Archive | May, 2012

How Close Is Iran to Exploding Its First Nuclear Bomb?: Scientific American

30 May

How Close Is Iran to Exploding Its First Nuclear Bomb?: Scientific American.

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An Open Letter To Prospective Indian Employer « Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind

28 May

Few days back I’d shared an interesting article published in The New York Times titled .. It was a nice read.. Subsequently, a reply has been posted by Arnab Ray.. Click the link below to read it.

ecause based on collective experience of working for Indian employers, some truths have become apparent. Read

via An Open Letter To Prospective Indian Employer « Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind.

An Offbeat ‘Graduation Speech’ at UPEN 2012…esp dedicated to ‘WALKers’

25 May

*Paths Are Made By Walking*
*By*
*Nipun Mehta, May 14, 2012*

The 2012’s Baccalaureate speaker at the University of Pennsylvania was an unconventional choice for an Ivy League school. To address their newly-minted graduates, aspiring to dazzling careers, they picked a man who has never in his adult life, applied for a job. A man who hasn’t worked for pay in nearly a decade, and whose self-stated mission is simply “to bring smiles to the world and stillness to my heart”. This off-the-radar speaker launched his address with a startling piece of advice. Following up with four key insights gleaned from a radical 1000 km walking pilgrimage through the villages of India. As he closed his one-of-a-kind Graduation Day speech, the sea of cap and gowned students rose to their feet for a standing ovation. What follows is the full transcript :*

** ** **

Thank you to my distinguished friends, President Amy Gutmann, Provost Vincent Price and Rev. Charles Howard for inviting me to share a few reflections on this joyous occasion. It is an honour and privilege to congratulate you — UPenn’s class of 2012.

** ** **

Right now each one of you is sitting on the runway of life primed for takeoff. You are some of the world’s most gifted, elite, and driven college graduates – and you are undeniably ready to fly. So what I’m about to say next may sound a bit crazy. I want to urge you, not to fly, but to – walk. Four years ago, you walked into this marvelous laboratory of higher learning. Today, heads held high, you walk to receive your diplomas. Tomorrow, you will walk into a world of infinite possibilities.

But walking, in our high-speed world, has unfortunately fallen out of favor. The word “pedestrian” itself is used to describe something ordinary and commonplace. Yet, walking with intention has deep roots. Australia’s aboriginal youth go on walkabouts as a rite of passage; Native American tribes conduct vision quests in the wilderness; in Europe, for centuries, people have walked the Camino de Santiago, which spans the breadth of Spain. Such pilgrims place one foot firmly in front of the other, to fall in step with the rhythms of the universe and the cadence of their own hearts.

Back in 2005, six months into our marriage, my wife and I decided to “step it up” ourselves and go on a walking pilgrimage. At the peak of our efforts with Service Space, we wondered if we had the capacity to put aside our worldly success and seek higher truths. Have you ever thought of something and then just known that it had to happen? It was one of those things. So we sold all our major belongings, and bought a one-way ticket to India. Our plan was to head to Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram, since he had always been an inspiration to us, and then walk South. Between the two of us, we budgeted a dollar a day, mostly for incidentals — which meant that for our survival we had to depend utterly on the kindness of strangers. We ate whatever food was offered and slept wherever place was offered.

Now, I do have to say, such ideas come with a warning: do not try this at home, because your partner might not exactly welcome this kind of honeymoon. 🙂

For us, this walk was a pilgrimage — and our goal was simply to be in a space larger than our egos, and to allow that compassion to guide us in unscripted acts of service along the way. Stripped entirely of our comfort zone and accustomed identities, could we still “keep it real”? That was our challenge.

We ended up walking 1000 kilometres over three months. In that period, we encountered the very best and the very worst of human nature — not just in others, but also within ourselves.

Soon after we ended the pilgrimage, my uncle casually popped the million dollar question at the dinner table: “So, Nipun, what did you learn from this walk?” I didn’t know where to begin. But quite spontaneously, an acronym — W-A-L-K — came to mind, which encompassed the key lessons we had learned, and continue to relearn, even to this day. As you start the next phase of your journey, I want to share those nuggets with the hope that it might illuminate your path in some small way too.

*The W in WALK stands for Witness.* When you walk, you quite literally see more. Your field of vision is nearly 180 degrees, compared to 40 degrees when you’re travelling at 62 miles per hour. Higher speeds smudge our peripheral vision, whereas walking actually broadens your canvas and dramatically shifts the objects of your attention. For instance, on our pilgrimage, we would notice the sunrise everyday, and how, at sunset, the birds would congregate for a little party of their own. Instead of adding Facebook friends online, we were actually making friends in person, often over a cup of hot “chai”. Life around us came alive in a new way.

A walking pace is the speed of community. Where high speeds facilitate separation, a slower pace gifts us an opportunity to commune.

As we traversed rural India at the speed of a couple of miles per hour, it became clear how much we could learn simply by bearing witness to the villagers’ way of life. Their entire mental model is different — the
multiplication of wants is replaced by the basic fulfilment of human needs. When you are no longer preoccupied with asking for more and more stuff; then you just take what is given and give what is taken. Life is simple again. A farmer explained it to us this way: “You cannot make the clouds rain more; you cannot make the sun shine less. They are just nature’s gifts — take it or leave it.”

When the things around you are seen as gifts, they are no longer a means to an end; they are the means and the end. And thus, a cow-herder will tend to his animals with the compassion of a father, a village woman will wait 3 hours for a delayed bus without a trace of anger, a child will spend countless hours fascinated by stars in the galaxy, and finding his place in the vast cosmos.

So with today’s modernized tools at your ready disposal, don’t let yourself zoom obliviously from point A to point B on the highways of life; try walking the back roads of the world, where you will witness a profoundly inextricable connection with all living things.

*The A in WALK stands for Accept.* When walking in this way, you place yourself in the palm of the universe, and face its realities head on. We walked at the peak of summer, in merciless temperatures hovering above 120 degrees. Sometimes we were hungry, exhausted and even frustrated. Our bodies ached for just that extra drink of water, a few more moments in the shade, or just that little spark of human kindness. Many times we received that extra bit, and our hearts would overflow with gratitude. But sometimes we were abruptly refused, and we had to cultivate the capacity to accept the gifts hidden in even the most challenging of moments.

I remember one such day, when we approached a rest house along a barren highway. As heavy trucks whizzed past, we saw a sign, announcing that guests were hosted at no charge. “Ah, our lucky day,” we thought in delight. I stepped inside eagerly. The man behind the desk looked up and asked sharply, “Are you here to see the temple?” A simple yes from my lips would have instantly granted us a full meal and a room for the night. But it wouldn’t have been the truth. So instead, I said, “Well, technically, no sir. We’re on a walking pilgrimage to become better people. But we would be glad to visit the temple.” Rather abruptly, he retorted: “Um, sorry, we can’t host you.” Something about his curt arrogance triggered a slew of negative emotions. I wanted to make a snide remark in return and slam the door on my way out. Instead, I held my raging ego in check. In that state of physical and mental exhaustion, it felt like a Herculean task– but through the inner turmoil a voice surfaced within, telling me to accept the reality of this moment.

There was a quiet metamorphosis in me. I humbly let go of my defences, accepted my fate that day, and turned to leave without a murmur. Perhaps the man behind the counter sensed this shift in me, because he yelled out just then, “So what exactly are you doing again?” After my brief explanation he said, “Look, I can’t feed you or host you, because rules are rules. But there are restrooms out in the back. You could sleep outside the male restroom and your wife can sleep outside the female restroom.” Though he was being kind, his offer felt like salt in my wounds. We had no choice but to accept.

That day we fasted and that night, we slept by the bathrooms. A small lie could’ve bought us an upgrade, but that would’ve been no pilgrimage. As I went to sleep with a wall separating me from my wife, I had this beautiful,unbidden vision of a couple climbing to the top of a mountain from two different sides. Midway through this difficult ascent, as the man contemplated giving up, a small sparrow flew by with this counsel, “Don’t quit now, friend. Your wife is eager to see you at the top.” He kept climbing. A few days later, when the wife found herself on the brink of quitting, the little sparrow showed up with the same message. Step by step, their love sustained their journey all the way to the mountaintop. Visited by the timely grace of this vision, I shed a few grateful tears — and this story became a touchstone not only in our relationship, but many other noble friendships as well.

So I encourage you to cultivate equanimity and accept whatever life tosses into your laps — when you do that, you will be blessed with the insight of an inner transformation that is yours to keep for all of time.

*The L in WALK stands for Love.* The more we learned from nature, and built a kind of inner resilience to external circumstances, the more we fell into our natural state — which was to be loving. In our dominant paradigm, Hollywood has insidiously co-opted the word, but the love I’m talking about here is the kind of love that only knows one thing — to give with no strings attached. Purely. Selflessly.

Most of us believe that to give, we first need to have something to give. The trouble with that is, that when we are taking stock of what we have, we almost always make accounting errors. Oscar Wilde once quipped, “Now-a-days, people know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.” We have forgotten how to value things without a price tag. Hence, when we get to our most abundant gifts — like attention, insight, compassion — we confuse their worth because they’re, well, priceless.

On our walking pilgrimage, we noticed that those who had the least were most readily equipped to honour the priceless. In urban cities, the people we encountered began with an unspoken wariness: “Why are you doing this? What do you want from me?” In the countryside, on the other hand, villagers almost always met us with an open-hearted curiosity launching straight in with: “Hey buddy, you don’t look local. What’s your story?”

In the villages, your worth wasn’t assessed by your business card, professional network or your salary. That innate simplicity allowed them to love life and cherish all its connections.

Extremely poor villagers, who couldn’t even afford their own meals, would often borrow food from their neighbours to feed us. When we tried to refuse, they would simply explain: “To us, the guest is God. This is our offering to the divine in you that connects us to each other.” Now, how could one refuse that? Street vendors often gifted us vegetables; in a very touching moment, an armless fruit-seller once insisted on giving us a slice of watermelon. Everyone, no matter how old, would be overjoyed to give us directions, even when they weren’t fully sure of them. 🙂 And I still remember the woman who generously gave us water when we were extremely thirsty — only to later discover that she had to walk 10 kilometres at 4AM to get that one bucket of water. These people knew how to give, not because they had a lot, but because they knew how to love life. They didn’t need any credit or assurance that you would ever return to pay them back. Rather, they just trusted in the pay-it-forward circle of giving.

When you come alive in this way, you’ll realize that true generosity doesn’t start when you have some thing to give, but rather when there’s nothing in you that’s trying to take. So I hope that you will make all your precious moments an expression of loving life.

And lastly, the K in WALK stands for Know Thyself*. Sages have long informed us that when we serve others unconditionally, we shift from the me-to-the-we and connect more deeply with the other. That matrix of inter-connections allows for a profound quality of mental quietude. Like a still lake undisturbed by waves or ripples, we are then able to see clearly into who we are and how we can live in deep harmony with the environment around us.

When one foot walks, the other rests. Doing and being have to be in balance.

Our rational mind wants to rightfully ensure progress, but our intuitive mind also needs space for the emergent, unknown and unplanned to arise. Doing is certainly important, but when we aren’t aware of our internal ecosystem, we get so vested in our plans and actions, that we don’t notice the build-up of mental residue. Over time, that unconscious internal noise starts polluting our motivations, our ethics and our spirit. And so, it is critical to still the mind. A melody, after all, can only be created with the silence in between the notes.

As we walked — witnessed, accepted, loved — our vision of the world indeed grew clearer. That clarity, paradoxically enough, blurred our previous distinctions between me versus we, inner transformation versus external impact, and selfishness versus selflessness. They were inextricably connected. When a poor farmer gave me a tomato as a parting gift, with tears rolling down his eyes, was I receiving or giving? When sat for hours in silent meditation, was the benefit solely mine or would it ripple out into the world? When I lifted the haystack off an old man’s head and carried it for a kilometre, was I serving him or serving myself?

Which is to say, don’t just go through life — *grow through life*. It will be easy and tempting for you to arrive at reflexive answers — but make it a point, instead, to acknowledge mystery and welcome rich questions… questions that nudge you towards a greater understanding of this world and your place in it.

That’s W-A-L-K. And today, at this momentous milestone of your life, you came in walking and you will go out walking. As you walk on into a world that is increasingly aiming to move beyond the speed of thought, I hope you will each remember the importance of travelling at the speed of thoughtfulness. I hope that you will take time to witness our magnificent interconnections. That you will accept the beautiful gifts of life even when they aren’t pretty, that you will practice loving selflessly and strive to know your deepest nature.

I want to close with a story about my great grandfather. He was a man of little wealth who still managed to give every single day of his life. Each morning, he had a ritual of going on a walk — and as he walked, he diligently fed the ant hills along his path with small pinches of wheat flour. Now that is an act of micro generosity so small that it might seem utterly negligible, in the grand scheme of the universe. How does it matter? It matters in that it changed him inside. And my great grandfather’s goodness shaped the worldview of my grandparents who in turn influenced that of their children — my parents. Today those ants and the ant hills are gone, but my great grandpa’s spirit is very much embedded in all my actions and their future ripples. It is precisely these small, often invisible, acts of inner transformation that mould the stuff of our being, and bend the arc of our shared destiny.

On your walk, today and always, I wish you the eyes to see the anthills and the heart to feed them with joy.

May you be blessed. Change yourself — change the world.

12 Surprising Facts About The Murder of JFK & His Mistress Photo Gallery – – Conspiracies on truTV.com

25 May

12 Surprising Facts About The Murder of JFK & His Mistress Photo Gallery – – Conspiracies on truTV.com.

An Open Letter to India’s Graduating Classes ~ New York Times

23 May

Dear Graduates and Post-Graduates,

This is your new employer. We are an Indian company, a bank, a consulting firm, a multinational corporation, a public sector utility and everything in between. We are the givers of your paycheck, of the brand name you covet, of the references you will rely on for years to come and of the training that will shape your professional path.

Millions of you have recently graduated or will graduate over the next few weeks. Many of you are probably feeling quite proud – you’ve landed your first job, discussions around salaries and job titles are over, and you’re ready to contribute.

Life is good – except that it’s not. Not for us, your employers, at least. Most of your contributions will be substandard and lack ambition, frustrating and of limited productivity. We are gearing ourselves up for broken promises and unmet expectations. Sorry to be the messenger of bad news.

Today, we regret to inform you that you are spoiled. You are spoiled by the “India growth story”; by an illusion that the Indian education system is capable of producing the talent that we, your companies, most crave; by the imbalance of demand and supply for real talent; by the deceleration of economic growth in the mature West; and by the law of large numbers in India, which creates pockets of highly skilled people who are justly feted but ultimately make up less than 10 percent of all of you.

So why this letter, and why should you read on? Well, because based on collective experience of hiring and developing young people like you over the years, some truths have become apparent. This is a guide for you and the 15- to 20-year-olds following in your footsteps – the next productive generation of our country. Read on to understand what your employers really want and how your ability to match these wants can enrich you professionally.

There are five key attributes employers typically seek and, in fact, will value more and more in the future. Unfortunately, these are often lacking in you and your colleagues.

1.You speak and write English fluently: We know this is rarely the case. Even graduates from better-known institutions can be hard to understand.

Exhibit No. 1: Below is an actual excerpt from a résumé we received from a “highly qualified and educated” person. This is the applicant’s “objective statement:”

“To be a part of an organization wherein I could cherish my erudite dexterity to learn the nitigrities of consulting” Huh? Anyone know what that means? We certainly don’t.

And in spoken English, the outcomes are no better. Whether it is a strong mother tongue influence, or a belief (mistakenly) that the faster one speaks the more mastery one has, there is much room for improvement. Well over half of the pre-screened résumés lack the English ability to effectively communicate in business.

So the onus, dear reader, is on you – to develop comprehensive English skills, both written and oral.

2. You are good at problem solving, thinking outside the box, seeking new ways of doing things: Hard to find. Too often, there is a tendency to simply wait for detailed instructions and then execute the tasks – not come up with creative suggestions or alternatives.

Exhibit No. 2: I was speaking with a colleague of mine who is a chartered accountant from Britain and a senior professional. I asked him why the pass percentage in the Indian chartered accountant exam was so low and why it was perceived as such a difficult exam.

Interestingly (and he hires dozens of Indian chartered accountants each year), his take is as follows: the Indian exam is no harder than the British exam. Both focus on the application of concepts, but since the Indian education system is so rote-memorization oriented, Indian students have a much more difficult time passing it than their British counterparts.

Problem-solving abilities, which are rarely taught in our schooling system, are understandably weak among India’s graduates, even though India is the home of the famous “jugadu,” the inveterate problem solver who uses what’s on hand to find a solution. Let’s translate this intrinsic ability to the workforce.

3. You ask questions, engage deeply and question hierarchy: How we wish!

Exhibit No. 3: Consistently, managers say that newly graduated hires are too passive, that they are order-takers and that they are too hesitant to ask questions. “Why can’t they pick up the phone and call when they do not understand something?” is a commonly asked question.

You are also unduly impressed by titles and perceived hierarchy. While there is a strong cultural bias of deference and subservience to titles in India, it is as much your responsibility as it is ours to challenge this view.

4. You take responsibility for your career and for your learning and invest in new skills: Many of you feel that once you have got the requisite degree, you can go into cruise control. The desire to learn new tools and techniques and new sector knowledge disappears. And we are talking about you 25- to 30-year-olds – typically the age when inquisitiveness and hunger for knowledge in the workplace is at its peak.

Exhibit No. 4: Recently, our new hires were clamoring for training. Much effort went into creating a learning path, outlining specific courses (online, self-study) for each team. With much fanfare, an e-mail was sent to the entire team outlining the courses.

How many took the trainings? Less than 15 percent. How many actually read the e-mail? Less than 20 percent.

The desire to be spoon-fed, to be directed down a straight and narrow path with each career step neatly laid out, is leading you toward extinction, just like the dinosaurs. Your career starts and ends with you. Our role, as your employer, is to ensure you have the tools, resources and opportunities you need to be successful. The rest is up to you.

5. You are professional and ethical: Everyone loves to be considered a professional. But when you exhibit behavior like job hopping every year, demanding double-digit pay increases for no increase in ability, accepting job offers and not appearing on the first day, taking one company’s offer letter to shop around to another company for more money — well, don’t expect to be treated like a professional.

Similarly, stretching yourself to work longer hours when needed, feeling vested in the success of your employer, being ethical about expense claims and leaves and vacation time are all part of being a consummate professional. Such behavior is not ingrained in new graduates, we have found, and has to be developed.

So what can we conclude, young graduates?

My message is a call to action: Be aware of these five attributes, don’t expect the gravy train to run forever, and don’t assume your education will take care of you. Rather, invest in yourself – in language skills, in thirst for knowledge, in true professionalism and, finally, in thinking creatively and non-hierarchically. This will hold you in good stead in our knowledge economy and help lay a strong foundation for the next productive generation that follows you.

Together, I hope we, your employer, and you, the employee, can forge an enduring partnership.

How Not To Write a Novel

21 May

Over the years, a cottage industry has arisen around books that offer advice on writing fiction. These come in all stripes, from the folksy (Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird) to the insightful (Mario Vargas Llosa’s Letters to a Young Novelist) to the inspirational (Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write). Writing schools have published anthologies on craft and novelists have weighed in with opinions and experiences, among them, Stephen King, Norman Mailer and Ray Bradbury.

Volumes promise to make you finish writing a novel in the next year, the next ninety days, the next thirty days and even the next ten days, should you be in a hurry. There are books on dialogue, plot, characters, subtext. There’s even one titled How Not to Write a Novel, with examples of the mistakes that novices make.

Most of these assert that there are no rigid rules for writing – and yet, certain pieces of advice crop up time and again. These have been repeated so often that they’ve come to be taken as hoary truths. This is far from the case. Here, then – speaking as someone who’s never written a novel – are five common pieces of advice you’d be better off not to follow blindly.

Keep it Simple. George Orwell said it. Strunk and White insisted on it. So it must be followed, right? Not necessarily. What if, by subject and inclination, one needs a prolix, wordy style? In that case, the important thing, especially at a rewriting stage, is to be clear about what you’re aiming for, and then make sure you’re communicating it. Not convinced? Two words: William Faulkner. Still not convinced? Two more words: Henry James.

Write What You Know. On every novel written by a Vietnam veteran describing the horrors of conflict, there falls the shadow of Stephen Crane’s classic The Red Badge of Courage, which he wrote despite having no Civil War experience. If you have first-hand knowledge about your subject, great; if you don’t, and it’s something you need to write about, find out what you have to and let your imagination do the rest. Kafka never visited the United States, which didn’t stop him from making it the setting of his first novel.

Show, Don’t Tell. This makes sense on the face of it, considering that a large part of the art of fiction lies in dramatizing characters in action. Yet, almost no novel can rely on only showing and not telling. There has to be a balance between the two – and what that balance favours depends on the needs of the novel in question. Look at how much Milan Kundera tells instead of shows, underlining his ideas. (Polemical novels, though, face the danger of being more polemical than novel, but that’s the subject of another column.)

Murder Your Darlings. This one originated from Arthur Quiller Couch, who wrote in 1916: “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” Ever since, it’s been held up as a way to banish passages that are “clever”, “literary” and otherwise not plain enough. While I’m certainly not advocating purple passages and overwritten prose, I don’t think that one ought to kill those poor darlings at all. Rather, examine them scrupulously and, if they’re there for a reason and make the point you want them to make, let them live and breathe.

Write When You Have Something to Say. Scott Fitzgerald, somewhat confusingly, once said, “You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say”. The need to have something to say has stopped many fledgling writers in their tracks and is one of the leading causes of furrowed brows among their tribe. Here’s a more worthwhile way to look at it: write to find out what you have to say. Scribble, explore, go down blind alleys, take U-turns and then emerge onto the highway of meaning. And don’t forget to thank me in your novel’s acknowledgements.

19 May

Gigaom

All of us at GigaOM and our sister site paidContent are into the final planning stages for our big media show on May 23 — paidContent 2012: At The Crossroads. As paidContent editor and conference chair Staci Kramer has described in her posts leading up to the conference, we’re going to be looking at a wide range of topics related to the disruption in the media industry, from newspapers to e-books, with a great lineup of speakers including Media News Group CEO Jim Paton, Vox Media founder Jim Bankoff and Pottermore CEO Charlie Redmayne. I’m looking forward to all of those sessions, but I’m also really looking forward to the two I’m moderating: an interview with Union Square Ventures partner and Twitter investor Fred Wilson and a panel with Talking Points Memo founder Josh Marshall and Vivian Schiller of (s cmcsa) NBC News.

More than perhaps anyone…

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