Shyam's Slide Share Presentations


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Friday, September 28, 2012

Portrait with push pins. 09-30

Artist Eric Daigh used exactly 22,765 pushpins to create a portrait of Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann for a feature in Fast Company’s 2012 Design Issue. Co.Design interviewed Eric Daigh to learn more about his creative process.

In 2009, 
Eric Daigh was your typical multimedia designer. He worked on album covers. Websites. Pretty much anything you could build and sell with an Adobe product. But that year, he won an art contest in his home state of Michigan, submitting a portrait he’d made for his wife’s anniversary. Instead of ink or paint, it used pushpins.

A few years later, Daigh spends about half of his waking hours creating custom commissioned pushpin portraits for some of the biggest brands in the world, like Acura and 3M, while making his way into both the Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. He has no formal training in physical art. But you could say that the business is in his blood.
“My father is a painter, so that was always a viable path. Where he made money was he was as an illustrator back when that was a thing you could be,” Daigh tells me. “And then he brought home the first Mac in 1989, and all his colleagues had told him this is the future. But being a draftsman, he had no idea how to make the thing work. That’s where I entered. I was about 12 or 13, so I tore into it because it was a computer and it was fun. There were games on it.
“Then he sort of asked me, ‘So long as you’re going to spend all this time on the computer, could you open QuarkXPress and figure that out?’ We sort of worked together. And that was the beginning of me working in design. I was young enough it was a real novelty to be helping my dad to use his job. To my dad, it was a useful novelty to have his son helping him do his job.”

About 20 years later, Daigh would become restless in his digital world, craving the satisfaction of creating something analog.
“You do anything for too long, and you want something to be the other. The opposite of the digital work I was doing was tangible,” he explains. “I’d painted along the way, but nothing ever that was all that interesting to me. Then I tried this experiment with this picture of my little brother, still staying true to pixels which I was very comfortable with.”
That experiment turned into a rocket for Daigh’s career. Using software, he simplified a photo of his brother into just five colors, creating an image that’s essentially a very large thumbnail. With the pre-mapped color grid in-hand, Daigh placed correlating pushpins in each spot, recreating this low-fidelity image into a reimagined pointillism. “It worked to a degree that it was interesting, or a conversation piece,” Daigh explains, which was just enough for him to stick with it and hone the technique.
That technique led to the portrait of his wife, which led to winning an art show, which led to putting some pieces up in a gallery, which led to his first sale.
Now, Daigh has his pushpin mosaics down to a science. He photographs his own portrait, runs it through a software conversion process that creates (red, yellow, blue, black, and white) dots and then he examines it at the pixel level for algorithmic abnormalities, which he’s gotten very, very good at spotting. Whereas the human eye will want a shadow to contain a smooth gradient of color--maybe blue to black--computers tend to render these blocks out into distracting patterns that need to be hand-smoothed.

Finished portrait, Ben Silbermann.

“What’s interesting is how easy it all is to fail. The images just look like shit when you begin--and that’s to be expected. You’re asking the image to be this really obtuse thing, and it’s really not supposed to work,” Daigh explains. “But what’s fun is it’s set up to fail, yet you’re able to nudge it along, put bandaids here or there, and get to the point that the portrait works.”
While most artists will go on about “inspiration” or “vision,” Daigh’s view of his work is far more practical. He considers his job to be “problem solving,” and in that regard, he sees the role of an artist as parallel to that of a parent, teacher, politician, or engineer … well, almost.
“If you’re an engineer, you have a finite goal you’re trying to pull off. If you’re an artist, the landscape is always shifting; it’s always a moving target,” he says. “You can’t triangulate a winning piece of art because there aren’t three points to lock it down in space.”
Of course, Daigh’s pushpin portraiture is about as close as you can get to a winning formula in the art world. Maybe that’s why Daigh is throwing himself back into the realm of the unknown, working on new, avant garde approaches that will challenge the very meaning of a portrait. The first is essentially a television that sits on your wall, but it’s curated, 24/7, by content Daigh wants you to see--forming a sort of self-portrait of his own consciousness. In his other artistic tangent, Daigh is drafting portraits as complex, 3-D rooms. He’s creating virtual architecture to embody someone.
And notably, neither project would have been possible for his father to create before that first Mac.
“There was a time when I wanted to make work that was less computer-driven, then it occurred to me, why am I apologizing for this?” he says. “When I came into art, that was how you did it. With computers. I came at the beginning of that revolution. I realized it was time to stop apologizing for not drawing things.”
As odd as these approaches may sound now, to Daigh, it fit perfectly into his style. Not only are they all computer-generated; they’re all, ultimately, just images of people. “As much as I try to come up with something different, I don’t know how much more interesting anything else could be to me than portraiture,” he says.
“You mean, capturing the very essence of humanity?” I ask. “The physical manifestation of someone’s very psyche?”
“Exactly!” he laughs.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pictures from hole dot 09-27

Most people who have occasion to use a hole punch just discard the little paper dots that fall out of the tool, but artist Nikki Douthwaite saw something more in the colorful little circles.

Courtesy Nikki Douthwaite
Nikki Douthwaite made this image of Marilyn Monroe with 99,000 hole-punch dots in 2010. She used colored dots in such a way as to make the resulting image look black-and-white. Says the artist, "It was the first piece that I have made where I didn't think I could do any better."
For the past three years, Douthwaite has been collecting paper dots, painstakingly sorting them by color, and crafting them into images of some of the world’s most celebrated icons, including Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, and Muhammad Ali. The work of the Manchester, England-based artist has been featured in galleries around the U.K., and recently, photos of her pieces wowed the Internet. (You can see more of Douthwaite's art on her site -- note that she's a big fan of Formula 1 racecar drivers.)
“The idea to use hole-punch dots came from studying pointalist artist (Georges) Seurat for my degree,” Douthwaite tells “I don't really have a trick, just hard work and an obsession. Tweezering one dot on at a time and making sure the color mix is right before I start. I will often stick my hand in a bucket of 30,000 hole-punch dots and say, ‘That needs more light purple.’"

Courtesy Nikki Douthwaite
Douthwaite used 150,000 dots to make this image of Jimi Hendrix.
Each picture is inspired by a magazine photograph and takes anywhere from six to 15 weeks to create. For Monroe’s image, she used approximately 100,000 dots, and for Hendrix, 140,000.
“The younger and prettier someone is the harder I seem to find it, as there tends to be less distinguishing features,” says Douthwaite. “I find facial features really easy. I spent the most time on their hair, and making John Lennon’s glasses look real. Marilyn's eyelashes were tricky, trying to make them visible without being over the top.”

Courtesy Nikki Douthwaite
Douthwaite made this image of John Lennon as a birthday gift for a friend in Los Angeles. It was only the third dot portrait she had made, and she had to learn how to do hair and glasses.
Many pieces of her work have been sold; some, like the portrait of Monroe, were commissioned. Hendrix’s portrait went to a private collector, and Lennon’s image has been shown in galleries worldwide, including at The Beatles museum in Liverpool. In the U.S., a portrait by Douthwaite is owned by Ripley’s Believe It or Not in San Francisco.

Courtesy Nikki Douthwaite
It took 189,000 dots to create this portrait of TV judge and personality Simon Cowell. Douthwaite says she loves how "you never know what is going to come out of his mouth."

“People sometimes accuse me of blowing up huge photographs and pixelating them, then sticking dots over the top by matching the colors,” the artist says. “Seriously, can you imagine how long that would take? I use the dots like paint. I do different colors for the feel of the picture, and there are thousands of colors in each piece.”Of course, all artists have critics, and in a medium as unique as Douthwaite’s, the commentary can be equally bizarre.
She adds, “My house has constantly got dots spilled everywhere. My friends call me up and say, ‘I have a blue dot on my shoe, do you need me to bring it back?’”

Education First UN Secretary General's programme 09-27


Priority #2: Improve the quality of learning

Message from the Secretary General

United Nations Secretary-General BAN Ki-moon today secured over US$1.5 billion in commitments for a new initiative to make education a top global priority and boost progress towards the Millennium Development Goal on education.
“I am encouraged and grateful for all the generous commitments made today, which gives Education First a boost towards achieving its goals,” said Secretary-General BAN Ki-moon. “Our shared goals are simple. We want children to attend primary school and to progress toward higher education that will help them to succeed in life.”
Education First seeks to make a breakthrough to mobilize all partners –both traditional and new – to achieve universal primary education ahead of the 2015 target date for the MDGs. An additional $24 billion is needed annually to cover the shortfall for children out of primary and lower secondary school.
Australia, Bangladesh, South Africa, Timor-Leste and Denmark were among countries that pledged to intensify their support to the new global partnership called ‘Education First.’ In addition, dozens of top companies and private foundations have mobilized over US$1.5 billion in new financing to ensure all children and young people have a quality, relevant and transformative education.
Western Union Foundation and the MasterCard Foundation were among the first to solidify their support for the initiative.  Western Union has pledged to directly move over US$1 billion for education globally, providing US$10,000 per day in grants for 1 million days of school. Under MasterCard Foundation’s ‘Scholars Program’, the US$500 million education initiative will allow 15,000 talented, yet economically disadvantaged students, particularly from the African region, to access and complete their secondary and university education.
Education First was launched on the margins of the 67th Session of the UN General Assembly. Participants included Heads of State and Ministers from countries,  the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, heads of UN agencies, young people, civil society representatives and Chief Executive Officers of major corporations.
In the next five years, Education First will focus on three priorities: putting every child in school, improving the quality of learning and fostering global citizenship.
“We must not deny the promise of quality education to any child. The stakes are too high. When we put education first, we can end wasted potential – and foresee stronger and better societies for all,” Secretary-General BAN said.
At the end of the 1990s, 108 million children of primary school age were not enrolled in schools. That number has fallen to 61 million today, according to UNESCO’s forthcoming Global Monitoring Report. The gap between boy and girl enrolment has also been greatly reduced.  These are significant achievements, largely due to national and international resolve to act on shared goals for education.
The launch was followed by a discussion of the goals of initiative and the critical need to put education on top of the global agenda. The panel discussion was chaired by UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and panelists were Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan, Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi of Myanmar, teacher representative Teopista Birungi Mayanja of Uganda and youth representative Charles Young of Jamaica.
Charlotte Scaddan, UN Department of Public Information, New York, tel.: + 1 917 367 9378,
Shimali Senanayake, UNICEF, New York, tel.: + 1 917 265 4516, + 1 917 609 9692 (cell),
Sue Williams, UNESCO, Paris, tel.: +33 (0)1 4568 1706; +33 (0)6 15 92 93 62;
For details on the high-level launch event and evening reception:
For details on commitments to Education First:
The event will be webcast live at
Join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #educationfirst and follow @UNedufirst for updates

About Education First

Education First is a Global Initiative led by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, BAN Ki-moon. It gathers a broad spectrum of world leaders and advocates who all aspire to use the transformative power of education to build a better future for all.
The Initiative aims to raise the political profile of education, strengthen the global movement to achieve quality education and generate additional and sufficient funding through sustained advocacy efforts.  Achieving gains in education will have an impact on all the Millennium Development Goals, from lower child and maternal mortality, to better health, higher income and more environmentally-friendly societies.

Master Card Foundation's Scholars Program 09-27

The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program


Our partners provide Program Scholars with financial, academic, and social support as they prepare to lead change across the continent.


The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program provides students with the education and skills needed to work and succeed in the global economy.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

6 Big Myths About SEO 09-23

6 Big Myths About SEO

Your understanding of the way Google works is probably three or four years out of date--and that's an eternity in Web time.
Don't get stuck with old ideas about search engine optimization.
Don't get stuck with old ideas about search engine optimization.

In the world of online marketing, misinformation abounds--and it gets compounded exponentially by an incredibly dynamic and rapidly evolving world. Most of the things you think you know (but don't) about search-engine optimization, or SEO, may have been true a few years ago but have changed; one of the following was always a myth.
Here are some of the myths you need to move beyond to get smarter about SEO.
Myth 1: Metatag Descriptions Help Your Rankings
Not anymore; in fact, metatags are no longer even indexed by Google and Bing. But don't ignore them altogether: Your metatags form the text that is displayed along with your link in the search results--and a more compelling description will compel more users to click on your listing instead of on others.
Here's example of ours; the metatag is everything below the URL.
Myth 2: The More Inbound Links, the Better
False. In all the recent updates to Google's algorithm, the search giant has made it a core priority to have quality trump quantity. Gone are the days of having thousands of superlow-quality links driving up rankings; in fact, creating those links can look spammy and get your site penalized.
Focus on obtaining links from sites that are relevant to your products, services, or industry--and on having those links be surrounded by relevant text. A blog review about your "blue widget" that links to your site is far more valuable than a rogue link for "blue widget" stuck in the footer or sidebar of some site--even a highly ranked one.
Myth 3: PageRank Still Matters
Google's infamous PageRank (named after Google co-founder and now-CEO Larry Page, mind you) is a 1-to-10 ranking of the overall authority of every website; the bigger the number, the higher the rank. In years past, this seemingly all-powerful number dominated the attention of SEO experts.
But today, Google's algorithm has evolved well beyond any single indicator. The PageRank still exists, and if all things are equal, a higher PageRank trumps a lower one--but factors such as relevance and context matter, too.
As with inbound links: If you run a dental practice in Los Angeles, it's better to have a link from a site that reviews doctors and dentists in L.A., even if it has a PageRank of 4, than to have a paid link with no context in a huge site with a higher PageRank of 7. 
Myth 4: Google Prefers Keyword-Rich Domains
In years past, Google seemed to put a disproportionate amount of emphasis on keywords in the domain name (what you may think of as the URL). For example, would almost certainly be ranked first in a search for vinyl house siding.
Not anymore, says Google. If is in fact the more relevant, authoritative site on the topic, it will probably still rank first--but not because of its domain name alone.
Myth 5: Websites Must Be 'Submitted' to Search Engines
In 2001, yes, this was the case--indeed, this was the first service that my company, Wpromote, ever provided. But in 2012? Not at all. At this point, if there is any connection from any site to yours, your site will be quickly discovered by Google.
Note that being indexed is a far cry from achieving high rankings--but that initial step of submission is no longer needed or helpful.
Myth 6: Good SEO Is Basically About Trickery
False, false, false. Although there are still some SEO experts out there who go about their business trying to "trick Google," this is absolutely not the way to provide good, lasting SEO.
Good SEO is about creating a relevant, informative website, with unique content and great user experience, and encouraging the sharing and distribution of great content to drive organic publicity and links back to your site.
In the end, this is exactly what Google explicitly wants to reward with high rankings--so it is anything but "tricking" the search engines.
I'm planning to dive into other online marketing topics in the future, to find the biggest myths--so if you've got suggestions, please weigh in below.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Keynote address by Bavid Brooks 09-22


Hello Brandeis

As I look out on this audience, the first thing I realize is that the Rapture must actually have happened yesterday, because, from the looks of it, America is now 50 percent Jewish.
The second thing I realize is that some of you may not have graduated from college before and you may not know the etiquette. It’s customary after you get your degree to give the president a little tip. Ten or twenty bucks, just to show he did a good job. 

It’s also customary to give the commencement speaker a little something — no more than 15 or 20 percent of your annual tuition. 

The money is not for me. It’s going straight to the Yo-Yo Ma for President campaign. This country has a yawning leadership gap that only Yo-Yo can fill. 

Now, even if you don’t give, I want you to know how great it is to be here on this happy occasion. The parents are happy to have produced such outstanding young men and women. The faculty is happy to have produced such outstanding graduates, despite everything their parents tried to do to them. The administrators are happy to have such an outstanding alumni, despite everything the faculty tried to do to them. The students are happy they have turned out so well, despite what the blowhards in all these categories tried to do to them. 

Well, Brandeis Class of 2011, I am the final blowhard. I am the last windbag between you and your degree.

So this is indeed a happy occasion.

Over the past few years, we’ve learned a lot about happiness. We’ve learned that the relationship between money and happiness is weak. Once you hit the middle class, getting richer isn’t going to make you that much happier. The relationship between friendship and happiness is strong. Joining a club that meets just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. The daily activity that contributes most to happiness is having dinner with friends and sex. Not necessarily in that order. The daily activity that detracts most from happiness is commuting. 

Now, there is a tradition to commencement speeches. The university asks somebody who has achieved some measure of career success to come to campus and tell you that career success is not that important.

And I’m happy to give that speech. It’s actually true. I just had a book hit number 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. I consider myself as shallow as the next guy, but I found the whole experience kind of flat. The commercial success was just a big nothing. The only thing that mattered to me was when people I admire engaged the book in a serious way, as happened to me magically last night here at Brandeis.

This confirms my general experience, which is that achieving some career success means you don’t have to feel the negative experience of feeling like a failure, but it doesn’t produce much positive sense of joy. 

But I’ve decided not to talk about success and failure in the abstract today. I’ve decided to talk about the specific experience you Brandeis grads will experience over the next 5 or 10 years. 

Think of this experience as leaving a chute. Over the past 15 years of your life you have been funneled through a set of rigorous and supervised institutions. The paths have been marked out, the grades you had to get and the tests you had to do well on. But, starting today, or in a few years when some of you leave graduate school, you will shoot out into a world that is unprecedentedly wide open, with an unmarked variety of lifestyle options, a global variety of places to live, an incredibly diverse number of careers, most of which you have never even heard of.

There will be an extreme contrast between the life you led until today and the life you will start tomorrow, from high-pressure structure to an extreme lack of structure. 

Young Americans today live the most supervised childhoods in American history. The University of Michigan does these time analysis studies and they have found that over the last few decades the amount of time young people spend just hanging around on their own has declined by about a third. The amount of time they spend in adult-structured, supervised activities has risen by about a third: soccer practice, piano practice, SAT prep, LSAT prep.

And so we now have these public cartoon characters to symbolize the new mode of childrearing —Tiger Moms, Ubermoms, Helicopter Parents. Where I live you can see the Ubermoms coming to pick their kids up at the elementary schools in the afternoons. The Ubermoms are highly successful career women who’ve taken time off to make sure all their kids can get into Brandeis. The kids come out with these 80 pound backpacks stuffed with books so that if the wind blows them over they’re like beetles stuck there on the ground. The parents usually drive Saabs and Audis and Volvos because in my kind of suburb it’s socially acceptable to have a luxury car so long as it comes from a country hostile to U.S. foreign policy. You can usually tell the Ubermoms because they actually weigh less than their own children. During conception they were doing little butt exercises to stay fit and trim, and during delivery they were cutting the umbilical cord themselves and flashing little Mandarin flashcards at the thing to get them ready for the college admissions process.

Their kids are raised for six-figure incomes and ecological sustainability. They get taken to Ben and Jerry’s because even their ice cream should have a moral conscience. I once joked that Ben and Jerry’s should make a pacifist toothpaste: it doesn’t kill germs, it just asks them to leave. They also get taken to socially enlightened grocery stores like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, where all the cashiers look like they are on loan from Amnesty International, and they buy them these obscure organic snacks made from sea weed, which are for kids who come home and say, “Mom, mom. I want a snack that will help prevent colorectal cancer.” 

So, by the time these Ubermom kids will apply to college, they will have cured four formerly fatal diseases, started three companies, done environmental awareness training in Tibet and competed in the Olympic trials in some completely obscure sport like fencing or competitive yoga.

The meritocracy has gotten much more competitive. Nobody my age could have gotten into the college they attended as a youth, and so everybody in your age group has been forced to do more homework assignments, to do better at sports, to do more community service, to jump through more hoops than almost anyone a generation ago.

And then suddenly it stops. Graduation comes. The supervision and the tests end. Yesterday people were paid to read your writing; tomorrow no one will get paid. Yesterday, faculty, administrators and residence heads marked your progress. Tomorrow nobody watches, except at a distance.

Tomorrow you will enter a new, unmarked, uninstitutionalized phase of life. And if you’re like most people your age, you are going to spend the next 10 years wandering around American society.

People who graduated from college a generation ago usually did four things in rapid succession. They got their degree, they found a job, they got married and they bought a home. In 1960 the vast majority of college grads had done these things by age 30. Now the situation is reversed. The vast majority have do not these things by age 30. 

Today you get your degree, but if you are like most college grads, you will spend the next decade of your lives moving from city to city, school to school and from job to job, temping, bartending, teaching, interning, experimenting with different careers and lifestyles. While you do this, by the way, your parents will be going slowly insane.

Everything will be contingent and uncertain. Many of you will find yourselves in professions you’re not really thrilled to be in, but you’re really not sure what else you want to do.

Many of you will hold junior associate jobs at various companies and organizations. The 40 year olds in your offices will have their career status established, but you’ll be in these peripheral one- or two-year slots. Last month you were reading Tolstoy at Brandeis, next month, if you’re lucky, you’ll be working at a copying machine at some organization and providing the middle-aged people in the office with nothing more than fact-checking and sexual tension. 

You’ll have to figure out for yourself how much you can suck up to your superiors without losing all self-respect. You’ll have to figure out what age in your 20s you should really should stop playing Mortal Combat. Most of all you’ll have to figure out how to tie yourself down.

In America we celebrate freedom. But the fulfilled existence is more like the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” where Jimmy Stewart character dreamed of getting away and being free, but the real meaning of life came from the things he was irredeemably tied down to and committed to—his family, his town and his bank. 

Over the next several years you will be compelled to go hunting for commitments.

This hunt for commitments will require extraordinary skill. You can’t just commit to the first thing that comes along. But you can’t wait and miss your opportunities. You have to struggle against the signals of your culture and commit to serious things that will give your life significance. Once you pounce on your commitment, you have to dig your teeth in, and hang on in good times and bad.

For example, you will be called upon to commit yourself to a husband or a wife. This won’t be an abstract proposition. It will be with a real live person, with a name, a face, unwanted odors and body hair. You will have to ask yourself, is this the person I want to marry? 

This will be the most important commitment you will face over the course of your life. If you have a great career and a bad marriage, you’ll be miserable. If you have a great marriage and a bad career you’ll be happy.

I tell educators they should compel every student to major in marriage. Students should be compelled to take courses on the psychology of marriage, the literature of marriage, the neuroscience of marriage, the history of marriage. Nobody listens to me, so in your 20s you will have to assign yourself your own curriculum. You will have to prepare yourself for this enormous task. 

You will also have to commit yourself to a problem. I think it’s a mistake to ask yourself, “What career do I want to have?” It’s better asked, “What problem is life summoning me to tackle?”

Some of you will find yourself in a poorly managed office. Life will ask, “Can you lead and inspire people better than that jerk?” Some of you will have a relative with Alzheimer’s. Life will ask: “Can you help cure that disease?” Some of you will find yourselves in neighborhoods were people drop out of high school, generation after generation. Life will ask, “Can you help break this cycle of poverty?”

The value of your life will derive from how fully you tie yourself down to a problem. And here I get to the crux of what I want to say to you. When you exit the world of the educational system and enter the commitment hunt, you will be called to practice an overlapping but slightly different set of skills.

Instead of answering questions others pose, you’ll have to be the one choosing the questions. Instead of completing a set of assignments, you’ll have to scan a very confusing landscape and create your own assignments.

As a commitment hunter, you’ll have to possess metis, a Greek word that means looking over a landscape and having the ability to discern the important patterns and trends. You’ll have to possess equipoise, the ability to look inside your own mind, observe your own weaknesses and correct for them. You’ll have to practice sympathy, the ability to look across a social landscape and be sensitive to the emotional cues of the people around you. You’ll have to practice mindsight, the ability to quiet your own prejudices so you can really absorb the wisdom of the people around you. You’ll have to observe propriety, the ability to practice small acts of self-control, habits, and etiquette, so that when the big moral challenges come along, you will have the character muscles to meet them. These skills overlap with, but are different from, the skills that helped you excel in school. 

There’s a big difference between getting a good GPA, which requires you to do well across a range of subjects, and making a commitment to the world, which calls on you to be maniacally focused on one subject. 

Some of the people who did really well in school will struggle in the next chapter of life, and vice versa. The average self-made millionaire in this country had a collegiate GPA of 2.75. Some of your friends who scraped by at the back of the class — be nice to them. In a few years you’ll have a new name for them: boss. 

Some of the skills you will need are scanning skills. They are the skills of observing the world closely and making sense of what you see. Some of them are emotional skills. Being able to detect and understand your own and other people’s feelings and passions.

And so how does one develop these skills? Well, the good news is that the single best way is to get a good liberal arts education of the sort you’ve received at Brandeis. When you read history you get a wealth of metaphors and historical analogies. You can use these patterns to make sense of the world. When you read a novel or listen to a piece of music you move along with the characters. You begin to absorb and internalize their emotional states. You widen your repertoire of emotions and you are able to make more subtle emotional valuations. 

When you are around creative and idiosyncratic peers, you widen your vocabulary of personality types. When you are asked to write paper after paper, you become better at arduously plumbing your own unconscious intuitions and bringing them rigorously to the surface.

At Brandeis you’ve had two educations. The first education gave you a set of conscious skills and that’s a very important education. But second, you educated your emotions. You absorbed ways of being from your professors and your peers. You absorbed ways of thinking and reacting. You absorbed standards for how a decent person lives.

This second education doesn’t work the way the scholastic education works. In the formal curriculum, the teacher describes what is going to be learned and then everyone marches through it. In the informal education the information comes indirectly, obliquely. Learning is the byproduct as you search for pleasure—as you hang around with your buddies, as you get to know your teachers, as you silently absorb the ethos of this place.

In his book, “Culture Counts,” the philosopher Roger Scruton had a nice passage for how the liberal arts education subtly molds us. He wrote: “The reader of Wordsworth’s ‘Prelude’ learns how to animate the natural world with pure hopes of his own; the spectator of Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ learns the pride of corporations and the benign sadness of civil life; the listener to Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ symphony is presented with the open floodgates of human joy and creativity; the reader of Proust is led through the enchanted world of childhood and made to understand the uncanny prophecy of our later griefs which those days of joy contain.”

The decade ahead for you will be very challenging. One of the reasons America is a great is that we force our twenty-somethings to go through an uncharted decade during which they learn to take control of their own lives. But as the challenging years ahead will be, I suspect you are well prepared. 

And the only question will be: Do you have the courage to throw yourself into the commitment hunt? Will you try on many different experiences and lifestyles to see which ones summon you? And the only final thing to say is that happiness is not achieved by chasing it directly. Your worth and happiness will be a byproduct of how zestfully you engage the commitments life throws in your path. 

Most of us are egotistical and most of us are self-concerned most of the time, but it’s nonetheless true that life comes to a point only when the self dissolves into some larger task and summons. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.

Thanks for your attention.

View at the original source

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hunting for Elephants in India with Water Pistols 09-20

Hunting for Elephants in India with Water Pistols

That's exactly how it felt after I made my entrepreneurial debut in India. I was forced to shift from my initial focus on creating great content to setting up a distribution system, to coming up with an innovative in-shop presence to reach consumers, and so on. There was an endless list of things to get done for success.

Entrepreneurs the world over know they must try to excel at just one thing, given the limited resources at their disposal, when they set up shop. In India, that is impossibly hard.
Companies, both old and new, have no choice but to stray far and wide from their core businesses.
Until two decades ago, India's business groups diversified wildly because of the constraints to growth posed by licensing and anti-monopoly regulations. Companies that have sprung up after the reforms of 1991 must diversify because of the "infrastructure deficit" — rotten roads, power shortages, and a poorly trained workforce, to name some realities. India's leading IT companies, for instance, have developed their infrastructure themselves: They operate transportation systems round the clock, generate huge amounts of power, and run gigantic training operations to remain competitive.
The infrastructure deficit translates into higher up-front investments and longer break-even periods for new ventures. The burden can be particularly large in the case of consumer-product businesses because of the steep distribution costs and the lopsided terms of payment; the credit cycle is usually more than 180 days.
While business opportunities in India's consumer market may be elephantine in size, it's a challenge to find sufficient ammunition — that is, capital — to go after them. Flipkart, the Amazon clone that launched in India five years ago, embodies the country's promise and problems.
India's e-commerce opportunity is large. Although less than 2% of the $500-billion retail business is conducted online, sales are migrating online quite rapidly. Flipkart has grown at breakneck speed, and it has earned a terrific reputation for customer service.
In order to deliver products reliably to people's homes, unlike Amazon, Flipkart has been forced to create a dedicated team, system, and processes. Moreover, because of low credit card usage in India, it has created an expensive Cash On Delivery (COD) system, which accounts for a majority of payments. Both investments would have been unnecessary had there been a reliable and inexpensive courier service and a widely-trusted electronic payment system.
Flipkart's investors are implicitly betting that the company will execute well on three different and difficult businesses — e-commerce, logistics, and e-payment systems — which will result in an amalgam of Amazon, UPS, and Paypal! Even if Flipkart succeeds in pulling off that trifecta, it will take longer to turn a profit than a company in the US.
Flipkart is one of the best-funded startups in India; it had raised $31 million by 2011, when its revenues were just $11 million. Since then, it is reported to have grown revenues eight-fold and raised two more rounds of funding. Perhaps reflecting the toughness of the investment environment, the terms of these deals have not been made public. Besides, it isn't clear that the capital infusions will be sufficient to keep Flipkart on the growth path.
Not having sufficient capital to overcome the infrastructure deficit is the single biggest threat to new ventures in India. Even for entrepreneurs entering India's ideas-driven knowledge economy, the harsh reality is that the basis of their competitive advantage is the amount of capital they can raise — not the uniqueness of their ideas. That isn't something that appeals to most entrepreneurs.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

India's Latest Economic Reforms 09-20

India is currently facing a range of challenges from slowing economic growth and corruption scandals, to ethnic strife and political gridlock. Last week, in a surprising move, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government announced bold new economic reforms that have the potential to get its economy back on track.
In a Q&A, Milan Vaishnav provides an overview of recent developments, and argues that the changes are merely the first step of a longer reform process which continues to face significant political opposition. 
  • What reforms were announced by the government?

  • How significant are these reforms?

  • How strong is India’s economy currently?

  • What is behind the recent corruption scandal plaguing the government involving coal?

  • Is corruption related to coal a symptom of a larger dynamic?

  • Was the Indian blackout related to the coal scandal?

  • In addition to corruption scandals, India has also been hit by an outburst of ethnic violence. What have been the causes?

  • Has the economic downturn caused this recent violence?

  • How do recent events affect the political outlook of the current government?

What reforms were announced by the government?

Milan Vaishnav
it off, the government signaled its intention to reduce its stake in several state-owned enterprises dealing with petroleum, aluminum, copper, and other minerals.
With respect to reform of the retail environment, the government’s decision gives individual states discretion to reject FDI—setting the stage for experimentation among the states in India’s federal system. The government will also place important constraints on any new investment, such as limiting FDI to cities with a population of 1 million or more, and insisting that retailers source at least 30 percent of their products from within India. 

How significant are these reforms?

The UPA government, beginning with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, deserves credit for announcing these economic reforms. This government’s tenure (beginning with its reelection in 2009) has been extremely turbulent, and there was a growing feeling that it was rudderless and completely paralyzed. There is broad consensus that India’s economic problems are largely self-inflicted and that they have political roots, as argued for example by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in Foreign Affairs.
For instance, the government has struggled with managing complex coalition politics. While it has the votes to push through its agenda in theory, many of its coalition partners have been reluctant to act in practice. The fear of alienating its partners and precipitating early elections has caused the Congress-led government to move haltingly on its economic reform agenda. Last week’s reform announcement is therefore a calculated political risk. To quote Manmohan Singh: “The time for big-bang reforms has come, and if we go down, we will go down fighting.” This reform package helps right the ship and provides the government with newfound momentum.
Having said that, there is a danger of over-hyping these reforms. By and large, the current reform package is significant more in its symbolism than in its substance. The reforms will have a modest direct effect on growth in the near term, but they could have a significant, salutary indirect effect on growth by restoring business confidence, reassuring skittish foreign investors who were increasingly despairing about the future of the Indian economy, and bolstering the legitimacy and credibility of the ruling government.
The reforms that were announced represent low-hanging fruit. They can be implemented by fiat and do not require legislative action. Many of the ideas have been under discussion for years and, in the case of FDI in multi-brand retail, have even previously been announced (before being scuttled due to political pressure). Their introduction will also raise expectations about follow-on reforms, most of which will require legislative action and involve reforming India’s outdated regulatory, administrative, and legal machinery. In that sense, if this latest tranche of reforms are not used as a springboard, the economic “revival” could be short-lived. Indeed, the prime minister himself warned of the disastrous consequences of continued “policy logjam” for future growth.
In sum, the reforms are an important step in the right direction, but they are merely a first step. They are by no means a panacea for India’s ongoing economic troubles.

How strong is India’s economy currently?

In the quarter ending June 2012, India’s economy registered GDP growth of 5.5 percent, a slight increase from 5.3 percent in the previous quarter. In the United States, such robust growth rates are only possible in dreams. In India, however, this pace of growth is a sign of a significant economic downturn. 
Just last year, India was growing at around 8 percent. In order to create jobs for India’s growing working-age population and to continue lifting people out of poverty, most economists believe India will need at least 7-8 percent growth for the foreseeable future. In addition to the anemic growth figures, other leading economic indicators also are a cause for concern. Inflation, which has come down in recent months, remains stubbornly high and is projected to increase in the coming months. Over the past year, the Indian rupee has declined by about 20 percent against the U.S. dollar. The country’s fiscal and current account deficits are widening, tying the government’s hands even further.
In June the global ratings agency Standard & Poor’s warned that India’s sluggish economy could prompt a credit downgrade, which would mean Indian bonds losing their investment grade credit rating. Such a move would be a big blow to the economic outlook.

What is behind the recent corruption scandal plaguing the government involving coal?

The proximate issue behind the scandal, which is being referred to as “Coal-gate,” is the release of a new report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), which accuses the government of allocating around 60 coal blocks to private firms on a discretionary, ad hoc basis without competitive bidding or auctions. The CAG has estimated that this policy has resulted in losses to the exchequer to the tune of $33 billion. While the CAG’s numbers are fuzzy and the financial implications difficult to calculate, there is no doubt that the government has missed out on revenue under the current policy. 
The primary opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has seized on this report (as well as a host of recent scathing CAG reports alleging corruption) to bring parliament to a standstill. The BJP has vowed to obstruct parliament from conducting business until the prime minister resigns. The BJP does not want a parliamentary debate for three reasons. 
First, it has calculated that the theatrics of holding parliament hostage will result in a greater payoff than allowing for a parliamentary discussion of the matter since doing so allows it to keep the corruption allegations in public view. Once the matter is referred to a parliamentary committee, the concern is that the public might lose interest. Second, the BJP understands that the policy of not auctioning coal blocks predates the current government and so implicates the previous BJP-led central government. Finally, a great number of disputed coal blocks are concentrated in a handful of states which the BJP controls. Indeed, the government has released letters from BJP state chief ministers and other senior officials sent to the central government urging against a transition to a competitive allocation process with respect to coal.

Is corruption related to coal a symptom of a larger dynamic?

The deeper issue is how the government manages the allocation of India’s natural resources and the benefits stemming from their exploitation. “Coal-gate” is the latest in a long line of scams involving the government’s discretionary allocation of resources such as land, oil and gas, and mining to favored private sector entities. 
When the Indian government embarked on transformational economic reforms in the early 1990s, its proponents were focused on getting the government out of the way and harnessing the energies of the private sector. These reforms involved industrial delicensing, tariff liberalization, and increasing private sector competition in the economy. The issue of how best to manage the country’s natural resources was not addressed. 
As former IMF chief economist (and current economic advisor to the prime minister) Raghuram Rajan has previously noted, this meant that India transitioned from a policy framework governed by the “License Raj” to one dominated by the “Resource Raj.” In other words, the potential for corruption did not disappear; it merely shifted from one set of activities to another. 
Reforms that would rationalize the government’s heavy hand on issues of land and mining were viewed as “second generation” reforms, but the problem was that some of the winners emerging from the first generation of reforms had an interest in blocking subsequent reforms. These winners, and their political allies, have been able to exploit the often arbitrary, opaque, and regulatory-intensive governance of natural resources to make huge sums of money. 

Was the Indian blackout related to the coal scandal?

The two are somewhat connected. The root cause of the blackout was, at its most basic, an issue of demand outstripping supply. India has a growing appetite for energy, but the sector is plagued by enormous inefficiencies which have resulted in an enduring supply-demand mismatch. The disputed coal blocks in question involve “captive mines”—mines granted to the private sector to generate energy for their own activities. So if a firm operates a power plant, it could try and obtain a license to engage in coal mining for the purpose of powering that plant. This policy was put in place as recognition of the fact that the state-owned monopoly, Coal India, was unable to meet the economy’s growing demand for coal.

In addition to corruption scandals, India has also been hit by an outburst of ethnic violence. What have been the causes?

In August, violence broke out in the northeastern state of Assam between a local tribal group known as the Bodos and Muslim residents. Dozens were killed and more than 300,000 people were displaced in a region long known for instability. This violence led to protests by Muslims in Mumbai and other cities which also turned violent. The opposition BJP blamed illegal Bangladeshi (Muslim) migrants for fomenting discontent in Assam which resulted in the deadly clashes. A number ofcommentators—including several from the northeast—have disputed this claim, arguing instead that the conflict is a localized one between ethnic Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims (who have resided for years if not decades in the districts in question) over land and local political power.
After the breakout of violence, rumors began to circulate through text messages on mobile phones in southern India warning of reprisal attacks against northeasterners, many of whom have migrated to rapidly growing southern Indian “mega”-cities such as Bangalore in the search for employment. This sparked a panic and the mass exodus of northeasterners, overwhelming local authorities and the Indian rail system, the primary method of transport. The panic is now largely over and, for the time being, people from the northeast have returned to their homes in south India. 

Has the economic downturn caused this recent violence?

There is no evidence yet to support such a claim. It is important to underscore the fact that the outbreak of violence was relatively contained. It could be that the economic downturn is introducing new pressures which increase the potential for violence—as jobs grow scarce, for instance—but the data to evaluate this claim is lacking. 
What is clear, however, is that violence in India has steadily declined over the past four decades. As Devesh Kapur of the University of Pennsylvania has shown, with the exception of Maoist (Naxalite) violence, all other forms of violence—communal violence and insurgent violence in the northeast and in the contested areas of Jammu and Kashmir—have dramatically decreased. Even the murder rate, a measure of more conventional crime, has dropped significantly. Public order, in many ways, has actually been something of a bright spot for India in recent years. 

How do recent events affect the political outlook of the current government?

The government was smart to announce reforms after the most recent session of parliament came to a close. It is clearly hoping that things will blow over by the time parliament reconvenes. Yet, at some point, the government will have to find a way to get parliament to act on its reform priorities—and this is where things get sticky.
Although parliamentary elections are not due until 2014, there are a host of critical state elections starting in December and then continuing throughout next year. This means that the policy window for reforms that require legislative action is shrinking rapidly. The government is unlikely to muster much support for its agenda from its principal opposition, the BJP. The forthcoming elections in nearly all of the big states—Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Delhi—are bipolar contests between Congress and the BJP. It is therefore unlikely that the BJP will want to hand the Congress a major legislative victory heading into these elections. 
What will be more decisive is whether the Congress can hold its own coalition together. A key ally, the Trinamool Congress (TMC), has already warned the Congress leadership of negative “consequences” if the government does not roll back some of the most contentious reforms it announced last week. If the TMC leaves the coalition, it could still provide “outside support” to the government—which would forestall early elections. If it abandons the government altogether, then the Congress is likely to turn to the Samajwadi Party (SP), which is currently the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh, for support. The SP currently provides outside support but could play a larger role. However, the SP has indicated its opposition to greater FDI in multi-brand retail, and also has expressed its interest in seeing a non-Congress, non-BJP “Third Front” government after the 2014 elections. Past pronouncements should though be taken with a grain of salt. Government has an allure, as well as a number of tools it can use to sweeten the deal, and this makes a grand bargain of some fashion likely.