Saturday, September 20

The Corpus Clock & Chronophage


something that makes you go hmmm, what an amazing human invention. hats off to these chaps.

Kindling the e-book revolution?

In the dim and distant past, I have used the Palm Pilot as well as the Sony Clie before as my e-book reader but after having moved to a blackberry which did my PDA bits, I never could get back to getting an e-book reader. In an ideal situation, if the blackberry can give me windows functionality, a very good camera (5-6 MP) and some kind of e-book reader capability, I would be happy. Just one device to carry around, but in the meantime, I either had to read on my laptop or on my home pc.
But recently, on holiday in the USA, I was gifted a kindle by my brother in law and his sister. This is one of the best gifts one could have hoped for and I immediately started drooling over it.
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The Kindle comes in an attractive box, it looks like a book itself. Nice packaging. Something that you can easily plonk into your bookshelf without any issues, looks pretty neat, those letters and symbols floating around?

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The package is clipped closed with a rubber band and opening it shows you the kindle on the right and a storage compartment on the left which contains the leather case, the charger, USB cord and the manual.

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Took it out, charged it up (see the white charger? shades of Apple?). This was in the USA and I have an account. So when I powered it up, it asked me for my account, put that in and viola, I was up and running.
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Can you see the little round button on the right hand side? looks like a wheel? It is a wheel and click mouse. The lone channel on top of the wheel with a small silver pointer running up and down is the main guidance mechanism. Pressing it brings up a context sensitive menu, you can go to the Kindle Store (I am in the UK, so the wireless network doesnt work, but in the UK, you can subscribe to newspapers, blogs, magazines and the lot, brilliant stuff).
It seamlessly connected to the website via the wireless cellular link, showed me my purchases and recommendations, and so on and so forth.

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I did a download for my son and it was again seamless, a chapter came down, he read it and it was quite easy.
As I would be in the UK, I would not be able to connect wirelessly, so have to do the USB business. So connected to Many Books, a site with free books in kindle and mobipocket format books and downloaded the top 10.

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Here's the Count of Monte Cristo book. Pretty crisp to read. There are 2 buttons on the right, for next page and back. On the left, there are 2 buttons, back page and next page.

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You can change the text size, this is the default big ass size, which I reduced as soon as I could. The battery life is amazing. I have been carrying it around for the past week in India without charging and have read it for about 15 hours now, and the charge meter has rarely shifted. Oh! yes, I did have a problem with it, it froze at one point. But being a good old windows user for a long period of time, simply opened the kindle's back flap, got out my trusted paper clip and gave the reset button a damn good shove. Obviously nothing happened. Still frozen. So swore at it, banged it on the desk, prayed to Ganesh, poked the reset button for 5 seconds and it worked.
I have downloaded the mobipocket creater to convert my e-library to the mobipocket format. The Kindle comes with 200MB of built in memory which is good enough for about 100-150 books, I guess. I have few cd's full of scanned and downloaded and free and gifted and and and books and every weekend, there is a pleasurable time reading and converting those books. There is also a slot for an SD card, where you can store music and additional books if you need, although I dont see the need for it. I use my mobile phone to listen to music.
All in all, very neat device, very hardworking and rugged (have dropped it, travelled with it jammed in my backpack for 1 week, swore at it, read it in the bog and in the dusty environs of Gurgaon, no problems) and is quite well readable in all angles and lighting.
And yes, you can read this in the bath, you have to be careful, of course, dont drop the thing into the bath, but then, you would not do that to a paper book either, would you? Some drops of water did splash on it, but a simple wipe took care of that. Only quibble? It just doesnt smell the same, but you can annotate and clip away to glory..
Oh!, the screen saver is just brilliant, the images that it throws up are very amazing, old authors, old wood cut impressions of printing presses, exotic and strange word definitions, very good. Good first impression. Anybody who is a logophile and/or a bibliophile would love this.

Top 10 discarded books in hotel rooms

Now this is a fascinating list, lol, I kept on thinking about humans like us and what we read, or more importantly, what we buy and ignore! As it is, I am guilty of not even purchasing any of these books, I am afraid.

1. Prezza: Pulling No Punches by John Prescott
2. My Booky Wook by Russell Brand
3. Speaking For Myself by Cherie Blair
4. Don't You Know Who I Am by Piers Morgan?
5. Angel Uncovered and Crystal by Katie Price
6. You and Your Money by Alvin Hall
7. Lessons in Heartbreak by Cathy Kelly
8. Blind Faith by Ben Elton
9. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
10. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

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Competition costs threaten universities

This article is quite thought provoking, specially with respect to university funding and the future of tertiary education in the country. I quote some snippets:

Standard & Poor’s warns of “certain universities ceasing to exist”, because their high spending will reduce financial viability by depressing credit ratings. S&P says students are increasingly demanding such luxuries as en-suite accommodation and broadband connections. “For these reasons, we have seen many of our rated clients pursue significant capital programmes, sometimes requiring substantial debt issues.”

Of course, they are providing a service. You are going to charge the full whack of fees to the external students and then you are going to put them up in a place which is full of cockroaches? are you mad? No way, if I am going to spend thousands per year on my education, I want the quality which goes with it. And its not like I cannot get my education elsewhere, I can very well go to the USA, Australia or elsewhere where the facilities are better.

One of the roots of the push for international students is the UK’s worsening demographics. S&P notes official forecasts that by 2020 there will be 16 per cent fewer 18-year-olds in the UK. This could force universities to look increasingly abroad.

But the agency draws a distinction between “the newer, less research-oriented universities”, which are “more likely” to feel the demographic pinch, and “leading universities”, which will continue enjoy strong “demand” from UK pupils.

Interesting pressures, no?


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Nine Things to Ask Your Future Boss, the CEO

A very thought provoking set of questions that you might want to ask your boss. While this is for a CFO, several questions do seem to be appropriate for any level of employee. Here are some of the questions which I found interesting.

1. What were the strengths and weaknesses, or what did you like and not like, about the former CFO, both in your working and personal relationships, and what are you hoping to change with a new hire?

2. What critical business decision, or two, did you make over the past few years, and what role did finance and the CFO play?

3. Which financial statements do you focus on and how often do you read financial reports?

4. Tell me about a conflict within the organization and how you handled it.

5. Who are the key outside advisors influencing major decisions? And what's the role of any outside accounting firms — what functions do they perform?

6. What are the company's top business goals, what's the strategy to achieve them, and how are you adjusting your strategy in light of current market conditions? And related to that: Who are your major competitors, why, and what is your organization's competitive advantage?

As a matter of fact, these questions should be answered by the CEO and posted on the finance intranet... (ok, so I can dream)

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Sunday, September 14

Ambitious students choose tougher subjects

Now this is excellent news, that British students are choosing tougher subjects and not namby pampy silly sod subjects which are seriously ruining the image of British education. I quote,

"Increasing numbers are focusing on mathematics, science and languages to impress admissions tutors who find it increasingly hard to identify the best candidates.

Some leading institutions - including Cambridge and the London School of Economics - have already drawn up lists of subjects they say are not academically rigorous enough. Students taking more than one A-level in areas including media studies, dance, sports studies and travel and tourism are unlikely to be given a place.

Results reveal more taxing subjects - which have suffered from long-term declines - appear to be making a comeback.

Mathematics entries were up by 4,500 to a record 65,239 - making it the second most popular A-level in the UK.

Entries in the three sciences - biology, chemistry and physics - also increased.

The number of pupils studying languages rose overall, with French increasing to its highest level since 2003. Spanish jumped to a record high, although German entries dropped again fell following a slump last year.

The biggest losers included some subjects often criticised as “soft”, with computing, general studies and expressive arts having fewer candidates than in 2007. "

My son asked me today about the languages he should take. His language history has been amazing and just tells you the rather sad progression the state makes in language training. He obviously knows Bengali, Hindi and English, but he then started learning french in school but his french is atrocious. You cannot learn a language by just doing 1 hour per week in school. Then he was drafted into Spanish lessons. And again that dribbled away.

Now he is in high school and has been asked to study Ancient Greek, which is only open to special high performance students. Good for him. But now he has to select two from Spanish, French, German and Latin for languages. He asked me about which languages should he take? Obviously I plumped for French and German and then he made a face like a quiche. On poking further, I found that German is not considered to be "cool". Hmm, poking and prodding further brought out the news that students taking German are called as Nazi's. Hmm.

So what does he want to do? He wants to take French and Spanish. French I can understand because he has been studying that for some time now, but Spanish? Oh! the reason is that all the girls are in there. And thus is the future of language education established.

The marching morons - Oxford University is to take fewer British students

Here's what I wrote on a mailing list after reading this story.

One cannot help it, the progressive governments (both conservative and labour) have simply and slowly decided to starve the intellectual and the brain state and instead have kept on plonking investment into the welfare state. And whatever monies have gone into higher education, the implementation has been bad. And I speak as an adjunct or visiting fellow/professor in several universities in many countries, member of an advisory board of a university, from speaking to several friends who are now senior professors or Deans of studies and from my view of membership of several national technical, innovation, educational and charitable associations/boards.

Our universities are still quite good, do not get me wrong, but investment is simply horrible. Is it a surprise that the only private university in the UK, which has only few thousand students, regularly tops the league of student satisfaction? Beating Oxford, Cambridge and other Russell universities hollow? Buildings are falling about the place but universities are stopped from getting private investment because of stupid rules and laws (witness a variety of issues ranging from the animal liberation front to insistence on very high amounts of student intake to social engineering based upon welfare state status and demographics etc.). The publication driven research funding agenda has caused an explosion of research but actually a reduction of quality. And then the government comes to drive 50% of students in tertiary education without giving it commensurate funding.

So what happens when you nearly triple the workload while halving the resources? I will let you imagine that. Not that the quality of the students is any good. I was in Leicester some weeks back (where the British/non-British ratio is 85%, so cannot blame the bloody foreigners). The professor I know there said that he failed 75% of his class in basic business studies. And these are students who want to study business studies, have done A levels in Business. We are investing millions in financial education because the children we get in university are functionally and financially illiterate. Why would they be literate? Since when did they actually have to pay for anything? their music is free, their films are free, their communications are free, their entertainment is free, their housing, board and everything is free. So why on earth would they know what is the worth of anything? And when we are surprised that these children drop out in droves or bugger around doing a degree in reggae music or surfing management or what have you?

Tertiary education has to be recognised that it is NOT for everybody and has to be reduced in scale. For 800 years, we knew that the tertiary education was a very rare DUTY, had to be well funded and had to get only the rare and very good students into it. That was the reason why our universities, for 800 odd years, have had a reputation for being the best. Now we remove the funding, we throw it open to students who are simply incapable of dealing with that level of intellectual activity, and promise university education to anybody who wakes up one day and decides to go to a university.

There IS a simple answer, equalise opportunity by giving scholarships but let universities charge what they wish. Speak to every chancellor, vice chancellor, professor and Dean and by and large, by very large proportion, is what they wish for. All they want is to make sure that they get the resources to do the job that they want. As we are unwilling to stump up the taxes to pay for it, we have to pay fees. And this isn't a Labour versus conservative thing, both parties are in the same situation.
In the meantime, we get foreign students who give us the money to educate British students. Effectively, we are asking foreign parents to educate our young because we do not think our young are important enough to educate effectively.

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The land of the midnight biryani

I was in Hyderabad last week and will be checking out the food there, in particular Haleem and Biryani, all over again. And yes, I agree with Pravin Nair, waistline be damned, the biryani there is just wonderful.

Biryani is the ultimate test for a chef. As a rule, whenever I go to a restaurant where I might be going back again, I try out the biryani and that too the beef/lamb/goat type. If that works out, then the restaurant is perfect.

How do you make it? Here's a video.

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Rediscovering Arabic Science

An interesting post here. You might know my thoughts about this propensity to try to link science to religion or culture. Anybody who thinks that religion has anything to do with science is an idiot. No questions asked. But take a look at this article and it just shows that even very smart people make these spectacular mistakes.

Just 3 bits will show you what I mean. Arabic science is not the same as Persian Science. Frankly, in the greater scheme of things, the Persian influence is much more on those Arabs than anything that the Arabs did. No wonder, even now, the Iranians think of the Arabs as jumped up camel herders, lol. The article itself starts talking about a Persian scholar and uses that as an example of Arabic Science.

Second aspect is that they assume that they mix language/culture with religion. As usual with people who have basic issues with history and comprehension, they say that the Arab/Muslim world is the same. Erm, no, it is not and anybody who says so is not fit to be a scientist. They are simply ignorant.

Third aspect is that they forget the power of Persian language to the east, Arabic language was used but the Persian language was also used, and in a matter of speaking, more was done using the Persian language. Take a look at India which actually ended up having more Muslim brains and money than the Arabs. And it was mostly done in Persian. So lets not forget that piece.

But that is not to take away the amazing achievements that these Persian/Arabic/Muslim scientists did. But my theory is that they did so despite their religion, rather than because of it. Scientists, scholars, artists and the lot have always been state directed and been oppressed. Almost every scholar mentioned in this article has had their run-ins with the religious establishment. And THAT, my friends, is the reason for the dire state of science in Arab education at this moment. There is no point in rediscovering science if you do not do the scientific thing and learn from it. Dont be a relativistic, be a positivistic empiricist. Living in the past is not going to give you a patent or invention today or tomorrow.