Archive for Worth reading

Digital wars: Apple vs Google Vs Microsoft


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Lastly, what were the biggest surprises for you as you researched and wrote this?

I knew a lot of the Apple stuff because I’d followed it closely, and ditto with Google. Really what did surprise me was the number of times that Microsoft had winning solutions but through a combination of inertia and internal fighting managed to dissipate its chances. Things like owning a company which could do essentially what Google’s AdWords did; turning down the Overture purchase; trying to mimic the iPod with the Zune; and a lot of the mess around Windows Mobile, which in effect had to be taken out the back and shot, because it had become so unwieldy. In retrospect, the other surprising thing is how quickly a lead can vanish — look at RIM, which used to dominate smartphones (in the US) and is now on a dangerous slide. Technology moves fast; if you’re not thinking a couple of years ahead, you’re already behind.

Charles Arthur, Author of Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and Battle for the Internet

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Reason behind Policy paralysis

“One answer that can be easily dismissed is that politicians simply don’t understand the gravity of the situation. Political leaders need not be economic geniuses to understand the advice that they hear, and many are both intelligent and well-read. A second answer—that politicians have short time horizons, owing to electoral cycles—may contain a kernel of truth, but it is inadequate, because the adverse consequences of timid action often become apparent well before they are up for re-election.

The best answer that I have heard comes from Axel Weber, the former president of Germany’s Bundesbank and an astute political observer. In Weber’s view, policymakers simply do not have the public mandate to get ahead of problems, especially novel ones that seem small initially, but, if unresolved, imply potentially large costs.

If the problem has not been experienced before, the public is not convinced of the potential costs of inaction. And, if action prevents the problem, the public never experiences the averted calamity and voters, therefore, penalize political leaders for the immediate costs that the action entails. Even if politicians have perfect foresight of the disaster that awaits if nothing is done, they may have little ability to persuade voters, or less insightful party members, that the short-term costs must be paid.”

Source: The public and its problems

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What is best is not always popular: a fable

The King of Wei asked Bian Que, “You have two brothers who are doctors too. Which one of you three is the best?”

Bian Que answered, “My big brother is the best. The other  brother is also better than me. I am the worst but the most famous.”

The king was puzzled and inquired why.

Bian Que explained, “My big brother is the the best doctor because he sees disease and cures it even before the patient feels any symptoms. Yet this makes it hard for his greatness to be recognized this way. So he is only admired within my family.”

“The other brother, the second best, cures disease when it develops early symptoms that at most cause little pain. There he is regarded as only good at treating minor ailments and thus enjoys a small reputation in my hometown.”

“In my case, patients always come to me when their disease is at an advanced stage. They and their desperate families are so pleased when I perform dramatic measures such as puncturing, bloodletting, poisoning, and surgery, to  cure or relieve the disease. That is why I am famous  across borders.”

Source: Conversations on Leadership: Wisdom from Global Management Gurus

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Neil Postman on role of schools in New Economy

The role of the school is to help students learn how to ignore and discard information so that they can achieve a sense of coherence in their lives; to help students cultivate a sense of social responsibility; to help students think critically, historically, and humanely; to help students understand the ways in which technology shapes their consciousness; to help students learn that their own needs sometimes are subordinate to the needs of the group. I could go on for another three pages in this vein without any reference to how machinery can give students access to information. Instead, let me summarize in two ways what I mean. First, I’ll cite a remark made repeatedly by my friend Alan Kay, who is sometimes called “the father of the personal computer.” Alan likes to remind us that any problems the schools cannot solve without machines, they cannot solve with them. Second, and with this I shall come to a close: If a nuclear holocaust should occur some place in the world, it will not happen because of insufficient information; if children are starving in Somalia, it’s not because of insufficient information; if crime terrorizes our cities, marriages are breaking up, mental disorders are increasing, and children are being abused, none of this happens because of a lack of information. These things happen because we lack something else. It is the “something else” that is now the business of schools.

Source: Of Luddites, Learning , and life


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‘Integrity’ conundrum.

Do you start with the inner landscape of the individual and project outward to his or her performance in office, or do you leave the inner weather of the candidates’ spiritual and psychological health to their therapists and pastors?
Each of the alternatives has had its powerful champions. In “The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates,” John Milton tells us that when men first felt the need to institute government in order to ensure civil order, they chose one “above the rest” because of “the eminence of his wisdom and integrity.” If only Adam had not fallen, Milton adds, there would have been no necessity to choose anyone, for in the beginning “all men were naturally born free, being the image and resemblance of God himself” and were therefore born “to command not to obey.”
That’s just the trouble, declared his contemporary (and philosophical opposite) Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes agrees that in the abstract all men are equal and equally free, but that means that, left to their own devices, they will prey on one another and produce a general instability that will lead to most lives being “nasty, brutish and short.” Hobbes doesn’t believe in the natural goodness invoked by Milton (“the eminence of his wisdom and integrity”), and so he opts for the artificial solution of granting to one man (called the sovereign) all the rights and powers in the state provided that he secure the property of every man against the depredations of his neighbors and protect the country from its foreign enemies.
The sovereign’s ability to make good on these obligations will have nothing to do with his moral character — “the question of who is the better man,” Hobbes says, “has no place in the condition of mere nature” — and everything to do with his political skills. Hobbes insists that the “worthiness” to lead is different from “the worth or value of a man and also from his merit.” What is important is “a particular power or ability for that wherof he is said to be worthy; which particular ability is usually named fitness or aptitude.” Is he good at the job? — does he have the aptitude? — is a more pertinent question than is he good?
Hobbes was anticipated by Machiavelli, who noted that everyone always proclaims “how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep faith and to live with integrity and not with craft.”
But, says Machiavelli, everyone is wrong. A prince should keep faith until he discovers that those to whom he has given it are working against his interests. In those circumstances “a wise lord cannot, or ought not … to keep faith … when the reasons that caused him to pledge it exist no longer.” Nor, he adds, “will there ever be wanting to princes legitimate reasons to excuse this nonobservance.” That is, you can always plausibly claim to be keeping faith at the very moment you break it; but when you do so, Machiavelli counsels, you “must know well how to disguise this characteristic, and be a great pretender and dissembler.”
In short, craft before integrity, but have sufficient craft to produce integrity’s image. Machiavelli’s hero in this regard is the notoriously corrupt Pope Alexander VI, who “did nothing else but deceive men. … [N]evertheless his deceits always succeeded according to his wishes, because he well understood this side of mankiSource: Integrity or Craft: The Leadership QuestionDo you start with the inner landscape of the individual and project outward to his or her performance in office, or do you leave the inner weather of the candidates’ spiritual and psychological health to their therapists and pastors?

Each of the alternatives has had its powerful champions. In “The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates,” John Milton tells us that when men first felt the need to institute government in order to ensure civil order, they chose one “above the rest” because of “the eminence of his wisdom and integrity.” If only Adam had not fallen, Milton adds, there would have been no necessity to choose anyone, for in the beginning “all men were naturally born free, being the image and resemblance of God himself” and were therefore born “to command not to obey.”

That’s just the trouble, declared his contemporary (and philosophical opposite) Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes agrees that in the abstract all men are equal and equally free, but that means that, left to their own devices, they will prey on one another and produce a general instability that will lead to most lives being “nasty, brutish and short.” Hobbes doesn’t believe in the natural goodness invoked by Milton (“the eminence of his wisdom and integrity”), and so he opts for the artificial solution of granting to one man (called the sovereign) all the rights and powers in the state provided that he secure the property of every man against the depredations of his neighbors and protect the country from its foreign enemies.

The sovereign’s ability to make good on these obligations will have nothing to do with his moral character — “the question of who is the better man,” Hobbes says, “has no place in the condition of mere nature” — and everything to do with his political skills. Hobbes insists that the “worthiness” to lead is different from “the worth or value of a man and also from his merit.” What is important is “a particular power or ability for that wherof he is said to be worthy; which particular ability is usually named fitness or aptitude.” Is he good at the job? — does he have the aptitude? — is a more pertinent question than is he good?

Hobbes was anticipated by Machiavelli, who noted that everyone always proclaims “how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep faith and to live with integrity and not with craft.”

But, says Machiavelli, everyone is wrong. A prince should keep faith until he discovers that those to whom he has given it are working against his interests. In those circumstances “a wise lord cannot, or ought not … to keep faith … when the reasons that caused him to pledge it exist no longer.” Nor, he adds, “will there ever be wanting to princes legitimate reasons to excuse this nonobservance.” That is, you can always plausibly claim to be keeping faith at the very moment you break it; but when you do so, Machiavelli counsels, you “must know well how to disguise this characteristic, and be a great pretender and dissembler.”

In short, craft before integrity, but have sufficient craft to produce integrity’s image. Machiavelli’s hero in this regard is the notoriously corrupt Pope Alexander VI, who “did nothing else but deceive men. … [N]evertheless his deceits always succeeded according to his wishes, because he well understood this side of mankind.”

In short, craft before integrity, but have sufficient craft to produce integrity’s image. Machiavelli’s hero in this regard is the notoriously corrupt Pope Alexander VI, who “did nothing else but deceive men. … [N]evertheless his deceits always succeeded according to his wishes, because he well understood this side of mankind.”

Source: Integrity or Craft: The Leadership Question

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Making of yet another shantaram?

I sail past paddy fields and palm trees and my heart soars as I think fondly of this land of boundless plenty, abundant in smiles, moustaches and sari’s in shades the rainbow couldn’t even begin to imagine:
– where cows are avoided by cars at the expense of people but if you do hit a person, the mob will kill you before a policeman has chance to arrest you; where you don’t give up your seat on the bus for a mother with her baby, but instead take the baby and sit them on your lap;
– where governments sign multi-million dollar arms deals with the UK and US, where the price of one fighter jet with provide 1.5million people with safe drinking water for life; where the shake of a head means more just no – you’re welcome, it was very nice to meet you, my pleasure, after you and of course, no thank you;
– where you board a train with your luggage and disembark with new friends; where the towers of temples litter the horizon and rubbish litter the floor until sacred cows munch their way through it; where bad luck is put down to karma and the world we live in is just an illusion (yes the matrix is based on hindu culture);
– where everything you do is everybody else’s business; where men try and brush themselves against you and old women practically sit on you for your white skin to transfer to them; where the majority of mobile phones have been installed with the Titantic theme tune and cars play cheerful dittys when reversing;
– where homosexuality is illegal but men wear skirts and walk down the street holding hands; if you’re tired, you just lie down in the street and have a sleep; where you don’t use the flyover to cross to another platform but you jump down and cross the tracks;
– where you can fill yourself up on an amazing thali for 25p but 400m people go hungry; where you get by only on human kindness, but where beggars are left to rot in the streets; where the swastika is a symbol of peace, of evolution;
– Brahmin priests get fat on the devotion of 400m people living on less than 25p a day; where in a society where Ahimsa, non-violence, is the pervading rule a societal structure can exist that treats 20% of it’s population as no better than dogs.

I sail past paddy fields and palm trees and my heart soars as I think fondly of this land of boundless plenty, abundant in smiles, moustaches and sari’s in shades the rainbow couldn’t even begin to imagine:

– where cows are avoided by cars at the expense of people but if you do hit a person, the mob will kill you before a policeman has chance to arrest you; where you don’t give up your seat on the bus for a mother with her baby, but instead take the baby and sit them on your lap;

– where governments sign multi-million dollar arms deals with the UK and US, where the price of one fighter jet with provide 1.5million people with safe drinking water for life; where the shake of a head means more just no – you’re welcome, it was very nice to meet you, my pleasure, after you and of course, no thank you;

– where you board a train with your luggage and disembark with new friends; where the towers of temples litter the horizon and rubbish litter the floor until sacred cows munch their way through it; where bad luck is put down to karma and the world we live in is just an illusion (yes the matrix is based on hindu culture);

– where everything you do is everybody else’s business; where men try and brush themselves against you and old women practically sit on you for your white skin to transfer to them; where the majority of mobile phones have been installed with the Titantic theme tune and cars play cheerful dittys when reversing;

– where homosexuality is illegal but men wear skirts and walk down the street holding hands; if you’re tired, you just lie down in the street and have a sleep; where you don’t use the flyover to cross to another platform but you jump down and cross the tracks;

– where you can fill yourself up on an amazing thali for 25p but 400m people go hungry; where you get by only on human kindness, but where beggars are left to rot in the streets; where the swastika is a symbol of peace, of evolution;

– Brahmin priests get fat on the devotion of 400m people living on less than 25p a day; where in a society where Ahimsa, non-violence, is the pervading rule a societal structure can exist that treats 20% of it’s population as no better than dogs.

Source:   It’s not over until India decides its so

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James G. March on Hot stove effect and foolishness

One form of the hot-stove effect is the competency trap, where learning encourages people to stick to and improve skills they have already honed to a fine degree rather than spend time gaining new ones. Some of my grandchildren say to me, “We’re not very good at mathematics, so we’re not going to take any more mathematics.” I say, “Wait a minute. Mathematics is a practice sport. If you’re not very good at it, you take more of it.” That’s counterintuitive, and it goes against the main logic of experiential learning, not to mention grandchildren’s sentiments about control over their own lives. It has also been demonstrated that the hot-stove effect leads experiential learners to be risk averse. It is possible to limit the hot-stove effect by slowing learning so that you increase the sample of alternatives that have poor results. That obviously has the cost of incurring short run losses and consequently is hard for an adaptive system to do. …

Part of foolishness, or what looks like foolishness, is stealing ideas from a different domain. Someone in economics, for example, may borrow ideas from evolutionary biology, imagining that the ideas might be relevant to evolutionary economics. A scholar who does so will often get the ideas wrong; he may twist and strain them in applying them to his own discipline. But this kind of cross-disciplinary stealing can be very rich and productive. It’s a tricky thing, because foolishness is usually that—foolishness. It can push you to be very creative, but uselessly creative. The chance that someone who knows no physics will be usefully creative in physics must be so close to zero as to be indistinguishable from it. Yet big jumps are likely to come in the form of foolishness that, against long odds, turns out to be valuable. So there’s a nice tension between how much foolishness is good for knowledge and how much knowledge is good for foolishness.

Source: Ideas as Art: A Conversation with James G. March

The hot stove effect first observed by Mark Twain. He observed that if a cat happens to jump on a hot stove, he will never jump on a hot stove again. This of course is a good thing. However, not so good is the fact that he will not jump on a cold stove either, or perhaps anything the bears the slightest resemblance to a stove. This effect have many implication in area of leanring and experimentaal innivation.

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