Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Is today's Dragon poised better than the eagle?

Much as we tout China as the next big thing of the World economy today, so did people in the 80's, only then it was Japan. America was a huge economy, but not with the impetus of a world leader. Japan, on the other hand was growing rapidly, driven by manufacturing; TVs, cameras, textiles, and anything you could name. (Made in Somewhere?) The difference was the Vendor Lock that that China has today, Japan never did.

Japan was accelerating and catching up to the USA. Blasphemous talks of ascension to the head of the world economy were doing rounds in important circles. In the face of competition from the upstart, America acted with a great deal of urgency. President Reagan called upon a new industrial revolution. They thought that the computer and communications industries had great market potential. These would become world leaders in the future (Google, Apple, anyone?). There were no short term fixes (bailing out failing businesses) but a more concentrated effort to bolster technology, generate patents at a rate the world began to lose interest. A decade later, they got together to form what today is the underwater Internet highway.

While the US was adopting technology of today, Japan stuck to its guns, and lead the traditional manufacturing units. By the time they paid heed to technology, Godzilla lay seige. So many Japanese live in so little area, the housing prices would increase indefinitely (Housing Bubble?). The real estate bubble burst. Japan’s market was small and profits were low, because of the type of goods it was manufacturing. There were the Toyotas and Sonys of the world, but they were the creme de la creme. The Japanese economy had plunged into an abyss for close to a decade. America's insistence on computer and communications began to pay off. This is not an all encompassing analysis, there were the "Plaza Accord" and the "Louvre Accord". But the move to the desktop was decisive.

Now, China is not much different from Japan in the 80's. It has gone past the UK and Germany. Check Japan. The downfall of Japan was its failure to seize the high ground in science and technology.

Professor History teaches like no other. Why will we not be sitting around in 2030 discussing how Brazil should avoid the mistakes China made? This time around, it looks like China is the one landing a killer blow. America has had its King Kong attack with the real estate crisis, and China has a new edge developing, its newfound appreciation of the need of a huge populace that not only builds well, but also creates the designs that the building is made of. Heralding a change at the top of the pyramid would bring in great new changes, maybe not as soon as everyone thinks, but it should be a great time for the world economy if America can regroup as in the 80's and China keeps up its surge. The crumbs will be great sustenance for those not fighting for the bread. If another Tiger joins the party, a lot of our potential will begin to come true.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sell it to the Bald Guy!

I wrote on Deep's (a friend) blog that I want to sell the proverbial comb to a Bald Guy. Is it just a rhetoric? When Deep posted the same on his blog, the wheels were set into motion inside my head as well. How are we supposed to get a bald guy interested about a comb?
Deep's idea of using a wig to sell the comb had merit, but I wanted the comb to be my primary sale, not an accessory. How then could I sell the comb?
Then, the simple idea was to dodge the bullet. I could appeal to him that he could buy the comb for his mother, sister, friend, partner, etc.. You get the idea... Well that is cheating. I did not sell it to the bald guy did I?
Then there was the option of jazzing up the comb. The state of the art comb would help you grow hair!!! This did not appeal to me either. I was selling him hair, not comb.

So, how am I supposed to get a bald guy excited about a comb?

First up, he has to be comfortable with the way he is. The comb is just an accessory, and he won't buy anything from me unless he feels good about himself. So, I give him a show of models, actors, leaders, and most importantly several common man who are bald. That is the easy part. He has a desire to feel good about being bald, so he can be shown it is not any different from having long hair, short hair, or what not. It is just another way to wear your hair, no hair. Low maintenance and less fussy.
Onto the more difficult comb then. The concept of a comb needs to excite him. Again this in itself is not so difficult. As long as I do not alienate him, I could show him how a comb help stylize people. If at this juncture I am about to loose the guy to another product, I have to re-arrange my campaign. He should not be slipping away. Anyways, if the guy is excited that the comb is a great product, I can get him to like the idea of selling it. Right, selling it not buying.
Nothing excites a person like accomplishment and if he is confident about the concept he will look to do it. Apple is a brand that people buy even if another brand, just as good, comes at 10% lesser price. Why? Because the product gives them a sense of ownership of something exciting, something others do not have. Likewise, the comb needs then to be personalized to each user. When the bald guy sees that a guy with long hair, another with wavy hair, curly hair and the one with the Bushman's cut have all comb's suited only to them, you might pique his interest in something that might have been stylized just for him. And when he asks the question, you need to pounce. It is at this moment that you may sell him the comb.
Show him how you have a comb to suite his style - for no hair on his head, you have made the bristles such that they create create impressions, but won't hurt his scalp. If you had excite him enough, if he believes that every other person has one, he will buy something made only for him. It is not about personalizing, but about making the bald man believe it is personalized for him.

A truly unscientific manner to sell a comb. But who knows, you might like it someday?

Islam and terrorism

I have no experience writing about volatile topics. So, I guess I will love this.
A lot of my friends agree that terrorism and Islam go hand in hand. They tell me extremism is a feature of Islam and that most terrorists are muslims.
I do not exactly agree. That is like saying that all Nepalese are bloodthirsty because the party in power sees fit to allow its cadres to kill. That is like saying that Hindus are extremists because some of their saints say they want to wage war, because they believe Krishna preaches war. For crying out loud, there are bad interpretations of the Bhagwad Geeta and then there is this!
Is any of the above true? Why is one community so singlemindedly singled out? They say Christians do not wage terror wars!
The Ku Klux Klan is one obvious example. Their hatred spans all over the planet to involve blacks, Catholics, Jews, gays and other religious minorities. The only people fit to live, and to rule are White Protestants. Christian Fundamentalism during the 1920’s is what helped the Klan grow to over 4 million members by 1925.
Their atrocities do not need to be documented. How is it so different from Bin Laden?

Not all Christians would do these things, just as not all Muslims are dead set on killing non-Muslims. In fact, most of my friends frown upon groups like the Klan, Nazis or Taliban. But they somehow still manage to convince themselves that terrorists are Muslims? Terrorists have often shown, and reinforced it over and over - they are of no colour, of no race, of no religion, but follow one truth - get to top of the hill before others, not by working for it but by slaughtering anyone who threatens to outpace you.

The next example will hit a lot closer to home. We know about Sri Lanka. It is Hindu terrorists fighting against a largely Buddhist government. We are supposed to be tolerant, peaceful, so these are miscreants right? We are good with our defence. But is it again not the same? The next time we point fingers to Islam, we would do well to remember that miscreants soil each cult, each creed, every religion, all societies. We need to make sure that we do not blame a whole sect of people. Why, we know they could blame us back with as much right?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Great Being an Engineer

The Y generation is here. And it is here to stay. The engineers of today are not doomed to obscurity, to cramped cubicle hells. Engineering today occurs at remarkable junctures and gives spectacular experiences. Application and tenacity to achieve what you desire is all it takes.
You do not need to know how your career is supposed to turn up on day one. But when you know, it demands complete dedication, more so than does anything else in life. A volcanic eruption, for example gave Christian Antenor-Habazac his opening. He now designs and maintains a seismic sensor network to protect people. Nels Peterson always wanted to work on dinosaurs. Sure people frowned, but today he develops radical new techniques to get more information out of digs.
So, even if digging for extinct giants or staring down lava does not give you smiles, the world of technology is huge, bigger than you think it is. You must pursue your passion, be prepared to take a few risks you may just end up with a career that makes you want to jump out of bed every morning, love every moment of the day ahead.
For this generation of engineers, it is not all about the big bucks. Sure, it does not hurt, but they feel an obligation to give back, to serve, and that sets them apart, that helps them shape the 21st century and beyond. Some engineers of today, inspiration to some, awe to others, are what we shall discuss.
Andrew Paris is a forensic engineer. It is not quite as glamorous as in CSI but to someone who loves being challenged technically, it is just as compelling. Paris works for Anderson Engineering of New Prague Inc., some 50 Km south of Minneapolis. What he does is simple, really. He investigates electrical and electronic devices suspected of malfunction, using technical skills and instincts honed at the job. He confesses that he had absolutely no idea that this field even existed! He saw an ad on the web site and soon interviewed for the post. He spends his time doing analysis of old electrical code and scrutinizing possibilities of stresses devices can take. But the interesting part is when he spends time at accident scenes and in laboratories. The best part of his job, he says is that he can help people who have been wronged and in ensuring that the products are safe. If nobody were bothered, why would you make safe products at all?
The story of Nels Peterson is especially heartening because it is closer to heart. Enrolling as an electrical engineering student at the Montana State University did not kill his childhood romance with paleontology. He now supervises paleontology digs and tries to develop new technologies for excavation and imaging. He gets to travel the world, to several exotic places and digs up old bones. He does work with other engineers when not touring with paleontologists, but when on tour he is the sole engineer, sole designer and the sole technical support. So, he runs in if it is a car’s engine or a base camp’s satellite link. His long time goal is to create a 3D image of the site so that in addition to the bones, one has access to information of habitat and actual ground conditions of the animals.
30 months ago, Mary Lou Jepsen flew to Boston to interview for a professorship at MIT Media Lab. Intead, she landed a different job in Cambridge. She was appointed chief technical officer of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. The rest, as they say, is history. She is now spending time designing ultra cheap, versatile laptops for kids in the not-so-wealthy countries. She underwent a brain surgery to get a tumor removed, and came out of it to get herself a Ph. D. in optics and then on to manufacturing liquid-crystal-on-silicon chips for HD TV displays. That was her challenge at OLPC as well – to get a low power consuming, cheap solution for the display unit. How she has succeeded is stuff meant for legends. The new display reportedly consumes a tenth of a normal laptop-display’s power. She now travels the world – an ambassador for OLPC, meeting Heads of state and bridging the digital divide. She is truly an ambassador of what we aspire to become!
Dale Joachim designs technology for communicating with birds using cellphones, making them easier to mark. Gregory Makhov loves light; he designs laser equipment for the entertainment industry, produces light shows and gets paid for lighting ‘em up. Ian Wright loves his life in the fast lane, literally. He spends his days designing high-performance electric sports cars – and to think he majored in optical communications!
Vasik Rajlich writes commercial chess software, and he has written arguably the best chess program in the world. He gets to be a world beater at chess, without ever having to worry about Karpov, Kasporov, Kramnik or Anand. Frederic Kaplan simply invents futuristic devices – robots, interactive furniture, new forms of computers. And, he gets to explore their social consequences.
For these fortunate engineers, whose enthusiasm knows no bounds, sky is not the limit. And congratulations, for a decade, maybe two, you can be an addition to this ever- growing list. Just do not stop dreaming.

IEEE Spectrum –February 2007
Definitions from Wikipedia

Goodbye NSS

It was five years ago that I had stepped out of NSS, with my own copy of Explorer, apprehensive and yet sure of what I want. My experience at NSS taught me about how I could build my future. We took classes in Shanti Bidya Griha then and mine were next to the chemistry lab, right next to the hydrogen sulphide hotspot. I remember that and so much more, though. Being at NSS is not about these snippets of remembrance though, it is the often overlooked culture that NSS imbibes in its students that actually makes a stay at NSS worth it.
NSS taught us to hold knowledge and its quest in high esteem. It taught us to question, to contemplate and to reason. These are amongst the most exalted of activities that we can achieve.
In their use of language, NSSians strive for grace, precision, and variety. And they admire those who can achieve such skill. They believe this is mankind’s most precious gift.
NSS teaches its students to place great value on tradition and continuity. To an NSSian, bad manners are acts of violence against the social order and history is not merely what is in yesterday's newspaper.
And, finally, to be an NSSian is to esteem the discipline, skill, and taste that are required to produce enduring knowledge. And here, NSS prepares your imagination through learning and experience.

The two years gave me all these and so much more. Today I sit in my office and look out of the window; I see the world as I wish to se it. The greatest gift has been my ability to contemplate. As I ponder my last words, all I can say is THANKYOU!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

My First Hike

My first hike was…, well it was memorable. I would not have thought I could make it, but I cheated. I had inspiration from this little marauder. A 10 year old girl, Ana, so confident that she would make it helped me occlude my mind from thoughts of deserting the hike.
We got to the Nagarjun reserve at 9. The armymen at the base got us to ‘register’ our trip with them; they assured us that if we were to get lost, lose one of our friends they would come to the rescue… how very reassuring! Well, we started the hike and the very first climb was killing my feet. When I asked Vishnu dai how long we would walk, he said it would be an hour more to the top. I doubled this in my mind; I was sure he was trying to make me feel we were closer than we actually were. We walked on; stopped in various places and discussed everything from Nepalese politics to integrity of politicians. That was fun, everybody hated all politicians! We finally ended our ascent at around 11. Standing at the tower, and telling myself I had no fear of heights, I felt an exhilarating sense of accomplishment, for having walked up this far. We met an Englishman, Ivon who was cycling around the valley. He has been on vacations since January and has been cycling ever since! We started our descent and I decided that hiking was not such a bad thing.
It was at this time that Surendra Dai and Vishnu Dai decided to ‘Jazz it up’. God, we were walking a normal looking path when they suddenly entered a forest. For 15 minutes we walked on a difficult terrain. Then we had to stop. The hill ahead looked like a straight fall. And, we could not even go back; the path was nearly impossible to climb back, at least for me! We sent out scouts, they said we could come down. Well, I will not go into details, but more than once I thought I would not make it back to my chair on Monday. Well, we slid, fell, got ourselves bruised as we continued the descent. With help from more experienced members of the party, I got halfway down the fall. Now, Vishnu dai asked me to slide! I was SCARED. I tried but had no control over it. Vishnu dai yelled at me to slide on my feet, not my bum, well, that was helpful. I got down to the foot of the hill. There was a sense of relief within me. Not that the hike was over, but that I was still alive. Wow! Well, after that we started walking on a riverbed, with no water in it. It was not monsoon, thank god for small favours. We met a party from Kathmandu. They had come to inspect the water. Well, they told us that we were quite a long way off our target, but that we would meet the highway in an hour. Well, we had just started walking when this party got on their pickup truck. We finally hitch-hiked the last 5 kilometers.
The trip was insane, surely by my standards, given I was on my first hike.
Signing off, until I get a fresh bout of insanity.