Monday, July 27, 2009

Whatever Things has a new home

Monday, July 27, 2009 View Comments
The blog has finally shifted to a new location. It will redirect you to the new page immediately. In case it doesn't happen, please click on the link below.

Same old randomness can now be found at

Please update your feeds too, the link is


Thursday, July 23, 2009


Thursday, July 23, 2009 View Comments
Obviously, its not a sports magazine.

My friend who studies at Vassar College always goes on about how its possibly the most liberal place on earth.

After flipping through the pages of their in-college sex magazine, I am convinced.

Squirm: The Art of Campus Sex acts as Vassar's mouthpiece on smut. With user generated prose, poetry, interviews and photography, the magazine says that it will arouse you. It says its a "literary and artistic forum for diverse perspectives on sex, daring to transcend numbing traditional discourses."

Whats amazing is that the magazine has been funding itself (you can find ads of local sex shops) for over a decade. I can imagine why something like this would be so very radical at Vassar, leave alone India, where its editors would be burnt alive with their houses reduced to rubble.

Inside, one can find views from people of all sexual orientations. Some classy, some intriguing and some just plain bizzare, but all, (in some cases, brutally) honest.

The magazine also contains a lot of resources in form of agencies, numbers you can call when you're in trouble and support groups.

And Squirm isn't a lone ranger. According to this article, Swarthmore College publishes its own erotic magazine called

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What I have been reading lately...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 View Comments
These are pages I have been flipping recently...

Gang Leader for a Day

For those who have read Freakonomics will remember the chapter about the Indian guy who spent sometime with crackheads and helped come up with material that later became "Why drug dealers live with their moms: in the best seller.

The Indian kid happens to be one of the best social scientists in the world (or so I hear) today and has written a book about the same experience. This was written way back in 2008 but I got my hands on it only recently.

Sudhir Venkatesh describes his times with the drug lords of Chicago and to understand poverty and society better.

Fooled by Randomness

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is an arrogant man. He may also be one of the smartest. Fooled by randomness is an interesting take on probability and how its simple principles have been completely ignored by leading financial giants and how that has screwed them up.

If you have done a course in elementary probability, then you understand the book even better.

But beware, as my friend Nayak says, his arrogance might put
you off from appreciating the book.

Making Globalisation Work

Although I had bought this quite a while back, I stopped reading this in the middle so I could finish Jeffrey Sachs' Commonwealth. So now I am back to Making Globalisation Work.

The book is about how globalisation is inevitable and in order for it to be sustainable it should try to uplift the poor countries of the world. The world as it stands, is certainly anything but flat.

The book goes about cursing the IMF and other organizations who the author feels aren't doing much good. He talks at length about his vision for development and how its closely related to social justice (just how many times will I provide a link to Stan's article, I cant recount, so will not do it this time), other issues include the role of patents in developing countries, access to health care, debt relief, climate change etc etc.

Monday, July 06, 2009


Monday, July 06, 2009 View Comments
I am currently on a 2 week tour of Italy and am in love with the place. One of the coolest stores that I noticed in Rome, nicely squeezed in between some of the biggest fashion labels in the world was this store called Re(f)use.

As is evident from the name, everything in the store was reused from something or the other and made into a novelty. In the picture below those bags are made from polythene if I am not wrong and the bags behind from some scrap cloth. Quite a simple idea!

I have seen a similar venture in India as well but somehow can't remember the name.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Opportunity: Essay competition

Friday, June 26, 2009 View Comments
The Goi Peace Foundation is running its annual essay competition. This years theme is "The role of science in building a better world".

Here's basically the gist of the topic:

Scientific progress has brought many benefits to humanity, while some applications of science have had adverse impacts. What kind of science and technology do you think is needed for realizing a more equitable, prosperous and sustainable world for all? Please express your vision for the future of science, including examples of studies or researches you wish to engage in.
What's the booty? Winner gets an all expense paid trip to Japan. Last year's winner got to chill with Mr Gates. Now a lot of you might have differing opinions about the man (esp the linux guys), but I would still want to rub shoulders with him. And yes, they throw in a little cash prize of 1000 USD as well.

I missed out on this competition last year but this year I am doing it. Here's wishing you all the best kid.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What I picked up from "The folly of finding what works"

Wednesday, June 24, 2009 View Comments
“The impact of information technology on the Global Economy” was the title of my research project last semester. 2 weeks into the project and I was still finding newer things to study. Around the same time, my professor in charge advised me that I better stop searching for more topics and better get to work.

I, on the other hand wanted to make this a comprehensive study on the impact of IT. So I wanted to include Overview of the situation today, the booms and busts, the venture capitalists, web1.0, web 2.0, the long tail, Outsourcing, trickle down effect, ICT for development, mobile communications. Phew. No wait, there's more, e-commerce, e-governance, case studies of famous companies, the semiconductor industry, exports, imports, recession. Relate that to GDP, employment, education, productivity, FDI...

Did I leave out anything?

Clearly, if I did manage to include it all, I'd have a PhD thesis, which I would have sold and made money from.

Just one problem.

This would never get finished. In fact, my project wouldn't even start. I'd be so busy finding newer things to study about that I'd hardly put pen to paper and actually document anything. Instead I would just be reading and researching on every single item that was remotely related to the IT industry.

Moving on,

This May, when I started my summer internship, I was fascinated by the health care industry. In particular, primary health care. The numbers were huge and I was overwhelmed by the scale of their operations. So when I had to pick my project, I didn’t want to leave out anything. I tried to include everything, using variety of economic formulas, different theories. My internship coordinator asked me why I don’t stay for a 6 month fellowship. As flattered as I was, I also got the underlying hint. I understood that given the time frame it was unfeasible to carry out the study with so many parameters. Heck, I wouldn’t be able to make sense of all that data. So I picked one or two core areas and focused on them.

As far as personal experiences go, these were the first two instances that came to my mind while I was reading Ken Banks' blog post titled The folly of "finding what works". He brings up a very valid point:
As with the confusion caused by multiple interpretations of sustainable development, the social mobile space is struggling with its own definitions of concepts such as collaboration, empowerment, scale, “enabling environment” and “finding what works”. We hear these terms on a daily basis, yet we never stop to ask what they really mean. What does an “enabling environment” really look like, and do we really need one like people say we do? Who decides what scale really means, and how important scaling really is? We all nod in agreement when people use these terms at conferences, but refrain from questioning them through fear of appearing ignorant.

The “folly of finding what works” strikes particular resonance. Although mobiles for development has only been around for a few short years, surely by now we’ve identified at least a few things that work? Isn’t that the purpose of all these reports, blog posts, tweets, projects, conferences, workshops, barcamps and academic studies?

After six years-or-so of social mobile, we’re surely at the point where we can throw some real resources around at least a few tools? Surely we can pool our collective skills, knowledge and resources into helping at least a few reach their full social change potential? Instead of sitting around talking about our commitment to social mobile, we need to show our true colours and act, regardless of who gets credit for those actions.

Reading this also started another chain of thought in my head, the credit for which has to be given to Stan Thakaekara. In the course of what would turn out to be a vociferous debate on issues relating to the environment, education, caste and equity amongst other things, Stan gave us some gyaan on how he feels that technology hasn't quite lived up to its promise. How technology hasn't quite created an equitable world. How the more answers we try to seek, the farther we seem to move from actually arriving at the truth. And instead we're just making the world worse off.

But then what is the truth anyway?

Coming back, Stan was of firm belief that the divide is getting larger and larger. Technology is giving only a few answers. It's a balloon effect, where squeezing one side of a balloon makes it expand in the other direction. You can't ignore the consequences and certainly can't escape them. So we have to now come up with clean technologies in order to clean up all the mess that we created over the years* **. Jeffrey Sachs also says that it's not that we don't have fossil fuels, we have plenty of it (maybe not oil, but coal surely), its about using it in an optimized manner.

Jeez, I digress again.

When Stan first told me all this, it did strike a chord somewhere but I was still too mesmerized by capitalism. I now realize, I didn't quite understand capitalism. Maybe I still haven't. But after having read works of Jeffrey Sachs, Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Joseph Stiglitz, I have been exposed to a whole new way of thinking. These guys aren't dishing out dung. They all emphasize on the same thing, there's little time.

Bottom line being:
The reforms have to take place now, the access to credit/capital for the poor has to happen now
and heck social media for development better deliver now. Because everyday, a kid is losing his life in Africa (and India and Latin America and Bangladesh and...). Like Ken said, we need to stop talking and start doing now.

*Of course there are numerous theories which say that we would have reached this stage anyway even had it not been for the pollution, but lets leave that for another day.

** And then there's yet another theory that says that no matter what you do, we're way past the threshold. So we have to release chemicals in the air such as sulphates to cool our system (remember the TED talk on climate change? No? Here)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Tuesday, June 23, 2009 0
This is really more of a self note. If it helps you, oh well, that would make it all the more resourceful.

A little while back, I had mailed Sasha Dichter, yes yes, of the Acumen Fund fame. He finally replied (albeit a little late, which is alright, I'm a patient man) and it made my day.

I went back and checked the mail I had sent him to refresh my memory. I read the mail three times.

I was so ashamed.

And that's really point of my post. Mails. Over the last one year or so, I doubt if I have benefited more from anything else. Alright, maybe that also implies I shouldn't lead so much of a virtual life, but let's not digress.

I was so bloody ashamed by my mail. The content was great. It was the presentation. Shabby, grammatical errors neatly sprinkled and perhaps a typo or two. I wouldn't blame him if he thought I was uneducated. I checked the time of mailing. 9.48 AM. That explains it. I must have been blurry eyed and having just woken up with my laptop resting beside me, would have shot the mail.

The only problem is that it doesn't explain it. It doesn't excuse typos and suchlike. It's sort of ironic that I excavated this right after reading John August's mind blowing piece on Professional Writing and the Rise of the Amateur, which I came across while reading Shripriya's blog.

You represent yourself as well as your affiliated organizations when you mail someone and its your responsibility to present yourself in the best possible manner.

I used to always double check the mails I sent out to people. But somehow, in the recent weeks, with the number of mails that I was shooting out, I would quickly structure my mail and send the first draft itself. Next time onwards, I will surely double check. I think that's all it takes. Just read once you're done writing the stuff. It helps a lot. Besides, I have a knack of writing long sentences and double checking really helps me condense the matter and make it compact (when the need arises of course).

P.S: Please do subscribe to Sasha's blog. Its awesome.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How to use...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 View Comments
Now this is something no?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My Friend Sancho-hardly a review

Sunday, June 14, 2009 View Comments


I had read the book about 3 weeks ago and then procrastinated writing my thoughts about it. But then isn’t that befitting? Considering how the book speaks so highly of the protagonists’ procrastination amongst other things of course.

My Friend Sancho (MFS) is the debut novel of India’s star blogger Amit Varma (more about Amit here). The book is short and addictive and one should seriously finish this is one go. Three pages down and I was laughing out loud, while reading it on a sofa, waiting for my turn at Barbeque Nation. Yes, I know its annoying, never thought I’d have to wait for a table in Hyderabad. Happens.

It’s very very funny. The book I mean.

Abir Ganguly, the book’s lead character, is one heck of a journalist. He is a self proclaimed armchair cynic; jaded, horny and works in the crime beat to come up with gems such as Man swats himself to death. I loved Abir’s character. The exaggerations which are random at times, the pertinent observations and everything else, really made me feel as if I had known Abir all my life. Okay, so maybe I down played the exaggeration part a bit. The lizard is part of the cast, though not big enough to disrupt the storyline. You get the idea.

So Abir’s all fine and chillin’, just another nut in a huge machine. However, things get complicated when he is asked to come up with a story humanizing one Md Iqbal, who was killed in a police encounter.

And thus enters Muneeza, Iqbal’s daughter. And with it the wheels of an innocent love story are set into motion. Varma does a wonderful job of limiting the cliches here. Because Abir does get a boner while Muneeza is pouring her heart out. Just saying.

Now there’s something I must confess. Is it just me (no, turns out I have company)? Or did Muneeza remind you folks of Zaheera from the Best Bakery fiasco too? Because as hard as I tried, I couldn’t fight off that picture.

This was one of my main complaint from the book. The character of Muneeza. Not enough information was given about the sort of girl she was, or maybe the book just ended too quickly. I would have loved the story to extend a little longer. Because after every page I got more and more confused about the sort of person Muneeza was. The end seemed abrupt. I was seriously expecting there to be more to the story.

Okay, I think I sounded a tad too harsh in that last paragraph. Trust me, I simply adore the book. Because of its simplicity and easy nature. Because of Inspector Tombre and what might have been one of the best speeches delivered by a civil servant in the history of this nation. I think one should buy the book for that speech itself. Because Amit so wonderfully expresses human emotions and because I have not laughed so much in a span of 200 pages for a long long time. Strangely, I can compare it to the feeling I got when I first started reading xkcd. There are things we feel and seldom put on paper. MFS does exactly that. For example, look at this

I worked for a couple of hours. That is to say, I tried to work. My mind kept wandering, and the internet gave it places to wander to. Every three minutes I told myself, Just two minutes more, let me just check out this page, then I will work. But I’d check out that page, and click on a link there, or think of something because of what I was reading and go somewhere else, and so on and on until it was almost lunchtime and I was better informed about the world but less so about my own piece.

And that’s just one instance.

Another thing I really enjoyed is that every character has their distinct voice and Amit doesn’t compromise with that.

Dissecting each and every part of the book is something I don’t really intend to do. So I shall say this, do definitely give it a read. Its really easy going yet doesn’t mock your intelligence. Its fun and light. And there is a bit of self publicity, but it’s all in good taste.

I guess at the end of it, one could look at the book as Abir’s myopia.

The book was longlisted for the for the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize. Read the first chapter here

Crossposted at Mutiny

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Of programmable matter and abolition of Patent system

Tuesday, June 09, 2009 View Comments
Firstly I came across this article in Wired. It made me go...errr....ok. Both astonishment and awe mixed in disproportionate amounts.

It basically says that

Even by the standards of the Pentagon fringe science arm, this project sounds far-out: “programmable matter” that can be ordered to “self-assemble or alter their shape, perform a function and then disassemble themselves.”

One day, that could lead to “morphing aircraft and ground vehicles, uniforms that can alter themselves to be comfortable in any climate, and ’soft’ robots that flow like mercury through small openings to enter caves and bunker complexes.” A soldier could even reach into a can of unformed goop, and order up a custom-made tool or a “universal spare part.”

The real party though, is taking place in the comments section. And the one that took the cake is this by one georgert:
Pbbbt! This was demonstrated in the movie Demon Seed years ago
Check it out for yourself

The second article, also from Wired, which caught my attention is the Swedish Pirate Party winning a seat in EU Parliament. Pirate Party wants to restructure copyright laws, abolish the patent system and guarantee online-privacy rights. But the question that many are asking (including Wired) is that will one seat make a difference considering the EU parliament consists of over 700 seats. Very much like the coveted "Senate" seat that many young BITSian stalwarts fight for.

It is also very clear that the reason the Pirate Party won that seat is because of the Pirate Bay trial (there being a massive spike in the number of members in the organization during the trial). However the people who comprise the Pirate Bay, what are their views on politics? This article is most intriguing. It tells us of another facet of Carl Lundstrom (the man who funded The Pirate Bay). Do read it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

First few days at work

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 View Comments
Three days into my internship, and I can already get a feel of how hectic it's going to be in the coming 2 months. But maybe that's not how I should've started this post because it might mislead some of you.
So let me go in a systematic order. The work that ICARE is doing is fabulous. Through their pyramidal structure (that includes eye care at Primary, Secondary and Tertiary level) they provide their services to more than 3 crore people (estimated from the brochure and other reference materials). This includes eye check up, referral to a high centre if the problem cannot be cured at a particular centre, spectacle delivery etc. They also have tie ups with companies such as Vision Spring (erstwhile Scojo).

On my first day I went through the paper that started it all, called the Andhra Pradesh Eye Disease Study[APEDS] (The paper can be found here ). The study gave a comprehensive analysis of 4 areas of Andra Pradesh (one urban and 3 rural of which one was well off) and showed the prevalence of blindness there. The results were also presented on the basis of sex, socio economic status, age etc. This study gave rise to the ICARE models which have set up centers in almost all districts of Andhra Pradesh and whose models are being adopted by organisation all over the world (For example Australian Government's "Avoidable Blindness Initiative" recently decided to implement the Vision Centre model of ICARE).
The projects undertaken by the center are also massive. At present they have some 12-13 projects running which include Community Linkage for Integration of Primary Health, Rapid Assessment of Refractive errors, Sight for Kids, Diabetes prevention programmes amongst many others. The projects (a lot of which are CSR initiatives) are funded by some of the biggest organisations in the health as well as financial services.

What I am interested in though is sustainability of these centres since LVPEI is a not for profit organisation. LVPEI has always believed in quality eye care and equity and hence the services provided to the poor and the rich are the same. At the secondary and tertiary level, 50% of the services are paid by patients who have the ability to pay in a three tier fee structure and the remaining 50% services are provided free of cost to under privileged patients. LVPEI claims that the centers can provide services upto 70% to non paying patients and yet be sustainable.

If true, then this is an awesome initiative for they have a revenue model in place but with a philantrophic touch to it. I find this really fascinating and the fact that LVPEI and ICARE have been in existance for so long bears testimony to the fact that this model is sustainable. However, I would like to examine this from a closer level to validate that.
Apart from that, I am also brushing up with a lot of statistical and econometric models to further assist me in the project that I take up. Some pretty exciting projects are lined up for me here, the trouble being I can take up only one due to the time constraint.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

ICARE this summer

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 View Comments
So another year comes to a halt as the summer beckons.

After a rather uneventful last 2 summers(unless you count the trip to Egypt), I am hoping to become more productive this time around.

This summer I shall be working with a fantastic organization, The International Centre for Advancement of Rural Eye Care (ICARE). Responsible for trying to come up with ways to remove blindness from rural unreachable parts of India and the developing world, ICARE looks at long term solutions at a large scale. They also manage and plan the community health care initiatives of L V Prasad Eye Hospital, another giant in the health care industry.

So what is my work going to be? Broadly I shall be working with a lot of economics related aspects, such as cost-benefit analysis of their Vision Centers vs PHCs as well as bordering over to marketing where I try to analyze various community eye programs and newer & effective ways of spectacle delivery. Apart from this there might be other things in store that I am not yet aware of.

Why did I choose this?

Well mostly because over the past year I have been increasingly becoming attracted to the developmental sector. Its evident by the proportion of social entrepreneurship related items in my feeds.

Seriously speaking, I never thought this sector would excite and it'd be naive of me to think that this is my true calling, but for whatever reasons there might be, right now this is the place I want to be in. Lets see how the gig goes.

P.S: At the same time I have been working on a couple of other ideas in the field of community health and nutrition and am also most probably volunteering for Kiwanja, a champion organization trying to use ICT for development. Check out their product FrontlineSMS.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Innovation in bribery

Thursday, April 23, 2009 View Comments
Basab writes a very hilarious albeit intriguing post on bribery in Indian elections
Today, bribing voters has become so common that all serious candidates must spend a good chunk of their election funds on it. Since other issues matter little (fomenting communal hatred being an important exception), candidates must compete with each other on the quantum of bribes per voter. This is good for the economy as it redistributes wealth from industrial houses and foreign corporations to the aam aadmi. Also, almost all the money distributed as voter bribes is spent immediately which gives a boost to local businesses like country liquor distilleries. In total, the voter bribes industry now accounts for an estimated 2 percent of GDP and about 50 basis points of annual GDP growth.
Oh but it gets better, check this out:
At the G-20 summit later this week, as world leaders discuss what each country is doing to restart the global economy, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will argue that voter bribes in the runup to the general election should be treated as India’s ’stimulus package’.
He further elaborates on the innovations that have been taking place in this domain. Do give it a read.

At the same time I wonder if one could take a leaf out of his book and apply it to the relatively non-existent BITSian politics. Sam chats? Mosquito nets? Beer?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

On Addiction

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 0

Sometimes we try new things and like it a lot...or sometimes we might not like them at all.

Dedicated to one of the smartest boys I have met. Kaalu.

Image source:Why's (Poignant) guide to Ruby

Friday, April 17, 2009

Grab onto one (or more) of these

Friday, April 17, 2009 0
Some awesome opportunities to look forward to:

You want to start up. So what excuses are you going to through? Can't get a B Plan in shape? Can't get venture funding? How will I manage it with acads?

Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at BITS Pilani has come up with a solution. All you need is a good idea. And if you have a team in place, that's just kick ass, but if you do't that's alright as well, just jump aboard the train.

Sounding too vague? Check THIS & THIS ASAP!

Last year I remember that Vivek was telling me how he doesn't really want to startup, but what he actually wants to do is just gives ideas to people to start up. 

If you have got ideas for the next big start-up, come share them in an innovation brainjam. The event is called Idea Cafe. More Info about it HERE

All this fine, but what about the Summer? Have you still not found something to get yourself involved with for the long suration of the holidays. Does working in a fast paced environment excite you? The I suppose you would be interested in Summer in a Start-up.

Links for today

Here are some cool links to check out

Top ten fake bands of all time:Can you guess which bad made it to the top? They are legendary (and no its not Stillwater, though I'd have liked them to). The TIME mag compiles this list of 10. site is particularly interesting for it uses the power of the masses to monitor the elections. Ambitious, yes. Guys such as Gaurav Mishra are behind this project, along with champions such as Ushahidi. Do check it out. 

Spam produces 17 million tons of C02:All those newsletters that I delete without reading...

And to finish it off, THIS

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What I have been watching lately

Sunday, April 12, 2009 2
2 interesting documentaries that I have seen recently


Comedian Bill Maher goes through great lengths to find merit in religion and ends up creating an entertaining satire. His journey takes him across the world where he meets a catholic priest who tell him that Jesus is the 6th most popular figure in Vatican (and not 1st), head of the Human Genome Project (who is deeply religious), a guy who claims to be Jesus reborn. Bill also goes to Speakers Corner in Hyde Park where he preaches about Scientology.

Obviously the documentary has little original material, however the delivery is killer Its directed by Larry Charles, the same chap who made Borat.

My favorite scene is when Bill goes to a gay bar in Amsterdam which is run by a muslim gay couple and strikes up a conversation with them telling them that
they aren't really against you being gay, they are just against specific actions of yours, say like anal sex, which well if you that out of picture in homosexuality, what are you left with, just the blow job.

The movie becomes a drag at certain points and Bill gets on your nerves b'coz he does a little Karan Thapar where he simply doesn't let the other person speak and keeps on enforcing his views and trying to sound funny.

But, surely go for it.

The other documentary was E Athletes. Teja (more popularly known by his backronym @jet in BITS) told me to watch this one. The documentary is about professional gaming, more specifically professional Counter Strike gaming which speaks of fierce rivalry between the big players and how they get the big bucks. The conclusion being that there isn't enough money in professional gaming yet to sustain one's family but its getting there especially with onset of professional leagues.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Great Success! List of BITSians to get admission into IIMs

Saturday, April 11, 2009 5
Here's the basic list of guys I know personally, I'm sure there are a hell more, so do keep updating the list through the comments section

2005 Batch
Aravind Vijayasarathy A,B,C,I,K
Ashwin Iyer B,C,L,I,K
Aditya Radhakrishnan I
Abhishek Humbad B,C,L,K
Ishan Bhanu C
Tushar A,B
Manavpreet Singh B,C,K
N Anerudh C
Karan Dhall B
Salil A
Astha Modi K
Ritesh Agrawal A

2004 Batch
R Vijay A,B

2003 Batch
Sriharsha Majety B,C

Navin Madhavan (B Wait listed)
Ayshwarya Vikram (A waitlisted 6)
Anil Kumar K (B waitlisted 17)

Thanks to Tapan, Sushant, Garima Dhingra, Ajay Srinath for inputs

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Brain of BITS 2009

Thursday, April 02, 2009 1
In my post about APOGEE I mentioned the Brain of BITS, the lone wolf quiz. It's the ultimate test of mettle for any BITSian who is quizzically inclined. Getting on stage is an honour, winning the prize is beyond words. It's significance is not really a matter of opinion and any one who questions its superiority is clearly out of his mind.

Many have ghotted (that's BITSian for mugging) for months and some even cheated (albeit unsuccessfully) to get on stage, but in the end, none of it counts. This years BOB is now uploaded on the Keep Guessing : The BITS Quizlog It's probably the only BOB quiz with an online presence, but then everything must have a first. Try it and then pass it along.

As for BOB itself, for the next year or so, it rests in the room of King Diamond, a brilliant quizzer who deserved the title and his real name is known to be Siddharth Ravichandran. His online home can be found here.

Creating more opportunity in the social sector amongst the youth

Nitin Rao, a NIT Surathkal alumnus started E4SI (while still in college!), a unique fellowship program that helps the engineers from top institutes to spend their summer interning in an organization that’s working for a social cause.

Now in its second year, the number of applications that the folks at E4SI received this year increased by a phenomenal amount. Most of the publicity was word of mouth. But the point I am trying to address is a different one.

Now that E4SI is expanding, it will start receiving even more number of entries. With 400-500 people fighting for the 24 coveted slots, many good (and deserving) candidates are bound to lose out. Clearly after a point of time even the judges can’t be objective.

At such a juncture it would be a great idea to create a group (say on Facebook) with the profiles of the candidates who just missed out. These are high potential candidates who would fit in other similar organizations as well. Social enterprises looking for high potential talent will find this resource highly beneficial. The students will also be grateful for its only the facilitation that is lacking in this space. The students are willing and the organizations I am sure are in need of brain power.

This is something world famous marketer and Acumen Fund supporter Seth Godin did when he announced his internship for college students. This helped spread goodwill as well as showed the candidates that Seth cared for the initiative they took to apply for his internship. Obviously the Seth Godin brand name helped the others find decent offers for their summer as well.

And that’s something Taya over at Next Billion has blogged about.

    What strikes me most about the opportunities at these organizations is their exclusivity-in the sense that they cull the "best of the best" through limited edition fellowships. Just to be clear, I have no problem with the notion of wielding the power of the "best and brightest" to tackle the world's problems. In fact, it's a rather poignant reversal of fortune; usually the least powerful members of society are stuck with the worst resources. However, after the superstars are chosen, I wonder what happens to the "best of the rest" and the "rest of the rest." Presumably, the folks who apply to these programs are smart, ambitious, values-driven, change makers in the making. What I wonder is, "what happens to these people?" Is their energy and enthusiasm lost or is it simply redirected? How can we tell? Do we care?

While I have taken E4SI as an example, I would extend the suggestion to other similar initiatives as well such as Kiva, Acumen Fund etc. Using an already existing brand name to indirectly vouch for equally deserving candidates to enter into the developmental sector.

Cross posted on the Mutiny

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Grassroutes 2009 Summer Edition

Sunday, March 29, 2009 0
This winter some my friends from the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and myself went on a road trip to the Nilgiris (read more about it here). 

Now you can too. 

And not only to the Nilgiris to understand the plight of the tribals, danger to the animals and discover different viewpoints belonging to the scientists and the environmentalists. You can also go to Pochampally to witness a dying industry or to Eastern India to see a group of committed medicos dedicating themselves to rural India. And some more too.

Grassroutes, a roadtrip for social change, an initiative of Yofa is coming up with its Summer Edition. Applications have started pouring in and from what it looks like , its going to be very competitive. I suggest all of you to go for it.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

APOGEE Digest 1

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APOGEE, BITS Pilani's tech festival ended today.

Being a blogger I always get jacked on campus. Everytime I have an interesting conversation with another person the first thing they ask me is "So you are probably going to blog about this aren't you?"

And my answer often pisses them off too. "Yes".

The build up to the fest and then finally the fest itself was an exciting experience. Anyone who knows me to a decent extent also knows that I am not one to brag about BITSian events, but this APOGEE was different.

I have so many posts lined up for this APOGEE, but for now I thought instead of sitting down and writing all of them one by one, a digest should suffice. The only order the following list shall follow is the order in which my brain spits it out.

The list of speakers for this years APOGEE was phenomenal, it was awesomely awesome. There was Jimbo Wales, John C Mather, Stephen Wolfram , Dilip Chabbria and a long list of others (For the complete list head over here).

Dilip Chabbria's lecture was like a management class. The fundas he presented were quite similar to those I've read in Seth Godin's Purple Cow however Chabbria is quite monotonous, to the extent that he at times even bores himself by his speech. I don't know if that's just how he is or if he was too tired. His catalogue though was the highlight of his talk. It was the sort of stuff that would make backpackers want to get a permanent high paying job.

Jimmy Wales delivered a talk on Wikipedia/Wikia. The man knows how to keep an audience engrossed. He also now knows that a village in Rajasthan has the highest number of Gults in the state.

From what I hear and see on the merit certificates, APOGEE is now the only 2nd technical festival in this country to be ISO certified.

Tanks rested in our gymkhana.

It was a green fest.

Something I wouldn't exactly endorse, but even then, find me a tech fest in India sporting a laser show!

John C Mather's talk was really well received, Cremo on the other hand provided fodder for gossip.

As far as the Quizzes go, almost all the quizzes went down to the final question if not a tie breaker. After a good year in the quizzing circuit outside home turf, it was nice to finally win one of the big 4 quizzes at BITS Pilani, Overhead Transmission on a tie breaker. I had a killer team. Also it was quite a relief to finally get done with the hazaar academic quizzes and instead have one consolidated Science Quiz.

Samanth Subramanian is an excellent quizmaster.

But my favourite moment this APOGEE was one in which I wasn't on stage. King Diamond being crowned the new Brain of BITS, beating an equally deserving Piyush from BITS Dubai.

APOGEE has become BIG. It's heartening to see the fest really living up to its true potential. With sponsorship sky rocketing and good publicity and so many things to look forward to, these 5 days kept me (or anyone else for that matter) quite occupied. However, its important to fully exploit this thrust in the coming festivals. To try and diffreentiate from other festivals, to offer something more to the people who travel on the awful Haryana roads to come to this Oasis.

APOGEE ended today.

[All pics courtesy Jeffrey Jose]
Update: Do check out his flickr stream for more pics

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Are our bowlers slackers?

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After watching the India New Zealand clash where India started off quite spectacularly before Vettori did his bit, I couldn't help but get a sense of deja vu. A similar situation had arisen during the Asia Cup in 1999 where we had Pakistan struggling at 20 something for 5 and ultimately let them reach 170 odd. It was partly due to the heroics of Moin and partly due to our boys slacking. 

It would make for an interesting analysis to see how does India fare in general after getting to a vantage point with a good start.

The sample space could be all those matches where India has managed to get at least 5 wickets within a span of 100 runs and seeing the % increase in score hence.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Reading the fine print

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Stories of an over stressed techie resorting to murder of his 4 day old daughter have surfaced the internet.

The horrific act was committed by S.Niranjan Kumar( or J.Niranjan Kumar as the Hindu claims), who says that wasn’t ready to have child yet and felt that no one, his wife nor either of their parents understood how he felt. He wanted to spend more time with his wife and fearing that the baby would take up too much of their time, dumped her in a well. This was after he told his wife to get an abortion done and she refused to do so.

However, this post is about something else that I noticed.

On 13th March Indian Express first publishes this. A day later they publish this. The second story (which doesn't make a reference to the earlier story at all) claims of him getting a gold medal while at BITS Pilani. Indian Express even went on to pinpoint that he received a gold medal in Mechanical Engineering while at BITS.

Being a BITSian still on campus, I rushed to the faculty division where on the walls is a huge board with the names of all toppers engraved on it. It has information of toppers from 60s onwards. I saw three columns there: Gold, Silver and Bronze medals.

Clearly, it makes no mention of branches. BITS Pilani doesn’t award degree wise gold medals. The medals are for the topper of a particular batch, irrespective of their degree. And neither can I spot Niranjan’s name anywhere.

Expected better journalistic effort from the Indian Express.

Furthermore there is ambiguity as far as the age of Niranjan and his wife is concerned. HT claims he’s 28, Indian Express says he is 30 (and she is 25) in one article and says he is 28 in the other. And Telegraph suffices with the mean of the two and sticks to 29 (and claims the wife’s age to be 22).

Apart from all this, even when it comes to the actual story, one doesn't know what to believe. Indian Express writes this

Not being able to come to terms with the reality of a child, Niranjan refused to meet Sangeetha in the months before the delivery, even feigning an official trip to China to avoid visiting Chennai to see her, said her relatives. He never called, never mailed — communication was restricted to infrequent chats.

And the Telegraph reports this in their coverage:

Fed up, Sangeetha moved to her parents’ home in Chennai seven months ago. But Niranjankumar kept up the pressure, urging her through emails to abort the baby. He is also alleged to have demanded Rs 5 lakh in extra dowry.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What happened to the Indian numbering system?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 0
ET had a post reporting that IIM Lucknow would be hiking their fees for their 2 years program. It wasn't very surprising given bigger brothers Calcutta and Ahmedabad hiked theirs in recent times.
What was surprising though, was this:
At present, IIM-L charges Rs.500,000 for the two-year programme and that is comparatively lower than the other IIMs in Kolkata, Bangalore and Ahmedabad.

While the fee at IIM-Calcullta and Bangalore is Rs.900,000, IIM Ahmedabad charges Rs.1.1 million for the two-year programme. 

Rs 1.1 Million? Since when did we start following the American number system. The news item has been compiled by IANS which claims to report about Indian matters in an unbiased manner, but clearly there seems to be something wrong with this form of presentation.

It doesn't make Indian education look economically cheaper than their American counterparts. Now "IIM Ahmedabad charges USD 22,000 for the two-year programme." on the other hand drives the point (though I can already see you economists raise an eyebrow since the conversion made no use of the PPP) but despite that it comes out to be much cheaper when you look at it from a ROI point of view. 

Monday, March 09, 2009

Diversification of Quizzing

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After returning from the NSIT quiz (about which I have blogged here ), I came across Ankur's post where he presented his case:

Iv’ve noticed one thing about ‘general’ quizzes in general: they go into excruciating details of lots of things ranging from literature, movies, music, pop culture, history, mythology and whatnot - but computers and technology is something which gets just a passing mention at best or nothing at all at worst.

He further cites an example saying,

Even at Mahaquizzer there are hardly any questions on tech. (Asking who’s the founder of Facebook - Mark Zuckerberg - in a quiz of Mahaquizzer’s level where the other questions are so good is laughable. And not many were aware of this!).

And finally comes around to make his point. 

Does computers and technology deserve to be treated as a pariah in quizzes. Most definitely not! Given its ubiquity in the current century it deserves more coverage in quizzes. Given the granularity of trivia asked in other topics, technology deserves at least some mention.

But the point I am trying to address is a much larger one. And Skimpy nails it in this post of his:

Different quizmasters have different interests. However, there are a few things that a large number of quizmasters are interested in, and these form a dominant portion of most quizzes. There is some sort of a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop at play here.

And if you don’t share these “special interests”, then your average performance automatically gets capped.

Of course, this doesn’t apply in case you force yourself to develop new interests just for the sake of quizzing, but that, I think, defeats the whole purpose

Not getting what I'm hinting at? Try to go back and recollect the number of times Asterix was the answer to a Long Visual Connect.

But I digress, what I mean to say that though most quizzes claim to be a "general" quiz. There is nothing "general" about them. Somehow it's just assumed that every quizzer just has to be well versed with "certain" topics. After having interacted with a lot of people I realised that some of my friends didn't fare that well (some even disliked) in a quiz because they found it catered only to an audience with a niche set of interests and that bringing somethng new to the table wasn't rewarding enough. 

At BITS, I know people who have a huge knowledge base in a lot of interesting topics however I also know that they can never qualify for a quiz for their knowledge will never be tested. I suppose that's the reason while BITS does exceedingly well in Entertainment, we get pwned in Business Quizzing. At the same time quizzing in other topics isn't really encouraged either.

I always used to think that Business Quizzing was useless and that there were no "fundas" to be cracked there since you either knew the answer of not. But then can't the same be said about H2G2 or The Watchmen?  And as I spend more and more time reading for the Crucible finals, I realise the questions can be quite workoutable in Biz Quizzes also.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Is Hugh Macleod's Twitter account hacked?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009 1
...or atleast that what it looks like.

As I am writing this post, Me along with some 14000 other people are being bombarded with back to back messages from Hugh Macleod, more popularly known as Gaping Void.

The spamming started at approx 3.20 PM IST and ceases to stop. All the tweets start off with a "Hi! My name is Hugh MacLeod, I make a living selling ads on my blog"

Here's a screenshot of the page


While majority of tweets focus on him living off the ads on his blog, there are the occasional tweets addressing a different topic

In the past there were instances of Britney, Obama and few other high profile tweeters whose accounts were hacked, so is this yet another case?

Times of India screws up their Headline: says Mani Ratnam is coming to BITS Pilani Goa Campus

Waves is BITS Pilani Goa Campus' (BPGC) annual cultural festival and after a fairly decent Quark (Tech Fest), which saw Abdul Kalam inaugurating the event, we have BITSian alumnus and famous movie director Mani Ratnam coming to BPGC for Waves.

Wait a second. Mani Ratnam? 

Well, there you have it. Times Of India messed up their headline. The Goa edition of the daily says "Mani Ratnam to open cultural fest at BITS Pilani". You can check out their news item here (which strangely hasn't been edited yet).   

The alumnus in question is actually Mani Shankar who... well isn't in the same league as Mani Ratnam as far as cinema is concerned but has had big success in the ad world/music videos. 

I don't understand what the copywriters and journos at ToI are upto, but this is just too unprofessional. Worst still, I don't see any amends nor apologies etc.

Earlier, Mani Shankar had come to BITS Pilani for Oasis back in 2006.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Indian Social Networking Trends

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Comscore, the Global Internet information provider recently released their report on the top social networking sites in India. 

The report throws some very interesting results. To kickoff, Facebook as expected has just stormed its way into the Indian audience with a growth rate of 150%. It had 4.044 million visitors this December. Orkut is still the leader with 12 million page views this December (an increase of 81% from last year) which suggests that though Facebook is edging up, Orkut still has the masses who will probably take time to adopt to Facebook. 

However it’s interesting to notice a slump in the page views of, which has been spending massive amounts on advertising and marketing this past year. The number of visitors on Ibibo dropped by 50% over the past year. Maybe the guys down at Mothership need to rethink into how to penetrate into their target audience better. They did come up with a number of contests and tie up with various college fests to gain a market share but it doesn’t seem to be working as well as they expected. Similar results are portrayed by Big Adda which has also had a decreased traffic rate of 25%.

Hi5 on the other hand has had the highest increase in traffic with an increase of 180% over the last year. 

Linkedin too has had a steady climb with more and more Indians visiting the professional networking website. Perhaps recession has played its part in directing traffic to this website. More and more people are creating a Linkedin account many of whom are still to leave college.

Gaurav says that he doesn't take these stats too seriously since it fails to recognise the traffic that comes from Internet kiosks and PDA, and rightly so. A huge amount of internet users in India don't own a computer and use it from internet cafes, so I suppose the are a lot more numbers that have to be added to this report which may present a different picture altogether.

A tool for future BITSians

Arvind, a friend of mine recently started his venture where he helps students all over India to prepare for BITSAT and answers all their queries.

As far as BITS is concerned at least, there doesn't seem to be a lot of information about it online. Ofcourse there is BITS 360, which according to me is one of the best sources available online for any doubts or queries related to BITS. I did try to write a couple of posts about admission to this prestigious institution, however Arvind has put in some serious effort into this site. He's got practice papers and answers queries, so in case you know someone who is giving the BITSAT soon, do head over to his site. It might be of great help to you.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tribal concepts of assets and “forest dwellers”

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Though I can’t really hand pick the “best” moment from my trip, there are parts which stand out. And meeting Stan Thakaekara was surely one of them. (More about him Here).

We went to his office and just sat there while he went on and on, hopping from one issue to another. I didn’t blink once.
When you look at Tribals, the first things that come to your mind are that they are uncivilised, they live on trees, eat leaves, go around strutting, illiterate and so on.
-Stan Thakaekara

He further said that all these were highly negative ways of describing the community, leave alone stereotypical. Tribals are social groups with territorial affiliation yes, but their idea of property is very different from the conventional idea. To tribals, the concept of land ownership doesn’t exist, (s)he thinks of himself as an integral part of the ecosystem while using its resources in a minimalist way.

So how is this relevant?

Look back through history. So like we discussed there was no concept of land as an asset for the tribals. So what happens when people start treating it as an asset? The issue of inheritence comes up. This is the real problem. The inherited land is passed on mainly to the male member of the family and this is one of the fundamental causes of gender inequality. It’s only the man who is in possession of the assets where as the woman becomes a child bearing device.
When I had gone to Chembakuli I had seen that the men and women were both equally vociferous in their opinions. I suppose it all makes sense now.

Now for the interesting and tragic part. The tribals never sought to acquire the land or try to get documents to back up their claim on this land because they never felt the need to. As far as they could remember they’d always been here and the forest had always been nice to them, taking care of all their basic needs.

Coming back to the present:
When the government goes ahead and passes the laws such as the Forest Rights Act etc, they don’t expect the Scheduled Tribes of that particular area to show the documents but instead use wells, small check dams etc as a proof of their existence. That part is alright.
But when the migrants came to this region, they started claiming the land as their property (and the tribals were obviously not aware of this).

Now of these migrants, “forest dwellers” are defined as those who had claimed the land as long as 75 years ago, and they are on the safe side. The tricky part is relating to those migrants who claim to have owned the land for less han 75 years. They are the ones with vested interests and who want the policies to favour them. Obviously, opinions differ on this.
Some people feel that 75 years is too long a time. Imagine a person who has owned the land for only 73 years

Syndicated from the Grassroutes Blog.

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