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Finding profundity in the most unusual places.

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June 2004
July 2004
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    The good news and the bad...

    It has been exactly a week since I blogged. The good news is the response to profundities. It has been exhilarating to see so many people interested in reading and contributing to the discussion.

    To get to such numbers in a month has been an amazing experience to me. To top it all, I've been asked to do articles for a journal. Unfortunately, I won't be able to continue to spend much time on profundities. I won't even be able to tell you where my new articles are going to come up- I am using a pseudonym.

    Anyways, happy blogging. hope to be able to spend time on profundities soon enough.

    Profundities :: 157 comments ::


    The Spin Zone: On Spinoza and Kenneth Lay

    Spinoza wrote a classic work- Ethics. Centuries later we are still debating, this week you would have seen the picture of Ken Lay in handcuffs and surely you would have read about ethics in business.

    "I believe in God and I believe in free markets," says the son of a Baptist minister who ended up as one of the most famous business people in America now. He is almost evangelical of free market economies. "That' s the fairest way to allocate and price resources," he says. " It does create more wealth and a higher standard of living for people than any other alternative. That ought to be the conclusive statement on markets."

    He has a doctorate in economics from the University of Houston and serves on the Board of Trustees of his church. When he dies, he trusts God will consider him a good and faithful servant.

    Some much needed fresh perspective- you might say, read on...

    "I think if you looked at my total life as a businessman, the way I treated people, the opportunities I' ve created for people standards of living that have been impacted for the better, I certainly hope he would," says Lay.

    To read the full interview with Kenneth Lay, go here.
    To do a quick refresh on Spinoza, try here.

    Thanks db32 for the link to an msnbc interactive module on what really happened at Enron.

    Profundities :: 16 comments ::


    Blogger's Guide 1 : Presentation

    "To love and not lose or to not risk loving at all is to not live at all."
    This comment to one of my posts turned out to be not just a tongue twister, but also a mind bender. Well said, and profound too.

    Someone else, well, most anyone else would have put it in a different way, so why is it that some people write well and some write exceptionally well? This question leads well into a topic I've been learning a lot over the last month. Blog skills. Thanks to everyone who replied to my emails soliciting advice.

    1. Style
    Let me quote from "To be or not to be". Anyone whose mind murmured Hamlet or Shakespeare gets a pat on the back.

    "By a sleep to say we end
    The heartaches and the thousand natural shocks
    That flesh is heir to."

    You will note the highly stylized form of writing. (Im not a big fan of ending a sentence with a preposition though; it almost feels like you are left hanging at a cliff.) Someone with a taste for the finer styles of the written language most often will produce beautiful prose.

    2. Attitude
    Are we being serious or frivolous, casual or formal, sweet or stuffy? How many times have you come across blogs where authors are condescending or judgmental, dismissive or irritated? Example from my own blog- the last quote unintentionally adds a condescending tone to the whole article.

    3. Knowledge
    It is not a prerequisite that the author is knowledgeable in the subject, but is he using sound logic? Do facts or examples augment his reasoning? Is the argument structured? Is there a summary? Most often we remember to have a structure, but forget micro level details- correctness, relevance, and whether pertinent facts have been omitted. For bloggers especially, subjects cannot be too broad and the discussion has to be well organized. If you a post a long article, as I did last week, rest assured no one is going to read it!

    4. Integrity
    Do you add links to sources of information you use? Do you use quotes, indentation etc to delineate your original sentences from someone else's?

    5. Diligence
    Did you overlook spelling and grammar mistakes?

    Can you think of anything else that makes some blogs very good reads?

    Profundities :: 77 comments ::


    I Remember You As You Were: Pablo Neruda

    Today is the 100th birthday of Pablo Neruda. Neruda won the Nobel Prize in Literature "for a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent's destiny and dreams". "How could poetry bring alive a continent's destiny and dreams?", u might exclaim, well, a little history is in order. But before that a little appetizer.

    Neruda is famous for the intensity of his romantic poems; you should also know that most anyone with a good taste for romantic poetry would have heard of Neruda. Miramax made a film about Neruda 'II Postino'. Julia Roberts walked into the Miramax office hearing about the upcoming movie. She was carrying six of her favorite Pablo Neruda poetry collections; She got a role in the movie after everyone was left enchanted by her reading of Neruda's poetry.

    The poems were originally written in Spanish, so what you see here is only a translation. If only if I had learnt Spanish :( Now, I read "The twenty poems of love" long time back and believe me, Neruda's poetry is like a treasure that you will want to mine time and time again. I started writing about Poem XX: "Tonight I Can Write The Saddest Lines" to highlight the intensity and anger of Neruda, but my mood was better suited to the following poem.

    Poem LXXXI: And now your are mine

    And now you'’re mine. Rest with your dream in my dream.
    Love and pain and work should all sleep now.
    The night turns on its invisible wheels,
    and you are pure beside me as a sleeping amber.

    No one else, Love, will sleep in my dreams. You will go,
    we will go together, over the waters of time.
    No one else will travel through the shadows with me,
    only you, evergreen, ever sun, ever moon.

    Your hands have already opened their delicate fists
    and let their soft drifting signs drop away,
    your eyes closed like two gray wings, and I move
    after, following the folding water you carry, that carries me away.
    The night, the world, the wind spin out their destiny.
    Without you, I am your dream, only that, and that is all.

    All the poems in this collection use the imagery of nature, the ocean, the sun, the moon. "We will go together, over the waters of time. No one will travel thru the shadows with me". Now the lines "Your hands have already opened their delicate fists/and let their soft drifting signs drop away" might not be the easiest to grasp. This is my interpretation. There is an optional wedding ceremony wherein the bride and the groom pour sand into a container. The gist of it being that once the sand has been mixed, there is no way the 'groom's sand' and the 'bride's sand' can be separated.

    Especially telling is the way Neruda ends it- "Without you, I am your dream, only that, and that is all."

    Profundities :: 9 comments ::


    When it is not just about the game: Surprising facets of sports psychology

    Once in a while you come across an article, book or an interview with a person who makes a lot of sense, and you sit back and wonder "Wow, this stuff is new, where can I read more from him". Malcolm Gladwell is one of those guys. He wrote a book "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference" I've read an interview with this guy and articles by him. I am not paraphrasing his words, because they are beautifully written. If you like what u read, go buy the book :)

    One of the things that always interests me in sports is how extraordinarily sensitive athletic performance is to social expectations. My favorite example is the four-minute mile. For years, no one even comes close. Then Roger Bannister breaks the record in 1954, and suddenly, everyone can break four minutes. Did runners get "better" in 1954? Not really. They simply became aware that running four minutes was possible. Same thing with baseball players and the Dominican Republic. Dominicans are not "better" infielders than everyone else. But if you are a nine-year-old kid playing in San Pedro de Macoris, you know that it's possible to be a major leaguer, in a way that the same kid growing up in Maine does not. When symbolic barriers are broken -- the first man from the Dominican Republic to make the majors, the first person to break four minutes -- the context in which we think of achievement changes dramatically.

    The heart-wrenching part of most sports is when a player or team is at the verge of achieving a very important milestone and they choke/panic. The best example would be that of Novotna against Graff in the 93 Wimbledon finals.

    Novotna was leading 4-1 and serving at 40-30. The stands at Center Court were packed and the Duke and Duchess of Kent were watching with rapt attention. Novotna was poised and confident, her blond hair held back with a headband-and then something happened. She served the ball straight into the net. She stopped and steadied herself for the second serve, but this time it was worse. Double fault. On the next point, she was slow to react to a high shot by Graf, and badly missed on a forehand volley. At game point, she hit an overhead straight into the net. Instead of 5-1, it was now 4-2. Graf won the next game. Novotna wasn't tossing the ball high enough. Her head was down. Her movements had slowed markedly. She double-faulted three times!. 4-4.

    Novotna was visibly agitated now; She talked to herself under her breath. Graf took the game at love; Novotna, moving as if in slow motion, did not win a single point: 5-4, Graf. It was now her turn to serve. She missed a routine volley wide, shook her head, talked to herself. She faulted, mis-hit, mis-timed and seemed at a loss. She looked like a beginner again. She was crumbling under pressure, but exactly why was as baffling to her as it was to all those looking on. Isn't pressure supposed to bring out the best in us? We try harder. We concentrate harder. We get a boost of adrenaline. So what was happening to her?

    The end was symbolic of the moment; Novotna hit a shallow lob to Graf, and, mercifully, it was over. At the awards ceremony, the Duchess of Kent handed Novotna the runner-up's trophy, a small silver plate, and whispered something in her ear, and what Novotna had done finally caught up with her. The Duchess reached up and pulled her head down onto her shoulder, and Novotna started to sob.

    Human beings sometimes falter under pressure. Pilots crash and divers drown. Under the glare of competition, basketball players cannot find the basket and golfers cannot find the pin. When that happens, we say variously that people have "panicked" or, to use the sports colloquialism, "choked." But what do those words mean? To choke or panic is considered to be as bad as to quit. But are all forms of failure equal?

    We have two different ways of "knowing" how to perform a physical task. The first is conscious knowledge. If I ask you how to use a can opener, you can tell me. The second is unconscious knowledge, which is the knowledge that we have that we can't really describe.

    For example, if you gave me a picture of blank keyboard and asked me to write in appropriate letters in the right places, I'd have to think really hard before I could do that accurately. My conscious knowledge of a keyboard is pretty weak. But right now I'm typing at perhaps 40 words per minute, and I'm having absolutely no trouble finding the right letter on the keyboard without thinking at all.

    That's my unconscious knowledge system at work, and in that mode I'm a great typist. These two systems are quite separate. And on tasks that we are good at -- like typing, in my case, or throwing a baseball in, say, Derek Jeter's case -- our unconscious systems are way better than our conscious system. But sometimes under pressure, we get forced out of unconscious mode. And what are we left with? We're left with painstakingly going over the keyboard, trying to remember what button goes with what letter. This is what choking is.

    Panic is something else altogether. Consider the following account of a scuba-diving accident, recounted by Morphew, a human-factors specialist at NASA: "It was an open-water certification dive; I'd been diving for two weeks. This was my first time in the open ocean without the instructor. Just my buddy and I. We had to go about forty feet down, to the bottom of the ocean, and do an exercise where we took our regulators out of our mouth, picked up a spare one that we had on our vest, and practiced breathing out of the spare. My buddy did hers. Then it was my turn. I removed my regulator. I lifted up my secondary regulator. I put it in my mouth, exhaled, to clear the lines, and then I inhaled, and, to my surprise, it was water. I inhaled water. Then the hose that connected that mouthpiece to my tank, my air source, came unlatched and air from the hose came exploding into my face."

    "Right away, my hand reached out for my partner's air supply, as if I was going to rip it out. It was without thought. It was a physiological response. My eyes are seeing my hand do something irresponsible. I'm fighting with myself. Don't do it. Then I searched my mind for what I could do. And nothing came to mind. All I could remember was one thing: If you can't take care of yourself, let your buddy take care of you. I let my hand fall back to my side, and I just stood there."

    This is a textbook example of panic. In that moment, Morphew stopped thinking. She forgot that she had another source of air, one that worked perfectly well and that, moments before, she had taken out of her mouth. She forgot that her partner had a working air supply as well, which could easily be shared, and she forgot that grabbing her partner's regulator would imperil both of them. All she had was her most basic instinct: get air. Stress wipes out short-term memory. People with lots of experience tend not to panic, because when the stress suppresses their short- term memory they still have some residue of experience to draw on.

    Panic, in this sense, is the opposite of choking. Choking is about thinking too much. Panic is about thinking too little. Choking is about loss of instinct. Panic is reversion to instinct. They may look the same, but they are worlds apart.

    How can we prepare ourselves against panic? By building up our knowledge of the situation thru practice. We would be at a stage when we wud have our mind programmed to handle unexpected circumstances in a calm collected way. How can we prepare against choking? According to studies conducted in this area, the best way is to practice under pressure.

    Interview with Malcolm Gladwell
    Gladwell's article on choking
    A research study on choking and panic

    Profundities :: 72 comments ::


    the KFC at Wickenburg

    Warning: another short story

    Liliata rutlantium
    Turma circumdet
    Iubilantium te virginum

    As Stephen left the KFC, he was thinking of the Rituale Romanum; This is the part of the commendation for a departing soul. Not that she were dying; but he knew at that moment that it was beginnning of the death of her memories.

    Life has offered Stephen innumerous tempations of a conventional existance, this time he decided to plunge into the labyrinthine maze of self-doubt, self-examination and unhappiness that comes with letting go of her rather than carry on. As did his namesake in Joyce's Ulysses, Stephen had no intention of going back.

    Would you give up what could be, for the sake of what is? She was very pretty, as lovely as the sun is bright. There was something special about her and then too, there was something special about them; but they had never delved into the 'us' part, they had always been he and she. Time might have changed all that. A couple of months and there wouldn't have been a he and she, but Stephen was not willing to take a chance. What could be is not as valuable as what is.

    "You have to forgive me for this; we won't be meeting again". Little did she know that he had not given up on her; he just wanted to hold on to her.

    PS: As you might have guessed, this is about Stephen parting with his girlfriend. He considers their relationship pristine; at the first blemish of a smear on their relationship, he decides to end it. He isn't thinking of the higher planes that relationship might have reached; he cherishes whatever they had between them and feels that giving it up was the best way to keep it immaculate.

    Profundities :: 26 comments ::


    Two snobs make a leader.

    "Will you be able to lead when required, and have the self-control to yield when you shud?"

    I came across this line while reading a Wall Street Journal piece.

    How wud you relate this to the people u see everyday? Let me take the example of a manager, the fictional manager Tom of my technical articles, how wud he behave given a technical management problem? "The problem is..., we have two options Tom, either X or Y, with X, these are the issues, with Y these are the issues". Tom- "What? with Y, u will be compromising client's user experience? no way, clients are kings, do X, just get it done"

    [There shud be a rule against using cliches to rationalize arguments: 'If we have to do it, we have to do it right, so let's do A', 'this is our company, so we have to B']

    Now let us see how the ideal manager wud handle this. "The problem is..., we have two options Steve, either X or Y..." Steve-"hmm, among the issues, U,V,W are not relevant, we can do without Z, so we are left with a compromise between client user experience and implementation difficulty. What implementation options have u evaluated?" blah blah "those are good options, but see, this problem can be easily solved if instead of doing it this way, we do it the other way, of course there will be some change in client's user experience, but as long as we don't do P, it is OK"

    What makes him a leader? He is willing to take the lead in guiding the discussion and identifying the issues. At the same time he listens to the subordinate and is willing to yield to his suggestion. If he did just the first part, he wud be called a snob. If he did just the second part, he wud be called a snob. Two snobs make a leader.

    We come across friends who say "I'm always the leader in my marital relationship"
    Does he show initiative?
    Is he the problem solver?
    Does he yield to the other person?
    If the answer is no to any of these questions, it is clear what your friend really is:
    half of a leader- a snob!

    A: work on weekends to get it done.
    B: fire you.
    P: give the user an electric shock when they hit next.

    Profundities :: 6 comments ::