Blog Past: Bali Vacation

From the last part of my Bali vacation series  of a year ago:

For me, Bali was a good break with family. This year, we split our summer vacation into two – Bali for 5 days, and then Binsar in Uttarakhand for 4 days. It is faster to reach Bali from Mumbai then Binsar!

For me, the vacations are the one time in the year I get extended time with Abhishek. And each year, I can see his growing independence. Being a single child, it does get a bit lonely at times when we travel. But he is good at creating props from trains and other toys to create his own imaginary worlds. This time around, there was plenty of CricketAttax we played. Add to that his beyblades and TV. We watched Cars 2 (freshly acquired DVD).

I too got my own time to think and look ahead. Vacations slow down the pace of life. No meetings to worry about. A completely different context. And long stretches of contiguous time. This vacation, the thinking was less on work and more on what we need to do to change India’s political and policy future. The Mumbai blasts were yet another rude awakening. We have to change people’s minds in India and transform the country. How to accomplish this was what I spent time thinking on the beach in Bali.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • The Olympian Contradiction: by David Brooks. “The Olympic Games appeal both to our desire for fellowship and our desire for status, to the dreams of community and also supremacy. And, of course, these desires are in tension. But the world is, too. The world isn’t a jigsaw puzzle that fits neatly and logically together. It’s a system of clashing waves that can never be fully reconciled.”
  • The Quantified Community: by Esther Dyson. “Someday, citizens will not just complain about local problems; they will have data to prove their case–and to figure out how to fix those issues.”
  • Why Project Managers should write a Blog: by Maria Burton. One of the 10 reasons: “When problems arise, a quick scan of the blog can tell you where and when the trouble actually started. This can be treated as “chalk it up to experience” or the basis of a detailed report to upper management.” (via Shrikant)
  • 11 Leadership Secrets You’ve Never Heard About: by August Turak. “We often switch between leader and follower many times in a single day, and success depends just as much on being a great follower as it does on being a great leader.”
  • Software and Mirror World: by John Battelle. “It seems to me that if true “mirror worlds” are going to emerge, the first step will have to be “software eating the world” – IE, we’ll have to infect our entire physical realities with software, such that those realities emanate with real time and useful data. That seems to be happening apace. And the implications of how we go about architecting such systems are massive.”

Australia Vacation – Part 5

Over the rest of Sunday and part of Monday, we did our walkabout through Sydney visiting different streets and places. I took some time off for myself and visited a couple bookshops, Dymocks and Kinokuniya, on George Street. I spent quite some time looking at the huge collections – in Business, Political Sciences, Sociology and Literature. I made notes on the books that I wanted to possibly explore later – with Bhavana having put a strict limit on the books that I bought.

As I was browsing through the bookshops, I realised what we are missing in India and online. While Amazon has more titles, the joy of serendipitous discovery is an experience only a big bookshop can offer. Over the years, this was something I had not indulged in. On trips abroad, Abhishek is always around and his patience is limited. In India, the bookshops have limited variety. So, for me, the only solution has been to order books online.

We spent more time on Monday walking around Sydney after taking the monorail from my cousin’s place to the city centre. We had discovered a nice pizza place at the north end of George Street, where we got our pizza without onion and garlic, and so we had lunch there. Abhishek had I spent time looking for toy shops. He developed a fascination for the Sylvanian miniatures – much like Bhavana had a decade ago.

Monday evening, it was time for our 3-hour flight to Cairns.

Australia Vacation – Part 4

Next morning, we went to Manly. It is less than an hour’s drive from Sydney. We took off on one of the trails and walked along the beach and through a bit of forest for about 5 kms, and then turned back after lunch at one of the picnic benches en route. The 10+ kms took us about 2.5 hours. Abhishek did the walk without any grumbling. The cool weather was a big help. A promise of an ice cream at the end of the trek was the incentive.

That afternoon, we switched homes to my cousin’s apartment nearby. Abhishek (7 years) found her son (4 years) great company and the two played a lot together. Kids have an ease of making friendships and connections that is so refreshing.

On Sunday, we visited the Powerhouse Museum. It is about science and technology, and beautifully done. We spent a couple hours in there – including some time at a story reading session for children. Museums like these are what we need in India. They capture the past and give a glimpse into the future. More importantly, they spark imagination.

Australia Vacation – Part 3

The flight to Sydney via KL is long – a total of about 13+ hours flying time. Some time was spent sleeping, some reading, a little watching the inflight entertainment. We reached a wintry Sydney in the evening. My cousin surprised us by landing up at the airport to pick us up. A short ride and we arrived at my friend’s place – on the 62nd floor of a tower in Central Sydney. The views of Sydney by night were amazing.

The views grew even better as daylight streamed in the next morning from the windows. We took a long walk around Sydney. Hyde Park, Botanical Gardens, Sydney Opera House, Circular Quay, a look at the Harbour Bridge. It was amazing to see the expanse of the Hyde Park and the Botanical Gardens so close to the city centre. Then, we walked down George Street and popped into some of the stores as is always the case with Bhavana and Abhishek. I found a nice bookshop, Ariel, which had a very interesting collection of books.

Post-lunch, we visited Darling Harbour, and spent an hour at the Aquarium. We got a first glimpse of the reef and some sharks. Late afternoon was more walking around George Street. We all quite liked George Street. Not as long as some of the NY streets, and yet has plenty of variety to keep one engaged for a few hours.

Australia Vacation – Part 2

Doing research for a trip is now so much easier thanks to the Internet. TripAdvisor was a useful resource, condensing the wisdom of crowds. I also bought a hard copy of Lonely Planet’s Australia guide. Between these two, and a few other sites, I planned out the itinerary. It would be 4 days in Sydney, then 4 days in Cairns, then a day back in Sydney, and then the transit time in KL en route to Mumbai. I had to also ensure maximum weekend time in Sydney so I could spend time with my friends and cousin.

For me, vacations are about spending time with Abhishek. On regular days, it is difficult to get much time. Weekends too are sort of hustle-bustle, and he was a few cousins to play with also. Of late, I have also been travelling on some weekends. My best memories of Abhishek are from vacation to vacation.

Vacations are also when I get a long period of time to think about the year gone by and what to do next. Flights, walks, general free moments combined with a very different context help in spurring the mind into many different directions. The past year was especially interesting because a diversification of activities happened, and so there was plenty to think about.

Australia Vacation – Part 1

Our annual vacation this year was in Australia – Sydney and Cairns. It sort-of just happened. We were wondering where to go. A friend said he was going to be in Sydney for a couple months on work, and suggested we could come over. My cousin also lives there, and she too got excited about the prospect of us coming. I had been once to Sydney for a conference almost ten years ago, but had not seen the place at all. So, we decided on Sydney as one place.

The next decision was whether to go to the Gold Coast or look at an alternative. We are not beach people, so we decided to skip it in favour of Cairns. The reef-and-rainforest combo looked interesting.  And so that became the second destination.

We took Malaysia Airlines, and so had a forced transit time of 16 hours in Kuala Lumpur and decided to make good use of the time to see a few sights around on our way back.

Blog Past: A New Mobile Phone

It has been a year since I bought the Samsung Galaxy II S. This is what I wrote a year ago:

After a couple years of the Nokia E71, I got myself a new mobile – Samsung’s Android phone which sold 3 million worldwide in its first 55 days. It cost Rs 30,500 ($680).

It is a beautiful phone. Quite light, big sharp screen, and quite an intuitive interface. Of course, the Apps are now being downloaded and tried out. I still think the iPhone feels much better from the experience perspective, but Android is now very good. It is a good fight between the two, so the innovations should keep coming.

I intend to keep this as a second phone for some time. With a battery replacement, the Nokia E71 is still quite a reliable talk-and-sms warhorse, and I like its qwerty keypad.

The II S has been working well, and the Nokia has been consigned to the drawers. Somewhat like the fates of the two companies.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • The Capitalism Debate: by David Brooks. “For centuries, business leaders have been inept when writers, intellectuals and politicians attacked capitalism, and, so far, the Romney campaign is continuing that streak.”
  • On Stephen Covey, who died this week. 800-CEO-Read and Economist.
  • Nokia’s Bad Call on Smartphones: from WSJ. An account of what went wrong. “Nokia led the wireless revolution in the 1990s and set its sights on ushering the world into the era of smartphones. Now that the smartphone era has arrived, the company is racing to roll out competitive products as its stock price collapses and thousands of employees lose their jobs.”
  • Brand Transformation on the Internet: from strategy+business. “To Aaron Shapiro, CEO of the digital agency Huge, online marketing means creating immersive environments where people go to get their problems solved.”
  • Rights and Freedoms: Atanu Dey distinguishes between the two. “Somehow people start thinking that the expansion of rights enhances freedom but in fact it is the opposite: the expansion of rights actually reduces our freedom.”

Higher Education Innovation Speech – Part 10

A week or so ago , there was a very good article in the New York Times by David Brooks, “The Campus Tsunami.”  It  talked about online education. And I’m going to read out a small passage, because it’s very important from the perspective that we are thinking through, what we need to do for Indian education for the next 5-25 years.   Seeing what changes are happening around , I think are very critical.   So I’ll quote and then give closing thoughts.

The most important and paradoxical fact shaping the future of online learning is this: A brain is not a computer. We are not blank hard drives waiting to be filled with data. People learn from people they love and remember the things that arouse emotion. If you think about how learning actually happens, you can discern many different processes. There is absorbing information. There is reflecting upon information as you reread it and think about it. There is scrambling information as you test it in discussion or try to mesh it with contradictory information. Finally there is synthesis, as you try to organize what you have learned into an argument or a paper.

Online education mostly helps students with Step 1. As Richard A. DeMillo of Georgia Tech has argued, it turns transmitting knowledge into a commodity that is cheap and globally available. But it also compels colleges to focus on the rest of the learning process, which is where the real value lies. In an online world, colleges have to think hard about how they are going to take communication, which comes over the Web, and turn it into learning, which is a complex social and emotional process.

How are they going to blend online information with face-to-face discussion, tutoring, debate, coaching, writing and projects? How are they going to build the social capital that leads to vibrant learning communities?

This is what we  got to  think about. With the investments that are happening, in the next few years , the amount of lectures, array of content available on the internet is going to multiply tremendously.    In the past few weeks ago  Harvard and MIT announced multi-million dollar investments into putting  a lot of their course content online.  And we in India  can actually  benefit from a lot of this.   I think the key point which we have to think  really is the following. India has an option to radically re-invent  education – to meet the needs of our young  population. How  is it that we can have the will and vision  really to make this thing happen . This is the disruption that is happening in education, and we in India can be at the forefront leading it.