Friday, November 11

Thursday, November 10

Connecting with freshmen | Harvard Gazette

Best of luck with your examination today, son. I am sure you will ace it as usual.
in the meantime, this was a fascinating discussion that I didn't know about. I didn't realise how much your friends and friend network influences your behaviour and habits. In this particular example, they talked about obesity and quitting smoking. Interesting or what? Thinking back on my experience, I would tend to agree, quite a lot of my friends are porky and they used to smoke as well, going back to school. So here's the obvious lesson, if you dont want bad habits or gain good ones, then stick with people who dont have bad habits or have good habits. I know this is a d'oh statement, but hey, the numbers and the research show this..


Connecting with freshmen | Harvard Gazette

Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Professor Nicholas Christakis delivered the 2011 Opening Days Lecture, telling freshmen that human social networks have the power to spread obesity — or happiness — like contagion.

Harvard College freshmen got their first taste Aug. 26 of the world of ideas awaiting them over the next four years in a talk by Professor Nicholas Christakis, who argued that human social networks have the power to spread obesity — or happiness — like contagion.

Christakis, who teaches at Harvard Medical School as well as the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, delivered the 2011 Opening Days Lecture, “Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives.” He told students at the outset that his work is not primarily concerned with online social networks, but instead focuses on “old-fashioned, face-to-face” relationships and their construction and meaning in people’s lives. A “bucket brigade,” for example, is a network of individuals optimized to perform a task in pursuit of a goal: the transport of water to extinguish a fire. Take the same network and organize it in a different way, and it will be optimized for a different purpose: a telephone tree to disseminate information; a Ponzi scheme for the profit of grifters.

Christakis, who is a medical doctor as well as a Ph.D., discussed his interest in the impact of human social networks on public health. In 2002, he and some colleagues studied the problem of obesity, often called an “epidemic” in Western society. Christakis said he wanted to examine social networks to see whether or not obesity actually spreads from person to person, like a virus. He showed students graphs of data from the 30-year Framingham Heart Study, and explained how he and his colleagues analyzed clusters to see if someone were more likely to become obese if a friend were overweight.

“We found that, if your friend is obese, there is a 45 percent greater likelihood that you will become obese,” he said. “If your friend’s friend is obese, the likelihood is 25 percent higher. In fact, only at four degrees of separation — your friend’s friend’s friend’s friend— is there no longer a relationship between that person’s body size and yours.”

Christakis said that he and his colleagues found that human social networks could also move public health in a positive direction. For example, since 1971, the proportion of the U.S. population that smokes tobacco went from 40 percent to 20. Christakis again displayed data from the Framingham study that showed people typically quit smoking in clusters. A person was more likely to stop using tobacco if his or her friend — or even a friend’s friend — stopped.

The study of networks and happiness gave Christakis his greatest personal satisfaction, he said, and allowed him to settle an old debate.

“In high school, [my friends and I] would tell our mothers, ‘If I could just be more popular, then I would be more happy,’ ’’ he said. “Our mothers would say, ‘Actually, if you become more happy, then you’d be more popular.’ It turns out that we were right, and our mothers were wrong! Being in the middle of a network enhances your happiness. If you become more popular, that contributes to being happy more than being happy contributes to being more popular.”

Toward the end of his talk, Christakis did turn to the differences between online and traditional networks. In a study of Harvard undergraduates on Facebook, he found that students had an average of about 110 “friends.” To see how many of these relationships were close and how many tenuous, he had some students look at Facebook profiles to see how often classmates uploaded and tagged photographs of people they were connected to online. The findings reinforced the value of relationships based on traditional face-to-face contact.

“You might have 1,000 friends on Facebook, but only for a subset of them do you appear in a photograph that gets uploaded and tagged with your name,” Christakis explained. “Based on this, we found that people typically had over 100 Facebook friends, but only six real friends [who uploaded and tagged their photo].”

In light of these results, Christakis expressed concern about the way that Facebook had changed the meaning of the word “friend.”

“It’s very interesting to me that Facebook has managed to co-opt a very old word in our language — friend — and apply it where it has no business,” he said. “All those people, they’re not your friends. At best, they’re your acquaintances.”

Judging from the applause, the talk was a hit with freshmen. Constantinos Tarabanis ’15 said that he’d heard a speech that Christakis gave in Greece not long ago and wanted to learn more about human social networks.

“I like what he said about the dispute he had with his mother and that being in the center of a network made you happy,” he said. “The way he explains difficult ideas in simple terms was pretty amazing.”

Domniki Georgopoulou ’15 said that the lecture made her eager for the beginning of the school year.

“I’m going to study sociology,” she said. “I’m already looking forward to classes.”

Tuesday, November 8

The Great Books Curriculum: The Best Way To Become A Well Rounded Life Long Thinker!

Dear Kannu

You are a book lover and you love reading books, which is very good. Did you know that kids who grow up in houses which have books are far more likely to do well than houses which do not have books? Books are amazing creatures, they are windows to the world, both real and imaginary. While I was growing up, we were quite poor and food was a bit tight but Dadu and Didu made sure that we never stinted on books. Which is why when you go to Bhopal, you will see books in every room including the loo piled up and stacked up. That's a big clue, when you go to somebody 's home, see what books they have, what are they reading. That's a great clue to where and what is happening in that family and home. That's how I became what is described below as a "promiscuous bibliophile".

But I digress. This is a very good article. What a great idea, eh? somebody has taken the liberty to put together a group of books which, after reading, provide you with a great foundation for a great life. The books are listed below, son. I think I have read about 75% of these, there are still so many that I havent read yet. We also have about 30-40% of these books at home and well, quite a lot of them are free so you can download and read them on your ipad.

So what do you do? Well, perhaps you can aim to finish reading all of these by say you are 25, in 9 years, assuming you finish 12-15 books per year, I think you should be able to read all of these. There are other books which I would recommend from the Indian/Hindu/Muslim civilisation perspective, but lets wait for that, i will send you a separate email.

Happy Reading son, I am proud that you are also becoming a bibliophile :)



Simoleon Sense » Blog Archive » The Great Books Curriculum: The Best Way To Become A Well Rounded Life Long Thinker!

The Best Way To Become A Well Rounded Life Long Thinker!

June 30, 2011

A couple of days ago my friend Farnam St posted about the great books curriculum, “a group of books that tradition, and various institutions and authorities, have regarded as constituting or best expressing the foundations of Western culture”(via wikipedia). I’m a big fan of the great books tradition and so is Charlie Munger (as well as other thinkers i.e. Nassim Taleb). So why am I a fan? Simple, because this curriculum is one of the best ways to build a latticework of mental models and become a renaissance thinker (which after all is the goal of this blog).

Goal: I will expand on this concept of the “Great Books Curriculum” and offer you a history of the great books, a list outlining the curriculum, as well as resources & colleges that teach according to the curriculum. Enjoy!

How Did SimoleonSense Learn About The Great Books?

I too was a promiscuous bibliophile unaware of the opportunity cost of lacking a proper (mental) foundation. Luckily, in 2000 I came across a book that nudged me towards the Great Books curriculum. The book was titled, Latticework, The New Investing by Robert Hagstrom. In Latticework, Hagstrom profiled Charlie Munger’s approach to investing and St. John’s College (one of the few colleges that teach according to the great books curriculum more on this later). The concept of Latticework thinking & the Great Books curriculum made sense to me and I comitted to reading 1 Great Book every year for the rest of my life (It has changed my life).

I’d like to mention that along the journey I stumbled upon another book, written in the spirit of renaissance thinking and titled, Seeking Wisdom from Darwin to Munger, by Peter Bevelin (a “Great Book” of its own”).

What Is A Great Book?

(Via Wikipedia)

According to Mortimier Adler (one of the founding fathers of the great books curriculum) a great book can be identified when:
1. The book has contemporary significance; that is, it has relevance to the problems and issues of our times;
2. The book is inexhaustible; it can be read again and again with benefit; “This is an exacting criterion, an ideal that is fully attained by only a small number of the 511 works that we selected. It is approximated in varying degrees by the rest.
3. The book is relevant to a large number of the great ideas and great issues that have occupied the minds of thinking individuals for the last 25 centuries.

What Is The Great Book Curriculum?

(Via Wikipedia)

It came about as the result of a discussion among American academics and educators, starting in the 1920s and 1930s and begun by Prof. John Erskine of Columbia University, about how to improve the higher education system by returning it to the western liberal arts tradition of broad cross-disciplinary learning. These academics and educators included Robert Hutchins, Mortimer Adler, Stringfellow Barr, Scott Buchanan, and Alexander Meiklejohn. The view among them was that the emphasis on narrow specialization in American colleges had harmed the quality of higher education by failing to expose students to the important products of Western civilization and thought.”

How Should I start Reading The Great Books Curriculum?

I think the best way to start is by learning how to read a book. I know what you’re thinking, I know how to read a book, I learned when I was 5 years old. I’m here to tell you, that you probably don’t have a clue. There is much more to reading a book than opening the cover and running your eyes across the words. My advice is simple start with Mortimier Adler’s book, How to Read A Book, and then proceed to the Great Books Curriculum (starting from the beginning). And remember slow and steady wins the race (you don’t need to read 10 great books per year, just commit to reading them over your life).

Ok, Great, What Books Are In The Great Books Curriculum?

(Via Wikipedia)

Are There Other Resources To Learn A-La Great Books?

Yes there are…

First: There are schools that adhere to the Great Books Curriculum. Below is a brief list.

1. St Johns College

2. Shimer College

3. Thomas Aquinas College

4. Harrison Middleton University

5. Wyoming Catholic College

6. Imago Dei College

Second: Harvard has a list of Classics (that overlaps and in some areas competes with the “Great Books Curriculum”)

Third: OpenCulture has an extensive list of Free Audio downloads of the Great Books *So no excuses if you hate reading

Additional Suggestions & Cautions:

I’d like to close with 3 suggestions.

1. Just because a book is not on the Great Books Curriculum does not mean it isn’t a great book. If it satisfies the first 3 criteria (mentioned above) and your personal criteria add it to the list.

2. The Great Books Curriculum is heavily weighted towards Western thinking -it’s naive to assume that western thought is the pinnacle of human achievement. So find the Great Eastern Books and read them (asap).

3. If you seek to learn from the Great Books reading them is not enough you must live through them. The best way to learn about the Great Books is via active dialogue (this is what makes St.Johns College unique).

Best Regards,

Miguel Barbosa

Founder of SimoleonSense

(via Instapaper)


Monday, November 7

His Libraries, 12,000 So Far, Change Lives

Now this is a man to emulate. What a man! what a hero.

ONE of the legendary triumphs of philanthropy was Andrew Carnegie’s construction of more than 2,500 libraries around the world. It’s renowned as a stimulus to learning that can never be matched — except that, numerically, it has already been surpassed several times over by an American man you’ve probably never heard of.

I came here to Vietnam to see John Wood hand out his 10 millionth book at a library that his team founded in this village in the Mekong Delta — as hundreds of local children cheered and embraced the books he brought as if they were the rarest of treasures. Wood’s charity, Room to Read, has opened 12,000 of these libraries around the world, along with 1,500 schools.

Yes, you read that right. He has opened nearly five times as many libraries as Carnegie, even if his are mostly single-room affairs that look nothing like the grand Carnegie libraries. Room to Read is one of America’s fastest-growing charities and is now opening new libraries at an astonishing clip of six a day. In contrast, McDonald’s opens one new outlet every 1.08 days.

It all began in 1998 when Wood, then a Microsoft marketing director, chanced upon a remote school in Nepal serving 450 children. Only one problem: It had no books to speak of.

Wood blithely offered to help and eventually delivered a mountain of books by a caravan of donkeys. The local children were deliriously happy, and Wood said he felt such exhilaration that he quit Microsoft, left his live-in girlfriend (who pretty much thought he had gone insane), and founded Room to Read in 2000.

He faced one challenge after another, not only in opening libraries but also in filling them with books that kids would want to read.

“There are no books for kids in some languages, so we had to become a self-publisher,” Wood explains. “We’re trying to find the Dr. Seuss of Cambodia.” Room to Read has, so far, published 591 titles in languages including Khmer, Nepalese, Zulu, Lao, Xhosa, Chhattisgarhi, Tharu, Tsonga, Garhwali and Bundeli.

It also supports 13,500 impoverished girls who might otherwise drop out of school. In a remote nook of the Mekong Delta, reachable only by boat, I met one of these girls, a 10th grader named Le Thi My Duyen. Her family, displaced by flooding, lives in a shabby tent on a dike.

When Duyen was in seventh grade, she dropped out of school to help her family out. “I thought education was not so necessary for girls,” Duyen recalled.

Room to Read’s outreach workers trekked to her home and cajoled the family to send her back to class. They paid her school fees, bought her school uniforms and offered to put her up in a dormitory so that she wouldn’t have to commute two hours each way to school by boat and bicycle.

Now Duyen is back, a star in her class — and aiming for the moon.

“I would like to go to university,” she confessed, shyly.

The cost per girl for this program is $250 annually. To provide perspective, Kim Kardashian’s wedding is said to have cost $10 million; that sum could have supported an additional 40,000 girls in Room to Read.

So many American efforts to influence foreign countries have misfired — not least here in Vietnam a generation ago. We launch missiles, dispatch troops, rent foreign puppets and spend billions without accomplishing much. In contrast, schooling is cheap and revolutionary. The more money we spend on schools today, the less we’ll have to spend on missiles tomorrow.

Wood, 47, is tireless, enthusiastic and emotional: a motivational speaker with no off button. He teared up as girls described how Room to Read had transformed their lives.

“If you can change a girl’s life forever, and the cost is so low, then why are there so many girls still out of school?” he mused.

The humanitarian world is mostly awful at messaging, and Room to Read’s success is partly a result of his professional background in marketing. Wood wrote a terrific book, “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World,” to spread the word, and Room to Read now has fund-raising chapters in 53 cities around the world.

He also runs Room to Read with an aggressive businesslike efficiency that he learned at Microsoft, attacking illiteracy as if it were Netscape. He tells supporters that they aren’t donating to charity but making an investment: Where can you get more bang for the buck than starting a library for $5,000?

“I get frustrated that there are 793 million illiterate people, when the solution is so inexpensive,” Wood told me outside one of his libraries in the Mekong. “If we provide this, it’s no guarantee that every child will take advantage of it. But if we don’t provide it, we pretty much guarantee that we perpetuate poverty.”

“In 20 years,” Wood told me, “I’d like to have 100,000 libraries, reaching 50 million kids. Our 50-year goal is to reverse the notion that any child can be told ‘you were born in the wrong place at the wrong time and so you will not get educated.’ That idea belongs on the scrapheap of human history.”

But I am afraid in the western world, this is what is already happening with libraries closing left right and centre.

Sunday, November 6

The Big Bang Theory increasing interest in Physics

Me and my son follow the Big Bang Theory TV series religiously. Its quite interesting, given that both of us are a bit of nerds and geeks. Well, there are quite a lot of similarities, the number of phd’s, the strange behaviour’s, the lack of anything closely resembling romance, the indian angle, etc. etc. As it so happens, I am also interested in Physics and also Karn. His 4th subject for A Levels in the 6th form is Physics. So it was with interest that I read this. I quote:

Interest in A-level and university courses rises as US comedy makes the subject "cool"

A cult US sitcom has emerged as the latest factor behind a remarkable resurgence of physics among A-level and university students.

The Big Bang Theory, a California-based comedy that follows two young physicists, is being credited with consolidating the growing appetite among teenagers for the once unfashionable subject of physics. Documentaries by Brian Cox have previously been mentioned as galvanising interest in the subject.

One pupil, Tom Whitmore, 15, from Brighton, acknowledged that Big Bang Theory had contributed to his decision, with a number of classmates, to consider physics at A-level, and in causing the subject to be regarded as "cool". "The Big Bang Theory is a great show and it's definitely made physics more popular. And disputes between classmates now have a new way of being settled: with a game of rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock," he said.

Experts at the Institute of Physics (IoP) also believe the series is playing a role in increasing the number of physics students. Its spokesman, Joe Winters, said: "The rise in popularity of physics appears to be due to a range of factors, including Brian's public success, the might of the Large Hadron Collider and, we're sure, the popularity of shows like The Big Bang Theory."

Alex Cheung, editor of, said: "There's no doubt that TV has also played a role. The Big Bang Theory seems to have had a positive effect and the viewing figures for Brian Cox's series suggest that millions of people in the UK are happy to welcome a physics professor, with a tutorial plan in hand, into their sitting room on a Sunday evening."

According to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), there was a 10% increase in the number of students accepted to read physics by the university admissons services between 2008-09, when The Big Bang Theory was first broadcast in the UK, and 2010-11. Numbers currently stand at 3,672. Applications for physics courses at university are also up more than 17% on last year. Philip Walker, an HEFCE spokesman, said the recent spate of popular televisions services had been influential but was hard to quantify.

The number studying A-level physics has been on the rise for five years, up 20% in that time to around 32,860. Physics is among the top 10 most popular A-level topics for the first time since 2002 – and the government's target of 35,000 students entering physics A-level by 2014 seems likely to be hit ahead of schedule. It is a far cry from 2005 when physics was officially classified as a "vulnerable" subject.

The number of those entered for AS level has also increased, by 27.8% compared with 2009, up from 41,955 to 58,190. The number of girls studying physics AS-level has risen a quarter to 13,540 and of boys by 28.6% to 44,650.

A Twitter debate on whether Big Bang Theory had played a role in encouraging more potential physicists provoked mixed reactions. PhD student Tim Green wrote: "I'd say it's more to do with economics and good science docs than sitcoms with only the vaguest relation to physics." Markela Zeneli said: "I think the show is hilarious, and it may make physicists seem nerdy and geeky, but what's so bad about that? "

Winters identified another more prosaic reason for the rising popularity of physics. He said: "TV shows and news coverage of exciting research both have the power to inspire their audiences but we firmly believe, and all the evidence suggests, that only good physics teaching has the power to convert student's latent interest into action."

I guess its different than the interest in singing from the X factor, cooking from the cooking shows, dancing from Britain got talent, Forensic Science from the various pathologist / forensic science TV shows and wave/beach studies from Baywatch, lol.

Two wins and a great feeling

It was a good week indeed. Firstly, we received information that the funding for the HSH charity is now confirmed for another year at least and that is excellent news, we were on the verge of starting our close down process which would have been tragic for all the families in severe distress we support and our employees. But very happy about it and now we are going to really fix this place.

In particular, what I want to do is to launch an initiative where we train our families in proper financial management and literacy. This will improve their lives and be able to handle financials. Lack of financial management in families is one of the biggest causes and symptoms of family distress. Plus I should be able to get some funding for this. So I have engaged the LSE SIFE team to see if they would be able to find out what is out there in terms of financial education for families and explore ways that we can deliver thi provision. Should start hearing back from them soon.

I am having a chat with a chap from India who has done some amazing work with technology for social purposes, that is promising indeed, hopefully we will get some traction on that end and can get the IT4CH charity to fund it.

Found out some people in India who are working in the area of West Bengal and education, hopefully will be able to speak to them next week to determine some more local details on what can and cannot be done locally. Also speaking to somebody who is in the government to see what are the requirements that charities have to fulfil to operate in Didi’s state.

Tomorrow we have the launch of the Transformation Trust’s pilot with LSE SIFE with the trading futures game, that promises to be an excellent large impact initiative which, if it works out, will hit almost 800 schools and we will be able to improve financial literacy and hopefully get the students interested in trading.

Might also be helping to run a strategy session for STIR sometime this side of the year. I just hope my imminent knee operation doesnt muck up all these plans..

Good stuff, but I am personally very happy, extremely happy with the fact that HSH got funding, now we can make it sustainable and real high impact. Very very chuffed. It took a heck of a lot of huge effort, pain and work to get there. I was quite depressed and disheartened for several weeks, we lost people, we lost trustees and we lost hope (almost) but we succeeded. Pushed very hard, spoke to the MP’s, spoke to the council, spoke to funding agencies, spoke with the employees, constantly emailed and spoke with the trustees, big big job done by the Chairman. Big Society, here we come. Very happy.