Archive for advice

Bertrand Russell suggested 4 hours of work a day.

When I suggest that working hours should be reduced to four, I am not meaning to imply that all the remaining time should necessarily be spent in pure frivolity. I mean that four hours’ work a day should entitle a man to the necessities and elementary comforts of life, and that the rest of his time should be his to use as he might see fit. It is an essential part of any such social system that education should be carried further than it usually is at present, and should aim, in part, at providing tastes which would enable a man to use leisure intelligently. I am not thinking mainly of the sort of things that would be considered ‘highbrow’. Peasant dances have died out except in remote rural areas, but the impulses which caused them to be cultivated must still exist in human nature. The pleasures of urban populations have become mainly passive: seeing cinemas, watching football matches, listening to the radio, and so on. This results from the fact that their active energies are fully taken up with work; if they had more leisure, they would again enjoy pleasures in which they took an active part.

In the past, there was a small leisure class and a larger working class. The leisure class enjoyed advantages for which there was no basis in social justice; this necessarily made it oppressive, limited its sympathies, and caused it to invent theories by which to justify its privileges. These facts greatly diminished its excellence, but in spite of this drawback it contributed nearly the whole of what we call civilization. It cultivated the arts and discovered the sciences; it wrote the books, invented the philosophies, and refined social relations. Even the liberation of the oppressed has usually been inaugurated from above. Without the leisure class, mankind would never have emerged from barbarism.

The method of a leisure class without duties was, however, extraordinarily wasteful. None of the members of the class had to be taught to be industrious, and the class as a whole was not exceptionally intelligent. The class might produce one Darwin, but against him had to be set tens of thousands of country gentlemen who never thought of anything more intelligent than fox-hunting and punishing poachers. At present, the universities are supposed to provide, in a more systematic way, what the leisure class provided accidentally and as a by-product. This is a great improvement, but it has certain drawbacks. University life is so different from life in the world at large that men who live in academic milieu tend to be unaware of the preoccupations and problems of ordinary men and women; moreover their ways of expressing themselves are usually such as to rob their opinions of the influence that they ought to have upon the general public. Another disadvantage is that in universities studies are organized, and the man who thinks of some original line of research is likely to be discouraged. Academic institutions, therefore, useful as they are, are not adequate guardians of the interests of civilization in a world where everyone outside their walls is too busy for unutilitarian pursuits.

In a world where no one is compelled to work more than four hours a day, every person possessed of scientific curiosity will be able to indulge it, and every painter will be able to paint without starving, however excellent his pictures may be. Young writers will not be obliged to draw attention to themselves by sensational pot-boilers, with a view to acquiring the economic independence needed for monumental works, for which, when the time at last comes, they will have lost the taste and capacity. Men who, in their professional work, have become interested in some phase of economics or government, will be able to develop their ideas without the academic detachment that makes the work of university economists often seem lacking in reality. Medical men will have the time to learn about the progress of medicine, teachers will not be exasperatedly struggling to teach by routine methods things which they learnt in their youth, which may, in the interval, have been proved to be untrue.

Source: In Praise of Idleness

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Noam Chomsky on learning by doing

BARSAMIAN: Let’s talk about propaganda and indoctrination. As a teacher, how do you get
people to think for themselves? Can you impart tools that will enable that?
CHOMSKY: I think you learn by doing—I’m a Deweyite from way back. You learn by doing, and
you figure out how to do things by watching other people do them. That’s the way you learn to be a
good carpenter, for example, and the way you learn to be a good physicist. Nobody can train you
on how to do physics. You don’t teach methodology courses in the natural sciences. You may in
the social sciences. In any field that has significant intellectual content, you don’t teach
methodology. You just watch people doing it and participate with them in doing it. So a typical,
say, graduate seminar in a science course would be people working together, not all that different
from an artisan picking up a craft and working with someone who’s supposedly good at it. I don’t
try to persuade people, at least not consciously. The way you do it is by trying to do it yourself, and
in particular trying to show, although it’s not all that difficult, the chasm that separates standard
versions of what goes on in the world from what the evidence and people’s inquiries will show
them. A common response that I get, even on things like chat networks, is, I can’t believe anything
you’re saying. It’s totally in conflict with what I’ve learned and always believed and I don’t have
time to look up all those footnotes. How do I know what you’re saying is true? That’s a plausible
reaction. I tell people it’s the right reaction. You shouldn’t believe what I say is true. Nobody is
going to pour truth into your brain. It’s something you have to find out for yourself.

BARSAMIAN: Let’s talk about propaganda and indoctrination. As a teacher, how do you get people to think for themselves? Can you impart tools that will enable that?

CHOMSKY: I think you learn by doing—I’m a Deweyite from way back. You learn by doing, and you figure out how to do things by watching other people do them. That’s the way you learn to be a good carpenter, for example, and the way you learn to be a good physicist. Nobody can train you on how to do physics. You don’t teach methodology courses in the natural sciences. You may in the social sciences. In any field that has significant intellectual content, you don’t teach methodology. You just watch people doing it and participate with them in doing it. So a typical, say, graduate seminar in a science course would be people working together, not all that different from an artisan picking up a craft and working with someone who’s supposedly good at it. I don’t try to persuade people, at least not consciously. The way you do it is by trying to do it yourself, and in particular trying to show, although it’s not all that difficult, the chasm that separates standard versions of what goes on in the world from what the evidence and people’s inquiries will show them. A common response that I get, even on things like chat networks, is, I can’t believe anything you’re saying. It’s totally in conflict with what I’ve learned and always believed and I don’t have time to look up all those footnotes. How do I know what you’re saying is true? That’s a plausible reaction. I tell people it’s the right reaction. You shouldn’t believe what I say is true. Nobody is going to pour truth into your brain. It’s something you have to find out for yourself.

Source:Liberating the mind from orthodoxies

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Finest critique of education system I ever read.

A musician wakes from a terrible nightmare. In his dream he finds himself in a society where music education has been made mandatory. “We are helping our students become more competitive in an increasingly sound-filled world.” Educators, school systems, and the state are put in charge of this vital project. Studies are commissioned, committees are formed, and decisions are made — all without the advice or participation of a single working musician or composer.

Since musicians are known to set down their ideas in the form of sheet music, these curious black dots and lines must constitute the “language of music.” It is imperative that students become fluent in this language if they are to attain any degree of musical competence; indeed, it would be ludicrous to expect a child to sing a song or play an instrument without having a thorough grounding in music notation and theory. Playing and listening to music, let alone composing an original piece, are considered very advanced topics and are generally put off until college, and more often graduate school.

As for the primary and secondary schools, their mission is to train students to use this language — to jiggle symbols around according to a fixed set of rules: “Music class is where we take out our staff paper, our teacher puts some notes on the board, and we copy them or transpose them into a different key. We have to make sure to get the clefs and key signatures right, and our teacher is very picky about making sure we fill in our quarter-notes completely. One time we had a chromatic scale problem and I did it right, but the teacher gave me no credit because I had the stems pointing the wrong way.”

In their wisdom, educators soon realize that even very young children can be given this kind of musical instruction. In fact it is considered quite shameful if one’s third-grader hasn’t completely memorized his circle of fifths. “I’ll have to get my son a music tutor. He simply won’t apply himself to his music homework. He says it’s boring. He just sits there staring out the window, humming tunes to himself and making up silly songs.”

In the higher grades the pressure is really on. After all, the students must be prepared for the standardized tests and college admissions exams. Students must take courses in Scales and Modes, Meter, Harmony, and Counterpoint. “It’s a lot for them to learn, but later in college when they finally get to hear all this stuff, they’ll really appreciate all the work they did in high school.” Of course, not many students actually go on to concentrate in music, so only a few will ever get to hear the sounds that the black dots represent. Nevertheless, it is important that every member of society be able to recognize a modulation or a fugal passage, regardless of the fact that they will never hear one. “To tell you the truth, most students just aren’t very good at music. They are bored in class, their skills are terrible, and their homework is barely legible. Most of them couldn’t care less about how important music is in today’s world; they just want to take the minimum number of music courses and be done with it. I guess there are just music people and non-music people. I had this one kid, though, man was she sensational! Her sheets were impeccable — every note in the right place, perfect calligraphy, sharps, flats, just beautiful. She’s going to make one hell of a musician someday.”

Waking up in a cold sweat, the musician realizes, gratefully, that it was all just a crazy dream. “Of course!” he reassures himself, “No society would ever reduce such a beautiful and meaningful art form to something so mindless and trivial; no culture could be so cruel to its children as to deprive them of such a natural, satisfying means of human expression. How absurd!”

Source: Lockhart’s Lament

A must read of all parents and teachers. Its not about just maths, same logic can be easy extended to other subjects too.

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Planck knowledge vs Chauffeur knowledge

“After winning the Nobel Prize, Planck toured around giving a speech. The chauffeur memorized the speech and asked if he could give it for him, pretending to be Planck, in Munich and Planck would pretend to be the chauffeur. Planck let him do it and after the speech someone asked a tough question. The real chauffeur said that he couldn’t believe someone in such an advanced city like Munich would ask such an elementary question and as such, he was going to ask his chauffeur (Planck) to reply].

In this world we have two kinds of knowledge. One is Planck knowledge, the people who really know. They’ve paid the dues, they have the aptitude. And then we’ve got chauffeur knowledge. They have learned the talk. They may have a big head of hair, they may have fine temper in the voice, they’ll make a hell of an impression. But in the end, all they have is chauffeur knowledge

Source: Charlie Munger – USC School of Law Commencement – May 13, 2007

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Warren buffet advice to a young invester

“If you’re interested in financial matters, getting a stake early is very useful and getting knowlege early is useful…. Just try to keep accumulating knowledge. That’s one of the beauties of the business that Charlie and I are in – everything is cumulative. The stuff I learned at 20 is useful today – not necessarily in the same way and not necessarily every day, but it’s useful. So you’re building a database in your mind that’s going to pay off over time.”

Source: 2001 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting report.

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Dilemma of a Indian Software Engineer

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I am having 4 years of experience working in a software MNC, had onsite oppurtunity, earning a decent salary and had good learning in initial years of working but now i have started realising that i am not moving anwhere, there is nothing much left to learn as part of product i work upon, my work more or less resembles with the fresher that join the organisation, or its about helping/ mentoring them, I will be gradually moving to project management but there also i dont see much learning , i hardly see my manager working they are just responsible for some project schedule maintainence , people management and so.

Most of the projects don’t require much technical competence, they are mostly legacy products that continue to evolve by copying code from here/there , Job which most of the people do can be done by traning any plain graduate and that is why software companies had people from all sort of colleges doing the same type of work.

There is hardly any recognition of talent because in reality nobody needs it here . All you need is a good luck to be in right project that can fetch you a onsite for a year or two and promotions. I know i am sounding very frustrated but believe me this is the truth and story of various of my friends.

Extracted from Rashmi Bansal’s awesome blog.

My response to query (as in comment on her blog).

 zzzbambam34

Rashmi , I wish guy/gal who raised ‘Whats wrong with being mediocre and happy’ question  few weeks back is reading this post. I am sure he will find few answers in this interesting query.

I am in similar situation from quite a while. I considered many options as suggested by readers of  your blog . After years of thinking  I am still a software engineer.

The Dilemma of SW engineer is whether he should take a low-on-everything ( excitement, motivation, creativity,risk) but high on social quotient (respect + money + status + rewards + lifestyle) or adre himself to take  road less travelled.

Nobody outside industry understand that SWITCH companies are sweatshops, serving bottom of the pyramid in software industry using most abundant & cheap resource available in india : underskilled unemployed young graduates. I am not complaining. If there is some one to blamed its’s our education system and ministry of HRD. Business is about making most of what you have. In a nation with 26 % population living BPL giving a decent standard of life to lakh of janata is commendable job by all measures. And I think nobody had any issue untill last few years.

So what exactly happend in last few years that triggered this ‘ Mujhe change chahiye’ (I  want change) phenomenon ?

A lot. We had two technology boom and busts. Then reality boom. Stock market boom and  bust. With indian economy clocking at 7%  plus rate from past many years we have witnessed rise of many other sectors. There is follow of overseas money in indian market and standard of life in india has improved for many. We have seen rise of indian middle class.

Whats this change ushed for a software engineer ?

Decline in social quotient. Earlier they had class of their own much higher in hierarchy. Now slowly but surely loosing that status. SW industry is maturing and with that benefits enjoyed by sw engineers.For a software engineer  this dilemma is not just about quality of work (creativity, motivation, risk- reward equation)  but its a sort of identity crisis. He want his status back. At higher level  this crisis is a harbinger of  bigger change in society . In coming years a critical mass whose  roti-kapada-makan needs got satisfied will start  seeking for more.  They will demand even better stanadard of life. This will not only create new challenge for individuals but to society and government too. To sustain  high standard of life and make class out of middle class require much more the what SWITCH companies can provide. To meet  this need we need a revolution more powerful then agriculture revolution, white revolution and another YK2  opportunity  put together. 

Talking about MBA and startups.I think both measures  are faddish. I meet many MBAs facing same issues as discussed. Startups need different kind of people. We know most of us do not have right startup DNA and startup environment is very unforgiving . Starup expect a lot. Talent, risk appetite, belief in delayed gratification, I-do-not-give-a-damn-what-society think attitude and lot more. Having  some tags like  MBA/IIT/IIM /ISB can  only make life little easier but will not gurrentee anything.

Do I have any  suggestions?

No. I have none. General  advice serve no purpose. Everybody want different thing from life.You have to decide what you want. Make sure you do not do not compare your inside with somebody’s outside.

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How to find a ‘perfect’ love this Valentine’s day

Slightly old formula (but I guess it works 😉 )

New age mantra

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