Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One Author to read 2010- Orhan Pamuk

Pamuk’s appeal has not been lost on politicians. Daniel Cohn-Bendit has credited Pamuk with helping him to ‘understand the importance of Turkey joining the European Union’...

One woman in The Black Book fears that, having spent half her life trying to be someone else, she is now condemned to spend the next half ‘being someone else who regretted all those years she had not spent being herself’. The hero of that novel, a lawyer called Galip (after the 18th-century mystic poet Sheikh Galip), shaken by the disappearance of his wife, Rüya (‘dream’), manages to piece himself together, but only after assuming the identity of the newspaper columnist his wife seems to have run away with; as he loses himself in the back alleys of Istanbul, he begins to suspect that the journalist, the enigmatic Celâl (after the Sufi poet Jelal ud-Din Rumi), is the secret author of his fate. Galip is one of the luckier characters in Pamuk, transported to the shores of a stable identity by a mystical journey; most are left hanging, swinging between East and West, between the mosque and the mall. To the characters in Snow, Islamism is a powerful, almost erotic temptation, since it promises to eradicate this vertiginous sense of dislocation: it’s no accident that one of the Islamist leaders in that novel is a dashing, charismatic seducer of his female followers, beguiling them with his blue eyes and his fiery vision of a cleansed and virtuous Muslim society.

-Wanting to Be Something Else

David Brooks favorite blogs

Fortunately there are a few Web sites that provide daily links to the best that is thought and said. Arts and Letters Daily is the center of high-toned linkage on the Web. The Browser is a trans-Atlantic site with a superb eye for the interesting and the profound. Book Forum has a more academic feel, but it is also worth a daily read.

-The Sidney Awards II

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

When things go wrong in project managment!

I'm starting to become a big fan of Scott Berkun;

1. Calm down. Nothing makes a situation worse than basing your actions on fear, anger, or frustration. If something bad happens to you, you will have these emotions whether you’re aware of them or not. They will also influence your thinking and behavior whether you’re aware of it or not. (Rule of thumb: the less aware you are of your feelings, the more vulnerable you are to them influencing you.) Don’t flinch or overreact—be patient, keep breathing, and pay attention.

2. Evaluate the problem in relation to the project
. Just because someone else thinks the sky has fallen doesn’t mean that it has. Is this really a problem at all? Whose problem is it? How much of the project (or its goals) is at risk or may need to change because of this situation: 5%? 20%? 90%? Put things in perspective. Will anyone die because of this mistake (you’re not a brain surgeon, are you?)? Will any cities be leveled? Plagues delivered on the innocent? Help everyone frame the problem to the right emotional and intellectual scale. Ask tons of questions and get people thinking rather than reacting. Work to eliminate assumptions. Make sure you have a tangible understanding of the problem and its true impact. Then, prioritize: emergency (now!), big concern (today), minor concern (this or next week), bogus (never). Know how long your fuse is to respond and prioritize this new issue against all existing work. If it’s a bogus issue, make sure whoever cried wolf learns some new questions to ask before raising the red flag again.

3. Calm down again. Now that you know something about the problem, you might really get upset (“How could those idiots let happen!?”). Find a way to express emotions safely: scream at the sky, workout at the gym, or talk to a friend. But do express them. Know what works for you, and use it. Then return to the problem. Not only do you need to be calm to make good decisions, but you need your team to be calm. Pay attention to who is upset and help them calm down. Humor, candor, food, and drink are good places to start. Being calm and collected yourself goes a long way toward calming others. And taking responsibility for the situation (see the later section “Take responsibility”), regardless of whose fault it was, accelerates a team’s recovery from a problem.

4. Get the right people in the room Any major problem won’t impact you alone. Identify who else is most responsible, knowledgeable, and useful and get them in together straight away. Pull them out of other meetings and tasks: if it’s urgent, act with urgency, and interrupt anything that stands in your way. Sit them down, close the door, and run through what you learned in step 2. Keep this group small; the more complex the issue, the smaller the group should be. Also, consider that (often) you might not be part of this group: get the people in the room, communicate the problem, and then delegate. Offer your support, but get out of their way (seriously—leave the room if you’re not needed). Clearly identify who is in charge for driving this issue to resolution, whether it’s you or someone else.

5. Explore alternatives. After answering any questions and clarifying the situation, figure out what your options are. Sometimes this might take some research: delegate it out. Make sure it’s flagged as urgent if necessary; don’t ever assume people understand how urgent something is. Be as specific as possible in your expectation for when answers are needed.

6. Make the simplest plan
. Weigh the options, pick the best choice, and make a simple plan. The best available choice is the best available choice, no matter how much it sucks (a crisis is not the time for idealism). The more urgent the issue, the simpler your plan. The bigger the hole you’re in, the more direct your path out of it should be. Break the plan into simple steps to make sure no one gets confused. Identify two lists of people: those whose approval you need for the plan, and those who need to be informed of the plan before it is executed. Go to the first group, present the plan, consider their feedback, and get their support. Then communicate that information to the second group.

7. Execute
. Make it happen. Ensure whoever is doing the work was involved in the process and has an intimate understanding of why he’s doing it. There is no room for assumption or ambiguity. Have specific checkpoints (hourly, daily, weekly) to make sure the plan has the desired effect and to force you and others in power to consider any additional effort that needs to be spent on this issue. If new problems do arise, start over at step 1.

8. Debrief. After the fire is out, get the right people in the room and generate a list of lessons learned. (This group may be different from the right people in step 4 because you want to include people impacted by, but not involved in, the decision process.) Ask the question: “What can we do next time to avoid this?” The bigger the issue, the more answers you’ll have to this question. Prioritize the list. Consider who should be responsible for making sure each of the first few items happens.

Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management
-Scott Berkun

Assorted Cool blogs



Confessions of a Public Speaker- recommended by Tyler Cowen

Tyler Cowen recommends:
Scott Berkun, Confessions of a Public Speaker. If you get only one good tip from this book, it's worth it.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Using Obituaries in Teaching- The Rain Man is dead!

Kim Peek possesses one of the most extraordinary memories ever recorded. Until we can explain his abilities, we cannot pretend to understand human cognition...

He can, indeed, pull a fact from his mental library as fast as a search engine can mine the Internet. He read Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October in one hour and 25 minutes. Four months later, when asked, he gave the name of the Russian radio operator in the book, referring to the page describing the character and quoting several passages verbatim. Kim began memorizing books at the age of 18 months, as they were read to him. He has learned 9,000 books by heart so far. He reads a page in eight to 10 seconds and places the memorized book upside down on the shelf to signify that it is now on his mental “hard drive.”

Kim’s memory extends to at least 15 interests—among them, world and American history, sports, movies, geography, space programs, actors and actresses, the Bible, church history, literature, Shakespeare and classical music. He knows all the area codes and zip codes in the U.S., together with the television stations serving those locales. He learns the maps in the front of phone books and can provide Yahoo-like travel directions within any major U.S. city or between any pair of them. He can identify hundreds of classical compositions, tell when and where each was composed and first performed, give the name of the composer and many biographical details, and even discuss the formal and tonal components of the music. Most intriguing of all, he appears to be developing a new skill in middle life. Whereas before he could merely talk about music, for the past two years he has been learning to play it...

t is not surprising that Kim’s prodigious memory caught the attention of writer Barry Morrow at a chance meeting in 1984 and inspired him to write the screenplay for Rain Man, whose main character, Raymond Babbitt, is a savant played by Dustin Hoffman. The movie is purely fictional and does not tell Kim’s life story, even in outline. But in one remarkably prescient scene, Raymond instantly computes square roots in his head, and his brother, Charlie, remarks, “He ought to work for NASA or something.” For Kim, such a collaboration might well happen.

NASA has proposed to make a high-resolution 3-D anatomical model of Kim’s brain architecture. Richard Boyle, director of the NASA BioVIS Technology Center, describes the project as part of a larger effort to overlay and fuse image data from as wide a range of brains as possible—and that is why Kim’s unusual brain is of particular value. The data, both static and functional, should enable investigators to locate and identify changes in the brain that accompany thought and behavior. NASA hopes that this detailed model will enable physicians to improve their ability to interpret output from far less capable ultrasound imaging systems, which are the only kind that can now be carried into space and used to monitor astronauts.

-Inside the Mind of a Savant

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Invisible Hand for Energy Supply and Demand (for the body)

Dr. Edwin G. Krebs, who shared a Nobel Prize in 1992 for discovering a crucial bodily process that helps govern the movement of muscles, the shape and division of cells, and even learning and memory, died Monday in Seattle. He was 91....

The process Dr. Krebs discovered in the 1950s with Edmond H. Fischer, a colleague at the University of Washington, activates proteins that can change the entire character of cell functions, thus regulating them. Among other actions, the process can trigger the release of hormones that govern bodily functions.

When the process is carried out in successive steps, it can create a cascade that has a powerful final effect. That wave helps to explain how a tiny amount of a hormone, say, can have a vast effect on normal functions throughout the body. It also helps explain cell growth and death.

“It was an embarrassingly simple reaction that we found,” Dr. Fischer said in a telephone interview Wednesday, and “it came out as a total surprise.”

“It turned out to be absolutely crucial for the regulation of cellular processes,” he said.

Imbalances in the cascade effect are believed to be important factors in the development of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and nervous system disorders. Researchers creating novel therapies to combat these diseases have drawn on the work of Drs. Krebs and Fischer, principally by adding and removing phosphates to cell proteins in a process called reversible protein phosphorylation....

In presenting the prize, Prof. Hans Jornvall of the Nobel Assembly likened phosphorylation to ballet shoes: “Despite their small size, they have dramatic effects on their wearer! The shape of the foot is altered, and after that, work is like a dance.” The process is reversible and can be repeated many times, like taking off and putting on the shoes.

-Edwin Krebs Dies at 91; Discovered a Crucial Bodily Process

So why did he become a scientist?

Urbana High School was an excellent institution with highly dedicated teachers and a broad range of extracurricular activities that were useful in helping me make up my mind as to what I wanted to do in life. This problem was one that was occupying my mind increasingly at this time. Because these were depression years, my thinking about various professions was colored by the question of whether or not a given choice of work was one in which I could earn a livelihood. I gravitated toward a scientific career, not because of deep interest in the challenges of the unknown, but because I felt that there was security in becoming a scientist. Science courses, more than the others, provided subject matter that I felt could actually be used.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

You can’t build a country if you’re not thinking beyond your own lifetime

Mr. Ali is an institution in Pakistan. He has started some of the country’s most successful companies. But perhaps his most important contribution has been his role in creating the Lahore University of Management and Science, or L.U.M.S., begun as a business school but now evolved into the approximate equivalent of Harvard University in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s biggest problem, he believes, is one of leadership. A corrosive system of privilege and patronage has eaten away at merit, degrading the fabric of society and making it more difficult for poor people to rise. The growing tendency to see government positions as chances to profit, together with the explosion in the country’s population, has led to a sharp decline in the services that Pakistan’s government offers its people.

“Nobody is bothered about the masses,” Mr. Ali said...

“You can’t build a country if you’re not thinking beyond your own lifetime,” Mr. Ali said.

Pakistan’s education system has been one of the casualties. Good public education can create opportunity in societies, but in Pakistan it has been underfinanced and ignored, in part because the political class that runs the country does not consume its services. Fewer than 40 percent of children are enrolled in school here, far below the South Asian average of 58 percent. As a result, Pakistan’s literacy rate is a grim 54 percent...

These days the university attracts many offspring of wealthy Pakistanis, who would otherwise have gone to the United States or the United Kingdom for their undergraduate studies.

THAT was the case for Mr. Ali, who was studying at the University of Michigan in 1947, the year Pakistan became a state. He returned to Pakistan in December of that year, ultimately earning his bachelor’s degree from Punjab University in Pakistan, but he kept his ties with the United States. His brother later became Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, and Mr. Ali’s wedding was held in the embassy there — benefits bestowed by a system he now criticizes. The ceremony was attended by Richard M. Nixon, then the vice president, and was photographed for Life magazine...

“Zia did more damage than any other leader,” Mr. Ali said. “He sowed the seeds of this fundamentalism that has raised its ugly head.”

AS early as 1973, Mr. Ali began thinking that Pakistan needed more graduates with leadership skills. He was studying at Harvard Business School at the time. Pakistan’s growing economy needed managers, and its political class needed creative thinkers. That mission became all the more urgent after the changes brought by General Haq in the 1980s, which were narrowing the worldview of Pakistan’s youth.

Pakistan’s young people, Mr. Ali said, should be “citizens of the world, not narrow-minded or intolerant.”..

One hope is that the university will help inculcate a sense of merit and fairness that has all but disappeared from Pakistani society, crippling its growth.

“Merit and fairness are gone,” he said. “The whole system is getting bogged down.”

Admission to L.U.M.S. is strictly on merit, he said, and Pakistanis who try to use connections to get in are turned away.

-One Pakistani Institution Places His Faith in Another

LUMS Launches Economic and Social Development Policy Research Center

Monday, December 21, 2009

BH Economics Blog Awards 2009

Best Overall Economics- (If you had to pick one Economics Blog what would it be?)

Best Econ Literacy
Twenty Cent Paradigms
John Taylor
Worthwhile Canadian Initiative

Best Macro

Best Statistics

Applied Stats
Log Base 2

Best South Asian
Ajay Shah

Most Interesting

Ben Casnocha
Seths' Blog
Three Toed Sloth
Scott Berkun

Best Current Affairs
FP Passport

Best Development
Aid Watch
Africa Can End Poverty
Chris Blattman

Public Management and Government
Joint winners IMF PFM blog and IBM's BizGov

Best Aussie, Kiwi and Irish

Core Economics
Harry Clarke
John Quiggin
Offsetting Behaviour
Irish Economy

Dead Blogs


Best Newcomers
Landsburg's Big Questions
John Stossel
Messy Matters
Cheap Talk

Related: BH Awards 2008

Monday, December 7, 2009