29 November 2012

Why no post

Of late, I have not been regular in blogging in this space.

There are two major reasons behind this: I am spending a lot of time reading books across genres while the second and more important reason is that I am spending a great deal of quality time with my two little kids.

No regrets on either account; there is a lifetime to blog.

I hope to go back to posting 3-4 times per week in about three weeks from today.

Thank you!

25 November 2012

Sunday Reads - Losing Omar & Pussy James Bond?

The last two installments of the Reads Series were not published; here's resuming the series.

  • Losing Omar: The pain of a parent whose child was killed in Gaza. (BBC
  • Why does James Bond never go to the really dangerous places? (ForeignPolicy)
  • Five Statistics problems that will change the way you see the world. (Atlantic)
Hat tip for the last article: Mohan Ramiah, my colleague and friend from Chennai.

Israel and the Palestinian territories are once again engaged in a major battle; Hamas fires rockets, Israel pounds Gaza with air strikes and so the story goes around. Israel's Iron Dome missile shield has been a major success and India is planning to buy this to ward off similar threats from Pakistan and its proxies like LeT.

Source: Reuters

24 November 2012

Books I have Read in the Last 12 Months

As a teacher, I have often been asked about my book list, i.e., what do I read. The list below is the answer!

Please note that this is a partial list only.

  • The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
  • The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins
  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie (Reread after almost a decade!)
  • Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie
  • And Thereby Hangs a Tale by Jeffery Archer
  • The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
  • Boomerang: The Meltdown Tour by Michael Lewis
  • Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
  • End of World by Ken Follett
  • Winter of the World by Ken Follett
  • Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata by Devdutt Pattanaik
  • Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy by Raghuram Rajan
  • The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
  • Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven 
  • River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh
  • Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and The Future of American Power by Robert Kaplan
  • In a Free State by V. S. Naipaul
  • Ashoka by Charles Allen
  • The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad
  • Manto: Selected Short Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto
  • Bitter Fruit: The Very Best of Saadat Hasan Manto
  • In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by by Daniyal Muneeuddin
  • A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif

Apart from these, I am a great lover of comics, like Tinkle and the huge collections of Amar Chitra Katha.

If you wish to share your reading list, post the list in the comments section. 

15 November 2012

Mid-Week Reads - Food Myths & 10 Time Things

  • The myth of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (BBC
  • Ten things everyone should know about time. (Discover)
  • Inside the power struggle to push Microsoft in risky new direction. (Financial Post)

Here is a timeline of David Petraeus' extra-marital affair saga. Click on the graphic for a larger view.

Source: Reuters 

14 November 2012

The Explainer: China's Malacca Dilemma

China is already considered one of the top two global powers, the other being the United States. Its GDP, at U.S.$7.3 trillion, is already the second largest and is poised to overtake the U.S. GDP, at U.S.$15.2 trillion, by 2020, as most estimates suggest.
China’s GDP is expected to grow at 7.8% in 2012, making it the fastest growing major economy in the world. The Economist Intelligence Unit predicts that China’s real GDP growth is expected to average 7.9% a year in 2013-17.
China is the world’s largest exporter of finished goods (U.S.$1.9 trillion in 2011) and the second largest importer (U.S.$1.7 trillion in 2011). It is the biggest consumer of energy resources and as its economy expands, its energy hunger will only grow.  
Almost all of China’s external trade is sea-borne; in fact, shipping lanes are the life blood of China’s trade with the world. It is in the light of this crucial fact that we can appreciate China’s Malacca Dilemma. 
The Malacca Strait is a narrow channel of water that separates the Malaysian Peninsula from the Indonesian island of Sumatra. In geographical terminology, a strait is a narrow channel of water that separates two land territories and connects two water bodies; for one, look at the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka.
The Malacca Strait is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, with over 85000 vessels passing through it every year. Located pretty close to this is Singapore; an island City State, Singapore is separated from the Malaysian peninsula by the Johor Strait.
Singapore hosts a huge naval base belonging to the United States Navy. In fact, it is the U.S. Navy that more or less controls the Malacca Strait and other water-based trade channels in this part of the world.
It is this reality that is giving Beijing the jitters because more than 70% of China’s energy supplies move through the Malacca Strait.
The External Boundaries of India as depicted
 in these maps are neither right nor authentic.

China has never concealed its ambitions to become a world hegemon though it often mouths platitudes like ‘peaceful rise’. It wants to convert the Pacific Ocean into a Chinese lake. Also, it is scouring different parts of the world for sourcing raw materials and to sell finished goods.
China treats the U.S. as the biggest obstacle to realize not just its ambitions of turning the Pacific Ocean into a China lake but also become the second pole in global power order. In fact, it is waging a massive low-intensity diplomatic war with the U.S. for political and economic influence around the world at large and in the Pacific in particular.
Today, despite all the superficial U.S.-China bonhomie, there is a great deal of mistrust (and distrust) between Beijing and Washington. Also, Beijing is involved in a tug-of-war with almost all maritime nations in its neighborhood, like Vietnam, Philippines, and Indonesia mainly on account of Beijing’s claims on all of the South China Sea and the resources (like oil and gas) and islands therein.
In the light of these facts, China fears that if a war with the United States (or with American allies, like Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam) breaks out, the latter will block access to the Malacca Strait.
Such a development will stop the movement of vessels carrying energy resources (like oil & gas) and raw materials to Beijing that are absolutely central to fuel its humongous economy and waging a war.
This would place China at the mercy of its rivals, which in turn may stoke social, political and economic instability within the nation, all of which may come together to threaten the very existence of the Communist Party of China.
To avoid such an internal scenario, Beijing is trying very hard to bolster its external defences not just to secure its economy but also the communist party’s future. To resolve its Malacca Dilemma, Beijing has embarked on the ambitious Ring of Pearls strategy. We will focus on that in the next installment of The Explainer. 

11 November 2012

Sunday Reads - The Workday after Tomorrow & Kafka in Beijing

  • Why the rich look down on the poor. (BBC)
  • How to devise passwords that drive hackers away. (NYT
  • Kafka in Beijing: One woman's futile quest for justice in modern China. (FP)

China is undergoing a massive leadership change. So how has China changed in the last ten years? 

Source: Reuters 

08 November 2012

Mid-Week Reads - Hacking the President’s DNA & Faces, Places, Spaces

  • Hacking the President’s DNA. (Atlantic)
The U.S. government is surreptitiously collecting the DNA of world leaders, and is reportedly protecting that of Barack Obama. Decoded, these genetic blueprints could provide compromising information. In the not-too-distant future, they may provide something more as well—the basis for the creation of personalized bioweapons that could take down a president and leave no trace.
The West made history, but the East drove it. Though Europe saw itself as the pilothouse of fate, in truth it was more like a fort, which had been shaped by the constant assault of those horsemen.
  • Why don't Chinese leaders swim anymore? (Foreign Policy).
    Chinese Communist leaders have long used swimming to prove that they're healthy and competent enough to rule. Mao was a master, using his prowess in the water to demonstrate his power and keep his political rivals off balance. Against the pleadings of his physician and his security guards, Mao would drift "miles downstream with the current, head back, stomach in the air, hands and legs barely moving, unfazed by the globs of human waste gliding gently past...

  • How Obama secures his legacy. (BBC)
    Americans understand that his first term was no picnic, that he faced a dogged opposition willing to fight him with every weapon in its arsenal, including a record number of filibusters. That's one reason why, despite the disappointments, Americans opted to give him a second term. But now they are depending on him to deliver.

04 November 2012

Sunday Reads - Dark side of the polar world & Who knows what

  • A rape shatters a family. (NYT) Please read this article to gain a perspective no Indian journal will explore.
  • Google now: behind the predictive future of search. (The Verge
  • The dark side of the while, polar world. (BBC)
  • Who knows what: For decades the sciences and the humanities have fought for knowledge supremacy. Both sides are wrong-headed. (Aeon)
The 27 members of the European Union (EU27) are going through a harrowing debt crisis. Here is a Reuters graphic on the debt to GDP ratio of EU27.

01 November 2012

Mid-Week Reads - Nervous on the Nile and German Gold

Some interesting reads:

  • Why do the Germans want their gold back? (MarketWatch)
  • Hurricane Sandy: The hidden costs. (BBC)

Here is a Reuters infographic on the costliest tropical cyclones.

28 October 2012

Sunday Reads - The Best of Politics, Economics, & Ideas

An eclectic mix of reads:
  • How the Chinese Prime Minister's family amassed billions of dollars in hidden fortune. (NYT)
  • Is the worst for the Indian economy? (WSJ)

Foreign Policy has two interesting slideshows: one, the changing face of the holy city of Mecca and two, the March to Mecca

The photo below, captured by the author Ahmed Mater, comes with this text: "At this bus depot you can see people coming from countries and regions around the world: America, Andalusia, China, Malaysia, and so on. They come in groups, and each one wears its own version of white. People dress in modest white cloth for the hajj; this ihram clothing, which cannot be stitched and must not have any scent, symbolizes unification. Pilgrims are supposed to forget everything singular about their own lives and enter a similar spiritual state. There is no difference in race, color or class. Everyone comes together to meet one another and do hajj for one God."

24 October 2012

A Simple History of MS Windows

There are very few things that we can do on the Web without using any product of Microsoft. Windows by far is the leader in operating systems. 

Reuters has a topical graphic depicting a simple history of the Windows OS. By the way, MS has began to ship its much-touted Surface tablet.

21 October 2012

Sunday Reads - Mango People & The Self-Destructive USSR

  • How the Soviet Empire's ambitions contained the seeds of its destruction. (Book Review; The Economist)
  • The Economist who saves lives. (BBC)
  • Mango people and media monsters. (Indian Express)

    Women make up half of the world (some say, the better half!). The Economist has an insightful graph on the economic contribution of women. Says the note for the graph: In the next decade nearly 1 billion women are likely to enter the global labour force. But their economic potential is largely unrealised. According to a report by Booz & Company, a consultancy, if female employment rates matched those of men, GDP would increase by 5% in America and 9% in Japan by 2020. The impact would be even larger for developing countries, home to most of the world’s women who lack adequate education and support (social and political). Increasing female employment would increase GDP significantly in countries like India and Egypt, where female labour-participation rates are below 30%. These countries rank low in Booz’s index of women’s economic empowerment.

18 October 2012

Mid-Week Reads - 1962 & Illegal Coal Mines

  • 1962: A lingering smart of a debacle in India; aloofness in China. (Outlook)
  • China's advantage of backwardness. (WSJ)

You must have read that Lenovo of China has sped past HP to become the world's largest PC maker. This Reuters graphic gives a lowdown on the top 5 PC makers.

14 October 2012

Sunday Reads - Football, Religion, Politics, & James Bond

Football, religion, politics, economics, this collection of Sunday Reads has it all!

  • The strange relationship between Lionel Messi and his hometown. (ESPN
  • The myth that screwed fifty years of America's foreign policy. (Foreign Policy)
  • Why we don't talk about inequality—and how to start again. (Caravan)

Fifty years ago, on October 5, the first James Bond film was released. Here's a firstshowing.com infographic capturing five decades of the most successful filmy spy in history.

11 October 2012

Mid-Week Reads - The Best of Politics, Economics, & Ideas

This blog is known for its recommendations on varied and 'hatke' reads. Here are a few more:

  • The Man who would be ex-president. (Harper's)
  • Bihar police: United in khaki but divided by caste barracks. (Indian Express)

    The privately owned reusable spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Sunday to make its first official cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. Reuters' graphic provides some details on the mission and the spacecraft.

09 October 2012

Population Boom & Urban Decay

India is booming... err, let me correct myself: India's population is booming. While the population is growing by the day, sadly the same can not be said of the necessary infrastructure that's essential to pace all-round development.

A few days back The Economist ran an interactive feature on the coming urban population boom and the shoddy quality of urban planning and governance in India.

Note: The external boundaries of India as depicted in this interactive feature are not true.

07 October 2012

Sunday Reads - Four Stories

Today's collection of reads is hugely different. I bring you four stories - of three different women and one man. These stories will stump and shake you up; for once, I can't say, 'Happy Reading'. 

  • A Polish girl’s journey across three continents - A Second World War story. (BBC)
  • Exodus: One woman's choice. (WaPo)
  • The blind faith of the one-eyed matador. (GQ)
  • Jani's at the mercy of her mind. (LA Times

Let me leave with a profound thought of Hunter Thompson.
"We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and — in spite of True Romance magazines — we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely — at least, not all the time — but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self- respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness."

04 October 2012

Mid-Week Reads - The Best of Politics, Economics, & Ideas

Compared to last year, I think I have gone very slow in blogging; must post more often. Meanwhile, here's some dope for mid-week knowledge building.

  • What can Africa teach the eurozone? (BBC
  • Facebook’s Online Panopticon. (Newsweek)
  • The drugs don't work: a modern medical scandal. (Guardian)

Facebook has crossed one billion users! Here's a BBC graphic on the milestone. The passing of the milestone was announced by founder Mark Zuckerberg on US television today. 
The company said that those billion users were to date responsible for 1.13 trillion "likes", 219 billion photos and 17 billion location check-ins.

And think about it, FB is not available in China! That's One Billion Users without China! A phenomenal achievement!

30 September 2012

Sunday Reads - India Special Edition

Walk through the Amul Cartoon Factory in Wall Street Journal's interesting piece

The Economist
has a cover story on India, claiming that the country is in search of a dream. Also watch this video story. 

In his Foreign Policy piece titled India, Meet the Icarus Peter Passell warns that "why no one should be surprised that the emerging economic superpower is getting cut back to size". 

Meanwhile, the Times of India says that India is lending Mayawati and ND Tiwari to Afghanistan. The story comes with a footnote: This piece bears no connection to events and characters in real life.
Former UP chief minister Mayawati, who bears a striking resemblance to some strange statues found all over the state, is in the news again. The central government has decided to loan Behenji to Afghanistan to help the state rebuild statues destroyed in the war. 
When asked why she didn't want to go, the former CM is said to have rued the lack of money-making opportunities in the region as well as a shortage of cash garlands. 
Read the complete story here.

29 September 2012

Things You Should Know - Episode IX

  • Facebook was originally founded as 'thefacebook.com'. Before the homepage was redesigned in 2007, FB's homepage featured Al Pacino's face, hidden behind 1s and 0s (ONEs and ZEROs), the basis of binary code.
  • Recently I found this about the Virgin Group: In an interview, the flamboyant founder Richard Branson revealed that when he started a business to sell music records by (postal) mail, one of the saleswomen proposed a name for the new business: "What about 'Virgin'? We are complete virgins at business."
  • An Open Collar worker is one who works from home, through the medium of the Internet.
  • Only Vimal is a brand owned by Reliance Industries. Dhirajlal Heerachand Ambani (yes, that's the full name of Dhirubhai Ambani!) named the business after the name of his nephew - his elder brother's son. 
  • The original copy of the 7X formula (seven unknown ingredients) for Coca-Cola is stored in a safe vault in a branch of the SunTrust Bank in Atlanta, Georgia.

27 September 2012

Mid-Week Reads - The Best of Politics, Economics, & Ideas

Here's my dose of interesting reads for the rest of the week.

  • When getting rich is not glorious. (Analects blog; Economist
  • China’s about to find out how hard it is run an aircraft carrier. (Foreign Policy)
  • Daughters of the brothel. (AlJazeera) Do not forget to watch the video! 
  • Britishisms and the Britishisation of American English. (BBC)

Today is Google's 14th birthday; check the fun stuff below.

23 September 2012

Sunday Reads - The Best of Politics, Economics, & Ideas

Presenting four great reads, with three weekend bonus reads!

  • Siddharth Varadarajan on the UPA's reforms binge: A risky strategy born of panic. (The Hindu)
  • The China-Japan tussle over the Diaoyus / Senkakus Islands: Can it lead to war? (Economist)
  • What the mega-rich do for America. (Newsweek)

Weekend Bonus Reads

Check out these great images from the submissions to the National Geographic photo contest 2012.

20 September 2012

Mid-Week Reads - The Best of Politics, Economics, & Ideas

We use the Internet like its a piece of furniture; in fact, without access to the Internet, you could not be reading this web page. Is the Internet just a set of protocols? Journalist Andrew Blum demystifies the idea of the Internet.

  • Paul Volcker on greedy bankers and more. (Newsweek
  • World hunger: The problem left behind. (NYT)
  • Yashwant Sinha on why the media pundits are getting it wrong on reforms and politics. (Economic Times)

17 September 2012

The abuse of the C word

There is one 'C' word that is being tossed around like small boats in strong winds: Courage. Every small thing that people do is being marketed as being a decision of courage.

Take a look at what the Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh said after his beleaguered coalition government announced some major economic decisions on the FDI front. Dr Singh asserted that it would take “courage and some risks” to break the policy logjam while strongly arguing in favour of higher FDI and FII inflows. Justifying the economic need for the hike in diesel price, he pointed out that rational energy pricing was critical especially when “our energy prices are out of line with world prices.”

I wonder where Dr Singh’s courage was all these years when the economy was floundering. If the UPA government (read Sonia Gandhi and Dr Singh) took risks today, in making these major FDI decisions, why did they rollback the same decision on FDI in multi-brand retail last year? 

Where was their courage then?

Can they be deemed cowards because Mamta Bannerjee and her ilk threatened to withdraw support and pull out from the coalition and hence on risk of losing her support, they rolled back such major decisions?

The Congress and its coalition partners should remember that they were elected to govern the country and take it on the road to prosperity through good governance. Good governance is what is sorely lacking today, especially after political expediency and fears of survival have become the guiding lights of the UPA government. 

Dr Singh clearly forgot that the policy logjam was the result of his government's dithering on major economic issues. India's economic growth has slowed down from 9% to about 5%, less a result of external forces (like eurozone crisis) and more a consequence of lack of effective governance.

Preventing corruption and punishing the corrupt, even if they are your colleagues, Dr Singh, requires courage. 

In fact, another famous person also used the ‘courage’ word on the same day, albeit in a different sense; Arjun Rampal cheekily remarked that “[It] takes so much courage to get on the ramp in a bikini. [...] I have been in the industry for 15 years now, but haven’t still mustered the courage to don a bikini.”

We would not miss anything even if Arjun Rampal does not wear a bikini; but we, as a nation, stand to lose much if Dr Singh and his government fails to govern efficiently. 

So much for Dr Singh’s courage! 

16 September 2012

Sunday Reads - The Best of Politics, Economics, & Ideas

Apple's iPhone 5 was launched last week. Here is a Reuters graphic comparing the iPhone 5 with its four major rivals, including Samsung Galaxy III and Nokia Lumia 920.

  • Syria: The 800-year history lesson. (BBC
  • Putin's God Squad: After years of repression under Communist rule, the Orthodox Church is back at the heart of Russian politics. (Newsweek
  • SEALs’ Cover Story if Bin Laden Raid Went Bad: Downed Drone (Wired)
  • Cairo's many shades of protests: what they reveal about how the new Egypt operates. (TIME)

13 September 2012

Mid-Week Reads - The Best of Politics, Economics, & Ideas

Apple's much-awaited iPhone 5 was launched yesterday. The Economist has an infographic on the impact of the iPhone on the global mobile market. 

  • Why Apple has become boring. (BBC) Also read Five out of ten. (The Economist
  • Libya attack brings challenges for America. (NYT)
  • Do you need to be a jerk to be a successful entrepreneur? (CEO)

12 September 2012

Anatomy of a CEO

It is the dream of every MBA (and MBA aspirant) to become the CEO of a leading corporate. Often, in their b-school interviews, aspirants are asked questions like, "what are the qualities of a manager," or /and "what makes for a successful leader". 

While this is not the space for discussion on such issues, I found this interesting infographic at ceo.com that lends some perspective on what makes a CEO tick.

10 September 2012

Underemployment - A Rising Global Concern

Every year, thousands of Indian students go abroad to pursue higher studies. Many of these students borrow lakhs of rupees to fund their career dreams. Unfortunately, given the worsening job market scenarios in much of the developed world, such dreams are fast turning into nightmares. Underemployment and unemployment are increasingly becoming harsh realities.

The situation gets worse when Indian students, upon not finding any lucrative work abroad, return home. In most cases, such students take up whatever work comes their way, i.e., a case of underemployment. I think there are a few reasons behind this: payment of installments toward loan, social and peer pressure, and fear of joblessness.

Underemployment leads to an inconvenient and low profile job and hence, low pay. Such pay is barely sufficient to cover loan installments (as the study loan EMIs run into thousands of rupees); payment of such large installments not only piles huge burden on the financial front but also saps morale. 

In fact, underemployment is a major issue not just in India but also around the world. Says Reuters: “Around the globe, young college graduates are unable to find job in the fields they studied. Instead, many are eking out a living in the service industry. Reuters photographers captured images of this “jobless generation.” 

To find out how much it would cost to study for an MBA at a leading global school, check out my Datagraphic on the World's Best MBA Colleges.