Tuesday, June 30, 2009
photo source: http://www.actagainsttorture.org/photogallery/human_rights_for_all.jpg
I've been following the Wronging Rights blog for some time now and have really enjoyed the material they put out. The authors are a pair of Americans I think, Amanda and Kate, who have put up very little information about themselves. But I sense that they are both Human Rights lawyers or have some such background.
Anyways, the blog focuses on calling out Human Rights violations and violators around the developing world. There is a great deal more emphasis on Africa, than on the other continents (I'm sure this has no bearing on where idiocy prevails...because there is quite a bit of it here locally as well!).
Recently, they did a great series of interviews to educate readers about the Iran protests. I've generally been irritated by the mostly topical and irrelevant information that I've been getting on the web about the current state of affairs there. However, the WR series really boiled down the issues to explain the most important and relevant bits.
Anyways, check them out if you have a chance...
Monday, June 29, 2009
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Sir Richard Branson share an hour of "hanging out" in the series Iconoclasts.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to sit in on conversations between two great minds...people of extremely diverse backgrounds, from different parts of the world whose commonalities lie in their genuine respect for each other's art and the need to constantly better themselves.
That is what the Sundance series "Iconoclasts" is. Now in its fourth season, the series puts together brilliant, but often unlikely pairs of people together for an hour. It makes for fascinating and interesting learning. I can't say that all the pairs have something of interest for me...but the ones that do are fascinating.
(BTW, Sundance is producing some really original stuff with their "the green" channel too)
Yesterday, I watched their first episode of their latest season, a conversation between Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Sir Richard Branson. Watch it if you can...
Here's a promo for the series:
Friday, June 26, 2009
I've been using this feature quite a bit the past few months and for some reason its been acting up in the past two weeks. Although I had preposted items for most of this week, they didn't show up until today. I'm still not sure why. So I wanted to apologize for this strange behavior...posts from previous dates showing up randomly. I don't know how to fix this. But I appreciate your patience and forbearance as always.
photo source: http://1.bp.blogspot.com
In case you are the only person who hasn't heard, Michael Jackson died unexpectedly yesterday afternoon. I was close to the epi-center at that point, near UCLA Medical Center where Jackson's body lay and a large crowd was collecting. I was in line at an ATM when I overheard the lady behind me telling her friend what happened. Like everyone else, I was shocked.
Since then, Jackson's death has been reported on almost continuously around the world. Vigils have been planned in every kind of setting imaginable, and the internet has crashed several times trying to keep with the news.
But looking at all this caused in me a great level of sadness. Jackson spent his entire life trying desperately to be accepted, even loved by the people around him. After the molestation charges took away his peace (I don't know the truth, so I can't comment) and the fan base he so desperately held close started to back away, he began to deteriorate in every way. Yesterday, he died alone in a cold hospital room in great financial debt. Until 2pm yesterday, if you had asked anyone what they thought of Michael Jackson, they would say "child molester," "wierdo," "freak", and maybe "musician." But today, the sentiment is so much more forgiving, even loving...
I wonder that if he had known while he was still alive that he was this greatly and genuinely loved and appreciated, how differently he might have lived his life; how much more music and creativity he would have given to the world; and maybe how differently he would have died.
His death was a reminder about the fickleness of fame; but more importantly, the importance of telling the ones we love and appreciate everyday how much they mean to us because it can make all the difference. That death has a strange way of only bringing the most important things to light, and an air of forgiveness. Today, as Jackson is mourned, he is most remembered for the joy he represented and brought to our lives.
Rest in peace, finally, MJ!
Thursday, June 25, 2009
photo source: https://jspivey.wikispaces.com/file/view/inequality_flyer.png
I came a quote by Bertrand Russell recently that really made me ponder:
"If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have paradise in a few years."
So true, and so sad. One of my old grad school professors had a theory that explained the cause of unhappiness, that was based on a series of surveys he had done. He believed that unhappiness came from inequality; that people felt most unhappy when there was great inequality in their community, particularly when they were lower down in society. Yet, given the chance and the choice, most of these same people chose to be on top thereby perpetuating the issue further.
My prof then ran the survey across a few campuses in Boston. His questions gauged how much people were willing to give up in order to create a sense of equality. Eg: if the company was doing well thanks to the surveyee's effort, would he/she take a salary cut so that everyone else could get a raise thereby closing the gap between the two groups?? He asked the question AFTER explaining his theory of happiness. He found that the Harvard students were the strongest propagators of inequality; MIT students on the other hand preferred equality. Can't say I'm too surprised. I've met and worked with both sides...not too surprisingly, the Harvard people get further ahead in the business world. BUT, in the world of personal relationships and happiness, I wonder if MIT alums rate higher... I actually think so based on the few I know; particularly from the business schools.
just something to think about...
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
The visually stunning One in 8 Million photo project (photosource: NYTimes)
Thanks to a friend (hat-tip GK), I came across this visually stunning photoproject, called One in 8 Million, that highlights the interesting lives of everyday people in New York City...like an 80 y/o tabloid photographer, a young female pathologist who has been performing autopsies at one of NYC's busiest hospitals, a 72 y/o accountant who works by night rather than the day, a chinese woman who adopted an ethiopian child, a teenage mom who was changed by the experience, etc.
Definitely check it out...
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
(photo source: presentationzen.com)
Sir Ken Robinson is a popular man, as much for his stance on creativity as for his humor. He has been a favorite since I saw his TED speech a few years ago. Recently he gave a great commencement speech at RISD full of wisdom. See below (in three parts, each is 5 mins long):
Monday, June 22, 2009
You will rarely hear Tony Hsieh speak, because he's apparently very shy. His company Zappos, an online shoe retailer that is as famous for its amazing shoe lineup as it is for its outstanding customer service, has been getting increasing attention for its incredible growth over the past couple of years. Their customer service has been largely credited for its sales growth and strong customer loyalty (I have friends who will buy ONLY from zappos, even if it is more expensive!).
In his recent SXSW speech, Hsieh revealed the cornerstones of his company's model for marketing (I have previously blogged about Zappos and their amazing model here):
1. Market through your customers; harness the power of word-of-mouth: Zappos takes most of their marketing budget and puts it into enhancing their customer service. This creates happy customers who spread the Zappos gospel through word-of-mouth. Not only that, but 75% of their customers are repeat customers; essentially they have STRONG customer loyalty.
2. Make your contact information obviously and easily available: The first thing you notice about Zappos (other than the shoes) is their toll-free customer hotline. There is no need to dig. Its just right there to use, and boy do customers use it!
3. Use the telephone: It is still the most universally accessible technology. It also requires one-on-one communication, thereby enhancing the customer's experience.
4. Focus on building relationships. Give good customer service at all costs. For eg. if zappos is out of a certain shoe or shoe size, customer reps are trained to find a competitor who might have it and direct the customer there. While they lose business in the short term, they have gained the trust and loyalty of the customer in the longterm.
5. Train your service team to imbibe and imbue the core philosophy: Everyone who works at Zappos is aware that the bottom line is building relationships with the customer.
6. Reward loyalty: Loyal customers are often suddenly surprised with upgrades. Customers are rewarded in their shipping cycles.
7. Realtime Tracking: Zappos shows only the items that are stocked. This shows a level of respect and honesty that customers greatly appreciate. This also enhances loyalty.
8. Make maintaining your company culture the absolute bottom line: Zappos has a hard rule about barring anyone who doesn't pass their culture-fit interviews from working at the organization. Further, they offer financial incentives to employees to leave if they don't feel a fit. This decision is left to the employees to take at any point.
9. Give your employees an outlet to express their individuality and opinions: Zappos puts out a company culture magazine every year. It contains unedited pieces of work submitted by every employee, largely focusing on their thoughts about working at Zappos. Employees are also encouraged to communicate amongst each other frequently on mediums such as twitter.
10. Chase the Vision, not the money. As they are walking examples, Zappos believes in following the vision. The money and the business will follow automatically.
Friday, June 19, 2009
1. Naturally 7, a group that could do an entire symphony using only voice, had us all rocking and jumping on our feet. You've GOT to check them out!
2. In the past few months, Nandan Nilekani (often referred to as the "Bill Gates of India") has been getting a bit overexposed; but his TED talk was actually quite good.
3. Stewart Brand's take on squatter cities and how they are the cities of the future.
4. Q&A session with one of my favorite photographers ever, Yann Arthus Bertrand.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Jorge Cham's brilliant comic strip PHD (Piled Higher and Deeper) Comics recently did a great analysis of how those random and often bizarre study results get generated. Sadly, this isn't too far from the truth:
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Tino is going to spend his summer bicycling across the United States and building affordable housing (photo source: tinochow.com)
I feed off the inspiration of others; mostly I watch in awe as other people blow my minds away. I am particularly in awe of people who are athletic, probably because I wish I was more of a physical machine than I am, as for whatever reason, I have been plagued by injuries. Recently, I highlighted Roz Savage's unbelievable row across the Atlantic (she's rowing across the Pacific as we speak...follow her here!!)
And then there is Tino Chow, another of my acquaintances (I'm scared to call him my friend, because I haven't done anything quite as cool as him and I'm sure he will dump me soon!) who is spending his summer riding across the US, building affordable housing along the way. Tino is already amazing on other levels, he is a computer geek/programmer, a former military officer, now graduate of RISD (Rhode Island School of Design, which is the top design school in the US and one of the best in the world). After the summer, I believe he will be starting his own design consultancy.
You should follow Tino on his 4000 mile bicycle journey @ http://www.tinochow.com/blog. Also watch this video:
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Otherwise ostracized, the homeless feel connected and welcomed online (photo source: wikimaniacs.com)
I LOVED this WSJ article profiling how the homeless connect to the internet and digital media. I go to the library all the time and meet homeless people there, hogging up the computers. If there is someone who needs an escape, its them; and not only do they use it, but I find them to be some of the most educated and informed people I've come across.
Like most San Franciscans, Charles Pitts is wired. Mr. Pitts, who is 37 years old, has accounts on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. He runs an Internet forum on Yahoo, reads news online and keeps in touch with friends via email. The tough part is managing this digital lifestyle from his residence under a highway bridge.
"You don't need a TV. You don't need a radio. You don't even need a newspaper," says Mr. Pitts, an aspiring poet in a purple cap and yellow fleece jacket, who says he has been homeless for two years. "But you need the Internet."
Mr. Pitts's experience shows how deeply computers and the Internet have permeated society. A few years ago, some people were worrying that a "digital divide" would separate technology haves and have-nots. The poorest lack the means to buy computers and Web access. Still, in America today, even people without street addresses feel compelled to have Internet addresses.[...]
Monday, June 15, 2009
China is leading the way. India already has something similar but it has yet to mobilize the same number of people. Imagine if there was a Pan Asia competition. That would include over a third of the world's population. From PSFK:
Broadcast on China’s CCTV national television, “Win in China” (赢在中国) is the world’s largest and most lucrative business plan competition. With over $5 million in prize money, the TV show pits 120,000 entrepreneurs competing to win $1.5 million dollars to invest in the winner’s business plan.
The documentary, produced by Robert Compton, follows the TV show of the same name and features entrepreneur celebrities such as Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group and Chairman of China Yahoo, who served as Head Judge and Liu Chuanzhi, founder of computer giant Lenovo.
CCTV host sums up the role played by entrepreneurs in China: “Today, entrepreneurs are the biggest heroes in our society.”
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Applications for Fellowships at TEDIndia close next Monday, June 15, 2009. Apply online today at www.ted.com/fellows/apply!About the TEDIndia Fellows ProgramThe TEDIndia Fellows program is a part of the larger TED Fellows Program, a new international fellowship program designed to nurture great ideas and help them spread around the world. This year, organizers will select 100 promising individuals from around the world to attend the very first TEDIndia Conference. At the end of the year, organizers will select 20 individuals from a pool of the TED, TEDGlobal, and TEDIndia Fellows to participate in an extended three-year Senior Fellowship, bringing them to six consecutive conferences. The principal goal of the program is to empower the Fellows to effectively communicate their work to the world.Questions? Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: MANY PEOPLE HAVE EMAILED ME TO LET ME KNOW ABOUT TECHNICAL PROBLEMS WITH THE TED Fellows WEBSITE. IN THIS CASE, DO THE FOLLOWING: PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT YOU SEND AN MS WORD OR PDF version of your application to email@example.com before the deadline (June 15th, NOON Eastern Daylight Time, i.e. New York Time).Favorite this
Friday, June 12, 2009
2. A picture from the recent Indian election that describes the state of India and its politics in one fell swoop. Ironic, Funny, and sad.
3. A case for why to stop envying millionaires and only envy billionaires(!!)
4. Finally there is evidence to show that poverty does not equal stupidity (duh!)
5. I'm not a huge fan of blind copying, nor would I ever recommend it. But I thought this post was interesting.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Reverend Carroll Pickett, a prison chaplain who presided over several executions, reflects on his role in and thoughts on the Death Penalty. Pickett is profiled in the film At the Death House Door, which forced me reexamine longheld views on the issue (photo source: NY Sun).
I always make a case for education being a lifelong commitment. For me, education doesn't stop with a diploma of whatever sort from an institution; it is only the beginning. Issues and people are living things; and as long as they are living, they are changing; and that means that you need to constantly read up and educate yourself about an issue.
I was reminded again of this recently, when I watched a documentary about the death penalty. I have always believed in the death penalty. If you killed, then you deserved to be killed in return; the point being that it was only fair, and would act as a deterrent to others. Then I watched a documentary called At the Death House Door, that profiles the life of a prison chaplain who has had to preside over executions. It REALLY forced me to rethink my views on the death penalty.
Father Carroll Pickett is a man of great faith, who had personally witnessed friends being murdered, comforted their families during their funerals, and later had to pray with the man who had murdered them. He is a person who had believed strongly in the death penalty, but after spending years as a prison chaplain and presiding over several executions, has experienced a change of heart. It is a poignant, humane, and moving portrait of a man of great strength and faith, pushed to his limits; then finding peace and strength in his family.
Regardless of which side you stand on, it is a fascinating look inside the life of an ordinary man with an extraordinary role. Here's a preview (not a huge fan of the trailer...the film is FAR more softly and beautifully done than the trailer indicates):
On this subject, also check out one of the chapters in Atul Gawande's book Better, that profiles the ethical dilemmas of medical practitioners who preside over executions. Another write up that really forces you to think deeper about this issue.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Three young idealists, who blew away their competition: (L-R) Gandhi, Obama with his high school basketball team, and Walt Disney, all in their teens.
I often wonder about the difference between great idealism, great ambition, and great stupidity. It is a fine line indeed. Idealism has always been scoffed at. But where would we be without it?? Failed idealism is often termed as stupidity. But is it really??
I like the quote "Aim for the moon; if you miss it, you will still land among the stars." It is only when you aim high that you can soar high.
George Bernard Shaw once famously said, "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
And indeed so. Its very easy to forget that the people who have been the greatest visionaries were also termed as idiots and idealists. While everyone now might laugh at the thought, Americans have been quick to forget that the president they now adore would not have been but for a healthy dose of idealism on his part. Barack Obama for all given purposes had no business even thinking he would be President. He was of mixed parentage, with a white mother and African (different from African American) father; grew up in Hawaii (a state that has produced zero presidents before this one) with no proper religious background; had a muslim middle name sandwiched between strong Kenyan names; had a Harvard degree, no military service, very little public service, and was of modest means. Add onto that, that he was running against a Clinton. Yet he ran, and he won. And hopefully, he will be the change we all want to see among leaders of our world.
Speaking of "be the change," think of Gandhi, a softspoken, slight Indian man who thought that he could take down the mighty British empire, with a grand total of, well, no weapons. Even fist fights weren't allowed!! If he had told you in the early 1900's that the non-violence movement would not only encompass India and topple the British empire, but bring civil rights to African Americans in the US, reverse apartheid in one of the most racist regimes in the world - South Africa, bring the Chinese military to its knees in Tianenman Square, and become the mainstay of EVERY modern demonstration in the world, you would have laughed!! Many did; yet all those things happened and the movement still endures.
A few days ago, I found myself in another mecca of idealism - Disneyland. Riding some of the rides I had loved as a kid, I was struck by how timeless they were. Disney was SO ahead of his time. To think that much of Disneyland and Disney World's layouts have scarcely changed since they were built, inspite of the massive changes in technology in the recent past; that the most popular rides then still endure, and they continue to "make dreams come true" everyday is mindboggling. I'm sure if Disney had told you in the 30's that people would pay an-arm-and-a-leg to watch talking robot animals in the 21st century, we would have laughed. Yet here we are, years later doing exactly that.
Probably the biggest and powerful idealists are parents and teachers - moms, especially.
I think we need more idealism. Balanced with pragmatism, an unrelenting idealist with clear vision is capable of great change. Rather than laughing at them, maybe we should support them with our pragmatism. That while they soar high, we can be the tails on their kites to guide them, while also enjoying the ride.
Here's to the idealists amongst us!!
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is a young Pakistani journalist determined to tell the stories that no one else will (photo source: The Guardian)
Among my cool new finds are documentaries made by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. Sharmeen is just COOL, because she has guts and tells stories that we all need to hear. (In fact Sharmeen, if you are reading this, I would really like to be your friend!). Her main subjects generally revolve around women and children in different Asian and South Asian contexts, the underground abortion industry in the Philippines, gang violence in Indonesia, child suicide bombers in Pakistan, women's lives under the Taliban, Islamic issues, and more.
A few days ago, I watched her excellent report titled "Children of the Taliban" and was blown away. Here, VOA does a profile of the film:
Here is an interview with her:
Monday, June 8, 2009
Dr Mojadidi treating a woman in Afghanistan, in the documentary Motherland Afghanistan (photo source: PBS)
I took some time to R&R (btw, R&R = rest and relaxation) last week and over the weekend. Spent a lot of time napping, reading, and doing a movie binge (God Bless Netflix!). I LOVE watching documentaries, and for some reason, a lot of what I've been watching has centered around Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's how I came across Motherland Afghanistan.
Motherland Afghanistan is a beautiful, poignant, almost heartbreaking documentary about a male Afghani-American Obstretician/Gyneacologist, Dr Qudrat Mojadidi, who returns to help fix the broken medical system in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has some of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world, and seeing the documentary, you'll have a very clear idea of why this is.
Dr. Mojadidi has practiced medicine within and outside of Afghanistan for the past 40 years. Originally from Kabul, Afghanistan, he relocated to the United States to finish his medical training in Jacksonville, Florida. In addition to treating Afghan refugee women in Pakistan and Afghanistan since 1982, he founded and managed the only free teaching hospital for Afghan women refugees in Peshawar, Pakistan for ten years during the Soviet-Afghan war. In 2002 he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his 20 years of work in Afghanistan. His commitment to women’s health in displaced communities has also led him to teach and work at Native American reservation hospitals in Arizona and Montana.
Here's a preview:
Friday, June 5, 2009
A teacher at the TEP Charter School in NYC. (photo source: NY Times)
Will education improve if teachers have higher salaries??
A lot of people think that improving salaries will attract more talent into the teaching pool. I have my own thoughts on it; I think the system is a little more complicated. For example, some of my favorite teachers were kicked out by the university or school system because of their unorthodox teaching styles (think Dead Poets Society). Or its often hard to even become a teacher. Even with my university teaching experience and my graduate degrees that allow expertise in much-needed subjects like math and science, I've had trouble breaking into the teaching system in the US. The school districts in my area desperately need math and science teachers; but they require a Teaching Credential or a Graduate degree in Education in order to teach. This means an additional 1-2 years of education that I don't want to deal with now (particularly since I've already taught in university). Even to be a substitute teacher, requires me to pass an exam. I understand that rules are there for a reason, but it is a little ridiculous that a qualified and enthusiastic person cannot fill in an immediate need. This is just ONE of the systemic changes that need to be addressed. No wonder charter schools are popping up constantly, hoping to bypass these ridiculous rules to test out their theories of improving education.
This morning, the NYTimes put out a great article on a new charter school that is popping up in New York City. Started by a young educational entrepreneur, the school aims to test out whether better salaried teachers will mean better students. Of course, the $125,000 salaries come at a price; but it is very interesting. And I'd be curious to know what the results will be. Somehow I think the students and teachers will both come out for the better. But is this scalable or replicable?? I don't know.
Zeke Vanderhoek, the Founder and Principal of the Equity School (the charter school), went on a personal hunt for the best teachers from across the country. How many can actually do that?? And you have to really HATE learning in order to fail under Kobe Bryant's personal trainer, or a teacher who was a class clown.
Still, this is a great case study, and I wish Vanderhoek the very best.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Esquith, and his 5th grade class at Hobart Elementary (Photo courtesy of AMDOC)
Good teachers blow me away. I was brought up by teachers, and have always sought a lot of my inspiration from within the confines of my school or college.
Recently, I spent the day with Rafe Esquith. His kids blew me away. In an elementary school that graduates only 32% of their enrolled kids, Rafe has managed to ensure that over 95% of his kids graduate from college. Rafe told me (and showed me) that there are no shortcuts. It takes discipline, dedication, and lots of love. I was there from 2-7pm on a friday, long after the school grounds had closed and most other kids had gone home; not Rafe or his kids. They had already been in that room 13 hours that day. Yet they were still around...voluntarily...practicing Shakespeare, for fun (btw, follow this link and you'll see their idea of practicing Shakespeare is).
He told me that his best piece of advice is "don't really do something unless you really, really love it." Rafe, who is happily married and has successful grown children of his own, spends most of his time in the classroom with the kids, who are mostly immigrants from broken families living in gang-infested neighborhoods. And his kids love him back with a fierce passion. The resulting loyalty has produced amazing results.
Rafe was the real thing. The results were all around me. So I sat him down and asked him about how to fix our broken education system. "You know the truth, Pragnya??" he asked, "I don't know if its fixable. Our moral and societal values have declined so much, that too much of the parenting has fallen on the teachers. Its NOT an easy solution. Its going to be long term and its going to need the commitment of many. I don't know if Americans want to be this committed." I was a little disheartened with this. But he was right. When I asked about the developing world, he said, "If you really want to fix it, go to the developing world. Atleast they have the chance to do it right."
I asked him about the KIPP system that Bill Gates had spoken so highly about. He scoffed, "Any school that has a PR person on staff, is NOT a system that works. The real PR are the students. Look at them. If the alumni are good, ask yourself what the school is doing right." As I vehemently agreed with him, he said, "there is nothing magical about what I'm doing. Its pure hard work and commitment. I am committed to these kids, and I'm committed to being a better teacher. I wasn't good when I started; I've learned to be good over time. If anyone is this committed, they will make a difference. I use Shakespeare, because that's what makes me tick. But other teachers should use what makes them tick."
Rafe has two best-selling books on education. I thumbed through one briefly before our meeting; and hope to read more of it when it comes through the library again (it was checked out after I got back from meeting him).
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Hosteling International (HI) in Australia is giving away 100 days worth of awesome backpacking adventure if you can answer this question in a spectacular way:
What would you pack for 100 days Down Under??
I am a huge HI fan and generally, a hosteling fan. Its how I travel when I'm out and about. I've met some of the most interesting people while I was on the road there, and made some good friends. So take a stab at it and have a lot of fun. If you are wondering why I am not going for it, its because of timing. I can only travel after Oct 2009, not before :(
More information is here.
Monday, June 1, 2009
You can watch the demo here. Its a little long and bandwidth heavy, but if you can afford to watch it, its certainly worth it.