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.

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