evolution circular? A question which crops up while reading the book. The human species hasn’t evolved into a super-human one rather it has effectively moved backwards. There are simple-minded, child-like fun-loving “eloi”, who sustain on fruits and are fascinated by a flame and seemingly have no care in the world. And then there are the savage “Morlocks” who eat the eloi, stay in the dark undergrounds and are scared of fire. Ability to live as a community, agriculture, domesticating animals, building industries and machines – all seem to have been lost alongwith the intellectual capacity to read and write and store knowledge which can be passed on from one generation to other. 

All this happens even while the Earth is still inhabitable. As the time traveler proceeds further into the future, there are changes in the solar system leading to climate changes, which drastically alter the life. This bit is quite understandable because life exists on Earth in its current form because of conditions which are just right. 

Through the time traveler, we also learn how not to depend just on our biases. Every new information he gets, he tries to formulate a theory based on his 19th century understanding. And thus ends up being wrong multiple times. Although he does keep evolving his thought process with passing time. It is quite fascinating to see how new information is processed by our biased brains. We try to immediately bucket new things with what we already know rather than wait for all information. 

The Time Traveler goes into the future and burns down a forest with fire that he has created in order to keep the morlocks at bay. A whole forest destroyed, large scale destruction of species, some species friended and “domesticated” as companions – isn’t that exactly what humans have done during our time on Earth? Go to a new place and drastically change its ecological balance. Since there aren’t many such places left in the present, our narrator has gone into the future and done the same in a matter of days!

The ending is written with an air of mystery, when there is actually none. If the Time Machine is still working, the narrator should not have to wait for his Time Travelling friend for three years to tell his story. The Time Traveler can choose the exact moment of his return.

Fun Fact – The term “time machine” was coined by HG Wells in this book. And it is now the universally accepted term for such a device! Time Machines and Time Travelers may not exist (from what we know now) but Wells certainly was a man ahead of his time!

Previously on BookMarks: Exponential Organizations
Also by HG Wells – The War of the Worlds 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

BookMarks #46: Exponential Organizations

Title: Exponential Organizations
Author: Salim Ismail
Genre: Non-Fiction, Management, Strategy
Published: 2014

BookMarks
In this book, the author attempts to define what would enable an organization to keep growing. He provides the concept of an Exponential Organization. An Exponential Organization is defined as one whose impact (or output) is disproportionally large—at least 10x larger—compared to its peers because of the use of new organizational techniques that leverage accelerating technologies. 

For an organization to be considered exponential, it needs to have a Massive Transformative Purpose. The vision statement should be simple yet provide a large scope. The author has also provided 10 attributes which an Exponential Organization should have. These are acronymed as SCALE & IDEAS. 
  • SCALE: Staff on Demand; Community & Crowd; Algorithms; Leveraged Assets; Engagement, 
  • IDEAS: Interfaces; Dashboards; Experimentation; Autonomy; Social
He goes on to measure different global organizations and provide how they compare on these 10 attributes. Examples are from both tech & manufacturing industries including Google, Coca Cola, Uber, Amazon etc. And there are companies and ideas which failed to keep up like Kodak, Nokia.

According to the author, Big Data analytics plays a key role in the success of such organizations. The 5P benefits of big data being Productivity, Prevention, Participation, Personalization and Prediction.

Some of the key Qualities of Exponential Organizations have been identified as follows.
  • They are not swayed by the HiPPO (“highest paid person’s opinion”). 
  • Information accelerates everything. Everything is being turned into information—and is thus measurable and knowable.
  • Everything is being disrupted, and disruptions can come from unexpected quarters.In a disruptive world, smaller is better.
  • Rent, don’t own, assets. E.g. Uber & AirBnB. Marginal cost of supply is dropping exponentially for the first time ever.
Couple of interesting observations from the book.
  • “Execution eats strategy for breakfast”
  • “Biology has the unique trait of being software that can create its own Hardware”.
An interesting book giving real world examples on what an organization must to do survive and thrive in this increasingly VUCA world. 

Previously on BookMarks: 36 Stratagems

Saturday, October 13, 2018

BookMarks #45: 36 Strategems

Title: 36 Strategems
Author: Unknown, Chinese oral tradition
Genre: Essay, Non-Fiction, Military Strategy
Published: Unknown, Has been passed on through oral history

BookMarks
Another Chinese treatise on military strategy. It is more of an essay than a book. The book is divided into 6 chapters. Each chapter has six proverbs and a couple of lines explaining the essence of the proverb to the audience. The chapters focus on different strategies which are as follows
  1. Winning Stratagems
  2. Enemy Dealing Stratagems
  3. Attacking Stratagems
  4. Chaos Stratagems
  5. Proximate Stratagems
  6. Desperate Stratagems
Brute force and firepower is never the optimum strategy. However, the strategies focus on use of deception, understanding of opposition and the conditions to reach to victory. The writer saves the best for the last and concludes of the 36, fleeing is the best strategy!

Military strategy and planning has provided lots of inspiration to modern business strategy formulation. This one keeps it simple and straightforward and that is usually the secret ingredient of most successful business strategies! Especially the last one - knowing when to retreat!

LinkWikipidea - provides the entire text with history and explanation.

Previuosly on BookMarks - The Art of War

Saturday, October 06, 2018

BookMarks #44: The Art of War

Title: The Art of War 
Author: Sun Tzu
Genre: Non-Fiction, Military Strategy
Published: 5th Century BC in Mandarin
English Translation By: Lionel Giles (1910)

BookMarks
The Art of War is an ancient Chinese treatise on military planning and warfare. It comprises of 13 different chapters - each dedicated to a distinct aspect of warfare. None of the chapters focus on the actual battle, but instead focus on planning, preparing, understanding the ground conditions, role of the leadership, adopting tactics to the ground conditions leading to calculating the chances of winning the war and gaining territory.

While the era of "conventional" warfare is gone, the book is still a gem for understanding tactics and building strategy. The book addresses themes like understanding the environment, the economics, the resources and their mobilization, opportunities and  how to cash in on them, when to engage in and to avoid direct confrontation, the need for flexibility, the tools to be used and finally the role of gathering intelligence about the opponents. No wonder, it is a much cited book for strategic planning and why so many leaders refer to it as their "inspirational" book. Also, the small text size helps a lot!

In short, the perfect beginners' guide to building strategy!

Link: Google Play Store App

Previously on BookMarks – The World is Flat