Tuesday, September 30, 2008

i-TFTD #159: Wall Street Special

i-TFTD #159: Wall Street Special

A special bonus edition of i-TFTD in the midst of the unprecedented financial crisis gripping many countries of the world. Very few dispensers of wisdom appear wise at this juncture but here are a few thoughts, the first one from an unconventional source, and the rest from three people whose unconventional views have depth and longevity.

#159-1. Stop going for the easy buck and start producing something with your life. Create, instead of living off the buying and selling of others.

-Carl Fox (played by Martin Sheen) in the 1987 movie 'Wall Street'

#159-2. I like buying companies that can be run by monkeys - because one day they will be.

-Peter Lynch


You should invest in a business that even a fool can run, because someday a fool will.

-Warren Buffett

#159-3. We humans are naturally gullible — disbelieving requires an extraordinary expenditure of energy. It is a limited resource. I suggest ranking the skepticism by its consequences on our lives.

-Nassim Nicholas Taleb

#159-4. A pin lies in wait for every bubble and when the two eventually meet, a new wave of investors learns some very old lessons.

-Warren Buffett

#159-5. The government-sponsored institution Fannie Mae, when I look at its risks, seems to be sitting on a barrel of dynamite, vulnerable to the slightest hiccup. But... their large staff of scientists deemed these events "unlikely."

-Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in 2006

#159-6. The banking system (betting AGAINST rare events) just lost > 1 Trillion dollars (so far) on a single error, more than was ever earned in the history of banking. Yet bankers kept their previous bonuses and it looks like citizens have to foot the bills. And one Professor Ben Bernanke pronounced right before the blowup that we live in an era of stability and "great moderation" (he is now piloting a plane and we all are passengers on it).

-Nassim Nicholas Taleb

#159-7. Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon.

-Peter Lynch

#159-8. (When you don't have an explanation) it takes a lot of courage to keep silent.

-Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Monday, September 29, 2008

i-TFTD #158: God's Perfection

i-TFTD #158: God's Perfection

The following story, attributed as a true one narrated by Rabbi Rabbi Paysach Krohn, illustrates the power of human concern--even in the face of intense competition.

In Brooklyn, New York, Chush is a school that caters to learning-disabled children. Some children remain in Chush for their entire School career, while others can be main-streamed into conventional Jewish schools.

At a Chush fund-raising dinner, the father of a Chush child delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended.

After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he cried out, "Where is the perfection in my son Shaya? Everything God does is done with perfection. But my child cannot understand things as other children do. My child cannot remember facts and figures as other children do. Where is God's perfection?"

The audience was shocked by the question, pained by the father's anguish and stilled by the piercing query.

"I believe," the father answered, "that when God brings a child like this into the world, the perfection that He seeks is in the way people react to this child."

He then told the following story about his son Shaya: One afternoon Shaya and his father walked past a park where some boys Shaya knew were playing baseball. Shaya asked, "Do you think they will let me play?" Shaya's father knew that his son was not at all athletic and that most boys would not want him on their team. But Shaya's father understood that if his son was chosen to play it would give him a comfortable sense of belonging.

Shaya's father approached one of the boys in the field and asked if Shaya could play. The boy looked around for guidance from his teammates. Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said. "We are losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning." Shaya's father was ecstatic as Shaya smiled broadly. Shaya was told to put on a glove and go out to play short centre field.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shaya's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shaya's team scored again and now with two outs and the bases loaded with the potential winning run on base, Shaya was scheduled to be up. Would the team actually let Shaya bat at this juncture and give away their chance to win the game?

Surprisingly, Shaya was given the bat. Everyone knew that it was all but impossible because Shaya didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it. However, as Shaya stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shaya should at least be able to make contact.

The first pitch came in and Shaya swung clumsily and missed. One of Shaya's teammates came up to Shaya and together they held the bat and faced the pitcher waiting for the next pitch. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly toward Shaya.

As the pitch came in, Shaya and his teammate swung the bat and together they hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shaya would have been out and that would have ended the game. Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far beyond reach of the first baseman.

Everyone started yelling, "Shaya, run to first. Run to first!" Never in his life had Shaya run to first. He scampered down the baseline wide-eyed and startled. By the time he reached first base, the right fielder had the ball. He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman who would tag out Shaya, who was still running. But the right fielder understood what the pitcher's intentions were, so he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman's head. Everyone yelled, "Run to second, run to second."

Shaya ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home. As Shaya reached second base, the opposing shortstop ran to him, turned him in the direction of third base and shouted, "Run to third."

As Shaya rounded third, the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming, "Shaya run home!" Shaya ran home, stepped on home plate and all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him the hero, as he had just hit a "grand slam" and won the game for his team.

"That day," said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, "those 18 boys reached their level of God's perfection."


Somehow, every time I read this story, it brings tears to my eyes and simultaneously makes me feel a sense of hope and even joy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

i-TFTD #157

i-TFTD #157

#157-1. Too many of us are like wheelbarrows -- useful only when pushed and easily upset.


#157-2. Maturity of mind is the capacity to endure uncertainty.

-John Finley

#157-3. Curious people are always the most interesting people. Why is that?

-Bill Maher


As brought out by the famous story of the Buddha, we have to grow strong enough to choose whether to accept abuse or criticism. Insecure persons, unsure of their displayed ability, tend to get easily hurt.

Management trainers talk of a desired quality called "tolerance for ambiguity". Alvin Toffler foresaw in the sixties that we all need to develop the capacity to cope with accelerating change. Change brings uncertainty and ambiguity, at least for a period.

Some old proverbs need to be retired. One of them is, "Curiosity killed the cat."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

i-TFTD #156: Epigrams on Programming?

i-TFTD #156: Epigrams on Programming?

Those of you who understand software programming would relate to the obvious meaning of the following. I find many of them to be thought-provoking in other contexts, too.

Epigrams on Programming

Alan J. Perlis (Yale University)

ACM’s SIGPLAN Journal, Sep. 1982

31. Simplicity does not precede complexity, but follows it.

54. Beware of the Turing tar-pit in which everything is possible but nothing of interest is easy.

58. Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it.

121. In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way.

7. It is easier to write an incorrect program than understand a correct one.

57. It is easier to change the specification to fit the program than vice versa.

10. Get into a rut early: Do the same processes the same way. Accumulate idioms. Standardize.

15. Everything should be built top-down, except the first time.

52. Systems have sub-systems and sub-systems have sub-systems and so on ad finitum - which is why we're always starting over.

102. One can't proceed from the informal to the formal by formal means.

19. A language that doesn't affect the way you think about programming, is not worth knowing.

93. When someone says "I want a programming language in which I need only say what I wish done," give him a lollipop.

40. There are two ways to write error-free programs; only the third one works.

48. The best book on programming for the layman is "Alice in Wonderland"; but that's because it's the best book on anything for the layman.

116. You think you know when you learn, are more sure when you can write, even more when you can teach, but certain when you can program.

99. In man-machine symbiosis, it is man who must adjust: The machines can't.

112. Computer Science is embarrassed by the computer.

If there are epigrams, there must be meta-epigrams.

127.    Epigrams scorn detail and make a point: They are a superb high-level documentation.

128.    Epigrams are more like vitamins than protein.

Monday, September 15, 2008

i-TFTD #155

i-TFTD #155

#155-1. When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.


#155-2. There is no such thing as an insignificant improvement.

-Tom Peters

#155-3. A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.

-Zig Ziglar


The first two are clear prescriptions for change, any change.

The cynic might interpret the third as, "one needs someone else to take you ahead" but the more useful takeaways for us are:

a. One's belief in oneself might be a limiting factor and could be revised

b. Taking someone else's higher expectations from us as a challenge could sometimes open us up to previously unknown capabilities

c. We are responsible for stretching our team's achievements to levels beyond their own beliefs through expectation setting and trust.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

i-TFTD #154

i-TFTD #154

#154-1. Today you should leave the past in the past in case it becomes you. Live your life in hope, instead of letting the past and tomorrow take control of your today.

-Ivona Evans

#154-2. Maturity is accepting the responsibility and totally understanding what responsibility means. So when we say, accept the responsibility for your attitude, we mean (1) become aware of how you think and how you feel; and (2) if there is any negativity, or if it is simply not as you want to feel then change it to make it right.

-Thomas D. Willhite

#154-3. Most of our so-called reasoning consists in finding arguments for going on believing as we already do.

-James Harvey Robinson


Too many things are perpetuated by individuals and organizations as this is the way it has been for me/us. Suggestions for change are often countered with an example of how it did not work out when it was tried earlier. The questions to examine are: (i) how long since it was tried? (ii) have circumstances changed since then? (iii) are there other ways to attempt it? And last, but not least, (iv) do we wish to change?

We are like this only is a typical Indian English phrase that was successfully converted into a snazzy TV programme title and marketing campaign by Channel V (an MTV clone) but it also captures an attitude of resistance to change. It is also the title of a recent book by an Indian marketing expert, Rama Bijapurkar.

The last one is deep. Progress in science and technology has been achieved by using our reasoning power to question prevalent beliefs, often leading to discoveries that changed those beliefs. We tend to apply selective reasoning to justify a predetermined conclusion instead of letting analysis lead to the best conclusion.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

i-TFTD #153

i-TFTD #153

#153-1. Conditions are never just right. People who delay action until all factors are favorable do nothing.

-William Feather

#153-2. Only those who have to do simple things perfectly will acquire the skill to do difficult things easily.

-Johann Schiller

#153-3. To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.

-Anatole France


Sep 5 is celebrated in India as Teachers Day in honour of one of Indias greatest teachers, former President Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. Happy Teachers' Day to all of you who contribute to others' development.

My Musing: In these days of Lifelong Learning, there ought to be an annual Students' Day, too.

The third quote is a good reminder in this our rational, super-practical age that dreams and beliefs play an important part in great achievements. In this context the old saying, "If I see it, I will believe it" is replaced by Dr. Wayne Dyer's book title, "You'll See It When You Believe It".